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September 30, 2010

Love Horror? Hate Cancer? Fright-Rags Has Something For You...

If you don't know of Fright-Rags, the New York based company making some of the coolest horror shirts in the history of mankind, you're severely missing out.  They're a fine group of folks who love what they do, and by all accounts do it well.  I hear that some of them love Halloween 5, which disappoints me, but I can let that slide.

Especially today.  Today, I received an email from Fright-Rags' "Guru of Gore-wear", Ben, who relayed the message that his site is offering a new shirt tomorrow.  This shirt, given the name 'We Belong Alive", is being released in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The shirt is designed to raise awareness, but also to benefit those who suffer.  In fact, all proceeds from sales of the shirt, pictured below, will go to a friend of Ben's who is battling breast cancer and the costs that come with it.
While I'm often prone to rambling, but this is a cause that hits home for me, so I'm gonna just keep this simple.  If you'd like to offer your support to those who suffer, plus the people who love them, this shirt's for you.

The shirt can be purchased here, as of 10 AM EST on 9/1/10. 

(And, they have a lot of other awesome shirts too, BTW.)

Support Unrated Horror This Weekend? No Thanks.

If you've been around the horror community lately, you've no doubt heard the loud voices proclaiming this to be one of the most important weekends in the history of horror cinema.  If you haven't been around, allow me to explain.
Hatchet II, the follow up to Adam Green's breakout slasher from 2006, is being released "nationally" this week by AMC cinemas.  Moreover, the film will be released UNRATED - free from the censorship of the MPAA and their rating system.  According to many, such as horror bigwig Dread Central, this is a chance for horror fans to stand up and tell the world what they want to see (by giving the film money, of course).

With all due respect to those involved with the movie (I like Hatchet, and we'll talk about it more later), those involved with sites pimping this release, and those who disagree - I'm going to take my own stand.  Here are some reasons why I - and probably I only - think this ad campaign and the path of Hatchet II doesn't speak for all horror fans, despite their sweeping generalizations.

This "nationwide" release is nowhere near nationwide - I've been an employee of one of the nation's largest theater chains, and the moment Hatchet II's unrated release was announced I knew that it would never - ever - play in my home state.  Quite simply, most theater chains WILL NOT carry unrated cinema of any kind.  A look at the opening weekend venues of Hatchet II, as posted online, shows that only 20 of the 50 United States will play Hatchet II.  To the studio that probably doesn't matter, because AMC cinemas covers the major moneymaking markets.  But there are huge portions of the country that will not see the film.  Basically, the choice to go unrated is costing millions of viewers a chance to see the film.  I'm sure the filmmakers' will say that the film selling in these markets is what will change the other chains' minds.  Considering the mediocre results of online campaigns on past horror "sensations", I highly doubt they'll meet that goal.  It's another case of the entertainment industry separating the haves and havenots.

(Some people have been so bold as to even suggest that those of us from the 90% of America that won't see Hatchet II in theaters should blindly buy tickets on-line and support unrated horror in that manner.  In other words - "If you're interested in the vague prospect of more unrated horror films, buy this product sight unseen!".  I mean, we all want it that way, right? Send your money, and in return...well, in return you can spend more money to pick up the DVD at Wal-Mart!  That way, the studio's pocketbooks win twice!)

After Green's latest films, a return to Hatchet seems like a step back - Since the release of Hatchet - a flawed slasher that cut corners to create scares and was devoid of any real characters - Green has been a part of directing two fantastic horror thrillers, Spiral and Frozen.  These films show that Green has a lot of talent as a serious horror filmmaker.  Hatchet, on the other hand, felt like a glorified piece of fan fiction that was entirely interested in producing gore and showing breasts.  We like to claim that that's all horror fans like, but I know that most of us are bigger than that.  Hatchet is a fun film, and I'm sure seeing the amped up sequel on the big screen with a howling audience would be fun - but I still feel like it could be a step back artisticly.  Yet people are lapping it up, because it promises violence and gore.  Which leads to my biggest issue with the film's pitch...

The UNRATED label is a crutch - I know, I haven't seen the movie yet, but I fail to see any good reason why unrated horror is inherently better than any other horror film.  To me, the assumption that the film will be better because it hasn't passed the rating tests is absolutely ridiculous.  I can not, for the life of me, think of one time in my life when I've been watching a truly fantastic horror movie and stopped to think "You know, this movie would be sooooo much better if it were unrated!"  Not once.

It personally offends me when I see all these people clamoring that they won't see a horror movie because it's PG-13 and that those few extra seconds of gore will make or break a film.  Sites like Dread Central imply that horror fans - in total - are mindless drones who are interested in the gore and sex first and any cinematic qualities second.  We're being painted as a singular force with only one interest - which Hatchet II will meet.

Despite what some sites would have you believe, there are a lot of people who - wisely - don't believe that the horror genre peaked during the 1980s.  They're the people who fondly remember the classic horror films from Universal Studios, who swoon over Hammer Films, and who recall the intelligent horrors of the '70s as something special, unlike the commercial, paint-by-numbers efforts that filled the glam decade.  Those behind Hatchet - who proclaim their film to be "Old School American Horror" - seem to share the slim view of horror that values Kane Hodder over Vincent Price and Boris Karloff.

Currently circulating trailers for Hatchet II focus entirely on the fact that the film is being released with more gore and deaths than anything you've seen on the big screen in the last 25 years.  Does it mention the plot? Nope.  Who the characters are? Except for bland returning killer Victor Crowley, nope.  Anything about the film besides the fact it's unrated and extreme?  Not that I can see.  Check out the following trailer to see for yourself. (In case you can't guess, this preview is most certainly NSFW.)
I am a proud fan of horror cinema, and am glad to support artists everywhere in their quest to see their films made without interference.  But I'm also a fan of making up my mind on my own - and this tactic for pimping Hatchet II reminds me of why I don't blindly follow the "cool kids" in the horror scene.  Some people want to believe a sequel to a DVD hit is going to change the landscape of horror forever, just because there's no limit on the amount of blood sprayed.  I fail to believe that horror fans - on the whole - are so obtuse.

If you want to see Hatchet II, see Hatchet II.  (All the details are in the Dread Central post I linked.)  I'll probably see it on DVD, but I'll see it because I love that it stars Danielle Harris and Tony Todd.  I'll see it because I think Green is a fine horror director who has a lot of fun loving the genre, and because it's probable that the gains he's made as a filmmaker since Hatchet will make this a superior sequel.  I'll see it because I have little doubt it'll be a fun ride.  I will not, however, see it simply because it's being labeled as UNRATED - because I can't believe that it's necessary for a film to be unrated to be sufficiently violent.  If a filmmaker really thinks they can't tell a violent story within a system that allows the likes of Taxi Driver, Kill Bill, and Machete, that filmmaker should probably reconsider whether their story is really worth telling.

Horror has survived - and succeeded - for more than 40 years despite the MPAA.  Under their rules, William Friedkin made The Exorcist, John Carpenter made The Thing, and Wes Craven made A Nightmare on Elm Street. Maybe Hatchet II knows some secret to success that tops those films - and all the other great horrors that have come before it - I'd like to see it.  But I'm not going to blindly jump through the film's hoops because it promises to subvert the system.  And I'm kind of pissed off that people are implying that I should.

If that makes me less of a horror fan, so be it.

September 29, 2010


(2010, Dir. by Adam Green.)

The skiing scene is something I've never been a part of.  When I think of skiing, I remember Better Off Dead's Charles De Mar telling Lane Meyer: "Go that way, really fast.  If something gets in your way, turn."  That's about my entire understanding of the slopes.  And that's even after I've seen and blindly loved Shredder (which I recently found the only other fan of!) a few times.

But when word of mouth caught fire about Adam Green's Frozen, I was more than ready to head to the ski lifts for a practical, character driven horror film.  It's an incredibly simple premise - even more than the much-maligned Devil - in that three kids get stuck on a chair lift, high above the slopes, as the resort closes down for the week.  It surely doesn't seem like enough to fill a 90 minute film, but Green and cast keep the plight interesting.

When I say interesting, I mean that it offers gripping brutality.  In the tradition of survivalist horrors that came before it, Frozen focuses on what these characters go through while trying to figure out an escape.  This gives the viewer their own chance to ponder how they would deal with this predicament.  In the home setting, this allowed me to shout at the screen and share the characters' pain with each frozen body part or broken bone.  This is the kind of horror that's set up for audience participation, and I'd imagine couples or friends watching it will have a lot of queries for each other and chances to howl in unison at some graphic effects.

(My escape route?  I'd immediately pull a Tango & Cash.  If you don't know what I mean, check in with Misters Russell and Stallone and come back later.)

The cast do an excellent job of presenting victims we can relate with.  Kevin Zegers (Dawn of the Dead remake, Wrong Turn) and Shawn Ashmore (Iceman from the X-Men films, ironically) play childhood best friends enjoying a traditional weekend getaway.  Newcomer Emma Bell plays Zegers' character's girlfriend (a first-timer on the slopes), and the film does a fine job of presenting the characters' relationships.  Bell and Ashmore play off each other very well, and their differing relationships with their friend are crucial to the human element of the story.  The film also includes cameos from Green, horror director Joe Lynch, and stunt coordinator/ex-Jason Kane Hodder before the trio's predicament.  Green's wife, Rileah Vanderbilt, also appears in a bit role as a potential love interest for Ashmore in the opening scenes.

It took me a while to get in to Frozen - the build up is a little too "rich kids with rich problems" for me - but the film takes off when the characters have to make choices about how to face the situation.  As the tension escalates, Green never cuts corners.  The film still takes time to build its characters in the face of adversity - because, really, what else is there for them to do while they're trapped on a 5 foot wide chair high above the slopes?

Frozen is successful, unlike Green's wildly-popular-yet-maddeningly-silly slasher Hatchet, because it stays simple and doesn't try to go overboard by winking at the audience.  It's not one of the most shocking films I've seen of late, but it's pure entertainment that should be fun to pop in with friends so you can watch their reactions as the plot unfolds.  While Hatchet promised it, I feel like Frozen is my kind of "old-school American horror".

September 28, 2010

RIP Gloria Stuart (1910-2010)

It's almost shocking to think that, in this day and age, we're bidding farewell to someone who starred alongside Karloff and Rains in the films of James Whale.  Rest in Peace, Ms. Stuart.
Stuart in Whale's 1932 horror, The Old Dark House

Stuart with Boris Karloff in The Old Dark House

Stuart with Henry Travers in The Invisible Man (1933)

Making an entrance in The Invisible Man
Stuart with Claude Rains - The Invisible Man.

September 26, 2010

Hammer Films Month (Preseason Week) - Scars of Dracula

I told you all that October was going to be Hammer Films Month at FMWL, but I'm chomping at the bit, as they say.  There are a lot of freakin' movies I want to talk about this month, so I figured it'd be OK if I do a post or two to warm up as September winds down.  So, tonight, we're gonna talk about Scars of Dracula.  Just pretend this is a scrimmage.
Scars of Dracula
Release Date: November 8, 1970
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Starring: Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley

If there's a Hammer film I've seen more than any other, it's probably Scars of Dracula.  In fact, I saw it and Dracula: Prince of Darkness many times before I finally got around to the original Lee/Dracula film.  Scars of Dracula stuck with me as a teen, because it featured on odd mix of classic and modern horror trappings.  Scars was the fifth film Hammer produced starring Lee as Dracula, and this is the last film that keeps him in the classic Transylvania setting (the last two Lee/Dracula Hammers, Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, would move him to modern day London).  Released late in 1970, Hammer offers increased amounts of blood, sexuality, and perversion in this outing. 
In the film, Dracula is still residing in his famed castle, but he's joined by a servant named Klove (Patrick Troughton, who later played the priest that warns Gregory Peck in The Omen) and a betrothed female (Anouska Hempel).  Like the series, the film makes a point that Dracula is the last surviving member of the Dracula family.  Lee's Dracula seems to be carrying a heavier cape these days, and there are times in the film when he seems to be wary of his immortal curse.  I'm not sure how much of this is intentional and how much of it is Lee being tired of playing the Count, as he's known to have been disappointed in some of these sequels.  (When he recorded a commentary for the region 2 DVD, he stated it was the first time he'd ever actually seen the movie.)

Opposite Lee and his people are the trio of Paul and Simon Carlson (Christopher Matthews, Dennis Waterman) and the young and beautiful Sarah Framsen (Jenny Hanley).  Paul is a comical playboy character who, while on the run after being caught in bed with the daughter of the Burgomaster, ends up at Dracula's castle for the night and meets a grisly demise.  Despite warnings from the people around the castle, Simon and Sarah go hunting for Paul, and the Count becomes enamored with Sarah.  (It's understandable, I did too.)
Unlike prior films in the series, there's a lot of depravity in the flick.  The viewer gets long glances at the Burgomaster's daughters naked bum in an early scene, and all of the women in the film wear low cut dresses that are more revealing than is common from Hammer.  The film does seem to focus on the sexual nature of the Dracula tale, particularly when Hempel's vampish character comes into contact with Paul, but it still seems a little out of place compared to the previous films.  There's also a weird torture subplot with Klove, who is punished by Dracula when he fails his Master.  The film seems to be blatantly going for the extreme, particularly with a late scene where Dracula's trusty bat - which is not Dracula himself - rips a cross from Hanley's cleavage and leaves bloody claw marks.
Like I said earlier, I've loved this film for a while.  It was a fine intro to the series - even if there is no Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, or a Van Helsing of any kind - because it offers corny horror charms with the trademark Hammer beauty.  Unfortunately, the combination of age and exposure to the rest of Hammer's catalog has resulted in the film not aging well for me, and I found myself bored with it at times during tonight's revisit.  I can still see all the things I loved about this one then, but the flaws are that much brighter with time.  Thankfully, it's still a bloody beautiful film (and Ms. Hanley is about the prettiest thing Hammer ever put on screen that wasn't named Caroline Munro).
I still recommend Scars of Dracula for its entertainment value, but if you're looking for substance in your Hammer Dracula film you better stick to the original Horror of Dracula or the Lee-less Brides of Dracula.  This one, sadly, foretells the fall that Hammer took in the 1970s, reminding us of the change in time that led to the studio's (temporary) demise.

Also, I'd just like to take a moment to point out this guy - who looks like Borat - and his ridiculous sideburns.

September 25, 2010


(2010, Dir. by Gareth Edwards.)

Haunting and poetic, Gareth Edwards' Monsters is one of the most gripping sci-fi films I've ever seen.  The film, which follows two characters on their journey across alien-infested sections of Mexico and the Southern U.S., has drawn comparisons to last year's sleeper hit District 9, though these seem unfair when looking at the final product.  While that movie was a action-packed effort, Monsters plays more like Lost in Translation would when mixed with the plot of War of the Worlds.

For about 80% of the film, viewers will probably struggle to figure out why the film is even titled Monsters.  It opens with title cards that explain how aliens were discovered in our solar system, came to Earth, and caused the government to Mexico an "Infected Zone", yet the creatures appear on screen for mere moments of the 93 minute film.  The opening sequence, in which Army forces attack one of the towering, tentacled creatures is about half of the action we're going to get in the film.  The creatures are incredibly realized when they are on-screen - they definitely look better than the effects I've seen in most independent films - and the few encounters with the creatures had my eyes glued to the screen.

These monsters need to step aside, however, because the stars of the film are Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able (who co-starred in the doomed indie horror All the Boys Love Mandy Lane).  The two aren't big names, but they spend almost every second of screen-time playing off each other, and do so perfectly.  McNairy plays Andrew, a photographer who works for the girl's father and has been assigned to bring her home to her fiancee, and offers a jaded view on the events that have occurred over the past six years.  Able's Samantha doesn't seem to trust the photographer as their journey begins, as he hits on her despite her engagement and talks about the benefits he gains from the destruction around them.  One of the most telling exchanges occurs when he explains that he gets paid well for a picture of a child killed by the monsters and doesn't get paid for a picture of a smiling child.  Samantha seems to be hiding from the world around her (an attempt to stay pure, perhaps?), yet Andrew insists that she recognize the sad truths around them and accept that things have changed for the worst.

As I watched these two characters together on their journey, I couldn't help thinking about how well their relationship is drawn out.  I mentioned Lost in Translation earlier, which seems like an odd comparison to make with a sci-fi film, but that film - like Monsters - builds its central relationship on the principles of proximity and stress.  Think back to the last job you had where you worked as part of a two-person team with a stranger.  Things probably started awkwardly, but when you're stuck together facing a common goal, connections are often formed.  At times this just means you agree to disagree and move on toward the goal, but at times deeper friendships are forged because people adapt to each other well.  Lost in Translation succeeded in showing how two strangers can become close in this type of situation, and I think Monsters focuses on the same ideas when dealing with its characters.  Through Edwards' script and direction, McNairy and Able succeed in presenting a realistic connection that doesn't turn the realtionship into your average Hollywood story.

Edwards served as director, writer, and director of photography on the film, and his control of the film seems masterful.  The camera lingers on wide shots that show the grand scope of the monsters' destruction, and is complemented beautifully by Jon Hopkins' musical score.  The dialogue, like the characters, seems pretty natural - Andrew does occasionally sound like he's trying to hammer home a message to Samantha, but it's a minimal complaint.  I mentioned that the monster effects are strong, but it bears repeating - a final act reveal of the creatures is among the more beautiful things I've seen onscreen in a long time.

There are also some obvious commentaries about society and immigration at work in Monsters.  I could stop to focus on them, but I don't need them.  I can settle for what the film offers with its two main characters dealing with an other-worldly adversity, and how it becomes one of the most resonant relationships I've seen in a genre film.  Monsters took my breath away, yet kept the titular creatures on the side of the picture, appearing to be almost a third wheel.

Available now for rental on VOD/XBOX/Amazon/etc. (and coming to theaters October 29th), Edwards' simple approach to this tale makes Monsters the most fascinating film I've experienced this year.

September 23, 2010

Coming this October to FMWL.....

I've already announced my plans for October on FMWL's marvelous facebook page, but I've been holding out on all of you who actually read the blog.  Yeah, I know.  Total weaksauce.

So, if you must know.....October will officially be FMWL's first HAMMER FILMS MONTH!
That's right!  Throughout October, The Mike will focus on the film's of England's horror cathedral, the place where Dracula and Frankenstein returned to their European roots.  We'll cross paths with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Raquel Welch, Caroline Munro, and plenty of other stars, and we'll do it in style.  The curtains will blow in the night's wind, the countryside will become engulfed in fog, and we'll witness some of the most beautiful and haunting images ever put on screen.

Dracula and Frankenstein aren't the only famous folks we'll encounter.  We'll meet other famous monsters, see sci-fi thrillers, and even travel back to ancient times!  Films I plan to cover include, but are not limited to:
  • The Abominable Snowman - Peter Cushing travels the Himalayas in search of Yeti!
  • The Phantom of the Opera - Herbert Lom haunts in the classic tale!
  • The Curse of the Werewolf - Want a classic wolf man tale?  Oliver Reed's got you covered!
  • Never Take Candy From a Stranger - An elderly child molester haunts a village!
  • Night Creatures - Sailors defend a coastal town against phantom skeletons!
  • She - Ursula Andress stars alongside Lee and Cushing as an ageless love goddess!
  • Plus Crescendo, These Are The Damned, The Snorkel, and more!!!
 By the way, did anyone ever tell you that great minds think alike?  Well, it's true.  Last night, as I spent some time at Turner Classic Movies, I found that cable's classic cinema leader had the same idea.  So, if you're not well versed in Hammer horror, and have a cable connection, you'll have a fantastic chance to keep up with FMWL's trip through Hammerland.  Here's an ad that shows off some of the films TCM will be showing through October, many of which I've already planned to cover here at FMWL!

 Of course, this is also a chance for Midnight Warriors far and wide to stand tall and speak out!  If you want to join the Hammer Month festivities, just let me know via any of those ways of contacting me (like the email, or the facebook, or the twitter).  I'll gladly link any posts on Hammer horror, and am more than willing to accept any guest posts about your favorite Hammer films or stars, your experience with Hammer, or any other thing you feel like writing about on the topic!  I want Hammer Month to bring together many perspectives, because I want to hear from those who love their product as much as I do!
If you're not into Hammer (read as: If you're EVIL!), there's gonna be more to October!  I also plan to use a few posts throughout the month to focus on everyone's favorite mama's boy, Norman Bates and the Psycho films.  My goal is to cover all four Psycho films (What remake?), including the Blu-Ray release of Alfred Hitchcock's original masterpiece.  I also hope to get a look at The Psycho Legacy, a comprehensive documentary about the series, which hits DVD via the wonderful Shout! Factory on October 19
There are a lot of other horror related things going on in October, obviously, so I won't be focusing entirely on these topics, but I do hope to make them the meat and potatoes of my output for the month.  I can't wait to get started (may do some "preseason" posts in the next week so I'm ready when October rolls), and I hope you all will enjoy the ride!  October's gonna have BITE!

Midnight Movie of the Week #38 - The Diabolical Doctor Z

Wait, which Diabolical Doctor?
Oh, THAT Diabolical Doctor!
Classic horror goes European in The Diabolical Doctor Z (originally titled Miss Muerte), a relatively early offering from Spanish schlockmeister Jesus Franco.  According to IMDB, Franco has directed 192 films in his career, yet many horror fans are quick to dismiss him based on heavy sexual themes in his output.  In fact, Franco is also known for "making Spain's first pornographic film", and his most popular film is the flamboyantly titled Vampyros Lesbos.

With his reputation preceding him, I was kind of shocked when I came across The Diabolical Doctor Z.  This isn't a restrained film by any means, but it feels more like the offspring of a Terence Fisher or Herk Harvey to me.  It borrows from classic tales like Frankenstein and foreshadows future horrors like The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and puts it all together in a bizarre yet artistic manner.
Summing up the plot of the film briefly, the Diabolical Doctor Z is a scientist with a God complex who dies of a heart attack after defending his ideas against a panel of doctors who dismiss his methods.  He is survived by his loyal daughter Irma, who vows she will take revenge on the men who drove her father to his grave.  I guess the easy methods of murder weren't available, because she decides it'd be best to brainwash a macabre dancer known as Miss Muerte, and then have her seduce and kill the fellows with her poison-tipped fingernails.

(REALLY WEIRD TANGENT ALERT - I have to say, I always was kind of terrified of the poisonous female when I was growing up.   While I was religiously watching professional wrestling in the early '90s, I convinced myself that a particularly fatale valet known as Lady Blossom (who was accompanying future megastar Steve Austin) was the type of woman who, like Batman's Poison Ivy, wore lipstick containing a sedative that could knock out one of Austin's opponents in a pinch.  All she had to do, of course, was give them a little peck on the lips.  Part of me wants to believe this actually happened on TBS one Saturday afternoon, but it's probably just something I made up while playing with my wrestling figures and subbing one of my sister's Barbies into Lady Blossom's role.  Whether or not it was real, it made a lasting impact on me.

And now that I've talked about my completely embarrassing childhood (I lived on a farm, OK???  I had to make up my own weirdness!), back to the movie....)
Miss Muerte is not a willing assassin, which leads to a lot of weird torture scenes in which the female Doctor Z (though I'm not sure she got her degree) gives her a "treatment" that brainwashes her.  Of course, one of those boring European chisel-jawed heroes shows up to try and help her escape Irma's power, and the film mixes a lot of the plot elements that would later reign in the Italian horror scene, such as the hero's quest to find a countryside locale.  As punctuation, the music of the film volleys between ominous organ music (like Harvey's Carnival of Souls) and manic Jazz music - fitting some of the more odd moments brilliantly. 

As Irma and Miss Muerte, respectively, Mabel Karr and Estella Blain definitely succeed on opposite ends of the "Women in Horror" spectrum.  With her short blond hair and eventual facial disfiguration (occurring in a fabulous scene in which she murders a young woman by plowing over her with a car), Karr is viciously intimidating, but can turn on the charm when she needs to convince others of her normalcy.  On the other hand, Blain's showgirl-turned-slayer is incredibly naive for such a picturesque woman.  She doesn't seem like she wants to recognize the power that comes with her beauty, and the treatments from Irma seem to release her onstage persona as a tangible, real-world being.  Irma, whose mastery of science compels Muerte, is the true killer, yet it's fascinating to see this young woman live up to her name.  There's definitely some catharsis as Blain's character truly becomes the spider-woman that she portrays on stage.
 At just over 83 minutes, The Diabolical Doctor Z is a slice of Euro horror that's easy to get into, though there are a few lulls in the action.  Despite the director, it's not a film about nudity or exploitation; it's an honest-to-goodness psychological horror with wickedly surreal imagery and plenty of weird science.  It's also one of Franco's lesser seen films, receiving only 271 ratings from users at IMDB (In fact, only one of Franco's 192 films has received more than 1000 votes on that site, a staggeringly low number).  While I'm still relatively new to his work, I can't imagine he's made many films better than this one, and I think any fan of classic black-and-white horror should seek it out as soon as possible.

(Oh, and if you have any doubts about this one, just click on those pictures and make 'em bigger.  Wicked cool, I tell ya!)


September 21, 2010

Starcrash (aka, The Adventures of Stella Star)

(1978, Dir. by Luigi Cozzi.)

OK, there's no reason to sugar coat it.  I've been lusting after Starcrash for years, and my intention was entirely to see Caroline Munro headline a spaghetti sci-fi rip-off of Star Wars.  Maligned by some as one of the worst films of all-time, the film has built enough of a cult following to earn a Blu-Ray release via the fabulous Shout Factory, who have lovingly restored many of b-movie genius Roger Corman's productions in the past couple of years.  Shout's two-disc blu package paints the film in a positive manner, with a passionate booklet essay by "Starcrash Historian" Stephen Romano - who also provides TWO separate audio commentaries on the disc.  I've never heard of Mr. Romano before tonight, but - as someone who laps up every episode of Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century and considers Flash Gordon to be one of the most amazing motion pictures ever - I can tell we're men of the same heart.

Unsurprisingly, I found myself immediately enthralled by Starcrash when I finally rolled the film tonight.  And it wasn't just because of Ms. Munro.  Now, I will admit that her wide eyes and thin outfits definitely helped the film out - I could easily consider the film to be Flash Gordon's sexy older sister - but the film's frantic energy as it barrels out of control toward its silly plot did more than enough to hold my attention captive.  It wasn't until about halfway through the film that I realized that I had absolutely no idea what was going on in the film's plot; I was too wrapped up in the strange characters and settings that kept popping up during the adventures of Munro's Stella Star.

Though Munro is certainly the Sun in Starcrash's galaxy, the stars that rotate around her do their parts to make the film a blast.  Marjoe Gortner - a former child evangelist who starred in The Food of the Gods - gets top billing as Stella's co-explorer Akton, but his acting definitely plays second fiddle to his strange orange perm hairdo.  (I'm unsure why, but I could see Gortner's character succeeding as a "Buddy the Elf" type character in a land of Oompa Loompas.)  A young David Hasselhoff shows up late in the film to challenge Gortner for the Puffy Haircut Championship of the World, and both men get to do battle using weapons that could only be described as... well, lightsabers.  Also adding to the madness are Joe Spinell (who would star with Munro again in Maniac and The Last Horror Film) as the cape-wearing Count who's behind the evil plan (whatever it is), and Christopher Plummer (getting paid a ton of money for 1-3 days work) as the Emperor of this haunted galaxy.

As Stella Star and her robo-friend Elle (played by Munro's real-life husband) jump across a series of stars, they run into a slew of opponents which include, but are not limited to:
  • Troglodytes,
  • Amazon women,
  • A giant robo-knight with a sword (and what look like nipple rings),
  • Skeleton-robots called Golems,
  • A bald and green fellow called Thor.
Needless to say, there's a lot to smile about in Starcrash's ridiculous journey.  But just when you think it's all silliness, the film takes some oddly respectable turns.  Most notable is the musical score - from five time Oscar winner John Barry - which gives the film a big-time sci-fi epic feel.  Plummer's appearances to explain plot points also add credibility, because he's the kind of actor who could make a phone book sound thrilling.  What he's saying makes no sense, but he sells it beautifully.

I'm probably not going to remember those things as much as I'll remember Munro, of course.  The images of her fighting off nymphs, hanging upside down over a fire, or flying through space with a fishbowl over her head are all I really need.  I'm probably going to revisit this one often on their merits alone.  But when I do jump back into the film, I'm ecstatic to say that I'll probably start remembering the other things I loved about Starcrash.  That's a major victory, because what I thought might only be a cheesy diversion definitely looks like it could become a go-to piece of trashy b-movie magic in my collection.  If you have any love for this kind of ridiculous sci-fi epic, Starcrash is a must see.

(Random Note: The title of this film in the Philippines was Star Battle Encounters.  I guess Wars was taken.) 

(Final Note: The second disc of the blu-package - which is also full of deleted and alternate scenes and featurettes - includes a near 75 minute interview with present day Munro.  I don't often say Cougar, but in this case....MEOW!)

September 20, 2010

Midnight Top Five - Horror Sequels/Remakes I Feel Like I Should Try Again

Every once in a while, I get the strange urge to be forgiving.  In fact, I find that one of the most difficult things about loving the horror game is that I try far too hard to love some movies that I know are total stinkers.  Sometimes I even actively hate a movie, yet randomly find myself thinking "Hey, maybe if I saw that now it wouldn't be the awfulest thing ever!".  I can not explain it, except by stating that I am certainly a horror addict.

For whatever reason, it seems that a lot of the horror remakes and sequels that hit the screens are the flicks I want to make amends with.  So, I thought it would be fair of me to take a trip down memory lane, and check out some of the heartbreaking horror follow-ups I want to make peace with.

Halloween II (2009) - I haven't been madder at a movie in YEARS than I was after I saw Rob Zombie's version of Halloween II.  I wasn't upset that it wasn't a straight remake of the middling sequel to John Carpenter's seminal slasher.  I was upset because it confirmed my suspicions from Zombie's first Halloween - that he had no interest in sticking to the supernatural tale of good vs. evil that is the heart of my favorite horror film.  He'd already tainted Michael, who was once The Boogeyman, and now he took aim at cutting down what I consider to be the ultimate survivor girl and the quintessential passionate doctor.

I mean, I was so mad at this movie that I defaced an in theater standee by writing "I'm with Stupid" on Michael's knife and drawing an arrow pointing to his stupid ripped up mask.  Like Zombie's first Halloween film - which I'll agree would have been a passable film under a different title - I simply could not look past my love for Carpenter's film and the characters within who are a special part of my horror life.

What's changed?  Well, I'm man enough to know that I was being kind of a punk toward the film.  I also read a fine post from the fellows over at Kindertrauma that defends Zombie's directors cut of the film.  Do I really think the editing room is what ruined this movie?  No, but I ain't too proud to try again.  Perhaps someday Halloween II and I will make peace.

The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007) - I honestly remember one scene from this movie.  It's the one with the "waving goodbye" moment.  That's it.  I think there may have been mutant sex, too.  If there was, it wasn't effective enough to stake claim to a corner of my memory.

But I do remember the fabulous in-your-face teaser trailer, and I remember loving it.  I don't have a good reason why, but the fact that I can barely remember the film, yet remember and love the teaser, makes me want to see it again. Damn you, advertising geniuses!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) - This is probably where I'm gonna make you all gasp the most.  I can not pinpoint the reason why - it could be because it seems about 40 minutes too long, it could be that I find the ending kind of silly - but this has always been my least favorite Pre-Nicole Kidman version of the Body Snatcher tale.

Yes, I know it has Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy.  Yes, I know that I can overcome my fear of Veronica Cartwright and her insufferable sniffling; just like I did in Alien.  But I've never fully come to like Phil Kaufman's film.  Everyone tells me I should, and I'm sure I'll try seeing what they do again some day.

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings - My memory of this film is really hazy - think of a flashback from the Corman/Poe/Price version of The Pit and the Pendulum, and that's how I remember this film - but I think that the film suggested that Pumpkinhead (who I was terrified of as a nine-year old) is in fact the spirit of a deformed kid in overalls who was bullied and thrown in a well.  Yeah.  THAT's why I want to see this one again - because it really can't be THAT silly, can it?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) - If you take how much I hated Rob Zombie's Halloween II, and multiply it by the awesomeness of Boris Karloff, you'd have how much I hated Marcus Nispel's TCM remake when it came out.  The thing is, I'm a pretty chill dude.  I don't have that much hate in me.  Science seems to state that I can't hate that movie as much as I do.  And, like Pumpkinhead II and Hills Have Eyes 2, the fact that I barely remember it makes me want to be nicer to it.

Of course, I don't want to see that movie again.  Because I super hate it.  That's the conundrum.

What say you, Midnight Warriors?  Do any of these films deserve more of my time?  Am I ridiculous in the first place for dismissing them and/or hating them?  Can't we all just get along?  I just don't know anymore.  Guide me!

September 18, 2010


(2010, Dir. by John Erick Dowdle.)

Devil is the kind of horror film that just makes me want to ramble about everything I love about this type of film.  Full of religious anecdotes and potential symbolism, it's a mystery that unravels one way on the screen and a different way in my mind.  With a sensational idea - five people in an elevator, one of whom is The Devil - from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan, I entered the film in the mindset of someone ready to watch a carnival sideshow instead of a film.  I even put aside my prejudice against producer Shyamalan, because I do admit to admiring the guy's belief in "campfire tales" where simple events happen for meaningful reasons. 

(And also because he wasn't listed as director.  I still can't get over The Happening.)

Directed by John Erick Dowdle (a hard-luck director whose previous horrors (Quarantine and The Poughkeepsie Tapes) faced plenty of demons in their cinematic lives), Devil is the most crisp story from Shyamalan in the last decade.  There are still some problems in the plot - some coincidences that bring characters to the story aren't dealt with and there's a flashback that reminds me of the heavy-handed ones in Signs - but the meat-and-potatoes of the story are dealt with wonderfully.  A huge amount of credit for selling the supernatural side of the tale goes to the character played by Traffic's Jacob Vargas, who narrates by dropping in his grandmother's tales about what might happen when the Devil appears on earth.  If Shyamalan is the carnival barker that lures us into a tent with grand proclamations (like the film's tagline, "Bad Things Happen for a Reason"), Vargas' character is the terrified "witness" who assures the viewer that there's truth to these claims.  I admit that I'm an easy mark, because I lap these seemingly irrational religious beliefs in horror right up.  Thus, I was immediately connected to Vargas' character - and the film's hook was in me.

That character, plus a jaded police detective and a few other innocent bystanders, are the in-film witnesses.  They observe the participants in the doomed elevator; five souls that are certainly not innocent.  One of the most enjoyable parts of trying to unravel Devil's mystery is finding out what lies each of these mostly nameless characters are selling, and trying to make sense out of their role in the story.  They're represented by a mostly no-name cast of actors, though you may recognize the young woman as Sylvia Ganush's granddaughter in Drag Me to Hell, the salesman as a stoner in Super Troopers, and the security guard as one of the Marines-turned-terrorists in (one of my absolute all-time favorite movies of ever) The Rock.  While these characters try to learn about each other, we also meet a lot of side characters who are determined to help end their predicament, many of whom meet their own grisly ends.  As our narrating believer states, Old Scratch can't let anyone get in his way.

As the initial dose of claustrophobia begins to wear off and the number of people left standing in the elevator drops, it becomes increasingly evident to the viewer that the payoff will make or break the film.  I will admit to becoming skeptical as the story neared conclusion - I worried that there might be a copout that breaks the story's promise - but the film stays true to the premise as it wraps up.  I can see some being disappointed with the final scenes, but I thought they fit the story told by Vargas' character perfectly.  As a religious parable that tells of pure evil at work and the way it effects people, I think Devil's results are comparable to some of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Looking back at the film knowing the full story, I love the game that Devil plays with the viewer.  It may require a few leaps of faith, but there's a lot going on as it plays its tricks on the viewers and victims alike.  There are a lot of clues throughout the film (one particularly significant cue is a Shyamalan trademark) that really helped me make sense of the film.  The wrap-up of the plot will definitely miss for some, but I thought where it ended was exactly where a horror film of this type should end.

It's impossible to talk about most of the film without spoiling the twists, so there's not a lot more I can say about Devil.  (I'd love to ramble about the symbolism I picked up and what I think it meant - which was probably my favorite aspect of the film's design - but that's another story for after people have seen the film.)  I can say that this is entirely my kind of popcorn horror flick, and I won't be forgetting it soon.  If you step into Devil's trap and are open to what it has to offer, I think you'll probably get caught up in this tale.

September 16, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #37 - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

My first encounter with Leatherface when I was growing up was - regrettably - through Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.  That film was the fourth entry in the TCM series, featuring Matthew McConaughey as one of the sadistic "family" members and Renee Zelleweger as the female lead (both would have break out roles soon after in A Time To Kill and Jerry Maguire, respectively).  More notably, it's a film that's stuck in my mind as one of my least favorite movies I've ever seen.

Thus, I didn't give much thought to the sequels in the TCM series for most of my years.  I still took time to seek out the original film (which was Midnight Movie of the Week just over a month ago), but avoided any other trips into the Texas countryside where Leatherface resides.  When I did finally check out The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - which promised '80s fashions and a crazed Dennis Hopper - I didn't give the movie much thought. When I popped the film in for a recent revisit, I quickly realized that I remembered almost nothing about the film.  This time around, I kind of loved it.
Texas Chainsaw 2 opens with a couple of teens driving around and causing mischief, all while trying to make requests of a young woman/disc jockey via their state-of-the-art car phone.  These men promptly come across the iconic Leatherface - perched in the back of the family truck and swinging around his chainsaw and a rotted corpse - who quickly makes a mess on that Texas Highway.  Called in to investigate is Texas Ranger "Lefty" Enright (Hopper, having a lot of fun), who then teams up with the DJ (Caroline Williams) that caught the murder on tape and wants to get to the bottom of it all.  An on-air demonstration of what she knows brings the freaks out, as Leatherface and brother Chop-Top show up to wreak havoc.

There's no way this film - or any of the other follow ups - can stand up against Tobe Hooper's original Massacre, which managed to resist going over the top with its gore and violence while staying incredibly brutal.  Luckily, Hooper is back in the directors chair for the sequel, and he seems to understand that most viewers would share my opinion.  In response, he opens up the door to a gory tale that adds the sadistic and unhinged Chop-Top (played by horror fave Bill Moseley), who's a much more vile brother to Leatherface than Edwin Neal's hitchhiker was in the first film.  One of my favorite moments involving Chop-Top is when he begins to pick his brain with a metal coat hanger while interrogating our intrepid DJ.
The other villains are our holdovers from the first Massacre - including Leatherface (now played by Bill Johnson), Grandfather, and - my personal favorite - The Cook, played by Jim Siedow.  They make great opponents for Hopper's insane Ranger, who storms their lair in the final act while bellowing "Ringing in the Sheaths".  Williams' turn as the DJ, Stretch, is mostly counted on to react to the carnage around her, and she does a fine job at it.

There are plenty of problems with Hooper's sequel, of course.  There's a large loss in tension from the first film, and the film also loses the gritty realism that film had.  The former was expected, but the latter is definitely a jolt to the viewer.  Many would call the film a mess in this regard - it does seem to go on about 15-20 minutes longer than a film as crazy as it should - but I find the shinier appearance of TCM2 to seem very nightmarish.  The dark corridors and neon lighting added to the mood for me, and establish the film's place alongside its mid '80s counterparts.  In my post on the first film I called it the bully in the schoolyard of '70s horror films - and I feel this sequel could compete for that honor in its decade too.
If there's one thing in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 that really surprised me, it's the fact that it actually got me to jump out of my seat a couple of times.  The chainsaw sound effects are particularly jarring, as Leatherface makes a habit out of popping through walls at the exact moment when my guard is down.  The film plays for camp most of the time, though, allowing Hopper to shine as the potentially insane Ranger.  Still, Director Hooper proves to me in these few moments of fright that a lot of the magic inside his first horror classic is still there.  He's simply widened the scale of the film and added a large dose of cheesy humor to the mix.

It's very hard for me not to think of the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as I write about this film or any other film that shares the name (if you want to see me get particularly mean, check out what I wrote about the remake seven years ago when I sucked at writing).  Despite that, I'm starting to think that my memories of the original are an advantage for TCM2 versus a lot of other horror sequels.  TCM2 seems to honor its predecessor while having fun with the world it set up, which is a rare and honorable achievement for a horror sequel.  If you can get past the fact that it's not that film - and if I can, you probably can too - there's a lot of fun and a few scares to be had in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

September 13, 2010

Random Horror Throwdown! - Halloween II (1981) vs. Bad Moon

Fear not, Midnight Warriors, the Random Horror Throwdown is here!  Lately I felt like I was out of steam regarding this column, but fate - in the most random way - stepped in and reminded me of the cardinal rule for blogging.  You might think that rule is "Don't talk about women negatively!" or "If you lead with a nudie pic, don't expect people to read your text!" or "For god's sake nerd, GO OUTSIDE!".  Alas, those are not that rule.  The cardinal rule of blogging is, of course: "When in doubt, go with what you know."

Well...if there are two things The Mike knows, those things are Michael Myers and werewolves.  In the case of both things, there are some extreme highs (The Wolf Man, John Carpenter's Halloween) and lows (Halloween 5, Cursed).  Wanna see where these two fit in?  That's why we play the game!


 The Movies:
Halloween II (1981, Dir. by Rick Rosenthal.)
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Lance Guest.
IMDB Synopsis: Laurie Strode is rushed to the hospital, while Sheriff Brackett and Dr. Loomis hunt the streets for Michael Myers, who has found Laurie at the Haddonfield Hospital. (Note from The Mike: Does anyone else feel like this reads like the film is a time travel picture?  It's like Halloween meets Triangle!)

Bad Moon (1996, Dir. by Eric Red.)
Starring: Michael Pare, Mariel Hemingway, Mason Gamble, Primo the Dog.
IMDB Synopsis: One man's struggle to contain the curse he hides within... and his last-ditch attempt to free himself with the love of family... (Note from The Mike: I don't have a comment on this dramatic synopsis - except that it's dramatic - I just need to get this out of the way so I can go on for the rest of the post.  So here it goes. "DON'T GO AROUND TONIGHT!")

(Here endeth the Creedence jokes.)

(Speaking of, when did "That's just in the movies!" become the go-to excuse for any plot change involving classic monsters?  Before or after An American Werewolf in London?)

The Plot:
Bad Moon survives as one of the more obscure werewolf films of recent memory, and it's not hard to see why.  The plot focuses on a young boy, his mother, their dog, and their uncle, who happens to have caught a bite from a beast that killed his girlfriend as the film opens.  It's based on a novel, Thor, which tells the story from the dog's perspective - but the film takes a slightly less Benji/Lassie approach to the tale while keeping the German Shepherd as a key part of the story.  This is definitely a "dog-eat-dog" story - pun intended - but it never seems to do much to distinguish itself from the werewolf pack.  (OK, someone seriously needs to PUN-ish me for that one.)

Halloween II directly follows the events of Halloween (if you ignore the fact that Dr. Loomis' gun fires seven bullets and throws Michael on to the Doyle's front yard in the sequel, as opposed to the normal six shots and back yard in the original), but adds in the weird overuse of Mr. Sandman, the obligatory high body count, and the now infamous (at least in my mind) sister subplot - which John Carpenter admits he added while he was sleep deprived and drunk.

Are either of these plots really blowing up my skirt?  Nope.  Let's put this point on hold for now. (0-0.)

The Casts: 
Bad Moon has Streets of Fire star Michael Pare as Uncle Ted the Werewolf, and Mariel Hemingway, whom I've always thought was kinda cute and who hosted one of the first episodes of SNL with Will Ferrell and crew right around this time.  Oh, and it featured cinema's Dennis the Menace, Mason Gamble - who would go on to costar in one of my favorite movies, Rushmore.

But Halloween II has the returning trio of Curtis, Pleasence, and Cyphers, plus The Last Starfighter star Lance Guest, the fantastically breasted Pamela Susan Shoop, and "Future Garth Algar" Dana Carvey as an extra!  That's gotta be a point for Halloween II. (1-0, Halloween II leads.)

The Directors:
Rick Rosenthal took the helm from Carpenter for Halloween II, and did a decent job - though the upped body count and the more inventive kills make it clear that he had to adapt to the slashers that followed Carpenter's film. Rosenthal's other most popular films?  Halloween Resurrection (which featured Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks taking Michael online), Bad Boys (not the Michael Bay one, obviously), and The Birds II: Land's End.  (Can anyone else claim to have made a sequel to films by my two favorite directors?  I think not.)

On the Bad Moon side of things is Eric Red, who had huge success as a screenwriter in the '80s with The Hitcher, Near Dark, and Blue Steel (the latter two with Oscar Winner Kathryn Bigelow).  Unfortunately, his other directorial efforts include the Jeff Fahey thriller Body Parts and the recent DTV horror 100 Feet with Famke Janssen.  Is that enough?  Well, one guy wrote The Hitcher, one made Halloween Resurrection.  I'm gonna vote '80s, and give Red and Bad Moon this point. (1-1.)

My History With The Films:
Here's where I'm gonna ramble for a bit.

Summer 1996 - Spring 1997 was most definitely the year of my young life.  Among all the great things that happened that year - including my family moving to a new home and my beloved Packers winning the Super Bowl - I most remember it as the year in which I fell head over heels in love with movies.  I remember almost every movie that came out that year, because I was obsessively trying to teach myself about what movies were out there, and trying to figure out everything I could about where movies come from and who makes them.  One might say it was the year in which I passed my cinematic puberty.

In the fall of '96, I was on a school field trip in Kansas City, and we went to the theater on a night we had free.  It was a small theater, and there were three choices - the Mel Gibson thriller Ransom, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, and - you guessed it - Bad Moon.  Now, I've admitted that I was a cinematic rookie at the time, and I'm sad to say that Bad Moon had somehow evaded me entirely before that moment.  I badly wanted to see it immediately based on the poster, which screamed "Half Man. Half Wolf. Total Terror."  But I was outvoted and ended up seeing Ransom - which I still dig a lot, just because it's fun to scream "GIMME BACK MY SON!"  (Not so fun in public, I admit.)  But I recall that the excitement I had about a werewolf movie called Bad Moon was unbearable - and I think it was as clear as ever that I was born ready for this stuff.

Oh, as for actually seeing Bad Moon?  Never got to it until last year.  Completely forgot the movie existed.  Then one day, I saw it mentioned somewhere - and all the excitement I had about it that night rushed back at me anew.  I bought it on Amazon about 6.7 seconds later.

Then there's Halloween II.  Halloween had quickly became my favorite horror movie ever when I first saw it, and I - like a silly teen Iowan - immediately wanted to know what happened next.  That led me to Halloween II, with my expectations lowered by the "Video Guides" I owned that gave it negative reviews.  When I did see it, I was quite disappointed that it was an entirely over-the-top film and I was completely put-off by the sister thing...but I still was entirely stoked about it, and have revisited it a bunch - even if it does contain THE ABSOLUTE WORST PIECE OF NEEDLE TRAUMA EVER PUT ON FILM THAT MAKES ME SCREAM LIKE A BABY EVERY FREAKING TIME.  (I really dislike needles.)

(By the way: Remember Miss Shoop, who's fantastic breastedness I mentioned in the cast segment?  TOTALLY the first pair of boobs I ever zoomed in on with my first DVD player.  God bless technology.)

What's the point of all this rambling about these two films and my teenage years?  Well, it's that both movies make me entirely happy - even though I kinda know they're crap.  That takes talent, and I think both deserve a point for it. (2-2.)
This Choice is Like:
Speaking of the Mid '90s, I doubt many of us who were around then have forgotten the infamous O.J. Simpson murder trial.  Yes, the trial in which all the condemning evidence against the big-time celebrity pointed toward a conviction, but he got acquitted.  I'm not entirely proud of this - but I was one of about three people in my school who continued to insist that OJ was completely innocent throughout the whole thing.  Yes, I know better - but it was darn fun to throw a contrarian opinion out there regardless, because I loved football and the Naked Guns movies and just felt like defending the fellow.  (It's the same contrarian mindset that led me to believe that movies didn't have to be dramas that starred Tom Hanks to be good and that led me to realize that parties in cornfields with beer weren't the most exciting thing that could happen, so I've made peace with it as one of my few contrarian mistakes.)

Where was I?  Ah yes, Halloween II and Bad Moon both remind me of O.J.  I know they're not good, and I even agree that they may have committed some serious cinematic crimes.  But I want to love them, and thus I'm going to keep doing so until I'm wise enough to see my folly.  (Don't wait up, it might be a while.)

The Verdict:
I've totally got a held up point that I can distribute here, I've just got to figure out why I want to give it to one film over the other.  Halloween II is definitely in the upper tier of the awful Halloween sequels - and is approximately one billion times better than Rob Zombie's H2.  I'm not quite sure where I'd put Bad Moon in the werewolf continuum, but there's definitely many films I'd list above it.

And I think that's where my decision lies:  Halloween II is more valuable to the Halloween series than Bad Moon is to werewolf films.  Is it fair to make the comparison of one series of 10 films versus an entire monster subgenre? Maybe the analogy doesn't fit, but I'm not going to acquit.  (3-2, Halloween II wins!)

(Note from the Mike: Sorry for the rambling!  If you made it this far, please take a moment to pat yourself on the back.  Or, fling poo at me in the comments.  Your choice.

And sorry about rooting for O.J.)

September 12, 2010

Student Bodies

1981, Dir. by Mickey Rose (and/or Michael Ritchie).

The slasher genre was ripe for spoofing in 1981 (an opening title card points out that 26 horror movies were released the previous year, and none lost money), but I wonder if the operative word in that statement is ripe.  Student Bodies is relatively spot-on regarding films that had been released then, but it also takes its shots at the formula before the slasher movement really picked up steam.  At this point, Jason Voorhees had yet to put on a mask, Freddy Krueger was still a pleasant future dream, and Michael Myers didn't have a living sister.  Student Bodies may have been a bit too early to the party.

An independently produced spoof that was released during the 1981 writers strike (thus, director Michael Ritchie was not credited and writer Mickey Rose got the director credit), Student Bodies had a handle on the likes of the original Halloween and Friday the 13th films, as well as things like Prom Night and Terror Train.  But, to a first time viewer in 2010, the whole thing just feels a little off.

Student Bodies most definitely captures the slasher image of the era, opening with a dark house that reminds of Halloween and filling space with some of the mid-day kills that remind of films like Graduation Day.  We've got the football game, the parade, the big dance; all the places where we'd expect the characters to have a chance to slip away and get killed.  One of the film's best running gags involves the unlikely places where coeds decide to hook up, generally proceeded by one of them saying something unusual "makes them hot."  There's also a strange dreamlike chase scene late in the film that provides many laughs, though I can't place what it might have been spoofing directly.

I do feel the need to say that - as far as spoofs go - Student Bodies makes the Scary Movie series seem profound.  This was the era of the slasher, but spoofs like Airplane! and The Kentucky Fried Movie were also taking over screens - and it feels like Student Bodies could have gained from paying a little more attention to those films.  While the slasher aspects are spot-on, it's occasionally hard to see the satire because the filmmakers' approach to comedy just didn't strike a chord with me consistently. 

As a horror fan of the 2010s, it's hard to find the humor in Student Bodies.  What it's spoofing is exactly what I like about a silly slasher film of this era, and it doesn't seem to be a smart or witty enough as a spoof to really affect that.  It feels weird to sit here and defend the slasher subgenre, but I watch these films as spoofs already.   I can kind of see myself revisiting Student Bodies when I want to laugh at slasher conventions with friends - but it seems likely I'd have more fun laughing at them while watching an actual slasher that's full of the movement's trademark gore and nudity.  There's enough silliness inside them, and student bodies seems to go a little overboard trying to top that.

September 10, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #36 - Candyman

"Your death will be a tale to frighten children, to make lovers cling closer in their rapture. Come with me, and be immortal." 
For my money, there aren't many films that blend romance and terror like Candyman does.  Based on the short story by Clive Barker and directed by Bernard Rose, the film looks deep into the world of "modern oral folklore" - or, in layman's terms, urban legends.  As it blurs the line between myth and reality, the film bridges the gap between classic gothic horror and modern slasher terror.  In doing so, it creates one of the most interesting heroine/killer dynamics in horror history.
Candyman tells the tale of Helen Lyle (played by Virginia Madsen and her unfortunate hairstyle), a University of Chicago researcher who is working on a study of the urban legends around that town.  Her mission is fueled by her pride and her desire to surpass the work of others, and thus Helen is not content with the normal methods of research.  She begins to seek out the legend of the Candyman, a doomed soul with a deep voice and a hook for a hand, who reportedly lurks around the infamous Cabrini Green projects.  There's a definite "wrong side of the tracks" vibe as we watch Helen search for answers - because it's obvious that she doesn't know what she's in for as she rushes toward her demise.

While there is a romantic side to Candyman, that is most certainly not the side Helen is on.  She doesn't believe in much of anything as she begins her quest.  She's simply driven to produce great results and prove others - primarily the male scholastic community, which includes her husband - wrong.  She's not interested in the myth, she's interested in building her reputation by "uncovering" the real-world aspects of the myth.  This is just one of the examples of synicism at work in the film; everyone from Helen's side of the tracks - including police officers, doctors, and professors - shows little faith that there's anything behind the Candyman legend.
After Helen is badly beaten by a young man from Candyman's side of the tracks that her project picks up interest from the scholastic community.  That's also the point - about 43 minutes into the movie - when Candyman first appears to Helen and the horror film side of the film takes flight.  While Helen's goal was to perpetuate this myth and benefit from it, the Candyman (played by the unmistakable Tony Todd) has something else in mind.  He wants her to become a part of the myth - to be his victim.
Supported by Phillip Glass' simple musical score, Todd's Candyman is able to haunt Helen in a simple manner.  His first appearance comes in a moderately lit parking structure, but when the camera shifts to him he's illuminated by sunlight.  Unlike most slasher films, Rose's film doesn't confine Candyman to the shadows, and some of the film's best scares come when he appears in a well lit hallway or a doctor's office with a window open to the sunny afternoon.  Though he carries a hook and seems to enjoy gutting you, the Candyman seems to be a less aggressive, more open slasher than we're used to.  He sees himself as Helen's destiny, and is very comfortable appearing to her directly.
The final act is when the modern slasher aspects mix with the Candyman's gothic past - though the sacrificial altar and pillars we'd expect from a Bava film are a little less shiny in Cabrini Green and there certainly aren't any billowing curtains or tapestries.  It is at this point when Helen, who has been abandoned by "her people", occasionally seems to find a sad solace in her predicament.  The close-up above demonstrates the film's romantic view of Helen's plight, lighting her saddened eyes as if she were a damsel in distress - or even Joan of Arc - during Hollywood's "Golden Age".
Despite all of the supernatural killing going on in Candyman, there's something about it that has a soothing affect on me as a viewer.  I can see that the Candyman intends to dig his hook into Helen - and is even more willing to take a slice out of anyone who stands between them - but there's something poetic about it if you look at it from his side.  While there are a lot of issues being dealt with in Candyman - racial tensions, the bystander effect, and the fallacy of our University system, for example - it's that strange connection between Helen and the Candyman that always keeps me coming back.  It's a love story, in the most morbid possible way.  I dig that.
(P.S. - Ted Raimi, you are a bad mamma jamma!)