Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: Film 20 & Beyond

Happy Halloween!!!

The day is finally here! Doing these little movie write-ups has been a lot of fun for me. Thanks to everyone -- however few of you there -- who has stopped by to check out my recommendations. So now we're down to the last one, but instead of writing about a film I just watched I decided to write about the film I'm going to watch tonight.

Were this a weekend I'd probably be up all night watching movies, but since Halloween has fallen mid-week this year by the time we get done with trick-or-treating I'll probably only be able to squeezing in one last film. That made it a tough call. Should I go with something modern, bloody and gruesome or maybe a classic from the 30's or 50's, films which I realize I've neglected so far in this marathon. I almost went with Creature From the Black Lagoon, which would have been a great choice. But in the end, I've decided to go with one that's both creepy, gruesome and a whole lot of fun. Possibly the perfect Halloween film.

I mentioned in my writeup on V/H/S that anthology films are notoriously uneven affairs. There's often one segment that shines above the others. Or one segment that drags the whole film down. In other words, there's no perfect anthology film. 

But hands down, the anthology film that comes closest to perfection is Creepshow. I think that's because more than any other anthology film I've seen, Creepshow feels like a whole film. There are five different stories, but they are wonderfully tied together in this comic-book framework and there is a consistent tone and visual style throughout giving the entire film a cohesion that most anthology films lack. Is there one segment that shines above the others? Sure. But I don't think there's a dud in the bunch. There are probably some of you out there who will feel differently. I know there are those that don't care much for the segment starring writer Stephen King. Fair enough. I feel, though, that each segment has it's own charms, and even if some are better than others none drag the film down. Although I must confess I have been known to skip the final segment with the cockroaches from time to time. But that's not because it's bad. It's just ... you know, it's a bunch of freakin' cockroaches. Ewww.

If perchance you've never seen it before, Creepshow is an homage to the old EC line of comic books like "Vault of Horror" and "Tales from the Crypt." Written by horror novelist Stephen King and directed by George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), the film opens with a short little setup where an overbearing father takes the titular horror comic away from his son, giving him a good smack for his troubles. He tosses the comic in the garbage, but then the Creeper (obviously inspired by The Crypt Keeper from "Tales from the Crypt") shows up to rescue the comic and guide us through its five short stories. It's all a ton of fun with lots of scares along the way. 

To give you a little taste, I found the trailer on YouTube:

And that's what I'm really in the mood for tonight; a great combination of fun and scares.

And if that wasn't reason enough for me to pick Creepshow as my final film, here's one last good reason: Playing the small role of the too-strict father in the wrap-around segment is none other than this marathon's most watched actor ...


And a few more suggestions:

Looking back over the films I've blogged about this month I think I've offered some pretty good recommendations for Halloween viewing, but there are obviously many many more out there. There are still a bunch I wished I'd had time to write about. Some of them I watched, but didn't get around to writing up and some I wanted to watch, but wasn't able to fit them into my schedule. So to wrap things up, here are several other films in different horror sub-genres that I'd recommend for Halloween.


Black Christmas - I'm talking about the 1974 original, not the 2006 remake. Halloween typically gets the credit (or blame) for starting the slasher movie craze of the 1980's, but this little film came four years earlier and was a huge influence itself. If you've never seen it, find a copy and watch it. The only reason I didn't watch and review it this year; I can't find my copy!!! But I'll find a new one in time for Christmas.

Halloween - Do I really need to say anything here?

A Nightmare on Elm Street - Also a no brainer. But skip the remake. Again, I'm not anti-remakes. This one just isn't very good.


Ringu (Japanese Original), The Ring Virus (Korean Remake), The Ring (American Remake) - I don't know that you'd want to make these into a triple feature or anything as all three versions tell essentially the same story, but any one of these would make for a frightful Halloween screening. Worth a look if you can track it down is the Korean version. Not as well known as the other two, but quite good.


Uh, Chuck? How do you have a "The Devil" category, but you left out The Exorcist? Very simple. The Exorcist isn't just a great horror movie. It's a great film. Period. Full stop. It has terrifying aspects to be sure, and I'd never argue that it's not a horror film (as the film's writer often does), but it just doesn't feel like a Halloween movie to me. And it's my blog, so deal with it. Now ...

The Omen - The antichrist is born! A classic film. And as a friend pointed out, one of the best horror musical scores evah.

The House of the Devil - Good indie flick from director Ti West. I felt the climax happened and wrapped up way too fast, and it ended exactly as I thought it would, but otherwise it's a solid, creepy film.

Prince of Darkness - John Carpenter's take on the antichrist attempting to enter our world. An interesting attempt to mix the mythic with a bit of sci-fi. Not 100% successful in that respect, but a good, solid horror film nonetheless.


The Thing - John Carpenter's classic paranoid sci-fi horror thriller from 1982, and it's my all-time favorite in the Monster Movie category. There is none better. Don't even try to argue. (Also proof that I don't hate remakes. Though that prequel/remake The Thing that came out last year is kinda iffy. Stick to the original remake ... if that makes sense.)

Pumpkinhead - Not necessarily a great film, but a great monster without a doubt. This is actually half a really good movie. Anytime actor Lance Henrikson is on screen, or the old mountain witch or Pumpkinhead itself, you're gold. But whenever you're forced to watch the 30-something actors playing 20-something campers and their badly scripted yammering ... yikes. Still, it's a fun movie.

Let the Right One In - I should have watched this in my vampire run because it's one of the best (if not the best) vampire films in a decade (or more).

And last, but certainly not least ...

 Night of the Living Dead - Well duh.

The Return of the Living Dead - The perfect combination of horror, black comedy and punk. Will forever be remembered for making zombies specifically hungry for braaaaaaains!

Cemetery Man - Probably my favorite Italian horror film, this one also includes a healthy dose of black humor. But be warned, you might be lulled into a false sense of ease by the presence of star Rubert Everett, who would later go on to fame (or infamy) as the ultimate gay-best-friend-character in My Best Friend's Wedding. Don't be. This is a weird one with a capital WEIRD.

Oh, you know what? As long as we're on zombies you could always watch ...

**WARNING: Shameless self-promotion in 3, 2, 1**

Buy it HERE!

Ha! Sorry. I couldn't help myself. (But really, you can stream it on Amazon for like $2.99)

And that's all for my first Halloween Movie Marathon series. Thanks again for checking it out.

Of course, now that I've gotten into the habit of actively writing on my blog I need to decide what to write about next. Suggestions?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: Films 18 & 19

So you say you don't want to sit around the house watching movies this Halloween. Rather, you'd like to get out with some friends and catch something in the theater before heading off to a party or whatever. Great idea! And there are at least a couple of good options out there for you this year.

I've seen The Possession referred to by more than one oh-so-clever reviewer as The Jewish Exorcist. You see, the film is about a young girl who becomes possessed, the demon, or dybbuk, which does the possessing is based on Jewish mythology, and the film also features an exorcism, but performed by a Rabbi instead of a priest. 

See! Just the same as The Exorcist, but Jewish. 

Ok, seriously, it is without a doubt true that this film follows a lot of the same beats as William Friedkin's classic film. But in fairness, most possession/exorcism themed films do. If that's the type film you're making, it's almost impossible not to reflect that seminal film is some respect. Still, what The Possession does have going for it that so many The Exorcist knockoffs do not is a very strong cast, an excellent director and enough of it's own ideas to make it a worthwhile edition to the possession sub-genre.

That said, my top "in theater" recommendation for Halloween is ...

What a wicked little film Sinister is. I'm not going to lie to you; I'm a jaded, longtime horror movie fan so it's not easy to get under my skin, but this thing creeped me out big time.

Ethan Hawke plays Ellison Oswalt, a writer of true-crime books. Ellison had great success with his first book, but his last two didn't work out very well. We pick up the story as he is moving, with his wife and two children, into a new home. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, the new house daddy has picked out for them also happens to be the scene of the crime that his new book is centered around. Yeah, moving into a murder house; always a good idea in horror movies. 

Anyway, while storing some boxes in the the attic, Ellison comes across an old box labeled "Home Movies" that appears to have been left behind by the previous owners (aka, the family that was murdered there). Inside the box he finds an 8mm film projector and several cans of film. Upon playing the first film reel he finds not home movies, but a film of the actual murder. And each subsequent reel reveals the murder of a different family, all in different homes and different time periods dating back to the 60's. Ellison thinks he's really onto something big with this discovery. Unfortunately for him, he is.

For a fairly low-budget affair, Sinister gets more right than most Hollywood films with ten times the budget. Firstly, the script is just so well written. The dialogue, the interactions of the family, how Ellison reacts to finding the films, it all feels authentic. There's none of the typical, horror movie "why the hell would you do that!" type stuff going on. Next, the acting all around is excellent. Hawke is of course a well-known, Hollywood personality, and we know he can deliver, but I think we've also all seen a horror film before where a respected actor sleepwalks through his/her role for a paycheck. Not the case here. The film really rests on Hawke's shoulders and he comes through, big time. Besides him, with the exception of the small role of sheriff played by Fred Dalton Thompson I didn't recognize any of the other cast members, but they were all fantastic. Just solid work all around. Finally, the film is smartly directed by Scott Derrickson, whose The Exorcism of Emily Rose I liked, but whose remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still I did not. Here, even though this is a much smaller film, I think he delivers his best work to date.

I suspect there is going to be some division on this one (currently Sinister has a 61% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Some people aren't going to like that so much of the action is Ellison watching movies, investigating on his laptop and creeping around his house after hearing strange noises. This isn't a big, bang, splashy horror movie. But it's a damned creepy one, and well worth checking out. 

I kind of wanted to talk about the ending, but I don't want to be "that guy." So if you do go see it, let me know and we'll discuss later in the comments.

Footnote:  Also in theaters right now is Paranormal Activity 4: Hyperactivity. But, you know, it's the 4th one. I mean, do what you want, go check it out if you really love that series, but personally I can wait for the DVD on that one. 

(Ok, I confess, Hyperactivity is not actually the subtitle of Paranormal Activity 4.  But come one, it so should have been.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: Film 17

Today's Halloween movie recommendation probably should have come a bit sooner in this series as it's going to be one of the more difficult films to track down. I didn't find it on any of the VOD services. It's a much older film, so it's certainly not in Redbox. DVD's are still available, so cue it up in your Netflix fast or buy a copy from Amazon and get it overnighted because this is definitely one to put on your annual Halloween viewing list.

Released in 1980, The Changeling is easily my all-time favorite haunted house film. I will mention, though, that if you're a fan of a more modern-style horror film you might be a bit disappointed as there is barely a drop of blood spilled in the entire film. This one is all atmosphere and slow-burn creeps, but damn is it effective. Especially in the use of sound design, which is equally as effective at creating scares as anything seen in the film.

The plot revolves around a man played by George C. Scott who has recently lost his wife and daughter in a car accident (seen in a devastating opening sequence), and has now moved to a new city in order to try and get his life going again. Once in town, he's introduced to a young woman (Trish Van Devere) who works for the local historical society. She sets him up in one of the old houses they care for, one that hasn't been occupied in many years. As you may have guessed, there's a good reason why no one has lived there in a long while. Someone died there years before ... and that someone isn't happy about it.

From there I'll say no more of the plot, but leave it for you to discover the chills The Changeling has in store. What I do want to mention is that beyond the haunted house aspect, there's a wonderful mystery to be solved that is central to propelling the plot forward, and really what, I think, helps set this film above the many similarly themed films out there.

So in honor of a film that remains one of my favorites year after year, here is a short list of horror awards I'd like to give The Changeling:

*Creepiest use of a child's toy.

*Best seance scene.

*Creepiest use of a wheelchair.

*Best use of an old well (sorry The Ring).

*Best use of creepy otherworldly child's voice.

*Best George C. Scott fainting scene.

Ok, I just threw that last one in for fun.

I was also going to give it Best Roving Wide-Angle Steadcam Shots, but The Shining, which came out that same year, probably wins that one. Though, to be fair, The Shining had an entire hotel to move through were as The Changeling just has the one house.

But anyway ... if you enjoy a good mystery, atmospheric horror and strong acting, seek out The Changeling this Halloween.

But please don't accidentally rent or buy the other film called The Changeling which stars Angelina Jolie and was directed by Clint Eastwood. Not the same thing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: Films 14, 15 & 16

I got on a little bit of a vampire kick after watching "Stake Land," so to wrap up that trend here's a trio of vampire films that are worth your time. And none of them are "Twilight."

As you may have guessed from my digs at "Twilight," I don't care anything about mopey, whiny, emo vampires. Vampires are monsters. I get the whole psycho-sexual elements; the blood, the penetration and so on. And there have been really good films that explored those themes while still letting the vamps be the monsters they are. My point being, I guess, I don't want my monsters neutered. 

That's definitely not the case with "30 Days of Night." Based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles, this is a brutal piece of vampire cinema. I wouldn't call it a perfect film, but it's a damn good one with a unique setting. Once a year the small town of Barrow, Alaska experiences a month long period where the sun never shines. As the sun sets for last time before the titular 30 days of night, a boat load of vampires arrive in town for a month long feast. Once the townspeople figure out exactly what they are up against, their task is simple; survive until sun up.

And here is my only real gripe with the film; it never really feels like they've been hiding and surviving for 30 days. Everything else pretty much works, but somehow the filmmakers missed out on conveying a sense of how long a month would actually seem if you are fighting for your life 24 hours a day.

But that's a nitpick to be sure. This film had great tension, creepy as hell vampires, and a strong cast of human survivors. Well worth a Halloween viewing.

Surely you know this one already, right? Right? I don't think there's much that I can add to what you already know about "Fright Night." I mean, if you dig watching a bunch of horror movies every Halloween, you've seen this at least a couple of times already. 

But just in case ...

"Fright Night" is a great 80's horror film that gives you the best of both worlds, in terms of vampires, offering us both the seducer and the vicious beast in one character. 

Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) has a new neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon). Dandrige is a smooth pimp with the ladies. He's also a nasty, killing machine. He is, to my mind, one of the great cinema vampires. He starts off all cool, suave and seductive, but when he vamps out it's full-on ruthless monster time with some really nasty looking makeup to boot. Sarandon is great here, playing both sides of his vampire with equal ferocity. 

Also, there's no way to discuss "Fright Night" without mentioning the wonderful Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, the great vampire killer. Here he plays a wash-up actor who once started in a string of -- you guessed it -- vampire films and now must overcome his fears and help defeat a real one.

I've often heard "Fright Night" referred to as a horror/comedy and I suppose that's accurate, but don't get the idea that it's wall to wall yuks and sight gags and such. The whole reason this film actually works on both levels is because the comedy isn't forced, rather it comes naturally out of certain character personalities and situations. So, yes, there's a good bit of humor here, but at it's core "Fright Night" is a horror film.

Now here's one that's played more for laughs than horror, though, to be sure it has it's share of nastiness. Being a horror/comedy from the 80's starring Grace Jones, that kid from "Meatballs" and Michelle Pfeiffer's little sister, "Vamp" isn't going to be for everyone. And to be honest, it's not one of my favorite, must-watch-every-Halloween films. That said, when I do pop this in the DVD player it's a plenty entertaining enough diversion.

To sum up the story, two cooler than cool college guys rent a car from Long Duk Dong so they can drive into the city, go to a strip club and hire a stripper for a frat party. Unfortunately for them, the strip club they stumble into happens to be run by a gang of stripper vampires who feed on their low-life patrons. It's really not all as sleazy as that description makes it sound, and there are some nice touches that set this film apart from the dozens of other low-budget, vampire romps the 80's offered up, although things are still slathered in a healthy layer of 80's cheese.

"Vamp" is streaming on Netflix right now, so if you have a subscription it's easy enough to give it a shot. If it turns out it's not for you, switch it off and go find "Fright Night."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: Film 13

No! my 13th Halloween recommendation isn't going to be a Friday the 13th movie. How silly would that be.

The year 1981 saw the release of what are arguably the two best examples of the modern werewolf film; "An American Werewolf in London" and "The Howling." Now, since I love to stir up controversy - at least unimportant, movie-fanboy controversy - I'm going to make the bold declaration that I find "The Howling" the better werewolf film over "An American Werewolf in London."


"Are you mad?!"

Maybe. But hear me out.

Firstly, I love "An American Werewolf in London" (hereafter referred to as the more easily typed "AAWiL") unreservedly. I'm not trying to detract from that film one bit. And yes, it is kind of silly to say one is better than the other as they are both completely different types of werewolf films. However, they are werewolf films and if you were going to do a side by side comparison, here are my reasons for loving "The Howling" just a tiny bit more than "AAWiL."

1) Scarier: While both films have a heavy dose of humor laced throughout, "AAWiL" leans more heavily on the humor whereas "The Howling" leans a bit more towards the horror. Both work perfectly well in what they are attempting to accomplish, but for scares, "The Howling" is easily, for me, the more tension filled, frightening affair.

2) John Sayles: More well known today as a film director, Sayles started his career writing low-budget films for folks like producer Roger Corman. In fact he'd already worked with director Joe Dante on "Piranha," and was writing the script of "Alligator" at the same time he was writing "The Howling." So why do I mention him? Because even though he was writing low-budget horror films he put a whole lot into talent into them. It's a great script with a lot of fun and scares, and just so much more going on in it than "AAWiL."

3) "The Howling" is way more sleazy: Why do I like that? Because it's different. "AAWiL" for all it's greatness is really just a modern spin on the classic, Universal "Wolfman." "The Howling" is a beast unto itself. I mean if you want to get all pretentious with it, "The Howling" is using the werewolf as a metaphor for the nastiest, ugliest aspects of human nature. These people want to be werewolves because it frees them to indulge in their most base desires.

But it also just makes for a weirder, more interesting film.

4) Hind legs vs. all fours: This is just a personal preference, but I prefer werewolves that walk on two legs. It's more menacing to me. More unnatural. The werewolf in "AAWiL" is good too, but come on, it's just a great big, scary dog.

5) Rob "Freakin'" Bottin: If you know me, you know my love for the creature creations of Rob Bottin, whose effects work on John Carpenter's "The Thing" remains unmatched to this day. Bottin's werewolves look more menacing than any I've seen on film before or since. They almost look like he had an idea for a devil costume then added hair and a snout. They look plain evil.

My one caveat here; the final werewolf. The transformation part is fine, but that last close-up ... sheesh. Looks more like a were-shih-tzu. I'm guessing the idea here was they didn't want to make her look as evil - because she wasn't evil - as the other werewolves, but man, was it a bad call by the director or whoever made that decision. But that misstep is only a couple of seconds of screen time. Everything else is brilliant.

6) More werewolves! This film is chock-full of them. One could certainly argue that quality is more important than quantity, but since I've already established that these are quality werewolves, the shear volume of lycanthropes in "The Howling" makes it a far more fright-filled horror film.

Don't take any of this too seriously. It's really all about personal preference. And honestly, you should have a werewolf double feature and watch both films.  But, if it comes down to it and you can - for some strange reason - only watch one werewolf film this Halloween, my vote goes for "The Howling."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: Film 12

Here's a little film that I don't think has gotten it's fair share of love.

I'm probably the gazillionth person to say this about "Stake Land," but that's because it's pretty accurate; think "The Road" (based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy) but with vampires. I'm going to go out on my own limb, however, and say, of the two films, I think "Stake Land" is the more interesting. Plus it's got vampires.

I've been thinking about "Stake Land" for a bit, and I'm finding it a difficult film to write about, other than just saying it's really good, go rent it. But that doesn't tell you much now does it.

I guess the problem I'm having is that this isn't a plot driven movie. It's more akin to a road movie, but it's also a very observational film. That is to say, here is a situation and here is how these different characters react to and deal with it.

Here's the set up; society as we know it has fallen apart as vampires have overrun the world. Not the mopey, metrosexual vampires of "Twilight" or some super, elite vamps attempting to rebuild the world in their own image. These are pure, animal-like monsters; unemotional, unthinking, unorganized, living only for the hunt. Through this world we follow a pair of human survivors; a young boy named Martin (Connor Paolo) and the man known only as Mister (Nick Damici), who rescued Martin when his parents were killed. The two travel across the country looking for nothing more than to survive. But even that simple notion has different meanings to both. Martin seems to want to find a place to settle, where as Mister is content to survive on the road, killing as many vamps along the way as he can.

We meet a number of other characters as we travel with the pair, but we never really get to know anyone. They don't speak to each other too often about anything overly serious or emotional. They are all very guarded, and for good reason. Any one of their company or all of them could be gone in an instant, so no one, especially Mister, wants to get too close. The most insight we get comes from Marvin's voice over narration. This all lends to that feeling I mentioned of this being a very observational film. And that's a good thing. It's a bit different way of telling a story and it works well here.

This one's definitely a little heavier than some of my other recommendations, but it's a good, creepy, unsettling film, and well worth finding it's way into your Halloween schedule.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: Films 10 & 11

Watched a haunted house double-feature. First up, a haunted house film done well.

The remake of "House on Haunted Hill" isn't going to win any awards, but it sure is a blast. This is mostly a funhouse show, so don't expect anything particularly scary, though it does manage a few jumps and creepy scenes here and there.

The story - very, very loosely adapted from the Vincent Price starring original - concerns wealthy, amusement park designer Stephen Price and his wife, Evelyn. The couple utterly despise each other, but instead of getting divorced like normal people do they've decided to make each other's lives as miserable as possible until one of them can work out, how shall we say, other means of ending the relationship.

So how does a house on a hill which is haunted work it's way into the story? Glad you asked. This is the location Evelyn has chosen for her birthday party; an abandoned mansion that was once an insane asylum. She and Stephen arrive the night of the party to find a room full of guests no one seems to have invited. From here on out things go from bad to deadly. Scheming plots come to light, as well as plots within those plots, all the while something else is happening in the house that no one was counting on.

While the whole cast does good work here, it's really Geoffrey Rush and Famke Jannsen as Stephen and Evelyn Price who are having the most fun with the film. Rush, known for so many serious, dramatic roles, is joyfully chewing up the scenery like it were a bag of Lays he can't eat just one of while Jannsen goes evil, hate-filled, gold-digger times ten.

Really, the film only falters at the end when the evil spirit of the house is revealed as a truly terrible bit of CGI. It certainly doesn't ruin the film because you're not meant to take anything here very seriously to begin with. But it's definitely bad. That misstep aside, this is a fun horror film perfect for Halloween viewing.  

And now, a haunted house film done badly.

I tried to imagine the studio meeting that must have taken place as the "The Haunting" was being developed.

Studio Exec:  So we're going to remake "The Haunting." This film is based on the literary classic "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, and it's been filmed once before resulting in one of the most effective and subtle psychologically driven ghost stories ever made. So. Who should we get to direct it?

Studio Lackey:  Hey, how about that guy that made "Speed" and "Twister"?

Studio Exec:  "Perfect!"

Wow! This movie is so bad. Terrible script, terribly over the top CGI, and badly directed. The only thing it had going for it was a pretty solid cast and even they look lost most of the time.

I remember hating this movie when it came out in 1999, so I don't know why I decided to give it another chance. But I did. Mistake. Avoid this movie.

Or better yet, check out the Robert Wise directed original.