Richard Francis

HAUNTED LOCATIONS:  Pere Cheney

HAUNTED LOCATIONS: Pere Cheney

Just southeast of Grayling, Michigan, down a dirt road and two-track and along the railroad tracks, lies an old, all but forgotten cemetery. This is the Pere Cheney Cemetery. Many myths and legends surround this place. From ghost sightings and a witch’s curse to mysterious lights and figures, it is an area with a mysterious and somewhat sad history.
Pere Cheney was an old lumber town located about midway between the towns of Graying and Roscommon. It was established in the late 1800s and was abandoned a little more than 50 years later. Legend has it that at one point the population was around 1,500 people. It is believed that diphtheria swept through the town twice in a span of fewer than five years which caused the town to fold. According to one of the more popular legends, the diphtheria outbreak was the result of a curse by a witch that had been banished to the woods.
We decided to venture out to the cemetery to have a look around and then see if we could find where the town used to stand. As someone not all that familiar with the area, I called on a few friends who happen to live in that area to see if they might be able to help find the place.
After a quick stop in Grayling for dinner at a place called Dead Bear Brewing Co., we headed out of town and made our way south towards where the old town is believed to be located. After traveling down a paved road, then a dirt road, then a two-track along the railroad tracks, we reached the cemetery.Pere Cheney 02 / Image: Richard Francis
The cemetery itself is well maintained and quite large, and although vandals have stolen and destroyed quite a bit, it is apparent that there are quite a few gravesites there. We spent a bit of time wandering around, looking at the remaining headstones and trying to decipher the weathered names and dates. Based on what we saw, there seem to be quite a few children buried there. One of the few standing markers bears the names of three siblings, all under the age of ten, that died within days of each other. This alone lends some credibility to the story of some sort of outbreak.Pere Cheney 03 / Image: Richard Francis
Pere Cheney 04 / Image: Richard FrancisAs the sun started to set, we made our way back north along one of the many trails in the area and searched for the location of the town itself. We parked in a small clearing next to a creepy old tree and cut through a small patch of woods that lead to a larger clearing. Here we found some large ditches and mounds of earth that may have been where buildings once stood.Pere Cheney 05 / Image: Richard Francis
As we wandered further into the clearing we found several small pieces of foundation in one area which lead us to believe that we were in the right location. We also noticed that there were peculiar patterns in the growth of grass around where we believed buildings once stood. It was kind of depressing to know that an empty field is all that’s left of a once bustling town filled with people.Pere Cheney 06 / Image: Richard Francis
Overall, our experience was rather quiet and uneventful. The only excitement we encountered was a Conservation Officer, a State Police Officer, and a local cop out on the two-track looking for a guy in a Jeep, and the only spirits we encountered that evening were of the bottled variety.Pere Cheney 07 / Image: Richard Francis
Posted by Richard Francis in Historic Horror, URBAN LEGENDS, 0 comments
HAUNTED LOCATIONS:  The Hippie Tree

HAUNTED LOCATIONS: The Hippie Tree

Not far from the old State Hospital in Traverse City lies the graffitied remains of an old willow tree that is known as the Hippie Tree. The tree gets its name and graffiti from the multitude of people who have made the journey there to meditate under its branches in an attempt to gain some otherworldly insight and leave their mark on it.
Many legends and stories have been told about this tree and the surrounding area. Some say the spirits of former patients from the nearby abandoned mental hospital haunt the area. Some say the area is inhabited by the ghost of a young boy murdered there by an escaped mental patient. There are even some people who claim that the area itself is the gateway to Hell if you walk a certain pattern around the tree. The true story of the tree and its origin are probably lost to time amongst the tales and legends.
After reading about the Hippie Tree online, I decided to try to locate it and see for myself what all the fuss was about. I assembled my team of crack ghost hunters (myself, my girlfriend, and my thirteen-year-old son) and we hit the road in search of spirits and adventure.
After a quick stop for lunch at Taco Bell, we made our way past the old asylum and parked near a school across from the hiking trails that take you to the Hippie Tree.
The hiking trails are well maintained and clearly labeled in the area and the tree itself is even noted on the main map when you enter the trailhead, which is kind of nice, although somewhat disheartening as I imagined the place to be crawling with tourists. We hiked up the trail a bit and took what we thought was the first right and promptly got lost. Actually, we weren’t lost, we just took a wrong turn and ended up making a big loop instead of the more direct route to the tree.
Hippie Tree 02 / Image: Richard FrancisAfter realizing our mistake, we oriented ourselves and continued on the trails through a beautiful forest and across a few trickling streams. Well worth the extra time in the woods in my opinion.
Hippie Tree 03 / Image: Richard FrancisThe trail leading down to the Hippie Tree is hard to miss, with all the brightly colored graffiti everywhere. It’s quite beautiful to see in person. Normally I’m not the type of person that enjoys graffiti. In most cases, and particularly in nature, I feel it detracts from things. But in this case, it seems to fit. You could wander up and down that tree for hours taking in all the little details. The bright, vibrant colors seem to tell their own story of the area.
We all sat there for a while taking in the surrounding and seeing if we could feel some presence of the spirits that are said to inhabit the area.
Nada. The only presence we felt was that of the couple that came down there to sit on a branch and eat their lunch, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t spirits. Unless spirits like to stop by the drive-thru at Wendy’s on their way to a haunting.
We walked around the Hippie Tree a few times like we were told to do in order to open the gates of Hell. Nada there, too. The only thing that opened the gates of Hell that day was the Taco Bell we had for lunch.
Maybe we just aren’t that in touch with the spirit world, or maybe spirits weren’t that interested in us. Or maybe Saturday is a day off for ghosts. Maybe we caught the ghost during the shift change and they were busy. It doesn’t really matter to me because it was a good day to be out in the woods, enjoying nature and I’m glad we went. Maybe that’s what the spirits wanted me to take away from the experience. A beautiful day enjoying the wonder of nature with the people I care most about.
If you’re ever in the Traverse City area of northern Michigan you should check out the Hippie Tree.Hippie Tree 07 / Image: Richard Francis
Posted by Richard Francis in ATTRACTIONS AND DESTINATIONS, HALLOWEEN, URBAN LEGENDS, 2 comments
In Remembrance:  Tobe Hooper

In Remembrance: Tobe Hooper

Tobe Hooper didn’t just change the face of horror, I credit (or blame, depending on who you talk to) him with changing the direction of my life. I don’t say that lightly. Not many movies or directors have impacted me as much as his films.
I grew up during the video rental craze of the 80s. I also grew up in a house where horror wasn’t a popular genre. So anytime we went to the local video rental place, I would always browse the horror section looking at all the boxes of all the movies that I would rent if only my mom would let me.
Not too many of those boxes stood out or left a lasting impression on me. Except two. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the first of those two. It was like the Holy Grail of horror movies in my opinion. Even when my parents started letting me rent scary movies, they always told me “No” when it came to that one. I still remember the first time I got the okay to rent The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was a defining moment in my young, impressionable life. It also changed my life forever.
Up until that point I had not seen a lot of horror, and a lot of what I had seen was pretty straightforward stuff. Universal classics, 70s Hammer horror, and Roger Corman cheapies. I had no idea what I was getting into when I popped in the video tape after everyone else in the house had gone to bed.
This was the first movie that caught me by surprise. It blew me away. I had never seen anything like that before. The brutality and the stark tone set it apart from anything I had ever seen before. I remember rewinding and re-watching scenes over and over. For a movie with very little blood, it came across as one of the most gut-wrenching watches I had seen up until then.
That was the moment I knew that I wasn’t going to just be a fan of horror. I was going to be one of those “horror people”.
After that, I knew I had to seek out the other works of Mr. Hooper. I watched every single one I could find. Poltergeist and Salem’s Lot both left lasting impressions on me. The Fun House and Lifeforce were enjoyable and interesting. But nothing seemed to grab my attention with the same force as the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
It’s a fair bet that no movie will ever have the same impact on me as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And as much as I wanted to discuss how much I loved Poltergeist and The Apartment Complex, I really don’t think anything I could say will compare to how I feel about that one film.
Although I never met the man, I feel as though his contribution to entertainment helped shape who I am. His legend and legacy will live on in all of the filmmakers that continue to be inspired by his work.
Posted by Richard Francis in EDITORIALS, HORROR HEROES, 0 comments
TRIBUTE: George A. Romero (5 of ?)

TRIBUTE: George A. Romero (5 of ?)

Remembering George A. Romero

With the passing of George A. Romero this week many of us are mourning the loss of one of the true legends of the horror industry. Although he is viewed as the father of the modern zombie film, I feel that it’s important to keep in mind some of the other influences he had both inside the horror industry as well as outside.
As we all know, he is almost single-handedly responsible for the modern zombie. Everything from The Walking Dead graphic novels and the TV series, the Resident Evil franchise (both the games and the films), and even books like The Zombie Survival Guide all owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Romero, as his take on the undead have helped to shape all these.
His sphere of influence spreads far beyond zombies, though. Some of his best work was with the writing of Stephen King. Everyone knows that the works of King are notoriously difficult to translate to film. His take on King’s The Dark Half made the story compelling and interesting while remaining very true to the source material. Many people consider it to be one of the most faithful King adaptations ever put to film.
His directing skill was always spot on and appropriate to the type of film he was making. His use of unique lighting and camera angles on Creepshow differed from most other films and made it feel like a comic book come to life. It also helped teach young impressionable fans such as myself that horror could be artistic, beautifully lit, ironic, and fun.
Although many people consider Bruiser to be his worst film, I believe that it proves that he wasn’t just a great director but a masterful storyteller. Weaving a very bleak story with depth and heart about a man struggling with life and identity. Making the viewer feel compassion for the man and the monster while also creating a stark, uncomfortable world.
Don’t even get me started on the genius and magic behind the film Martin. I could talk about that one for hours.
So much more than just the “Godfather of zombies”, George A. Romero was a true visionary who will be missed but whose influence will live on for generations.
Posted by Richard Francis in HORROR NEWS, HoTS, TRIBUTE, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW: Heidi (2014)

MOVIE REVIEW: Heidi (2014)

Haunted doll movies are hit or miss. There are no mediocre horror movies about dolls. They’re either great or they suck. There’s not a lot of middle ground for creepy doll movies, and the same can be said about found footage films. Combining the two is a risky proposition. Heidi attempts both and succeeds in some areas while failing miserably in others.
First off, why do all possessed dolls need to look evil? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of being evil? Evil works best when you don’t know it’s there. I’m about tired of these unsuspecting people coming across an obviously evil doll and then acting all surprised when it eats a dog and starts offing the neighbors.
As far as spooky doll movies go, Heidi is an excellent attempt although the story is mostly straightforward and predictable. The doll is creepy, but not over-the-top creepy. The characters are believable and annoying.
My biggest issue with Heidi isn’t the uninspired story or the questionable actions of the characters; it’s the acting. Terrible, terrible acting. Even by found footage film standards it’s bad, and that’s saying something. I love the found footage genre, but it’s not known for Oscar-worthy performances.
The movie starts by introducing two annoying teenage boys (is there any other kind?) who enjoy pranking people and being obnoxious. One of the boys ends up working for a neighbor, and while rooting through her house, finds the demon doll. As far as I’m concerned, they deserve whatever bad things happen since they went snooping where they shouldn’t have. It’s all downhill from there, with things slowly escalating from doll related hijinks to full blown pet murder, and beyond.
Heidi takes a bit to get going, and the end drags on a longer that it needs to, with a ham-handed scene that jumps between the beauty of life and the grisly details of death. The final scene is worth it though.
The movie is filmed very well, with very little of the “shaky cam” that one would expect from this type of film. There’s also a fair amount of tension with scares being well timed and spaced perfectly throughout the film. Also, there are almost no cheap jump scares, something so many lower budget movie rely on.
Ultimately, Heidi is one of those movies that has an amazing amount of potential but falls short due to an uninspired story and awful acting.
Heidi_scale / Fair use doctrine.
Posted by Richard Francis in MOVIE REVIEWS, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW: WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

MOVIE REVIEW: WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

Oh the 80s… What a decade. The great Satanism scare, the dawn of sensational investigative journalism, VCRs, big hair, and all the hairspray and chlorofluorocarbons that destroyed the ozone. (I personally blame hair bands and their excessive use of hairspray for global warming. It’s probably not their fault, but I’m going to blame them anyway. Me and my mullet were innocent, blameless beings.) It’s not very often that a movie comes along that can capture the spirit of the 80s without coming off as kitschy. All too often the makers of those films go overboard with pop culture references and fail to grasp the subtleties of the decade.
Chris LaMartina’s 2013 WNUF Halloween Special is not a stellar film, but in some ways it’s absolutely genius. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film capture the spirit of the late 80s as well as this film. It captures the underlying feeling of the 80s more than it focuses on all of the flashy things we remember about that decade.
WNUF Halloween Special - The Hosts / Fair use doctrine.The premise is pretty simple in concept. It’s an old videocassette containing a standard local news broadcast and a Halloween special, complete with commercials. The news broadcast is pretty boring stuff containing lots of local, believable tidbits. The newscasters, Gavin and Deborah (Richard Cutting and Leanna Chamish) go about their regular banter while hyping up a Halloween special airing later that night hosted by Frank Stewart, a Geraldo Rivera wanna-be (Paul Fahrenkopf). Frank, along with ghost hunting couple the Bergers (Brian St. August and Helenmary Ball), their psychic cat, a Priest (Robert Long II) are investigating a local haunted house in the hopes of encountering a supernatural entity. Of course, things go terribly wrong for the group.
If you weren’t around in the 80s and don’t remember what it was like to record anything directly off of the TV, you probably won’t understand the entertainment and nostalgia in commercials for 900 lines or demolition derbies. Nothing in this film winks at itself. It all seems very believable and realistic.
This is really one of those films that is best viewed from a certain perspective. Something like this is more akin to performance art than a movie. The news portion was as exactly as boring and trite as most local news broadcasts are, the commercials are as repetitive and annoying as they were back then, and the Halloween special portion talks itself up and makes promises it can’t deliver, just like most “Special Reports” do.
Overall, WNUF Halloween Special was an enjoyable film. It wasn’t great, but I don’t think it was supposed to be great. I think it was supposed to be realistic, and they hit the nail on the head in that department.
Posted by Richard Francis in HALLOWEEN, MOVIE REVIEWS, 0 comments
SERIES OVERVIEW: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (2017)

SERIES OVERVIEW: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (2017)

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return

This review might seem a bit out of nowhere for a horror site, but Mystery Science Theater 3000 is something near and dear to the hearts of many hardcore horror fans simply because we’ve all had to suffer through bad movies with our friends.
We’ve all been there, particularly if you lived through the video rental era. You’d wander the aisles for upwards of an hour, reading the backs of boxes, looking for the perfect movie to watch. You would grab a pizza and a few refreshing cold beverages, get home, pop in the movie and immediately be disappointed with your carefully selected choice of films. It happens, but you’d suffer through it anyway, because money was spent and you weren’t about to let that crappy movie win.
I’m a bit shocked that some of the people I watched movies with back then are still my friends considering how many bad movies I made them watch. At this point I would like to formally apologize to my friend John for making him suffer through all those dreadful movies. Notice I said that I would LIKE to apologize; I’m not actually going to because those memories are some of the best of my formative years.
Which brings me to my point. Mystery Science Theater 3000 isn’t just a movie watching experience; it’s more like a bonding experience. You feel a kinship, not just with the host and his companions, but with everyone who has ever suffered through a bad movie.
I’ll admit that when I first heard that Joel Hodgson was trying to reboot Mystery Science Theater 3000, I was skeptical. As much as I loved the show, I really didn’t think it was still relevant in today’s society of 140-character Twitter humor, Fail Army videos, and tasteless memes. That, and the fact that it’s closing on 20 years since the show appeared on television.
Surprisingly, the new incarnation is every bit as good as the older version. Mind you, it’s not the same show. It’s the next step in the progression of the show. An evolution. Everything about it is new. It’s much more polished with better visuals in some areas, and the old school, homemade feel in others.
Kinga Forrester and Max aka TV's Son of TV's Frank / Fair use doctrine.The story plays out the same way as the old one. Evil mad scientists Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), and her assistant, TV’s Son of TV’s Frank, aka Max (Patton Oswalt), trap some poor, likable dope — Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) — on the far side of the moon and force him to watch bad movies with his robot pals.
Even though Day and Oswalt do a great job as the new “Mads”, I don’t think their characters are fully developed at this point. They seem almost TOO competent compared to Clayton and Pearl Forrester. And while both are colorful and entertaining, they seem a bit generic. As a big fan of both, I’m hoping that both can embrace their respective roles and make them unique and interesting characters in future seasons.
Jonah and the bots / Fair use doctrine.Jonah Ray does a superb job filling the shoes of the hosts before him. No small feat. (Get it? Shoes, Feet. HaHaHaHa!) considering that Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson had two distinctly different styles. He’s not just filling the shoes in though, he’s doing a great job of making the role his own. And although the voices of Crow and Tom Servo have changed slightly, Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn pick up almost seamlessly from Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy regarding the character and delivery of their respective robots.
The riffing in the theater segments is fast and concise right out of the gate, with lots of references to current events as well as throwbacks to some of the classic episodes. Just like the old show, the diverse range of topics give the new shows a great amount of re-watchability.
The host segments are lively and fun, although it’s easy to tell that Ray, Yount, and Vaughn haven’t quite mastered their on-screen chemistry. That sort of thing will come together over time, though.
Also, the addition of some big-name celebrities and a few familiar old faces dropping by on occasion gives the viewers an added treat. I’d tell you a few right now, but it’s more fun to be surprised by it.
Overall, it’s a faithful continuation of the series if you’re an old fan of the show, and it’s a great introduction if you’re a newbie.
Posted by Richard Francis in MOVIE REVIEWS, TELEVISION REVIEWS, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW:  Observance (2015)

MOVIE REVIEW: Observance (2015)

Picking random low-budget movies is risky. For every hidden gem that you find, you have to wade through dozens of awful movies. I’ve grown accustomed to wading through the dreck, though, as I can usually find some merit in even the worst of films. Even if it’s just for the laugh factor. With that being said, I wasn’t expecting much from Observance. All I knew about it was that it was extremely low budget and that it was filmed in Australia. Other than that, it was new to me.
Observance is an Australian horror/thriller directed by Joseph Sims-Dennett and released in 2015. The story follows a private investigator (Lindsay Farris) returning to work after the loss of his young son. He is tasked by an enigmatic client to observe a woman (Stephanie King) from an empty apartment across the street. He is never told why he is watching her, or what to watch for. Only to watch, and report back. He soon begins to have dreams and visions concerning this woman and his deceased son. As things progress it becomes apparent that his task is not what it seems.
The story moves along at the exact pace you’d expect from a movie where you’re watching a guy sit in an empty apartment watching a woman. Suffice to say, very slow. Not boring though. His various actions and interactions with the appliances, windows, and a corded phone (seriously, do those things even still exist?) are enough to keep you wondering what is and isn’t real. Also, the director’s use of a handheld camera make it feel as though you’re seeing real life events unfold as opposed to watching a movie.
The storytelling is tight and concise with limited dialogue and sparse music, which adds to the tedious nature of the investigator’s job. The whole story has a very subtle, Lovecraftian feel to it. Not in the crazy monsters from the depths of your worst nightmare sense, but in the very real sense that there is a flipside to everyday normalcy that is so close to the surface that we can almost catch glimpses of it. Unfortunately, that also means that it has an ending that fits this type of narrative.
My only real issue with Observance is that it is a very green movie. Not green in the sense of environmentally friendly, but green in the sense that the director went a bit overboard with color correction software. I’m not opposed to a director using colors to establish mood and atmosphere, but it gets a bit tedious at times.
If you like glossy terror with lots of monsters and jump scares, you might want to pass on this one, but if you enjoy a slow burn with a conclusion that is a bit open ended you will probably enjoy Observance.
Observance poster / Fair use doctrine.
Posted by Richard Francis in MOVIE REVIEWS, 0 comments