Monday, October 31, 2005

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare


(1991) **

Whether it was intentional or not, the sixth Freddy movie has some elements in it that could have generated a much better movie. The story idea is solid enough, in which Freddy has wiped out the juvenile population of Springwood, IL and sends out the last surviving teen to fetch more (why did Freddy kill little kids while alive and teens after he died? Anyone?). Another plus is the cast; I liked both Freddy’s daughter and tough girl Tracy, who has a lantern-jawed Jodi Foster thing going on. Add a quality name like Yaphet Kotto to the mixture, as a radical shrink who accepts the danger without question, and Freddy’s ass is ready to get kicked in style. What could go wrong?

The same thing that usually goes wrong, which is big buttery slabs of misguided humor. It starts early, when the genuinely scary airplane anxiety dream turns into a sendup of Wizard of Oz. Freddy on a broomstick, ugh. This trend touches every potentially good idea. The kidless Springwood filled with psycho grown-ups could have been scary, but then Rosanne Arnold shows up. Even the much-maligned video game death starts out with some promising visuals, but then suddenly we’re hanging out with Freddy in his…what, his office? Rec room? while he plays the video game his victim is trapped in. Had enough? Well, get ready for more as the real-life victim bounces and flips all over the house with accompanying cartoon sound effects. Abysmal.

I think this movie wandered into a zone of good ideas completely by accident, and then wandered back out again.

Friday, October 28, 2005

April Fool's Day


(1986) ***

This is one I'd seen once a long time ago and decided to revisit. Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl!) plays Muffy, a rich girl who invites her college friends to her family's island for the weekend. Things go south immediately upon arrival when one of the ferry workers gets horribly injured, yelling "they did it!" His ire is based on a prank the kids just pulled, but I thought it was actually his own damn fault.

Now, at this point in the Horrorthon I've seen a ton of pranks. You'd think that would put me off this movie, in which the whole house is laid with mild, funny booby traps. But as a theme (instead of a fakeout scare), it was pretty amusing. The minor bits of unreality opens the mood to worse events, and sure enough members of the group start disappearing. A trick doorknob is a totally different thing when you're running for your life. And what's with Muffy? It's like she was replaced in the night by an evil twin...

There's something about this movie that really works, and it's the cast. On the surface, their banter doesn't seem too far off what we're used to: this guy wants to get laid, that guy wants in with Muffy's rich family, etc. But the actors really manage to feel like an actual group of friends, and that makes all the difference. Worth enough of a look that I'm not going to spoil the ending.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child


(1989) **

I remember hearing that they were trying to make Freddy a more shadowy figure in this one, get him back to his roots. While they do manage that in a scene or two, nothing really changed.

Alice is back with blonde hair (and I think maybe a nosejob), her old jock boyfriend and a couple of new sacrificial lambs. Soon she spots some slow-motion children dressed in white and the trouble starts. The trick is that she's pregnant and Freddy's using her unborn child's dreamtime to attack her friends. I'll admit it's kind of a clever idea, but right away they screw up: Freddy can attack when Alice is awake, but he attacks the jock boyfriend when he's awake. Wrong!

The nightmare killings in this one are goofy and tired. Freddy's still rolling out quip after lame quip and doing lame things like merging someone with a motorcycle, riding a skateboard or turning into a supervillain version of himself. Very little worth seeing here.

I accept that horror flicks tend to fall back on a Christian framework while handling the frequent themes of supernatural evil, but in this one I found it grating. Personally, I don't go automatically rosy at the prospect of someone just out of high school having a baby, and this definitely has pro-life overtones. I wouldn't mind as much if the movie had the guts to say the word "abortion" while discussing it, but in 1989 I guess it was still too hot.

Politics aside, this one ends flaccidly with the unborn Jacob tricking Freddy so that Freddy's nun mom can grapple with him for all eternity. Yawn.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan


(1989) **1/2

This would have been whole lot better if they'd bagged the Manhattan part and just made it "Jason at Sea." This one asks you to swallow a lot, like the notion that although you can get Manhattan radio stations in Crystal Lake, you have to go through open ocean to get there. And even those who dislike NYC will know that it is not an endless rabbit warren of garbage-strewn back alleys in which there's ample toxic waste, rarely-seen inhabitants indifferent to your impending murder, and muggers who like to drag you away and give you their hard-earned drugs for free.

Keeping with the boat theme, Jason is revived when an anchor snags a power cable and inadvertantly jumpstarts him again. Then he heads to a larger boat full of teens on their graduation jaunt to New Yawk, baby! The character setups ring a little more false than usual, thanks largely to demento logic (why would anyone be expected to turn in a biology project on a class trip?) and Principal McCulloch, who is the most dysthymic, cranky man you'd never want to be stuck on a boat with. Every single thing out of this man's mouth is "I'm in charge!" or "no thanks to you!" or of course "stop talking about Jason!" I found myself yelling out loud at his ridiculous rage.

We spend an whole hour on the boat before Jason sinks it, then the five survivors manage to lifeboat through the fog until they see the Statue of Liberty. As soon as they dock the principal's at it again. "You sure picked a great place to dock the boat" he says sarcastically to the student who just saved his ass (because you know he's the first one they would've eaten.) Then Jason hauls himself out of the water to finish them off as they run around Vancouver...uh, I mean Manhattan. Eventually the surviving couple ditch Jason in the sewers as he is drowned in the nightly purging of toxic waste.

They look down afterwards to see a boy Jason, just as he was when he drowned the first time. All right -- that is IT, movie! I've had it with you.

Class Reunion Massacre


(1977) **

Six high school alumni receive invites to return to their alma mater for a class reunion. Initially, each of the six characters is shown in flashbacks behaving like an asshole. One is a snobby jock that treats his wife and kid badly. Another is a socialite who spends her free time shooting pigeons. There’s a lawyer who defends scumbags, an actor who is demanding and arrogant, and a woman who is twice divorced and likes to hang out in bars. The worst though, is the woman who “chose” to be a lesbian!

After arriving at the school they find that they are the only attendees and the janitor who opens the door for them expresses surprise that they are even there noting that the school has been closed for years (then why is there a janitor?). While there’s music, a dance floor, decorations, and food, there are no people. Soon the 6 start getting killed, presumably because they are being punished for leading such hedonistic lives. The film is bookended in a way that does not really make any sense, involving a 12ish-year old boy rising from a river, taking a bus to church, killing some bratty kid, and returning to the river.

This is a story that relies on an extraordinary set of events coalescing in order for the killer to be able to carry out his plans. For example, he would have to assume that the 6 people he chose to murder were unaware that the school had closed. He has to count on the fact that none of the 6 would bring spouses. He must take for granted the fact that not one of the 6 would be in communication with any other alumni or school faculty to verify this reunion. Also he has to reckon that he’ll be able to isolate each of the 6 in order to murder them one at a time. A silly, stupid film with little payoff, yet engaging enough for me to see how it would all turn out. Skip it.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers


(1989) ***

Although this one had its fair share of stupid, I'm giving a higher rating than #4. That's mainly because I didn't hate every second the little girl was on the screen. Turns out she can actually act decently, and the ongoing horror reflected in her face made the movie much more worthwhile.

We open with a recap of Mr. Myers' last known whereabouts, at the bottom of a mine shaft about to be dynamited. He reaches an old man's hovel and promptly konks out. One year later he's still in the old guy's house, laid out on a table, mask on a nearby hook. Bye bye old guy.

After the movie asks us to swallow that, the rest is just the basic stuff it always asks of us, like: wouldn't they ban Halloween in Haddonfield, or at least the sale of Michael Myers masks? Shouldn't they make it a crime to imitate Michael Myers in Haddonfield? Why do they make the poor little girl stay there? Why does anyone else stay? And most importantly: how have they had Loomis around for a whole year and not beat the crap out of him?

Jamie's been rendered mute from last year's events (a nice touch), but starts having Laura Mars style visions after Michael wakes up from his nap. Loomis is there, yelling at her and everybody else. Although her initial visions fail to turn up Michael, nobody notices that she's accurately clairvoyant in picking out the location of her friend Tina. Michael nabs a muscle car with a trunk full of beer -- I thought this time maybe he'd get laid and chill out, but he starts with the pitchforking. Later he uses the muscle car to try to run Jamie down (Bad slasher! Lazy!).

Loomis employs some touchy-feely stuff like his counterpart in Alone in the Dark, but it's really a trap to catch Michael. It actually works, and Loomis gets to ptonk Michael's head a bunch of times. They capture him alive. Then, after lurking around for the whole movie, some dude with metal-tipped boots that has the same tattoo as Michael (wha?) goes Terminator on the jail and busts him out. Who the heck has it in for Haddonfield so bad?

Hellbound: Hellraiser II


(1988) ***

Hellbound opens with bitchy yet appealing Kirsty, kept in a mental hospital just after the events of the first movie. Turns out the head doctor is himself an avid fan of the Cenobites' puzzle boxes, which is either a huge coincidence or clear evidence that everyone who works in psychology is a nutty cuckoo-head.

In the film's most inspired storyline, the gonzo doc acquires the mattress that Julia died on and arranges a blood sacrifice to bring her back. If you haven't seen this movie, then this scene alone is enough to give it a shot. Definitely the best horror sequence of any of the 1988 movies I've screened. As in the first flick, the recently returned display a vicious, nightmare hunger that is slick and scary. And this time it's bitchy yet extremely appealing Julia, who struts around the house in blood-spattered white linen and no skin -- ooh, it's stylish.

Meanwhile, Kirsty has gotten the crazy doc's young assistant on her side (little minx!) and has also gotten a plea for help from a skinless apparition she thinks is her father. Turns out it's Frank, of course. Second movie in a row she sees a skinless body and makes that mistake. Shame on her, then.

Unfortunately, once we get to Hell the story loses a lot of focus. Certain aspects are worthwhile, like the Escheresque setting and that big rotating diamond. But after a while it just seemed like just more and more footage of Kirsty and the mute girl running down those stone hallways. The crazy doctor gets transformed into a Cenobite that is at first a major badass and then winds up ripping off his own head by accident.

A lot of Clive Barker stuff I've either read or seen suffers from Hellbound's problem. A decent mood is set, but the story wanders away with itself. The arc of this movie is Kirsty goes to mental hospital, Kirsty goes to Hell, Kirsty goes to mental hospital again, Kirsty goes to Hell again. See what I mean? One trip to Hell should be enough.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Stendhal Syndrome


(1996) ***1/2

Dario Argento directs his own daughter in what is arguably the most brutal film of his brutal career. Asia, still looking like she hasn't slept in weeks, plays a police officer named Anna. (Incidentally, Anna is the name of his other daughter who is deceased). The film begins with Anna bugging out and hallucinating herself into the paintings at the famous Uffizi Museum in Italy. So far so awesome. She is then assaulted by a serial rapist/murderer and she's the only person to have lived through one of his attacks. Soon thereafter she exhibits a radical change in behavior. She cuts her hair short and becomes prone to violence and self mutilation, while continuing to visit the musum to walk among the pictures. The Stendhal Syndrome, as explained by her psychiatrist, refers to an 18th century writer who was overcome by powerful emotions while viewing art and his shock was followed by similar hallucinations. He felt happiness, yet wanted to forget it.

Anna's second encounter with the killer culminates with a revenge sequence that Steven Segal would be proud of. SPOILER: She stabs him, gouges his eye out, shoots him and then rolls his sorry ass off a cliff. Life goes on and she finds true love. The movie could have easily ended here. But then the crank calls start...

The Stendhal Syndrome is dense and difficult to watch at times but it is also fascinating and even rewarding in the end. The killer is one sick, sick fuck, up there with the worst of them. It is certainly the only horror movie I've seen that delves into the psychological ramifications of rape. The music is eerie and hard to shake off and visually it is almost hypnotic. Though filmed in 1996, I wouldn't have batted an eye if told it was from the 70's. Enter at your own risk.

Baron Blood


(1972) *1/2

Peter Von Kleist is a descendant to to Baron Von Kleist aka - Baron Blood, known for his sadistic 16th century reign of terror. Fascinated with his family legend, Peter manages to (it pains me to finish writing this sentence) bring the baron's spirit back to life to take care of unfinished business. Set in a gothic castle like many movies of this genre, the victims find themselves up against an assortment of medieval torture devices such as the spiked coffin.

It's taken me several years to finally admit that Mario Bava movies (Black Sunday, Kill Baby Kill) just aren't very compelling. They are generally both boring and complicated, a disastrous recipe for a horror movie. A couple of unexpected scares aside, this movie is a complete and utter waste of time.

The Nightmare Never Ends


(1980)*

An elderly Nazi prisoner camp survivor turned Nazi hunter is convinced that the dashing 30-year old man he sees on TV is the same man that tortured him 30 years prior. He harasses a reluctant police detective to look into it. After all, how could this remarkable-looking 30-year old be the same man from 30 years prior? Meanwhile, a prominent author publishes a controversial novel entitled, “God is Dead”, which raises the ire of the public as well as the handsome 30-year old man. Ultimately, the police investigation reveals that the striking 30-year old is part of a devil-worshiping cult and seems to be in cahoots with the devil. This dreamboat of a man sets his sights on the author for a really lame showdown.

Boy what a stinker. This is one of those films that look like it was edited for content. Every time there’s something “scary” on screen there seemed to be a cutaway. Bad music, bad cinematography, bad FX, and some of the worst acting ever, this one should be avoided at all costs. I need to stop buying these $1 dvds from the supermarket!

The Screaming Skull


(1958) **1/2

Newlyweds Eric and Jenny move into a large mansion owned by Mary, Eric’s deceased first wife. Early on we learn that Mary was killed in a freak accident that resulted in her skull being crushed. Throughout the mansion are reminders of Mary. One large self-portrait is particularly eerie and the relief bust on her tombstone is downright creepy. As the couple settles into their new home, Jenny, who is as psychologically fragile as a menagerie collection, begins hearing terrible shrieks at night and periodically stumbles across skulls hidden throughout the house. It would seem that Eric's dead wife is none too pleased about his new union. Add to the mix a creepy, monosyllabic gardener who was in love with Mary and seems unhappy that there is a new woman in the house. Indeed the house holds secrets and they threaten to destroy the couple’s idyllic life.

Another very b movie from the 50s that most people never saw because they were busy making out. Although low on production value, this is a fun, albeit fairly predictable “ghost” story. The climax is fun and actually contains one mildly good scare. I must confess that I watched this purely because I liked the title. There’s a cute gimmick at the beginning of the film where we’re shown a casket and informed that all funeral expenses will be paid for if we die of fright from watching the movie. I’m sure no one ever needed to take them up on this offer.

Evilspeak


(1982) *1/2

Stanley Coopersmith gets picked on by students and teachers alike at the military academy. They call him names like "Cooper-dick" and throw his hat out of the window. And I can't say I blame them. His bumbling antics and constant petrified "why me?" expression makes it virtually impossible not to whip his chubby behind with a wet towel. When stuck with basement cleaning duty, he comes across a mysterious book that gives him the strength to stand up for himself by awakening an evil spirit named Esteban. Esteban appears through his Intellivision-like computer and starts meting out revenge.

This is one of those movies where I started off wearing a good-natured, optimistic smile on my face. It soon spiraled down to the point where I felt ashamed of myself for watching this garbage to the bitter end. 3rd rate Carrie knockoff.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master



(1988) **1/2

JPX has always said that right here, with the sunglasses, is when American horror movies jumped the shark.

Not only do I agree, but I think it's oddly indicative of exactly what's wrong with this movie: the light. There was one scene in Dream Warriors, when Freddy is facing off with Taryn the bad beautiful junkie, that I thought was lit too brightly. For a moment there was no play of shadow on the hideous contour of Freddy's face, but that wasn't the typical mode of that movie. Dream Master, on the other hand, is lit up like a sitcom living room. It's the opposite of scary, but no one cares.

It's easy to see the pattern. Wes Craven gives us something good with #1, they turn it into a possession story. Wes comes back and retools for #3, and they've got the "whatever scares you" formula now, but they don't use it right. It's all about parking Freddy in nutty settings and making quips. He's your teacher! He's bursting out of a sand castle! (Huh?) He's eating a pizza with souls for meatballs! (Double huh?) And so on.

The story brings back the survivors of #3, with Kristen very noticably not being played by Patricia Arquette. Freddy comes back to life for no discernable reason and wipes them out, which was one of those times when offing the survivors from the last movie felt cheap and unfair. Kristen uses her magical special gift to pull mousy Alice into her dream and puts a big target on her head. Alice then replaces Kristen as our Hero Girl, which suited me just fine.

There's some worthy creativity in some of the dream deaths, and the brainy girl couldn't go fast enough for me. I recall liking the roach transformation dream when I saw this the first time...is seemed a little silly now, but there is a satisfying spine tingle when Debbie pulls her face out of the glue and lets loose with that warm scream. Yikes.

It's effective enough to earn Dream Master a higher rating than #2, but this ultimately chokes on its own cheese. Alice's emergence from mousedom was fun, but her acquiring her dead friends' "powers" is pretty lame. The Dream Master dealy is the worst: in the nick of time she remembers the whole rhyme and shows Freddy a reflection of himself, which causes all the people in his chest to bust out. Made about as much sense as him waking up in the first place, I guess.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Alone in the Dark


(1982) ***1/2

I got this for a laugh, since it has the same title as the Boll movie and because it stars Dwight Schultz, the twitchy Lt. Barclay from STNG. This turned out to be really fun.

Barclay plays the world's most clueless shrink, newly assigned to Haven, an experimental mental health facility run by none other than Donald Pleasance. Donald is nothing less than outrageous in this, playing a sort of anti-Dr. Loomis, healing sick minds by reaching out to them. This includes lots of hugging, crapola pseudo-psychiatry, getting high in his office, and lending matches to patients.

Donald introduces the Third Floor men, the violent foursome held in check by an electronic alarm system. They include Jack Palance and Martin Landau, both playing crazy to the hilt, a big fat guy and the Bleeder, a face-hiding killer whose nose bleeds after he commits acts of violence. We've just met these dudes when Palance says "Barclay killed our old shrink...we have to kill Barclay." Ooookay. Soon there's a blackout and the four men escape. They head downtown (where as scene of ridiculous looting is taking place, considering this is somewhere in Connecticut) and the Bleeder puts on a hockey mask (!), but only for one scene.

The resultant siege involves a bit of stalking and planning, with Dwight doing a wonderful job of downplaying the problem. He tells his wife that an escaped violent criminal came to their house and hung out with their young daughter, but that it's "nothing to worry about honey." The fact that the babysitter is missing isn't concerning anyone, least of all the mellow detective on the scene. The cops find some footprints but lose them, shrug, and leave. Donald Pleasance calls from his office, pipe in hand. Incompetence reigns, and the siege begins.

This is definitely my sleeper/retro find for this year. It starts with a dream sequence you'll swear is David Lynch, and there's a couple of effective scaryish moments (the leering Martin Landau is particularly creepy). There's a darn strange-looking little girl who edges into annoying territory, but who won me over when, in a pinch, she holds up the kitchen knife saying "here Mom!" JPX, you especially need to check this out for the mangled psychology; you'll love it. This was entertaining through and through.

Alone in the Dark


(2005) *1/2

And my Uwe Boll film festival (snicker) continues. And thankfully ends. JPX also reviews this below.

I'm not one of those cranks who talks about film like I wish it was still the 70's. I liked Mod Squad, even though it looked like a Gap commercial. Whether or not there should be movies based on video games is a crank's debate; the game industry is so huge it means there's gonna be more. The trick will be to find a fresh way to present ideas that are already once-removed recycled cousins of the movies that inspired them in the first place. I think it can be done. I saw Serenity again last night, and Joss Whedon proves you can find originality in the old familiar places.

Mr. Boll, on the other hand, has such a natural downward inclination in his methods I was passing the time watching Alone in the Dark just trying to remember all the properties being ripped off. Edward Carnby, Christian Slater's character, is himself a cocktail of Indiana Jones, Fox Mulder and the Ghostbusters (just for starters). A movie like this needs some talent to rise above the shadows of its betters, and this flick is talent-free.

And nothing says talent-free like Tara Reid, playing pouty scientist Aline Cedrac*. God is she awful. If there were no such thing as eye-liner that woman would never have had a career. Late in the movie Ona Grauer from House of the Dead shows up as a black-ops trooper, and I wanted her to go konk Tara Reid on the head, put on those stupid glasses and take her place. I don't think anyone would mind.

*Carnby? Cedrac? Who comes up with these names?

The one shining achievement this movie could claim is that it actually manages to get worse at the end. The secret government agency turns out to be frightfully incompetent in battle, Stephen Dorff pulls the expected second banana sacrifice, and then for some reason the city is empty when our hero couple emerge. I say "some reason" because the movie actually gives two conflicting ones. Christian is telling us it's karmic payback for meddling in dark forces, but a text blip says the city's been evacuated (although the since the mission was covert I don't know who told them to). And then, for the final shot, let's do...oh, I don't know, Evil Dead?

Hackery, hackery, hackery.

The Devil Rides Out


(1968) ***


Touted as one of Hammer's best films, the Devil Rides Out gave Christopher Lee the rare opportunity to battle on the side of good. He plays Duc de Richleau who has been diligently preparing for battle against a typically evil satanic cult led by the sinister Mr. Mocato. Mocato controls his subjects through hypnotism and his sole ambition appears to be spreading evil. The cult dresses in white gowns a la Heavens Gate, engages in silly pagan rituals and throw parties of wanton lust. In their secret meetings, Mocato says things like "Oh mighty and all powerful sect, Father of Darkness, King of Death, I pledge this knife to do thy work and be thy servant. The Bride of Chaos! The Rider upon the Beast!" and so forth.

When Lee and his companions are later under attack, they are forced to ride out the storm in one of those chalk circles of protection (love those things!). This scene is great fun as he has to prevent everyone from being tricked into leaving the circle. The satanic ruses include a giant spider attack and a black knight on a steed. Lee fights back, armed not with the power of Christ but with some strange pagan spells and tactics of his own. The whole thing doesn't amount to much more than a pile of hooey but it's the good kind of hooey.

House of the Dead


(2003) **

I think some day somebody will make a good movie based on a video game. I think this movie will do things differently somehow, manage to pull out the kineticism and punch of the game without sacrificing the storytelling or the characterization. And I don't think Uwe Boll will have anything to do with it.

JPX hauled an extremely reluctant me into the theater to see this in 2003. We had just seen Kill Bill and I was ready to go home, and for whatever reason he didn't mention his double-feature intentions. Seeing the debased quality of the film in the first few minutes (I was quite incensed at the character introduced as "pure eye candy," who I saw as more of an "eye turkey sandwich a little on the dry side"), I drifted into a pissy, fitful nap for most of the movie.

That being the case, I was mildly surprised on rewatching this to find a nugget of enjoyment here or there. I was more than a little taken with Ona Grauer, the bodice-wearing Hero Girl, who might win this year's title for "girl I'd most like to take out to dinner." Kira Clavell, the hot Asian chick in the flag-themed body suit -- also an appealing addition. And there was ample use of the Matrixy bullet-time effect, which I have a soft spot for after having worked on such an FX system myself in 1997.

Buuuut, that's about the limit of the good stuff. Boll's particular filmmaking style combines the schools of "I'm from Europe" and "they didn't give me very much money," both of which are workable places to start from. Unfortunately, Boll's talent for distilled mediocrity brings in the third school of "I don't give a rat's ass." The biggest disappointment by far is the so-called zombies. This isn't slow zombies vs. fast zombies, these guys are ninja zombies. We're treated to loads of shots of zombies running by spotlights in the woods with ominous whooshing sounds. They can jump really far, which was kind of neat until it got overused and tired (a common feature in this movie). They use weapons, they make faces at the live people to be scary -- in other words, they act like alive people. Other than the makeup, there's no attempt to really monsterize them, except for completely ineffective scary whooshing shots. The only thing about them that says zombie is their ineffectiveness in battle, which is mostly down to underthought blocking in the big carnage scene. I kept spotting zombies that were right next to our characters, holding weapons in a ready stance and just standing there because they hadn't gotten the cue from Uwe to move yet. Hackery and more hackery. And it seems you can take out zombies with shots to the chest or just kicking them. Whatever.

You could pick any aspect of this movie and spend time tearing it apart, but who has the time?

Land of the Dead


(2005) ****
It would not have been hard for Romero's Land of the Dead to buckle under expectations. After all, it had been 20 years since his last zombie venture. It would also inevitably be stacked up side by side with the unexpectedly superb Dawn of the Dead remake from last year. Though it's too early to tell how this movie will ultimately rest in the grand scheme of things, I suspect it will age with dignity.

We're taken further in the zombie timeline to a city on an island, safe from the undead. Society has been rebuilt but class differences are now more evident than ever. The first class citizens, led by a wonderfully restrained Dennis Hopper, live the life of luxury in a well-protected skyscraper. The 2nd class folk are forced to live in absolute squalor on the street level. The depiction of the overpopulated slums is truly impressive and I wish more time was spent here. We meet our protagonists in a trendy gothic nightclub that uses zombies chained to the wall as ambience -and that's just great. (Keep your eyes peeled for the Shaun of the Dead cameos here.) Horror royalty Asia Argento is also introduced in this scene and she brings much to the film by being both tough-as-nails and cool-as-shit. And John Leguziamo (who normally gets on my tits but fits his role here nicely) plays one of Hopper's henchmen whom he hires for suicide missions to obtain supplies from the mainland. He hopes to earn enough money to buy his way into high society.

The zombies are the 3rd class citizens who are generally greeted with a bullet to the forehead. But they are getting smarter and beginning to show signs of human emotion. And they now have a charismatic leader in the form of a zombie gas station attendant. He mourns the loss of his fellow zombies ever so much. All Hell breaks loose when the he leads the masses to the island for a bloody showdown.

I was initially disappointed with Land of the Dead but upon 2nd viewing I was truly converted. Hallelujah. The director's cut is ultraviolent but never gratuitous. Ok, it's plenty gratuitous but it never loses its focus.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man


(1943)**1/2

Grave robbers stumble upon Larry Talbot’s (i.e., the Wolf Man) crypt and accidentally revive the tragic character. After escaping from his crypt he arrives at the local hospital, where nobody believes that he is Larry Talbot (because he died 4 years ago, you see!). Larry locates the old gypsy woman from the original Wolf Man film and seeks her advice. She believes that the answer to Larry’s problem can be found in (the now deceased) Baron Frankenstein’s diary. Together they travel to Vasaria, where they meet Baron Frankenstein’s granddaughter, Elsa. While searching for the diary, Larry finds the Frankenstein monster encased in ice and for no particular reason revives him. Once Elsa shows him where the diary is hidden, Baron Frankenstein’s lab is fixed up and turned on so Larry can attempt to end his wolf man curse.

At this point a number of Frankenstein and Wolf Man films had been made and Universal needed a new way to energize these once huge franchises (think Freddy vs. Jason). Thus we get one of several monster team-ups. The thing about these team-up movies is that the “monsters” are never really combined in any very interesting manner. Sure we have Frankenstein and the Wolf Man of screen together, but they basically just hang out rather than cause some much-needed mayhem. Bela Lugosi plays Frankenstein in this one and boy is he ever awful. Picture a blind drunk leaving a bar and staggering down the street without his cane to get the picture. Larry’s plight, similar to David Banner’s Hulk plight, begins to wear thin. Stop whining already and kill some people. More than once Larry exclaims, “I just want to die!” What’s with this mamma’s boy monster? Don’t get me wrong, this film is no better or worse than all of the classic monster movies, I’m just sayin’.

House of Wax


(2005)***1/2

Six really annoying people set out for a road trip to see a college championship football game. Along the way they decide to camp out for the night in order to quarrel, drink and have sex. After an unsettling incident with a mysterious trucker, the clan wakes up to find that their vehicle has been tampered with. Against their better judgment, two of the friends reluctantly accept a local’s invitation to give them a ride to a nearby town where they will be able to pick up the necessary parts for their car. Once they arrive at the town, the two stumble upon a once famous House of Wax, which still contains amazing lifelike sculptures. As night begins to fall the two discover the town’s secret and realize that there is a reason the wax figures look so real. Then they meet Vincent, a horribly scarred, demented mute who wants to add them to the wax collection.

Much better than it deserved to be! The first 40 minutes or so introduces us to a cast of really, really annoying people. With almost every line a veiled insult, frequent subtle and overt threats, and some good old-fashioned bullying, you never believe for a second that any of these people would ever spend 5 minutes together let alone a weekend getaway to watch a sporting event. Yet we’re eventually able to move past these unrealistic friendships once the real meat of the film kicks in. Paris Hilton, whom I loathe with every fiber of my being, actually does a good job here. She’s not going to win any acting awards, but she’s no better or worse than any of the others. Her death is spectacular, by the way. House of Wax is really two films in one. The first half follows the partying comrades on a road trip. The second half, the good half, kicks in once the principals get lost and end up at the titular “house of wax”. Yes, this kind of story has been done a million times already. A group of annoying friends gets lost somewhere in the back woods of butt-fuck USA and end up stumbling upon a family of crazy people. Yet here the crazy family has the run of an abandoned town. Keeping the power on in all the establishments and using tape recordings to simulate the hustle and bustle of daily life, our “heroes” only realize their predicament once it’s too late. The deaths and violence are gory and unsettling. At one point a character’s Achilles’ heel is snipped with hedge clippers (I feel queasy just thinking about it). The climax is a marvel to be seen. As the remaining protagonists are fighting for their lives within the giant (literally) wax house, the house, now on fire, is slowly melting around them. If you picture that dream you had as a kid where you’re being chased by a monster and as you try to escape you find that the floor is made of molasses, you’ll get the idea. Go rent this film. I know it goes against your better judgment but I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

Werewolf of London


(1935)***

Completely unrelated to The Wolf Man, this installment of the popular character begins in Tibet, where Dr. Glendon is searching for a rare flower that only blooms under moonlight. During his search he is attacked and bitten by a very silly-looking werewolf. Upon returning from his expedition, he begins experimenting with the rare flowers he acquired. While working under a special light, designed to simulate moonlight, he notices that his hands start to turn hairy. He soon realizes that the werewolf myth is true and he now suffers from its dreadful curse. Fortuitously, he figures out that the rare Tibetan flower is an antidote to werewolfism, however he needs to grow many more before he obtains an adequate dosage. Meanwhile his wife, Lisa, who is tried of her husband’s insular behavior, becomes infatuated with a childhood friend. As Dr. Glendon works feverishly to grow more flowers, a former colleague, Dr. Yogami shows up and demands that Dr. Glendon provide him with some flowers as well. It seems that Yogami knows of others who suffer the werewolf curse. Glendon refuses and Yogami steals what few flowers Glendon has. Yogami reminds Glendon that a werewolf always seeks to kill the one he loves (this is the first time I’ve heard of this werewolf lore). Glendon distances himself from Lisa in an effort to prevent harming her. However, despite his best efforts, when the moon turns full people begin to die.

Released 6 years before The Wolf Man (no Lon Chaney in this one folks), this installment from Universal is every bit as fun as the others. The formula never wavers (e.g., person afflicted with werewolf curse is depressed about it and desperately seeks an antidote), and the effects never really improve, but it’s a hoot to see what people in the 30s and 40s found frightening. With so many conservative constraints on the film industry at that time, the directors of these “horror” films are brilliant at conveying/implying disturbing ideas. The violence in these films never amounts to more than a schoolyard tussle at recess, and no blood is ever shown, yet the use of fog (always a foot of it on the ground) and other austere scenery devices creates a moody, eerie setting. Many shy away from these old films because they’re “old” and in “black and white”. I find them fascinating.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Amityville Horror


(2005) ***

In November 1974 Ronald Defoe murdered his entire family. Years later, George (Van Fucking Wilder) buys the house for a song. The family has a tough time adjusting to their dream house because the house is (pause for effect) HAUNTED! His young daughter befriends a ghost friend that encourages suicidal behavior. And George begins his descent into madness until he too considers butchering his family.

Based on a true story (yeah, whatever), Amityville '05 is like watching a greatest hits movie. It consists of 60% The Shining, 15% The 6th Sense, 15% original Amityville and 10% other. It's impossible to gauge what I would have thought of the remake had I not seen the various films that it "borrowed from". But I really don't have many bad things to say here. Van Wilder may have modeled his performance entirely on Jack Nicholson, but I dare say he kind of pulled it off. I was never impressed with the original anyway due to its absent body count, but one thing is certain - this version is much better. Begrudgingly recommended.

The Boogeyman


(1980)***

Years after Lacey and Willy kill their mother’s sadistic lover, they are both still haunted by this traumatic event. Willy is mute and terrified of mirrors because the murder took place in front of a large mirror. Lacey suffers from terrible flashbacks and nightmares and as if that was not enough, the evil spirit of the man they murdered periodically possesses her. Fed up with Lacey’s nightmares and overall strange behavior, her husband takes her to a psychotherapist in an attempt to purge these childhood demons once and for all. Lacey’s shrink recommends that she return to her childhood home and confront her fears (a rare instance where a movie shrink gets things right!). After reluctantly agreeing to this plan, she finds that the current owners are moving and she is invited in to look around. Once in the bedroom where the murder occurred, Lacey finds that the original mirror is still on the wall. Staring into the mirror, Lacey sees the man they murdered walking towards her. Grabbing a nearby chair, she shatters it into a million pieces. Lacey’s husband is mortified by her behavior and cleans up the mirror shards, placing them into a bag. He takes the shards and mirror frame back home where he reassembles it like a jigsaw puzzle. In another appropriate therapeutic effort, he hangs the mirror up as a means of exposure therapy for Lacey and Willy. Shattering the mirror, however, apparently released the evil spirit trapped within. It is here where the film kicks into overdrive and anyone who comes in contact with the mirror or any of its shards are brutally killed in a surprisingly violent manner.

I bought this film in the supermarket for $1. I had never heard of it before and assumed that it must be fairly unwatchable. Nothing could be further from the truth! Sure it borrows heavily from the cinematography and music of Halloween as well as some Exorcist possession elements, but this is a fun, bleak movie. Also, I gave it an extra ½ star because the director had the balls to kill off arguably one of the most annoying kids in cinema history. In fact, said kid gets killed while engaged in annoying behavior, which made it doubly satisfying! I actually had to rewind and watch it again just to be certain that I had just seen what I though I had. This is only the second time I’ve ever seen a kid get killed on film, the first being the remake of The Blob.

Monday, October 24, 2005

She-Wolf of London


(1946)**

Phyllis Allenby (a young June Lockhart) is convinced that she is afflicted with the “Allenby Curse”, which changes one into a werewolf. You see, years earlier Phyllis’ parents met their untimely end from said curse. As bodies begin to show up, apparently mauled by a “large animal”, Phyllis ends her relationship with her fiancé in order to spare him the anguish of having to live with a werewolf (no “’til death do us part” here). Her fiancé is certain that Phyllis is mistaken and he sets up his own investigation into the matter.

This is basically a who-dun-it/mystery. Is Phyllis really a werewolf attacking people at night? Couldn’t it have easily been resolved if someone had just watched her at night to see if she was really leaving her bedroom to roam the forest for victims, AS SHE REPEATEDLY CLAIMED SHE WAS DOING? The problem is that the list of possible suspects is only 3 people long and it’s very easy to figure out what’s really going on (shame on you if you can’t). A tepid entry in the werewolf genre.

The Body Snatcher


(1945)***

No, this isn't Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

In 1831 Edinburgh, Dr. “Toddy” MacFarlane, a surgeon and professor, is delivered a paralyzed little girl. Although he makes it clear that he no longer practices surgery, he agrees to work on the little girl at the behest of John Gray (Boris Karloff), a local cabman who provides MacFarlane with corpses to use for teaching purposes. Although Gray has been robbing graves to provide MacFarlane with the bodies he needs, he soon resorts to outright murder because he has exhausted the graveyard supply. Additionally we learn that Gray has some sort of a hold on MacFarlane, which is not explained until much later in the film. After the little girl fails to benefit from surgery, MacFarlane become increasingly frustrated with his arrangement with Gray and decides to rid himself of Gray’s blackmail once and for all.

This is the last of the Van Lewton horror films and it’s a dandy. Karloff is great as the unctuous, sinister grave robber (you’ll want to reach into your TV and strangle him yourself). Like the other Van Lewton films, a lot of creepy ambience is created on a shoestring budget. The director effectively ratchets up the tension as the film reaches its satisfying climax. Oddly enough, Bela Lugosi is in this film in a bit part, looking fat once again.

Day of the Dead


(1985) ***

I've watched this movie about 10 times over the years and hated it every time. This viewing was no different. Why watch a movie repeatedly when you know you won't enjoy it? Why participate in an exhausting horror movie competition with no rewards? Both good questions. Someday I hope to answer them.

That's not to say that Day of the Dead has no value. Romero attempted to push the genre that he created forward, a noble cause. And if you're a gore afficianado then Day has much to offer. Tom Savini was at the top of his game here and he concocted several innovative, revolting scenarios.

The story takes place several years after Dawn of the Dead in an age where the zombies have all but taken over the planet, outnumbering humans 400,000 to 1. Survivors take up residence in a dank military base with the hopes of devising a way to deal with the undead. A kooky scientist covered in blood recognizes that brute force is futile and seeks to find alternative methods. His guinea pig is a zombie with a good disposition named Bub, whom he conditions not to attack humans through experiments and rewards. On the other side you have the captain and his meathead cronies who solve all their problems with weapons. There is no shortage of social commentary here, it's just not enough to drive the movie.

The worst aspect of Day is that there are no likeable characters whatsoever. Not a one. Our protagonist, nicknamed Dr. Frankenstein, comes across as an eccentric goofball. The rest of the cast are one dimensional, acting deficient jackasses. (Bub does do good work and would be considered for a best acting by a zombie award if there were such a thing. I was actually concerned for his well being at one point.) Also pressing is the dire setting that we're never allowed to escape from. It all adds up to a gruesome, ultimately depressing journey.

Then again, maybe I should give it another shot...

Howling VII: New Moon Rising


(1995) *

My first one star movie this year! During the 'thon, one watches a lot of bad acting, bad storytelling, bad sound, etc., but for me it takes a movie that generates real hatred to get the one star smack. And late last night I got it.

This movie serves the bizarre purpose of feeding the ego of one Clive Turner (pictured above), who has his grubby fingers all over the Howling series: writing, producing and starring in Howling V as the annoying Australian guy with the pony tail. In this movie he plays Ted, who arrives in a town full of lovable hicks and gets a job in a bar. This sets in motion the main action of the movie, which is the unattractive cast being amused by Ted's godawful jokes, listening to endless Country Western music. It's obvious real soon that a bunch of drunk hicks thought it would be cool to film themselves over a series of several Saturday nights and call it a movie. When the strange, overly dark footage of joyless line dancing kept getting used and reused, I realized I'd found a movie that was genetically engineered to piss me off.

The werewolf part of the movie consists of two funny-looking old guys providing backstory, actually bothering to pull in plotlines (and footage, naturally) from the previous movies. Howlings 6, 5 and even 4 are mined, the last so that Clive Turner could point out he played a tow truck driver in it. Not kidding. The werewolf attacks are depicted with red-lens Werewolf-Cam, until the end when the werewolf transforms in the worst morph ever. Seriously, I hope the FX outfit that pulled that at least gave them a free mouse pad. The beast gets blown away by the lovable hicks and then it's back to the bar for another C&W number. Are the credits rolling yet? Thank God.

This was 90 minutes that felt like four hours.

Howling VI: The Freaks


(1991) *1/2

There's two reasons we watch a straight-to-video series all the way to the grisly end. There's the eensy chance of finding a good-ish movie in the upper numbers (Sorority House Massacre II would be my best example), and then there's the more murky appeal of watching and documenting a train wreck in slow motion.

The Freaks is a Werewolf vs. Vampire story, and if you're into that kind of thing I'm going to go against all previous expectations and suggest you rent Underworld instead. A small town is visited by a reedy, English drifter werewolf who helps the local priest renovate his church. Then a circus rolls into town, led by a foofy vampire who leads an ever-growing army of freaks. Oh wait, did I say army? He has three freaks. One of them is the guy who played all the Oompa Loompas in the recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Werewolf boy has some vague grudge against the vamp, but immediately gets his ass handed to him and winds up in a cage. The vampire makes him transform in front of the whole town (looking more like Rob Zombie than a werewolf), but he blows the show by handing Alligator Boy's cat back to him instead of eating it.

Watching this, I was amazed at what loser examples of monsters these guys were. The werewolf guy takes a nap on the day of the full moon and oversleeps. He wakes up, says "oh no!" and immediately runs to the window and whips the curtains aside, dowsing himself in full moonness. And what kind of vampire lives in an RV and has seat cushions on top of his coffin?

Night of the Living Dead


(1968) ***1/2


A group of self righteous know-it-alls are forced to put aside their differences and live together in a small, isolated house for the sake of survival. So it would seem that Night of the Living Dead is the bluprint for all modern zombie movies and all reality television. You have Mr. Cooper - a short tempered bald man with an endless supply of bad ideas. Then there's Barbara, the last person anyone would want to be holed up because she's only capable of three things: crying, complaining and screaming. Thankfully you also have the black guy. Cool, calm and collective, he is the only rational member of the group. There are a couple of other minor characters including the young, stupid guy with good intentions.

This motley crew can only receive information regarding the walking dead through an emergency radio broadcast. The learn that the deadly phenomenon is likely the result of a strange radiation that reactivates the brain of the recently deceased. This conflicts with other zombie movies including the Dawn remake that states that those who die of natural causes will not return to life. I personally prefer the virus-like explanation because it seems more plausible. But who am I to argue with the great George A?

NOTLD is a milestone in the zombie genre partly because it shows the dead feeding on human flesh. More importantly, it sets the stage for his future masterpiece known as Dawn of the Dead, roughly a decade later. Romero created this one on a shoestring budget in black and white and while this is apparant, it should not deter anyone from the film. He managed to sustain a suspenseful, claustrophobic thriller that has proudly stood the test of time.

The Wolf Man


(1941)***

"Even a man who is pure at heart/And says his prayers by night/May become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms/And the moon is full and bright."

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) returns to his English childhood estate after being away in America for many years. Apparently his older brother was killed in a hunting accident and Larry is now the new heir apparent. Although we’re not provided with too much information about his family relationships, it is made clear that Larry had a falling out with his father some years earlier. After patching things up with the old man Larry gets down to business, flirting with Jenny, the attractive owner of a local curio shop. In an effort to gain her affection, Larry feigns interest in her wares and purchases a silver cane with a [really cool] wolf’s head on top. Easily won over, she agrees to go out with him and the two make plans to see a traveling gypsy family to have their fortune’s read. Of course they do this at night when the setting is at its creepiest. With barren trees, leaves blowing all over the place, and a foot of fog on the ground, the happy couple weave their way through the woods, where the stumble upon fortune teller, Bela (a very fat looking Bela Lugosi). Things go horrible wrong from here and the night ends with Larry being bitten by a werewolf, which he is ultimately able to kill with his [way cool] silver cane with the wolf’s head on top. Believing that he is now a werewolf himself, Larry begins what will be the first of several werewolf movies detailing his torment over his affliction.

I’ve been won over by these old Universal monster movies and the Wolf Man dovetails nicely with his gruesome brethren. I love the creepy, [obvious set] forest setting and the sound of wolves howling in the distant background. I love how nobody keeps an eye on Larry at night even though he continually decries that he’s a werewolf and even though people keep mysteriously dying from some “large animal”. The one odd thing is that we never see a full moon. I mean, what the hell? Isn’t that what the Wolf Man is all about? Historically, a lot has been made about how great the make-up is [I think he ends up just looking like Mr. Kotter], and the wolf transformation scenes [which actually suck really hard]. Nonetheless, Lon Chaney plays the dysthymic Larry fabulously. That might be the key difference between the Wolf Man and the rest of the Universal monsters. Larry doesn’t like being a monster and his torment is a mainstay of all his future wolf man film appearances. Personally I’d rather be the invisible man.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Prophecy


(1995) **

This is the Christopher Walken movie you're thinking of. He plays the Johnny Cash-lookin' archangel Gabriel, and he's the bad guy in this movie. Sounds like it can't miss, right?

I love the idea of angels as bad guys. Not because of the dig at Christianity, but because of the notion that angels are scary critters. The comic Hellblazer was very good at making that idea tangible. These are the soldiers of heaven, creatures of divine power, and divine power is something that regular people are just better off without. Prophets in biblical stories are beset by divine possession when they have their visions, and I've always thought they probably weren't that much less freaked out about it as the demon hosts.

But I ramble. Whatever potential this movie has (decent premise, good cast), it completely blows it. It's boring. Boring! Is there a worse sin for a movie? Even the climax of this one feels like the orange circus peanuts in your Halloween stash. (And for you people who like those things...well, you're freaks.) Satan shows up and fails to impress. Lame Satan! Is there a worse sin for a movie (besides boring)? I was thinking this was going to look good on a second viewing because Lame Satan is none other than Viggo Mortensen, but it turns out even Aragorn couldn't help out this turkey. Christopher Walken delivers a few good moments, but he can't save it either.

Okay, look, the only reason I put this on my list is because I wanted to do a Khari Wuhrer film festival, because she's a b-movie crush of mine. She's in Prophecy's 4 and 5, and Hellraiser: Deader, which is fucking number 7. I just can't pull off all the intervening titles in the time remaining, so I may just put that particular sub-event off until next year. I also just realized I should also watch Anaconda, which she's in, and the idea putting that off for a year is inviting to say the least. (However, the flicks for my Uwe Boll film festival have arrived, so that's in full swing. Stay tuned for that.)

Oh my god, this movie is so dull I can't even stick to the topic at all. One of several 90's releases that you wanted to like, but it really makes you feel like they shouldn't have bothered. Not recommended.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Prophecy


(1979) **

This is not the Christopher Walken movie you're thinking of. When this came out, a kid up the street whose cousin saw it told me about how cool it was. Turns out he was exaggerating, which I realized the moment I saw "rated PG."

Robert Foxworth, who is sort of like a blonde, bearded Mike Brady, plays an angry young public health official who is asked to investigate possible environmental damage in a Maine forest. He brings along his wife Talia Shire so she can trip on roots and slip in the mud and stuff. Eventually there's some mutated bears that try to kill everybody.

This could have been a fun one, if they didn't slam you over the head with The Message every single freaking second. Foxworth's character is puffed up as this Strident Idealist, The One Man Who Cares, etc., but you just want to punch him. When he finds out it's mercury poisoning, he informs Talia not by reading to her from the book he just read out loud, but by playing the tape of him reading it so he can also yell comments at the general direction of The Man. What a dick. If he's so smart, how come the first thing he did upon arriving in this possibly damaged environment was catch and eat a fish? D'oh!

After the opening, it's a whole hour before the next monster attack. I spent a lot of that hour groaning, especially during all the aerial footage of the forest, replete with inexplicable bombastic orchestra music. I found myself yelling "get attacked by a bear already!" You do get to see good guy Armand Assante (playing an American Indian) in an axe vs. chainsaw fight, but somehow, this time, it didn't say "horror movie." I will admit that the stuff after the monster's reappearance was kind of fun. Kind of. The victims display an amusing amount of bad ideas in action, like trying to escape by hopping away in a zipped-up sleeping bag. The attack scene that gets the main action rolling is such a miasma of bad editing, you'll say "who's that guy on fire?" or "Wait a second, where are they right now?" or "Why did the jeep explode?" This would be a decent goof flick to watch if you had some project to do at the same time, so you could look up during the animal attacks and maybe get a few laughs. That's about it.

And where are all these mutant babies the 70's promised us?

Terror Train


(1980) ***1/2


"Do you believe in magic? I'll have to convince you" - David Copperfield trying to be all sexy.

A fraternity prank involving a borrowed corpse sends a student with an already fragile mind to an insane asylum. Four years later, while the graduating class celebrates on a costume party train, the disturbed student crashes the festivities and seeks revenge on the partygoers. Cleverly, he dresses up in the costume of his most recent victim.

Jamie Lee Curtis maintains her status as her generation's scream queen and ensures a certain amount of quality in a film that could have gone either way. Also along for the ride is a younger, but still obnoxious David Copperfield sporting an embarrassing haircut. He gets to perform a magic show for the gang and a good 10 minutes of movie time is devoted to his tired antics. Every time the audience cheered I thought "please stop clapping, you'll only encourage him".

Great setup, enjoyable, recommended popcorn movie, though most of your time will indeed be spent hoping for Crapperfield to get what's coming to him. But it made me wonder how many other fun movies along these lines are out there that I have yet to discover.

Candyman: Day of the Dead


(1999) **1/2

This time Candyman is in Los Angeles preying on the poor during a Day of the Dead festival. Extremely busty Caroline, an artist and descendent of Candyman, is in possession of all of his art. As a way to disprove the myth of the Candyman legend, and to humanize him, she holds an art exhibit of his works. During the exhibit she is goaded into saying “Candyman” 5 times in front of a mirror, which, of course, unleashes a new wave of mayhem.

At this point the Candyman series is starting to become long in the tooth. The killings, while still graphic, are fairly redundant. There are only so many times that you can see someone impaled by a hook before it loses its ability to surprise. The somber tone of the series remains intact, however, and Candyman himself is still a great character. I wouldn’t be surprised if another sequel is green lit at some point.

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh


(1995) ***

In this surprisingly effective sequel we learn more about the Candyman’s history. Flashbacks to the 1800s detail the story of Daniel Robitaille, the artist son of a slave who was hired by a wealthy plantation owner to paint a portrait of his beloved daughter, Caroline. The two fall in love and begin a secret affair. Upon learning of Caroline’s pregnancy, the plantation owner gathered an angry mob to end this illicit union. Daniel’s hand is sawed off, he’s covered in honey, and a swarm of bees ends his life. According to lore, at the moment of his death, his soul escaped into Caroline’s mirror. Consequently, anytime his name is said 5 times in front of a mirror, he appears and kills whomever summoned him.

Fast forward to 1995. The film takes place in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. A young inner-city schoolteacher, Annie, becomes the object of Candyman’s desire. Skeptical at first, Annie begins to believe the Candyman myth after her parents and husband die horribly and mysteriously. As Annie begins to conduct her own investigation, she learns that Caroline is her great-great grandmother and that Candyman has some very specific plans for her.

Horror sequels are a tricky thing indeed. While money obviously motivates the choice to make a sequel, it comes at an artistic cost. More often than not the horror sequel saps the strength and punch from the original film. For example, Halloween was never meant to have a sequel and as a stand-alone film it’s one of the scariest movies ever made. The idea that the “evil is still out there” is a much more powerful prospect than endless sequels illustrating this idea. Michael Myers is no longer scary because of the numerous Halloween outings. There are countless examples of this phenomenon; The Ring, Evil Dead, The Exorcist, JU-ON, to name just a few. The only exception I can think of is Omen II. Evil Dead II is great fun, but it’s a comedy. I think the original Friday the 13th stinks but I do enjoy the silly sequels (except the pillowcase one). So what’s this all mean, what’s the significance? Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh is a pretty good sequel. There’s still no humor nor is there a heavy metal soundtrack, which is good. The killings are as gory as ever, and the story is original enough that it doesn’t become too redundant.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Candyman


(1992)***1/2

Helen is a graduate student writing a thesis on folklore/urban legends. One particular legend, the legend of Candyman, resonates with her and she decides to track down the source of this story. The legend itself concerns a slasher who appears when his victims say his name five times in front of a mirror. After reading about the details of a recent, grizzly murder at Cabrini-Green, Helen cannot ignore the similarities between the murder and the Candyman legend. With the help of another graduate student working on the same project, the two visit one the vacant tenements where the murder occurred. While playing around in one of the empty apartments, Helen says “Candyman” five times in the bathroom mirror. After that, things start to get weird.

This movie was such a pleasant surprise! I hadn’t seen it in years and I’d forgotten how effective it was. After all the stupid Freddy sequels of the 80s, someone remembered that horror is supposed to be serious and scary, not infused with one-liners and heavy metal. I’m pleased to report that there’s no humor in this film and the Phillip Glass soundtrack is perfect. This is a dreary, bleak story that could be Hellraiser’s sibling. The Candyman himself speaks in a creepy, gravelly, voice and his killings are vicious and very wet. Although the ending was not all that surprising, it was effective and satisfying.

Omen IV: The Awakening


(1991) **1/2

And then there were four... I went into this movie with the same attitude I'd have if I was getting serious dental work done. I knew I would lie down, things were gonna suck for a while, and then it would be all over. The subtitle "The Awakening" to me means "a New Beginning" which also means "We Ain't Got Shit So We're Gonna Rewrite the Original and Hope No One Notices".

Part IV introduces us to a wealthy lawyer couple - Karen and Gene, who adopt a bouncing baby girl named Delia. Then we get a time elapsed montage indicating years of relative tranquility. It's not until she is 8 years old when her evil tendencies reveal themselves. Using the original as a blueprint, it's not too tough to see where it's all headed. Anyone who gets close to the truth about Delia's true identity gets disposed of in a predictable "unexpected" tragedy.

This one earns "adequate" status because Delia has more in common with the Bad Seed than Damien. She succeeds in being very unlikeable by being rude, arrogant, and an all around little shit. She also exudes a smug sense of self satisfaction whenever someone is killed. Best of all, her poor acting skills actually work in favor of the film because it makes you hate her that much more. It comes oh-so-close to pulling through in the end but then just fizzles.

The Seventh Victim


(1943)***

Naïve schoolgirl Mary Gibson is informed by the administrators of her all-girl school that her sister Jacqueline is missing. The administrators appear nonchalant about this news, only expressing concern that Mary’s tuition is 6 months overdue. Puzzled by this news, Mary heads to Manhattan, her sister’s last known whereabouts. Once in the city, she learns that her sister inexplicably sold her cosmetics business. Her investigation leads to an attorney, Hugh Beaumount. Yep, that’s right, Mr. Cleaver from Leave it To Beaver. Despite filling out a form at the Missing Persons Bureau, nothing is done. Adding to the mystery is the fact that no one appears too bothered by Jacqueline’s disappearance. Beaver’s father gets Mary a job as a kindergarten teacher so that she is able to finance her investigation while remaining in Manhattan. Other characters are introduced including Dr, Judd, Jacqueline’s psychiatrist, and Jason Hoag, a washed up poet who becomes infatuated with Mary. After a startling murder, the trail leads to a group of bourgeois devil worshippers.

I really enjoyed this film. It’s kind of a precursor to The Wicker Man, kinda. The mystery is eerie and the theme is pretty dark for 1943. The ending is wrapped up much too quickly and there’s a rushed romance in the film that makes no sense whatsoever. Still, this is a good, noirish, devil worshipping story. I’m a sucker for stories that involve people stumbling into cults.

Friday the 13th Part II


(1981) ***1/2

Well I'm just gonna come right out and say it. Friday the 13th Part 2 is the best of the bunch. Some people (JPX) refuse to acknowledge its legendary status because of Jason's (let's face it - non-flattering) pillowcase and overalls outfit in lieu of the standard hockey mask. I believe that it showcases the film's charming innocence that was all but lost later in the series.

A plot summary is entirely unnecessary as the script may have been written by a very basic computer program, possibly the one that gave us Pong. Jason goes around killing camp counselors and only she without sin shall survive.

I love the "you're all doomed!" guy in this movie. His is a story that needs to be told. What events and poor choices in his life brought him to the point of wandering around town, filthy and disheveled, his only goal to warn teenagers of their impending doom? Did anyone ever heed his warnings and survive? I'm taking it upon myself to script a short film that answers these very questions.

But the movie really belongs to Mark the wheelchair bound teen in the football jersey - motorcycle accident victim, hopes to recover, penis possibly still functional. He teaches us that Jason doesn't discriminate against the physically challanged. And man, that was a helluva lotta stairs...

So if it's cheap, cheap thrills you're looking for, Part 2 is a solid bet. Unfortunately, every time I began to enjoy myself too much a bubble appeared above me of JPX shaking his head in disappoval. I mean, come on - a pillow case? That's just plain lazy.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood


(1988) **1/2

In 1988 there was: Halloween 4, Friday the 13th 7, Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Hellraiser 2, Phantasm 2 and Child's Play. Good year for horror? Or horrible?

For the three big Slashers, it was the start of the decline. Jason himself is in his element in this one, he's basically ramped up to killing zombie. He doesn't eat anyone, but his clothes are in tatters, his bones are showing, and he still has a big chain hanging around his neck. He looks great, in other words, and they're still smart enough to make sure the killings have some personality. This is by far my favorite of his maskless faces, and they show a lot more of it than usual, managing these great "ooh, you!" expressions.

BUT, this is Jason vs. Carrie, so most of this movie will be spent watching a poofy blonde troubled teen (second movie in a row for me tonight), this time struggling with her frightening powers and her loathsome shrink. Seems Tina got mad at daddy as a little girl and used her freaky powers to shake the dock apart, sending him plummeting into Crystal Lake. Never mind that he could have easily survived if he just jumped into the lake, out from under the covered dock's roof. Returning as a teen at the behest of her reptilian doctor, she stands on the dock and tries to make Daddy come alive, but instead wakes up...well, you know. We're reminded of Jason's current whereabouts through a generous helping of old footage. We're also reminded of Tina's dad's fate in a flashback fifteen minutes after we saw it the first time.

Of all this hackery, worst of all is Dr. Jerkface, who has a secret agenda, surprise surprise. I know I'm not meant to like him, but his ideas and jargon were such counterintuitive hooey I just couldn't stand the idea of anyone taking him seriously. And why the hell isn't Crystal Lake a toxic landfill by now? How many murderous rampages does it take to affect the property values?

It isn't even until the last fifteen minutes that we finally get to see mind vs. machete. It's okay I guess, until the very end, when Tina uses her powers to pull her father, just slightly muddy after all these years, up through the dock to take the big guy down. Why couldn't she do that the first time?

So, how many audience members thought that was cool? That's right, none. Because the only people who would've liked that were home at the time, playing with their toy unicorns.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers


(1988) **1/2

Believe it or not, I had never seen this movie before. I was hoping to come away from it with more of a sense of Michael's identity in the wide world of serial slashers. Sure, Jason's the knockoff, but by 1988 he's three whole movies ahead. His vibe is down. This started quite promisingly, with Officer Exposition letting us know that neither The Shape nor Loomis died in the flaming endgame of Halloween II. It's ten years later, and Michael suddenly goes for a walk.

The idea of him spending his in-between times in hospitals appealed to me. Very much like the backstory of the first movie. And Loomis is there, and he was always a big part of maintaining the killer's rep. Now that I think of it, the early confrontation scene between the two of them is probably the best scene in the movie. Michael in his coveralls, but with his face still covered in bandages. Creepy. I liked the way this movie was shot.

I was also extremely pleased with the general reaction to the news. The skeptic gets hardly any play in this, and when Loomis arrives in Haddonfield the cops immediately start circling the wagons. When they hole up in the sherrif's house, does the sherrif get in a twist about the young punk about to do his daughter? Nope, he gives him a honking big shotgun. It makes sense that the folks of Haddonfield just would NOT screw around with Mr. Myers.

Unfortunately, Michael is a precise planner in this situation. He takes out the police station and its radios, he knocks out the power. He doesn't lurk as much, but he spies on the right people. He stays one step ahead of the good guys through the whole movie.

Which, if you think about it, is totally LAME. So all of a sudden he's Jason Bourne? It seems that instead of Michael's unique slasher signature, we're getting the flavor of the day. I was reminded of Resurrection, which I watched last year,and its message that Michael's main ability was to only walk past TV cameras when nobody was looking at the monitor. In this he's like a Navy SEAL. He racks up an impressive body count, but since his mission is the meat of the story, half of the killings are off screen.

And at some point the good guys' admirably proactive decisions took a wrong turn. You don't escape from a bulletproof person by hiding out in a dark house. You get in a car and drive, and you don't stop. Their fortress turns into dead end in no time flat, and I was disappointed.

Of the little girl, Michael's niece: Awful. The "Michael's sister" thing wasn't that great in the first place, and this is worse. The acting, scripting, plot points, the characters associated with her...I just disliked everything about her being onscreen. The ending twist was unexpectedly ballsy, but she was simply bad.

You totally think you're going to see the sheriff's daughter topless, but you never do. This whole movie felt like that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Evil Dead II


(1987) *****

Watching this, I was thinking about that 3D popped eyeball in Friday the 13th #3, wondering if the people responsible really thought they were doing something great. It took five more years for REAL eyeball genius, when Ash slams that demon's head hard enough to pop one out, and after an eye-POV shot and a profile of the eye in flight, it lands right in the screaming woman's mouth. Seeing that was like seeing someone make a basket from the other side of the court. That feeling of raucous joy permeates everything in Evil Dead II. Every punch, slash, axe-blow, gush of blood and breaking chair feel like that full-court shot. Bruce Campbell delivers the performance of his life, pulling out physical humor worthy of Harold Lloyd and carrying the whole movie with his big expressive face.

Sam Raimi condenses the first movie into seven minutes in the beginning (the length of your average Tom and Jerry cartoon, I noticed with a snicker), and gives his abandoned cabin adventure an astounding upgrade. While the original is certainly unique, you don't have the sense of loss that so often comes with this kind of makeover. You still feel the maddening, voracious eeeevil of the Evil. You feel the desperate clinging to the pathetic non-safety offered by the cabin. Whenever the plot gets within even two or three beats from dragging, someone turns into a demon!

What else can I say? This movie is like the Exorcist with ninjas.

Infection


(2005) ***

An overworked medical staff with good intentions accidentally gives the wrong medication to a burn victim who was pretty much screwed to begin with. Those involved agree to destroy the evidence to cover their mistake as the patient had no visitors so he was obviously a loser. This controversial decision may or may not be related to the mother of all infections that begins to spread through the hospital like wildfire. Those infected turn pale and excrete green ooze from their orifices. They also begin to hallucinate and this is where the movie veers off course a little because it becomes difficult for the viewer to distinguish reality from madness.

It's nice to see that Japanese horror is alive & well - and no longer dependant on ghosts and skinny girls with hair in their faces. Visually it was on par with most J-horror flicks and they exploited the dark, flickering, dilapidated hospital setting to great results. There was also an elderly nutter woman who did odd things and giggled maliciously in several scenes, recalling Twin Peaks at times. Unfortunately, the slimy infection didn't really jar me as much as expected. Whenever I see green slime, my first 2 reactions are Ghostbusters and You Can't Do That on Television, neither of which are particularly frightening. The other issue is the ambiguous plot twists that left me yearning for a concrete explanation that never materializes.

Audition


(1999)****

Shigehura is a widower who has not dated in the 7 years since his wife’s death. One morning his teenage son comments that Shigehura is starting to look old and he should be pursuing a new relationship. After recounting his son’s comments to a friend who works in a production company, the two hatch a plan to audition pretty females for a film that doesn’t really exist. This way Shigehura will have the home court advantage of screening potential girlfriends without having to go on awkward blind dates. Many interviews later, Shigehura sets his sights on Asami, a striking, demure 24-year old. After gaining courage, Shigehura calls Asami for a follow-up interview over dinner. The two quickly hit it off and began a romance. Meanwhile, Shigehura’s friend, who helped set up the auditions, expresses concern that something isn’t quite right with Asami. In addition to feeling uneasy around her, a background check was unable to verify any of the details of her resume. Ignoring his friend’s concerns, Shigehura invites Asami to join him for a weekend in the country. After a night of passion, Shigehura wakes up to find that Asami has vanished. After weeks of searching for Asami, Shigehura begins to realize that his friend’s intuition may have been correct.

To give anything more away about this film would be a disservice. Audition is directed by Takashi Miike [Ichi the Killer, One Missed Call], and in true Miike fashion, he sledgehammers his audience with some of the most upsetting, disturbing, cringe-worthy material you’ll ever see on film. What appears to be a cute romantic movie is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You’ll need an iron stomach to get though the final third of the film. Deliciously vicious and well worth your time, Audition is destined to become a classic. I promise you that you’ll never look at Asian women the same way again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Wicker Man


(1973) *****

Sgt. Howie, a deeply religious officer, is sent to the island of Summerisle to investigate a missing child. The residents of the island off of Scotland are less than helpful and Howie is mortified to learn that the they take part in various pagan customs and rituals. Before long it becomes apparant that Howie is in way over his head.

The Wicker Man is a one of a kind cult classic that has the ability to seep into your subconscious and become a part of you. The attention to detail, the music, Brit Ekland's erotic siren dance, and Christopher Lee's portrayal of Lord Summerisle is enough to make this required viewing for any horror enthusiast.

Note: I am DREADING the remake of this film.

The Embalmer


(1965)*

The spitting image of Skeletor, a man clad in a skull mask and cloak is kidnapping women off the canals of Venice and dragging them into his secret lair. Why? Because he’s collecting beautiful women and embalming them with his secret formula in order to preserve their beauty forever. He keeps his collection up against a wall. Reporter Andreas has been following the missing girls cases closely and eventually concludes that a serial killer is on the loose. The bumbling police department ignores Andreas’ theory, chalking up the disappearances to drowning in the canal. The killer operates at night by wearing a scuba outfit and sneaking up on the girls from underwater.

This was basically a painful exercise to get through because it was so redundant. In every other scene the killer grabs a woman, drags her to his underwater lair, and embalms her. Yawn. The funniest thing is that the killer only wears his Skeletor mask and cloak when he’s in his lair, embalming his victims. His victims are already dead, having drowned after he kidnapped them. The question becomes, for whose benefit is his costume for? That’s like Bruce wearing his Batman costume when he’s home chilling with Grayson. Total dreck.

I Eat Your Skin


(1964)**

Surrounded by a bevy of bikini-clad beauties, novelist Tom Harris is first introduced lounging poolside and reciting the more sultry portions of one of his novels. Tom’s agent, Duncan, whose sarcastic comments suggest annoyance with his lazy meal ticket, quickly interrupts this giddy scene. It seems that Tom has yet to produce any pages from an upcoming novel. Duncan convinces Tom to fly with him to “Voodoo Island”, an uncharted island that Duncan hopes will inspire Tom’s creative juices. Initially balking, Duncan lures Tom by noting that as the result of a recent hurricane, there are 5 women to every one man on said island. He also casually mentions that the island is supposedly crawling with zombies. Zombies aside, Tom agrees, after all he has a healthy libido to think about. Along for the journey is Duncan’s annoying, Marilyn Monroe-looking, loud, grating, idiot of a wife. As always seems to happen in these films, the plane runs out of fuel and the gang is forced to crash land on the beaches of Voodoo Island. Tom, who up to now has been portrayed as a vapid playboy, suddenly takes charge and basically becomes Indiana Jones. A very similar story structure and character was seen in the earlier She Demons (1958). Within 30 seconds of landing, Tom stumbles upon and naked girl swimming in a swamp. In the jungle lurks a zombie [it was either a zombie or a large man with oatmeal plastered on his face with golf balls for eyes]. Tom, of course, thwarts this attack. The gang eventually stumbles upon a scientist and his daughter (the one swimming in the bog). Despite being told that the locals are harmless, Tom suspects that there is more going on than meets the eye. What follows is a series of zombie attacks and science gone amok.

Never pretending to be anything other than a make out b-movie, most likely the second billing at the local drive-in back in the day, I Eat Your Skin is marginally watchable. As noted earlier, this film borrows heavily from the much-more-fun She Demons. What’s hilarious about this film is that the action is punctuated by horrible 60s-style “beach” music. Low rent special effects (e.g., ariel shots of the island look like paper machete) only add to the kitschy vibe. Oh yeah, Duncan bears an uncanny resemblance to Kyle McLaughlin (or at least what Kyle McLaughlin will look like at age 50).

Night of the Comet


(1984) ***

It's funny how the human memory works. I remembered loving this movie as a kid. Every so often over the years I would think of it fondly. The problem was that no one (including my brother who must've introduced it to me) seemed to have heard of it, only strengthening it's intrigue. The only details I remembered were 1) These guys wake up the day after a comet and find the entire population missing. 2) There were zombies in it. 3) At one point, a guy in a dress yells "I'm not crazy - I JUST DON'T GIVE A FUCK!" I used my imagination to fill in the rest and created a legend surrouding it. Again curiousity poked its head out this year and finally inspired me to track down a copy off Ebay (Netflix doesn't carry it).

What I was expecting: A long forgotten cult chestnut where underneath the non-stop zombie mayhem lies a dark satire exploring humanity's loneliness.

What the back of the box read: Night of the Comet is an off beat, off-the-wall vision of the end of humankind, served up with the accent on laughs. When a comet passes too close to earth, Regina and Samantha, two Valley Girls, Discover they suddenly have virtually all of Los Angelas to themselves and set out on a madcap lark, kicked off by a wild shopping mall spree in a mall. But they soon learn they're sharing the city with a number of bizarre creatures who have reacted in various strange ways to the comet's effect. The girls would rather be making out and playing video games, but first they've got to deal with the wackiest crew of crazies ever to walk a city street. A satiric blend of camp humor and skillful special effects, this merry mix of scares is one night you won't soon forget.

What ensued was a hilarious instant-classic cheese-a-thon that's just drenched in the 80's. I'm talking makes-Beverly-Hills-Cop-look-like-the-Matrix-80's. There was one montage where the girls actually tried on clothes to the tune of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Incidentally one of the girls resembles later years Jo from Facts of Life. The "I'm not crazy" guy was indeed in the movie although he wasn't wearing a dress (no psychoanalysis please). There were zombies, with Grover voices, sure - but there were zombies. As goofy as this is, I can see what captured my imagination as a child. The fun factor wore a little thin by the end with its government conspiracy direction but it was worth every penny - 1,490 of them including shipping.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Hellraiser


(1987) ****

I tend to think of Clive Barker as a bit of a hack, having been let down by most of what I've read of his. I feel like the majority of things with has name on them presumes a coolness it doesn't actually have. Sort of an "ooh, I'm from London, I'm a contemporary of Neil Gaiman" kind of thing. But I seemed to recall this movie having a special bite, and I was right.

There's something about the Cenobites that bugs me. I like old Pinhead, but his particular deformities are much more striking than any of the others. There's no blood in his grid-cuts, whereas the others have much more violent mutilations (Pinhead's got those wounds on his chest, but I never could figure those out). Somehow I read that as a failure of imagination, and that's why I like the derivative clones in Dark City better. I also tire of all the Pain/Pleasure, "demons to some, angels to others" spiel. Okay, celestial S&M, we get it. Now, who exactly sees you guys coming and says "oh look, angels"? We've seen you do a lot of work, and I can't help but notice that you're reeeally, really really really more about the pain. Can we just acknowledge that and shut up?

(Sorry, I had my fill of that kind of posturing with Strangeland.)

What I did like about this was Frank and Julia's story. The small story. It's assembled remarkably well, with the flashbacks of their affair dovetailing nicely with Julia's husband Larry walking into the haunted attic with the mother of all hand wounds. The fat sounds the drops make as they hit the floor, the quantity of it -- it all sets the wet, visceral tone of the horror to come. While I taunt Barker's high-handed notions of "the edge of experience," he does manage to capture a gooey, disgusting feel for his film that is in perfect pitch with his ideas.

So here's Frank, the once-sexy bad guy now stuck with bloody, oozing recuperation, and here's Julia, with her unnerving silence and her icy fire. The ease with which she adopts the job of serial killer is simply delightful, and her work is nasty like a hammer in the teeth. Their connection was the taut core this movie formed around, and I liked it best when they were on screen.

Cenobite dissing aside, I got some genuine prickles watching Kirsty trying to talk her way out of being taken to Hell. While not as charming as the villainous duo, she provides some believable energy and emotion, and watching her desperate maneuvering around the house was a worthy endgame. The way things worked out, though, I think they should have ended it without having the Cenobites chase Kirsty around. The crappy special effects at the end are only part of the problem; watching someone trying to do a thing with a box just isn't that exciting.

I haven't been spending too much time getting mired in the horror tradition of the ending stinger, since that's when most of these movies throw logic to the void. This one gets special mention for ludicrosity, when the weird homeless guy takes the magic box off the flames -- and turns into a skeleton dragon! No no, a bad marionette skeleton dragon! Didn't see that coming, didja?