Todd Sheets’ “Nightmare Asylum” (1992)

I’ve been trekking for months through the jungles of Todd Sheets’ filmography in search of SOV treasure, beating back zombies, paddling rivers of blood, subsisting only on cheese and the mulleted guides who die along the way. My expedition has had highs and lows. From a technical standpoint, none of Sheets’ early efforts are “good”, but some are tremendously fun, whereas others, like this one, are not. Nightmare Asylum is borderline unwatchable for multiple reasons. Join me as I take a look.

A frightened, raven-haired woman (Lori Hassle) runs up a stairwell, past an obvious exit. She comes to a pair of doors. The first door is locked. The second one opens. Nightmare Asylum!

Credit: Brain Damage Films

The camera spins as she wanders into an elevator, giving us a glimpse of how disorienting this experience will be. She blindly gropes at the walls. It’s light enough to see there is nothing on them. She feels her way down some foggy hallways. A hooded figure pursues her. Despite walking slowly, it sneaks up behind her. Nightmare Asylum!

The title is shown twice.
Credit: Brain Damage Films

The woman trips up more stairs. The hooded figure, a pasty, mustachioed fellow, grabs her feet. She kicks free and comes to what looks like another dead end. A quick scan reveals a tunnel concealed by a curtain. She crawls through.

Writing and casting is credited to Roger Williams, a fictional character from Dominion. Editing was done by “The Chopper”. I thought it said “The Chooper”. Barf Bags were supplied by Mrs. Buttersworth. For who? The crew? What does that mean? They puked on pancakes shooting their own movie?

Cut to: a man stuck in a giant novelty mousetrap, gnawing on a severed head. He says something we can’t hear. The location audio is so low it’s practically muted. He motions to the woman for help. She tries lifting the bar off him until a second baddie in black wielding a chainsaw interrupts.

The camera lingers on a sign reading “Gallery of Wax”. I was wondering where we are. My guess was a funhouse. In any event, it’s not an asylum. An over-caffeinated Matthew Lewis wearing a lab coat grabs the woman from around a corner. He places a hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. “You were almost dead meat there for sure.”

Credit: Brain Damage Films

Credit: Brain Damage Films

She pushes him away.

“Wait a minute! Who are you?!” Lewis screams. “Huh? Huh?! Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh?” Yes, he asks nine times.

“Lisa.”

“WeLl, I aM sPiDeR!” Lewis, henceforth referred to as Spider, quavers. If you strain, you can make out most of their conversation.

Lisa doesn’t know where she is or how she got here. I love movies about strangers waking up someplace unfamiliar and working together/completing challenges to escape. The Cube series, Saw II, DeathTube, Predators… they do it right. Nightmare Asylum‘s execution is not great. I mean that in more ways than one; its kills are super fake looking, too.

“You’re in Never-never-land.” Spider informs Lisa. The address of the farmhouse in Goblin is 1375 Northeast Neverland Lane. The concert venue in Dominion is the Neverland Arena. Sheets must have been a big Michael Jackson fan. There is a quick shot of a hideous wax sculpture of Pinhead. I hope it’s not meant to be “real”. “W-w-why were you r-r-running like [that]?” Spider stammers.

Lisa recounts being chased by a bad guy in black. It was two, actually. Two bad guys in black. We later learn they are zombies. Or demons.

Spider insists that she meet his “family” and pulls her down a hallway, past another exit. They disappear into fog, then crawl through a pipe to a room with three men — a mentally checked out snake charmer, an excitable creep named Jimiah who I think is supposed to be inbred, and Pops, their leader. Lisa explains again how she was chased.

Jimiah shouts “Damien Voorhees!” in reference to the zombie-demon with the chainsaw. He’s holding a severed foot he hasn’t found yet.

Spider takes off his lab coat. The quiet dialogue is drowned out by hissing. Next, it’s music. I only know what they say because I re-watched the talky parts with headphones on, which seemed to level the audio. It might as well be silent without them.

Credit: Brain Damage Films

Pops reminds Spider that he was tasked with bringing food back. Spider sends Jimiah out in his place. His search is accompanied by the reverberating sounds from the scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where Pam falls into the bone room. There are three or four pieces of music that play nonstop for the rest of the movie — the TCM sounds, an original synth theme or two, and “Mars, the Bringer of War”. There is no rhyme or reason as to which scenes get which piece(s) of music. Jimiah returns with the severed foot he already had. Pops compares it to “Select Pizza” (must be a regional thing). In a moment, him knowing what that is won’t make any sense.

Spider is curious to know where Lisa came from. I’m curious to know what stops the zombie-demons from entering this room. Outside, Lisa answers. Spider has no concept of outside. He asks Pops to explain.

He doesn’t know either. “Outside this tube?”

“No, no, outside.” Lisa responds. “Beautiful blue skies. Birds singing. Outside.”

Pops laughs her off like she’s crazy.

Spider quotes the female Cenobite. “We have always been here.” If he’s been here his whole life with at least two killers running around, did he really have to ask Lisa why she was running?

Elsewhere, Jenny Admire and Mike Hellman huddle together. Admire is in Mexican sugar skull makeup. Hellman has something on his face too. Admire has the mentality of a child. She never speaks or lets go of her doll. A cheap Halloween decoration pops out of a casket. The two crawl through Spider’s tube. They’re apparently part of his “family”. Pops instructs them to find something for dinner.

Spider is talking to Lisa again with his lab coat back on. This looks like more of their convo from earlier. Lisa tells him it’s great outside because you’re in control of your life. I mean, duh. Spider gives her a necklace. She hugs him. He recoils in horror. “What did you do to me?!” Ok, this is stupid. I get it. He’s had minimal human contact.

LEAVE!!!
Credit: Brain Damage Films

Jimiah runs by. Damien Voorhees punches him over some railing. He lands in a graveyard. Hands reach up, pulling him under. The camera pans over three styrofoam headstones for John Carpenter, Stephen King, and Wes Craven. That’s right, they’re zombies.

Jimiah awakens tied to a hospital bed. In walks a nameless mad doctor wearing a butcher’s apron (director Todd Sheets under the pseudonym “Edgar Lovecraft” playing every member of the Sawyer family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 simultaneously). The credits list him as “Doctor”. He looks like Dave Mustaine dressed as Leatherface, talks like Chop-Top mixed with The Cook, and loves quoting TCM2. He swings a machete down into Jimiah’s right titty. The shot of it swinging is from the machete’s point of view. Sheets does this a lot with different objects. Doctor cackles maniacally while mutilating his victim. He claims the South shall rise again, a Two Thousand Maniacs! reference. Using a hacksaw, he cuts the body in half at the waist.

Fuuuuuuuhhh!
Credit: Brain Damage Films

“I ruined your Sonny Bono wig-do, you piece of shit.”
Credit: Brain Damage Films

Lisa’s memory of outside is fading. Spider leads her to a bed and has her lie down. She falls asleep. That’s an awful idea. Spider runs away looking distraught. All that talk about freedom filled him with hope. Lisa forgetting destroyed those hopes. A baddie in a black robe and cheap Halloween mask attacks him. It chokes him with an arm protruding from its head while punching him in the ribs with its other two arms. They tussle to the floor. Spider knocks it unconscious with a baseball bat. This is the first of several unconvincing fight scenes. Spider gets up and sees another masked baddie, Michael Myers, and stitched-up zombie Jimiah shambling toward him.

Doctor suddenly has Lisa bound and gagged to a chair. His son Sonny (Jerry Angell, who I’m pretty sure is older than Sheets) apologizes for snapping an arm off a skeleton. Doctor scolds him for ruining his toys. Their exchange has “Look what your brother did to the door!” vibes. Damien Voorhees appears. They nail Lisa’s hands to her chair, then turn their attention to grey-haired Veronica Orr, who they also have restrained. They put nails in her mouth and tape it shut. Somehow, this kills her. Next on their hit list is Charles Monroe. They attempt to extract information from him. When he doesn’t comply, they get mildly racist. Doctor drops a “you people” and accuses him of conspiring to take away his… something. Sonny calls him a honky (?!) while cutting out his tongue with scissors. Monroe dies. These victims are weak as the dickens. Escape artist Lisa magically removes the nails from her hands and unties herself without anyone noticing. Meanwhile, Spider fights Jimiah.

Credit: Brain Damage Films

Credit: Brain Damage Films

Lisa wanders into a morgue. Doctor pops out of a metal cabinet or fridge. He refrains from killing her because she remembers outside. How does he know that? He wants her to bring him more victims so he can practice procedures on them, specifically, some kind of ear implant. Lisa refuses, prompting psychological torment. Doctor calls her a bitch hog (another Chop-Top-ism), swings his machete around, and mocks her screams. After four minutes of this, he stuffs her into the fridge. She should have agreed and just not returned.

Lisa warps to a hallway, where Hellman and Admire find her. Hellman asks if she knows Spider. Lisa’s wounds only now start to bleed. There’s a shot of a Regan MacNeil dummy.

Sonny is inside a chair. The seat is gone. He’s sitting with his ass on the ground and his knees to his chest. Doctor yells at him for playing with mannequin heads and listening to cassette tapes instead of luring more victims to their wax museum. One minute, he claims he needs corpses to feed his pet monsters. The next, he’s chastising Sonny for not putting them out with the garbage.

Doctor’s voice is supremely annoying — if you can hear it, that is. He and Sonny talk for a week. Much of their ad-libbed dialogue is repetitive nonsense peppered with TCM2 quotes. They drop classics such as “lick my plate”, “music is my life”, and the deep cut “oh, my aching banana”. Doctor keeps doing this weird dance where he jabs his machete at the ground like a pogo stick. I swear he yells “Oh Lord!” and “What are you doin’, boy?!” fifty times each.

Credit: Brain Damage Films

Afterward, the survivors just run around bumping into each other for a while. Lisa meets back up with Spider. At forty-four minutes, she finally thinks to ask “What’s with all these exit signs?”

“Th-th-they don’t m-mean anything.” Spider stammers. No, th-th-they’ll take you to the demons.”

You can’t see or hear me, but I’m sighing and rubbing my forehead. At least Sheets addressed it. Sonny pops out of a door and nabs Lisa, whereas Admire is pulled through the ground by those dead masters of horror. Spider eventually fights Sheets. A random victim’s innards (ramen noodles and liver) are squished around by a zombie. Doctor stops fighting Spider long enough to sprout devil horns and command Sonny to throw Lisa into “the zombie pit” (a room, not a pit).

Admire erupts from a pile of rubble. She floats toward the ceiling. Her face mutates into a gooey mess of bladder effects, resulting in the growth of spikes. What’s happening? Why is she evil? Will Lisa finally escape, regaining her memory? Will Spider ever taste freedom? Who gets a broomstick rammed up their ass? Tune in and find out.

The title is shown thrice.
Credit: Brain Damage Films

Nightmare Asylum was Todd Sheets’ second full-length feature. It was shot in December, 1989/early 1990 at The Devil’s Dark Side haunted house in Kansas City, Missouri. The attraction appears to have shut down around the millennium. Its website was last captured by the Wayback Machine April 27th, 1999. Its owner, Myron Cramer, passed away recently.

I’ll try not to be overly critical here. This was the longest hour I’ve spent with a movie in quite some time — hour-and-a-half to two hours, actually, as I went back and figured out what they were saying. Nightmare Asylum is a true endurance test. It suffers from a lot of the same problems as Sheets’ debut, Zombie Rampage, which had a lengthy, troubled production. It’s sloppy, jumpy, makes little sense, feels improvised, and, as mentioned above, has inaudible dialogue. The scenes don’t flow well at all. I’d be surprised if there was a script. Do yourself a favor and skip ahead a few years to Sheets’ better stuff.

The movie was put out in ’92 by David DeCoteau’s Cinema Home Video label, based out of Hollywood. The cover art is a weird, posterized sketch of a corpse. The back has no screenshots. The blurb is ludicrously hyperbolic, calling it “one of the craziest, wildest, most shocking films of the last decade”, also claiming it features “some of the best special effects you’re likely to witness this lifetime”. They may consider that “marketing”, but lying is its name. Blatant false advertising. The only thing the ugly release does right is mention The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, indirectly acknowledging the similarities.

Nightmare Asylum later appeared in the 50-movie, 12-DVD set “Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares”, as well as the 6-pack “Morbid Mutilations”. Letterboxd user Warren says the Cinema Home Video VHS starts with a message stating the movie is intended to simulate a nightmare and is a re-edit (how can a first release be a re-edit?). Assuming he’s right, is that the truth, or just something Sheets came up with to cover his ass when he realized how disjointed his movie is? The cropped, faux-widescreen version uploaded to YouTube by Brain Damage Films does not have this message.

A trailer contains additional footage of police tape, Jimiah getting slashed in the head, Doctor scooping his brains out, and Jimiah’s eviscerated corpse. Why are there multiple versions of all of Sheets’ movies?

Funnily, the patient in Brain Damage Films’ thumbnail is also on the DVD cover of Blood Shack AKA The Chooper, a favorite of mine. Note his makeup and nails. These stock photos were probably shot the same day!

Credit: Brain Damage Films

Credit: Best Buy

Todd Sheets’ “Dominion” (1992)

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming with another obscure SOV horror movie dredged up from YouTube. The first scene was copied from Salem’s Lot and is set to some “Tubular Bells”-style music. A girl of about ten is writing a journal entry by candlelight in her attic bedroom. “It’s been three weeks since the disappearance of my brother.” she narrates. “He and the other children haven’t been found. The police chief has decided to give up on them. I still believe my brother is alive.” She blows out the candle and curls up in bed.

A little boy knocks on her window. Fog billows behind him. A strobe light goes off. “Aren’t you going to let me in?” he asks impatiently.

Credit: Film Freaks Filmisnow

“Cabal, I thought you were dead.” the girl says. No you didn’t. Forty seconds ago you wrote, “I still believe my brother is alive.”

Who names their son Cabal? It means secretive group engaged in a plot. Might as well call him Freemason. The name is likely a reference to Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, in which the main character is renamed Cabal and tasked with protecting a city of mutants. Dominion may have been shot closer to 1990 when Nightbreed came out.

“I ran away and joined this group of people.” Cabal explains. Yikes. Sounds human trafficky.

Elizabeth is unnerved by her brother’s stare. She senses something is different about him.

“Elizabeth, let me in!” Cabal demands. He bares his teeth to be scary, how little boys do. It’s so cute. Reminds me of my son. I just want to tickle his angries away.

Elizabeth clutches a cross. Her brother has vanished. She relights the candle and weeps on her bed. Dominion!

Credit: Film Freaks Filmisnow

There is a creepy harpsichord theme at the end of the credits I’m guessing was done by Matthew Jason Walsh, though I can’t be sure as he shares music credit with Todd Sheets’ metal band Enochian Key and the mysterious Black Orchid. It also could have been swiped from elsewhere. Sheets used music from Zombie in Zombie Rampage and public domain stuff in Goblin.

A grandmotherly woman (Carol Barta) stands in Elizabeth’s room. She runs her hands across Elizabeth’s diary, indicating what we just saw was a flashback. She is pained by the memory. She hugs her diary, then places it into a suitcase full of wooden crosses.

Detective Roger Williams (Frank Dunlay) sits at his desk. A rookie named Clarence (Auggie Alvarez) hands over some files. These bolded actors were all in The Witching, produced by Sheets, directed by Walsh. A fun part of running through a low-to-no-budget filmmaker’s work is seeing the same actors pop up again and again. Roger’s partner Stan walks in. He recognizes Clarence as the holder of the high score at the firing range. I know what you’re thinking. Clarence’s pinpoint accuracy will end up saving the day. Well, it doesn’t! You’re wrong!

Credit: Film Freaks Filmisnow

Stan gives Roger the rundown on last night’s murder victim. “Blood drained from deep lacerations to the throat”.

Roger looks puzzled. “That makes twelve victims this month. Sounds like a serial killer.” Is he just now coming to this conclusion? How did he account for the first eleven? Hmm, a bit more than usual, but nothing out of the ordinary. A dozen, though? That’s where he draws the line. I love his approach. Let’s all ignore problems until they reach nice, even numbers.

Stan suggests their maniac is a vampire, or at least someone who believes they’re a vampire.

“Oh, god, get the garlic out.” Roger jokes. “Well, I’d believe anything at this point, even Bela Lugosi.”

Credit: Film Freaks Filmisnow

Clarence announces a thirteenth victim was found. Stan and Roger respond to the call. They somehow determine the victim was a prostitute. Her blood is gone too. A vice officer asks if her pimp did it. Yeah, genius, her pimp drained her blood. Roger retrieves a skin sample from under the prostitute’s fingernails. Elizabeth walks up saying she knows who’s responsible. Great job securing the crime scene, gentlemen. She’s taken downtown and tells the detectives they’re dealing with a cult of vampires. She looks right at the camera.

Meanwhile, a couple “makes out” on the street. They rub their hands over each other in a silly, unrealistic way. Their faces never touch. I’m really feeling the passion. The woman abruptly asks “So what’s it gonna be?” I take it she’s also a hooker. The man chokes her, then rams his hand through her stomach, Night Killer-style.

A lab tech informs the detectives their skin sample is dead tissue, perplexing them. Roger gestures to a few dots on a map, stating all the murders occurred near an old subway tunnel. What subway? This movie was shot in Kansas City, Missouri.

“So that old lady wasn’t crazy after all.” Stan infers.

Huh? How does Roger’s theory support Elizabeth’s claims? The two of them grab Clarence and head to the entrance — a manhole. Real subways have stairs. They climb down into the darkness. Roger is ambushed by a vampire wearing an unbuttoned shirt brandishing a wooden stake. It seems incredibly stupid to carry your own weakness around. You don’t see the Leprechaun attacking people with an iron pipe covered in four-leaf clovers. Stan gives the vampire three seconds to freeze before shooting. That’s the difference between 90s cops and today’s. After three seconds, he blasts the guy five times, but it has no effect. Stan’s throat is slashed… I think. He dies. I only know he dies because they talk about him later in the past tense. Roger grabs the stake from the vampire and stabs him in the chest with it. The sound drops out as the vampire smolders, becoming a skeletal corpse. There are two quick shots of Veronica Orr and some other woman skulking about.

Look how long his arms are! They’d hang down to his feet!
Credit: Film Freaks Filmisnow

We move to the vampires’ lair — Park University, presumably filling in for a castle. I doubt they live at a college. Tonia Monahan informs Cabal that police are closing in on them. He’s their leader and hasn’t aged a day. He says he wants hundreds of thousands of followers so he can take over the world.

Cut to high schooler Beth’s farmhouse. She’s pleading with her father to let her see Enochian Key in exchange for getting good grades. Dad says they have to clear it with Mom first. Mom is apparently newly religious and works at a church. It’ll be a hard sell. They walk to the living room. This part is hilarious.

“Honey, Beth and I need to discuss something.” Dad begins. He places a hand on his wife’s knee. She removes it. He does it again. She removes it again. The third time he does it, she looks down in disbelief. I don’t know if this subtle interaction was part of the script or if the actress was genuinely repulsed, but it cracks me up either way.

Credit: Film Freaks Filmisnow

“Beth got five As and one B on her quarterly report,” Dad continues like he’s talking to a toddler, “and I promised her if she did really good she could go see her favorite band in concert tomorrow.”

By now, Mom is pissed from the unwelcome touching. “Oh, and what band is that?” she asks in a bitchy tone.

“Enochian Key.” Beth responds.

“Absolutely not! No way. The guys in that band are weird… they’re Satanic or something.”

“They stand against Satan, mother, not for him!” Beth argues. Sheets’ religious albeit macabre lyrics and the fact that he often thanks Jesus lead me to believe this is true. However, the violent, gory nature of his movies just seems so unchristian. He’s a complex individual.

Mom can’t be swayed. “Forget it!” she yells.

Beth says she’s going anyway. She brings up her mother’s promiscuous past and gets slapped for it.

Dad unloads on his wife. “Couldn’t you just relax and let her have fun for once?” There is contempt in his voice. He’s been waiting a long time for this. “All you care about are your close-minded ignorant church buddies and I’m sick of it. You can take them, and your holier-than-thou bullshit attitude and ram it up your ass!”

Mom collapses in tears on the couch.

Follow along! The second part is from a scene further down.

Later that night, Beth is at work. Her friend Katie (Jenny Admire) gets her for break. They go outside. Beth sits on the hood of someone else’s car. A long-haired, well-dressed, well-spoken man named Tepishe (pronounced tĕpēshā, Mike Hellman) walks up. He introduces himself as the owner and randomly notes that he promotes local bands, including Enochian Key. Beth asks if she and Katie can have backstage passes. Tepishe obliges.

Two hookers knock on the window of a stopped pickup truck. Matthew Lewis rolls it down. “So, baby, what can I do to you?” Hooker #1 asks.

“Nothin’! I’m naht inerreszh.” Lewis’ unnamed character mumbles. Then, very clearly and smugly, “I have no interest in catching any diseases from any of you two. Ha!” He rolls his window back up.

The hookers decide they should eat him. So far, hookers have been the preferred prey of the vampires. Are these ones victims that came back to life? The heroes haven’t mentioned any bodies going missing from the morgue. Why aren’t all the victims returning? I’m so confused. We need some consistency here. Lewis’ character is home now. He strips down to his boxers. The hookers appear in his bedroom. The visuals seem to imply they can turn into fog and seep through tight spaces. How do they know where he lives? Why don’t they require an invitation? Cabal needed one for his own house. Using their teeth, they tear strips of flesh off his torso and neck. He dies. Sheesh. These vampires behave more like zombies.

Sharpshooter Clarence meets the vice cop from earlier at another crime scene on Bimbo Street. For context, Sheets directed three movies around this time with “Bimbo” in the title. The vice cop urges Clarence to enlist the help of a retired investigator named Jack “The Real Ghostbuster” Sheppard who specializes in strange cases, sorta like a pre-X-Files Mulder. A hand reaches out of the body bag, choking the vice cop. It doesn’t show what happens next, leaving it unclear if he dies. Clarence excitedly tells Roger they need to find Sheppard. They pick up Elizabeth and… arrive at Sheppard’s house. I guess they knew his address. Elizabeth recognizes him as an old boyfriend. They instantly rekindle their romance. Sheppard agrees to lend his expertise to the investigation.

All four pile into a squad car for “the most intense car scene ever in a movie” as a YouTuber titled it. They sit in stony silence for nearly a minute as the red light spins and the car gently shakes. That “Tubular Bells”-style music resumes. Roger steers way too much. Clarence looks around. He scratches his nose. He checks the back seat. It’s hilariously uneventful.

Beth is back at work. She’s reading an H.P. Lovecraft story because they inspire Enochian Key. Tepishe is standing at the window. He takes her out for a bite to eat. They cap it off with a horse-drawn carriage ride. Tepishe gives vague answers about his past, hinting that he’s hundreds of years old.

Cabal is at the concert venue, laying out an evil plan to Enochian Key. The members are Sheets, Joe Dirt lookalike Jerry Angell, and a drummer I don’t know. Cabal says his dead master Enoch is strapped to a cross. At the end of the show, they will slaughter the fans and lower Enoch into their blood, causing him to be reborn. Angell asks “So, like, what then, man?” I hate the way he says it. His tone is so combative. Just do the murders, Jerry. Cabal assures him he and his bandmates will be turned into gods. They share a laugh, slapping each other’s arms in a congratulatory manner.

Elizabeth is telling Roger everything she knows about vampires. She says the undead beings spend daylight underground where it’s dark, especially deserted subways. This looks like more of the scene where Roger took her downtown for questioning. If this was supposed to play then, it explains Stan’s line “so that old lady wasn’t crazy after all”. Elizabeth says vampires are repelled by crucifixes because they represent good. If that’s the case, how is Cabal using one as we speak? Who was in charge of continuity? Checks. Wow, they actually had someone. Dana Cheney. Come on, Dana, you can do better.

Elizabeth, Roger, Clarence, and Sheppard are suddenly having a meeting. An officer brings in an ad for Enochian Key’s “Sanguinary Desires” tour. He says a concerned mother called regarding them and a Satanic ritual. It was probably Beth’s mom, that bitch. Roger swears the woman in the ad is the same one he saw the night Stan was killed. Whoa, first of all, this was never mentioned before. I’m guessing that’s why the quick shots of Veronica Orr and that other woman were added. Secondly, Roger is looking at a drawing… a drawing of a horned demoness posing next to a tiger and werewolf. He saw that? Really? I can’t with this guy. Elizabeth is quick to point out that sanguinary means blood and notices fine print reading “Cabal Productions, Inc.”. That’s all the info they need. They rush to memorial hall where the concert is starting.

Credit: Film Freaks Filmisnow

Credit: Film Freaks Filmisnow

The raucous crowd is shot in close-up to conceal the fact that it only consists of about thirteen people, including Deric Bernier, who’s also on stage playing Enoch. Sheets sings while Angell shreds on guitar. The sound quality is garbage, but the chorus of the song seems to have an anti-Satanic message, warning that Lucifer covets our mortal souls. The song they play over the end credits is easier to make out:

Something’s there in the palm of your hand
it’s a fatal warning, a pentagram
birth of the beast from deep within man
it’s a sanguinary sign in the Devil’s land

Something here, deep in my heart
it touches my lonely soul
Lucifer’s vengeance tears the world apart
but it’s time to take control

In the second verse, Sheets is given a sword by God. Yet, the band is used as a means to unleash Hell on Earth. I’m getting mixed signals. What was Sheets’ intent? Does it matter? Can our heroes thwart Cabal’s evil plan and banish his army, saving the city? Tune in and find out. For reasons unknown, the movie ends with footage of a random cop coming home from a hard day’s work. There are several cool names in the credits that are never spoken onscreen — Jamalia, Gazelle, Asmodeus, and Mistianna. Seems like a waste.

Credit: Film Freaks Filmisnow

I used to think vampire movies were boring, The Lost Boys, Subspecies, and a few others being exceptions (I don’t remember Fright Night very well — is that one good?). Then, I saw Dracula in Vegas, Kingdom of the Vampire, and Vampire Cop and realized they could be awesome. Dominion is an absolute joy from start to finish.

It’s basically one big advertisement for Enochian Key, and I find that hilarious. As Ray Dennis Steckler once sagely said “Before you make a movie you look around and see what you have, not what you want to go get. Think about all the things you don’t have to spend money for and then write your story around them, because now you’ve saved $20,000.”[1] Sheets had a band and very little money, so I totally get why he featured it.

One reason I like Dominion so much is because the violence is toned down considerably from that of, say, Goblin. Extreme gore harshes my vibe. Here, there’s mostly just flesh ripping. Besides that, Dominion is classic Sheets. It has an ambitious, supernatural plot. It references multiple movies. It’s dark, drained of color, hard to hear, amateurish in just about every way, and full of heart. The actors suck as much as the vampires they play, but they tried and they’re fun to hang out with. I feel like I’m getting to know them quite well. The boy does a great job considering how young he is.

Like I mentioned earlier, some shots are in weird places. Sheets may have forgotten to shoot certain things and tried to correct it. He admits he had no idea what he was doing at this stage of his career. He explains the difficulty of editing his early movies in episode 14 of SOBs Who Love SOV. “I literally found a VHS VCR with a flying erase head, which was the biggest thing ever. I was like Oh my god, I can edit without those rainbow things everywhere. Let’s do that. And I literally was using the camcorder for the other VCR and it had a dub feature and so I was able to assemble and edit with a pause button and a play button and that was it. You’d have to time it. I didn’t even have the cool edit controller. I had none of that. I had a pause button. And then I went back after it was all done and I did a dub to put music in. I had to do the sounds effects while we were doing the video edit on the fly. Like, I’d have to have either a microphone there or a little sound gizmo thing hooked up to a mixer… Sometimes a Sega Genesis was our sound machine.”[2]

Dominion was put out by Video Outlaw, a division of Tempe Video. Their VHS, cat. no. 1036, has a copyright year of 1994 and uses the same tagline as Children of the Corn — “And a child shall lead them!” Dominion later appeared in the 50-movie, 12-DVD set “Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares” with five other Sheets movies. I watched it on the Film Freaks Filmisnow YouTube channel, if you couldn’t tell from the captions. Their version annoyingly crops out the top of the image to make it “widescreen”. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, head on over to YouTube and check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, you can take your holier-than-thou bullshit attitude and ram it up your ass!

Note: the only info I found on “Black Orchid” is that it’s not the band that recorded this album in Lawrence, Kansas, forty minutes from where the movie was shot, less than a year after the VHS came out, as hard as that is to believe.

References
1. Rausch, Andrew J. Gods of Grindhouse: Interviews With Exploitation Filmmakers. BearManor Media, 2013.

2. Sovhorror. “SOBs Who Love SOV – Ep 14 Goblin (1993).” Online video clip. YouTube. August 20th, 2020. Web. July 25th, 2022.

Gobs of Gore in “Goblin” (1993)

Do you enjoy seeing things? What about hearing them? If you answered “no” to these questions, Todd Sheets is the filmmaker for you. He’s infamous for the SOV (shot-on-video) horrors he made with his metalhead friends in the late 80s/early 90s in Kansas City, Missouri. Titles like Bloodthirsty Cannibal Demons and Prehistoric Bimbos in Armageddon City. The limitations of video, combined with Sheets’ inexperience, low production values, and fondness for shooting at night in complete darkness ensure his “movies” are challenging watches. Then there’s the content. Gore. Goblin is one of the goriest, a fact I find kind of funny, given its understated title.

Sheets references Lucio Fulci at least three times in Goblin alone — twice by name, once via eye gouging — indicating he was influenced by him, but he has more in common with Andreas Schnaas, another Fulci devotee. You can always tell when a movie was made by a Fulci fan (or a metalhead, for that matter) because the only aspect they focus on is the violence. They channel all their creative energy into staging brutal, tasteless kills to show how extreme they are, meanwhile, drama, humor, suspense, technique, artistry, etc., fall by the wayside.

Regardless, Sheets managed to carve out a steady career for himself alongside SOV alumni David Prior, Donald Farmer, Mark Polonia, Tim Ritter, and others, so he must have done something right. He comes off as a chill dude in interviews with a genuine passion for horror. He’s a name I’ve put off exploring til now, as I’m not big on evisceration or zombies, which pop up a lot in his work. However, I’m coming to realize that Sheets’ movies are quirky enough to warrant a look anyway. I was unimpressed when I watched part of Goblin a year ago. I decided to finish it last week and found it more tolerable, dare I say fun. It just depends on what mood you’re in.

Sheets’ first full-length feature was Zombie Rampage. It started production in 1988 and took a year and a half to complete. By the time Sheets did Goblin in ’90 or ’91, he still had no clue what he was doing or how to make his movies look like he wanted. He was frustrated by this and burnt out on gore. He apparently rarely eats meat and disliked having to use it in lieu of special effects. So, he tasked his friends with shooting the death scenes. He was also discouraged by negative feedback he’d been receiving, including hurtful reviews published by his own distributor J.R. Bookwalter under the guise of a marketing ploy. One disgruntled viewer even threatened to kill Sheets’ mother if he picked up a camera again! He considers everything he did prior to 1993’s Zombie Bloodbath, including Goblin, a mistake and/or learning experience. He recently referred to Goblin as a “steaming pile of garbage”[1].

The movie jumped out at me for a few reasons. Firstly, the artwork is cool. It was done by Bill Morrison, who you may remember as Buddy the armed robber from Zombie Cop. He’s a makeup effects artist, too, and designed the “Scully” puppet from The Witching. Another reason Goblin jumped out at me is because I love gimmicky 90s villains based on old folk stories, such as Camilla (a dryad), Candyman, the Djinn, and the Leprechaun. Lastly, I used to collect goblin cards when I played Magic the Gathering.

Goblins are mischievous fairy creatures of Medieval belief. Some authorities use “goblin” and “fairy” interchangeably to encompass all teensy magical beings. This can be confusing as fantasy role-playing games make clear distinctions between goblins, fairies, dwarves, elves, gnomes, etc. Etymologists think “goblin” derives from the Greek word “kobalos”, which could also be where “kobold” originates. In German folklore, kobolds are fairies that occupy homes, caves, mines, and ships.

Their Welsh equivalents are the coblynau. “The coblynau are described as being about half a yard in height and very ugly to look upon, but extremely good-natured, and warm friends of the miner.” Wirt Sikes writes in British Goblins: Welsh Folk-Lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions, published 1880. “Their dress is a grotesque imitation of the miner’s garb, and they carry tiny hammers, picks and lamps. They work busily, loading ore in buckets, flitting about the shafts, turning tiny windlasses, and pounding away like madmen, but really accomplishing nothing whatever. They have been known to throw stones at the miners, when enraged at being lightly spoken of; but the stones are harmless.”

Many regions have their own versions. England has bluecaps. Cornwall, knockers. Somewhere along the way, goblins became real flesh-and-blood monsters. Magic depicts them as short, comically stupid, green humanoids with pointed ears and noses that reside in mountainous regions. J.R.R. Tolkien and his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit are largely to blame for this shift. One thing Magic‘s goblins retain from their Medieval counterparts is their penchant for mining/digging/spelunking.

What I’m getting at is, the killer in this movie in no way resembles either representation, nor any representation I’ve seen. Not even the cloaked, vegetarian goblins of Nilbog. The killer in this movie is average height with a crusty face, black raccoon rings around its eyes, and long, luxurious hair running down into sideburns. Its skin color switches between black and white, but is most often white. It wears a jacket sewn together from tattered strips of fabric, jorts, and sneakers.

Goblins.
Credit: scryfall.com

Not goblins.
Credit: Kings of Horror

If Sheets insists on calling it a goblin, it’s technically a hobgoblin. Sikes notes the difference. “In the English ‘hobgoblin’ we have a word apparently derived from the Welsh hob, to hop, and coblyn, a goblin, which presents a hopping goblin to the mind… but should mean in English simply the goblin of the hob, or household fairy.”

Interestingly, “Hobgoblin” was the original title, but Sheets changed it to avoid confusion with Rick Sloane’s highly enjoyable Gremlins cash-in Hobgoblins. The killer in this movie bears no resemblance to those creatures either. Anyway, here’s what happens.

A scrawny guy with a gnarly mullet/mustache combo (co-writer Jerry Angell) is very upset at someone named Virginia Woods for making him chop thistles. He decides he’s had enough and heads to a small barn or shack for a beer. Hands push him into a chair. The hands grab a hedge trimmer and saw open his stomach. The hedge trimmer is silent. There are many lingering shots of the poor guy’s organs and watery blood spurting out. The organs were meat scraps from a supermarket, the stuff they send off to rendering plants, mixed with ropes and hunks of cotton. Sheets used them at the suggestion of Herschell Gordon Lewis, who he called up for advice and developed a friendship with.

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

A young couple is moving into an old farmhouse. Two other couples are helping them. We’ve got homeowners Larry & Tammy (Jenny Admire), Jerry (Mike Hellman) & Sherry, and Jeff & Jodie (Tonia Monahan). It took me two watches to get the couplings and names sorted out. All three men have long hair. They find a mysterious suitcase in the basement containing a journal, crucifix necklace, and clothes. Jodie flips through the journal. Within seconds, she’s absorbed its entire contents.

“Hey, guys, listen to this.” she starts. “Twenty years ago, this guy practiced, like, black magic. Says here that he was trying out a spell to help his crops grow, but something went wrong and he, like, brought up this demon from Hell that he couldn’t control.”

Credit: Kings of Horror

The credits replay this part with the caption “Tonia learns how to read on the set!” There’s also a close-up of her rack that reads “Tonia’s enormous talent at work!” I hope she okayed being roasted like this.

Cut to a married couple sitting in a loveseat. The wife gets up to do dishes. The husband goes to the store.

That night, the six friends eat a stale frozen pizza they claim was home-cooked by Tammy’s mom. A Body Parts poster hangs on the dining room wall behind them. The friends hear a bang from outside, which turns out to be their husky unnamed associate Deric Bernier. Admire, Hellman, Monahan, and Bernier were in eight of Sheets’ movies apiece. Mike Hellman handled lighting and “special make-up effects” here as well, whereas Jerry Angell received credit for “additional gore scenes”. The thing about these low-to-no-budget productions is, everyone had to wear many hats.

The demon appears in the neighbors’ kitchen. It backhands the wife, who spins away, spitting blood on a wall. The demon grabs a power drill from her stovetop. I keep mine there, too! The wife is still spitting blood on the wall. She collapses and lies there awaiting her doom. The demon lowers the drill toward her eye for thirty-two seconds. When he finally inserts it, guts pile up on the dead woman’s face (all humans store their guts in their eyes). The demon crouches over her corpse and rips some more entrails out of her abdomen. Lastly, for no discernable reason, it turns on the stove. The husband gets a fire poker shoved up his ass while generic thrash metal plays.

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

The friends hear another sound. They assume it’s neighborhood kids messing around. So, they head outside with a Halloween mask to scare them off. Jeff climbs a ladder backward to the roof with a panicked look on his face and is grabbed from behind by the demon, which disembowels him while he’s alive.

Jodie changes skirts. It doesn’t show her panties, let alone butt cheeks. I’m assuming Monahan wore the wrong skirt to her death scene and this part was added to right that wrong. I love how Sheets went to the trouble of fixing this minor continuity error, but none of the major ones. Jodie goes searching for Jeff. She starts climbing the ladder. A sickle is jammed in her ‘gina. She spits up a large volume of blood. That’s not how anatomy works. The demon reaches into her hole and pulls out a mile of intestines. Jodie just stands on a rung without falling, fighting, running, or screaming.

The rest of the friends decide to go look for Jeff and Jodie. Jerry spots them “playing possum” on the lawn. A closer look reveals the horrifying truth. The girls run screaming past [unnamed], who’s grabbing something to eat from the fridge. Big dude + food = comedy. The guys follow the girls down to the basement and somehow wind up at ground level by a storm door. The couples formulate a plan while [unnamed] dramatically cowers in fear. They conclude the killer is inside the house, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They decide it’s too risky to drive away because their cars are parked by said house, so they walk to the neighbors’. Larry uses a phone to call 9-1-1. The police react to his story with skepticism. He hasn’t even mentioned the demon. The line goes dead. The group heads upstairs to the kitchen (?), sees the husband and wife, and nopes out of dodge. None of these layouts make sense.

“Double homicide? Look, we’ve already been out there tonight for a sisterectomy, a case of severe butt-rot, and a leprechaun bite.”
Credit: The Simpsons, Frinkiac.com, Disney

Amidst the chaos, the demon grabs [unnamed] and rips his chest open with its bare hands. The demon is now in a plain white T-shirt. It twists the guy’s ear off and pulls intestines out of the wound. Again, that’s not how anatomy works. A great deal of this movie consists of the demon playing with innards. A cruddy metal song accompanies the gruesome visual. Music was done by Sheets’ band, Enochian Key. Gustav Holst’s composition “Mars, the Bringer of War” is also used liberally.

The group barges into a third house owned by Great Value Heather Langenkamp, whose real name is Dorothy. These houses all look identical. Larry explains that two of his friends were killed by a “thing” (he hasn’t noticed [unnamed] is missing), even though he never actually saw it. Dorothy believes him. She says the demon, which she calls a goblin, was boarded up in a well and must have escaped. Larry admits he removed the boards earlier. He says he got his friends into this mess, and he’ll get them out. He and Jerry order the girls to stay put, one of which is apparently pregnant and unwilling to raise the baby by herself. “We’re gonna get some tools,” Larry begins, then turning to face the camera, “and fix that goblin’s engine.” That’s not even clever. They leave.

A moment later, the goblin tricks Dorothy into opening her front door by imitating a human voice and pulls her outside. The men are now running back to the house being chased by the goblin. They just barely make it inside. Dorothy follows them in. I guess she didn’t die. Everyone shuffles up a flight of stairs to an attic, then walks through a door to a basement (?), where they arm themselves with baseball bats and golf clubs. The blueprints must have been drawn by M.C. Escher.

A sheriff dressed as a cowboy walks into an office. His receptionist (Veronica Orr, Morgana from The Witching) tells him, and I quote, “I got an address on that call. You know, I got an address on that call.” Takes from two different angles were used. The audio for both was kept in.

Credit: Kings of Horror

The sheriff asks where the call came from.

“Well, it wasn’t easy.” the woman responds. “It wasn’t easy, but they stayed on the line just long enough to… trace it… 1375 Northeast Neverland Lane.”

The sheriff recognizes the address as “the old Romero house… where all those murders happened”. Ok, can we stop naming things after esteemed horror directors? Nothing makes me roll my eyes harder.

Our protagonists dash back to the first house to consult the journal. However, it offers no answers. They barricade the door with some chairs. What happens next is impossibly pointless and boring. Todd Sheets wanders around in the dark with a flashlight for eight minutes straight. He’s wearing a leather jacket and short shorts. He enters a house. He says hello eleven or more times. It becomes a joke. He threatens to call the police on whoever’s not answering him while trespassing in their home. He’s mutilated for a further two minutes. Ten minutes total. That’s 13% of the runtime right there. Afterward, the protags watch as the sheriff arrives and is killed. The goblin lets him off easy. No disembowelment. I’m pleasantly surprised.

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

Credit: Kings of Horror

Larry and Jerry devise an elaborate plan involving a lawnmower and shooting fire through a hole. Whatever it is, it doesn’t work. So, instead, they attempt to run down the goblin with a rototiller. The goblin just sort of takes it and chases them with it. It’s not even on. The blades never move.

Pregnant Sherry unbarricades the door to run to the cop car. Tammy yells at her, then runs to the cop car herself. The goblin appears out of nowhere and pounds on the glass. Tammy uses the car phone to call the receptionist who repeats her lines. “Get your fucking ass out here now, I’m gonna die.” she pleads in a whiny voice. The receptionist is unhelpful. She admonishes Tammy for using profanity. But at least she only does it once. The line goes dead.

The guys are back in the house. Dorothy reports that she carefully read the diary twice (!) and found a solution. To kill the goblin, all they need to do is expose its heart and place the crucifix necklace from the mysterious suitcase inside. If the farmer who conjured the goblin knew this, why didn’t he do it?

Larry heroically buzzes through the goblin’s ribcage with a circular saw and plunges the necklace inside. Watery blood shoots out of its forehead for some reason while it shakes. I think it’s supposed to be melting.

Larry announces the goblin is dead. Blood drips from the ceiling, signaling all is not well. An exterior light flickers. Two zombies stir. A random male voice that doesn’t belong to Larry or Jerry warns Sherry that “anyone that is killed by the goblin will return to life as an evil entity, a member of the undead.” and advises her to “go get some knives”. Sherry grabs several knives from a drawer.

Larry is suddenly rambling about a virus that reanimates corpses. Sherry shouts to James that zombies are getting into the house; there is no one named James. By this point, I knew something was wrong. Turns out, the footage is actually from Zombie Rampage. Three zombies in matching plaid shirts tackle a guy in a plaid shirt for gimmick infringement. They rip his skin off. Someone has a gun. A forearm is bitten. People scream. The end. Minus the recycled footage and credits, Goblin is only about sixty-four minutes long. So, average length for an SOV movie.

Overall, it’s an amateurish, one-dimensional gorefest that lacks substance. It’s full of plot holes and continuity errors. The acting is not. Like I already said, the picture is too dark to see. What can be made out is drained of color. The dialogue is inaudible. I won’t say its heart is in the right place, because it’s really nasty and gross, but everyone involved tried their hardest and their love of horror shines through. If you can look past all these problems, you might have some fun. If you can’t, I don’t blame you, it’s pretty rough stuff.

Goblin was produced by J.R. Bookwalter and issued by Video Outlaw, a subsidiary of Bookwalter’s main label Tempe Video. It also appeared in the 50-movie, 12-DVD set “Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares”, which is now out of print and going for sixty-plus dollars on eBay. I watched it on the Kings of Horror YouTube channel.

The version they have is apparently not the original. Bleeding Skull’s review, which is based on the Video Outlaw VHS, contains a screenshot of an alternate title card and mentions a scene where “the goblin is summoned from his pit of hell — aka a jacuzzi”. I’m interested in checking out that version and what else Sheets has to offer. Dominion looks more my speed.

Credit: The Simpsons, Frinkiac.com, Disney

Credit: The Simpsons, Frinkiac.com, Disney

References
1. Sovhorror. “SOBs Who Love SOV – Ep 14 Goblin (1993).” Online video clip. YouTube. August 20th, 2020. Web. June 15th, 2022.