Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Well, Halloween is about over. As I was writing my final review for Halloween Month, I once again had Carpenter's film in the background playing. That's it. This has been a fun month. I'm pooped. I hope you all have had a good month of horror movie experiences. I have. It seems like Ti West's The Innkeepers has been the movie of this month to kind of travel through the imdb horror board. There's always that film that is on the tips of the tongues and seems to be a topic of conversation and interest. Well, I'm done. Have a nice remaining Halloween.

Phantasm



I am of the opinion that Phantasm is a sort of dream adventure for Michael and Jody and Reggie. Mainly, it is a wish fulfillment fantasy for Michael, who had already lost his parents to an unelaborated death, getting to take on an evil figure known as The Tall Man with help from family pal, Reggie. The Tall Man fronts as a mortician operating Morningside Cemetery, using the bodies of the graves for his own use. With a kid as the hero and his brother as a sort of put upon paternal guardian (although it is established he’s planning to skip town soon and perhaps drop Michael off at their aunt’s house) trying to watch over him and keep him safe, both will eventually have to face The Tall Man, on his turf. Riding a motorcycle, driving his bro’s badass ‘Cuda, packing heat (either a shot gun or Jody’s Colt), evading little dwarf minions (crushed, “downsized” human bodies, forced into servitude for The Tall Man) and a dangerous flying silver sphere that seems to contain a spinning drill and lightning-shaped blades that trigger right before stabbing into the forehead of the unlucky (spitting out blood from a hole in the sphere): Michael gets to experience lots of bizarre events (car on a jack as he was working on the ‘Cuda collapsing thanks to the rocking of one of those dwarf minions, momentarily pinned underneath; boxing the severed finger of The Tall Man which transforms into a monster fly with sharp teeth; exploding a forcefully locked door thanks to a makeshift bomb (Jody wanted him to stay put); discovering a “door” through two poles that leads to The Tall Man’s planet where he sends the dwarf minions for future slavery).

The main characters seem to always return to the cemetery and mausoleum, perhaps because death is a bedfellow of Mike’s: so many he loves have died, leaving him alone. The real truth about Jody further emphasizes why Mike and his brother are always able to defeat (well, keep from succumbing to him despite numerous attempts on their lives) The Tall Man, until the final resolution determines a harsh reality that the kid will have to address whether he wants to or not. Maybe Angus Scrimm is a direct representation of what haunts Mike: death. Death comes for us all. We die daily and because Mike has lost those so close to him, The Tall Man is very real. He, too, is constantly running from The Tall Man, giving his all to stay one step ahead, unlike his family.

The dream adventure allows him to succeed, and the running theme is fear and conquering it. If you are able to face that fear and outlast it, maybe you can move past it and live. This kind of plot allows director Don Coscarelli to creatively toss every kind of weird and horrific set piece at us with nary a viable reason for any of them to truthfully function logically. He can craft a scene where an old photograph of The Tall Man on a stagecoach can suddenly come to life in an antique shop, a dwarf can drive a hearse (taking a tree through it when Mike and Jody successfully cause it to crash, revealing a smaller version of the man stabbed by Lady in Lavender in the opening scene), a sphere can fly on its own (we can actually see through its red vision POV as it travels), and Jody can pick up a woman in a manner of minutes in a bar (well, it is the Lady in Lavender so Jody’s pick up line was probably only a formality), taking her to the cemetery to make out(!) before Mike is chased by another dwarf.

You get Michael visiting a creepy, blind grandmother fortuneteller and her rather equally creepy granddaughter(who speaks for her grandmother and has a star on her cheek) who try to tell him Jody won’t leave him, soon having the kid stick his hand in a black box that appears out of thin air hoping to teach him a lesson about facing his fear.

Even at the end when Mike must visit his brother’s grave, forced to awaken from the nightmare of all that we have watched and he has been a part of, he fully, wholeheartedly, is convinced that The Tall Man has gotten his father, mother, and brother—and that The Tall Man wants him next. When The Tall Man reappears, Mike’s nightmare comes to fruition and those memorable hands break through a mirror to snatch our young hero into nothingness. Coscarelli loved to do that at the end of his Phantasm movies; we are led to believe that The Tall Man has been put down only to resurface, the heroes of the film once again defeated. Death keeps coming, and I can’t think of anyone more menacing to play such a role than Angus Scrimm.

I remember the year Vincent Price died, sci fi channel showed an all day/all night Halloween marathon in October and it was an incredible line up that introduced me to such recognizable titles as The Evil Dead and The Puppetmaster (and the sequel), but Phantasm was a nice surprise because of its inventive, everything goes nature. It really is like a long dream, scenes as odd as Mike in a bed, appearing in the middle of the woods, two zombie-like creatures rising from some sort of bog to grab him as The Tall Man hovers over him. Or Jody, one minute sitting in a chair in his living room, then all of a sudden finding himself in the mausoleum, the dwarves pulling him into a crypt. Not all so weird, as some spontaneously in-the-moment scenes include Jody and Reg rocking on their guitars and Mike trying to chase after his brother as Jody drives away, understanding his frustration. Once again, the horror genre features a 70s film with a very iconic score that sets the mood and remains in your head after its over. Its simple and effective. And how cool is that poster of the sight of the Earth from the moon in Mike’s room?

Boy!!!!

You play a good game, boy, but the game is finished. Now you die!!!

I’ve been waiting for you. 


Trick 'r Treat 2007




If there ever was a quintessential Halloween movie, festive and beautifully realized, it is Trick r Treat, a modern anthology that flat blew me away when I first watched it about three years ago. Warren Valley, Ohio is the setting and all of the stories (tied together extremely well, in fact, this is one of the best horror anthologies ever to involve multiple stories, linking them in various ways, sometimes obvious, other times surprising us) and Halloween in this town is kept dutifully and energetically.

Leslie Bibb says, “I hate Halloween” and pays a heavy price for trying to remove the decorum populating her and the hubby’s yard, in essence, “breaking the rules”, and earning the ire of the “Halloween Spirit”. Oh, and how she (dressed as an old toy robot) bumps into Laurie (Anna Paquin) is one of the many subtle ways this movie ties all of the various stories.

My dad taught me tonight is about respecting the dead because this is the one night that the dead and all sorts of other things roam free and pay us a visit.

This has lots of demented ideas going on. For instance, the town’s school principal is a psychopath who poisons candy just so that this rotund kid (known for smashing jack-o-lanterns and stealing candy) will be used as a means to bond with his son. A foursome of babes are planning to hook up with some local boys while in town, Laurie needing to pop her cherry, but their use of the word “virgin” is far different than what we are accustomed to. How the principal and these babes eventually meet is just one of many reasons to check out Trick R Treat.

You even have a Halloween Scrooge, Kreeg (played by an awesomely curmudgeon Brian Cox) who must learn the value of the season…the hard way. This movie even works from differing perspectives. The principal, Steven (Dylan Baker), sees, after burying the body of the big kid (the kid who drove Billy Bob nutty in Bad Santa) , Kreeg begging for help from his window inside his house as an obscure figure overtook him and later we see it from the opposite point of view. The movie also uses the Quentin Tarantino technique where alternating stories don’t necessarily play out in linear time, back and forth from one point of Halloween night to another. That produces a lot of the shock value, twists, and surprises that develop as the movie continues. 

The Halloween School Bus Massacre, for instance, and the supposed vampire who might be a threat to Laurie (in a Red Riding Hood outfit, quite the clever disguise). The tale about a school bus full of kids who were to be driven off a cliff of an abandoned rock quarry, by their driver no less, paid by parents that were embarrassed by their handicaps, and how it relates to a prank pulled by a party of cruel of kids (led by Britt McKillip) towards an “idiot savant” (Samm Todd) who enjoys a past time of carving innumerable pumpkins with all sorts of unusual patterns and shapes and faces. 

The film ties Kreeg to the school bus massacre; the pranksters visit Wilkins for treats; the dead are able to walk the earth thanks to Samhain so the school bus massacre provides a special treat for both the pranksters and Kreeg. The movie does this a lot. All of the characters are associated with Warren Valley and so their coming in contact in special ways is definitely how I think Trick ‘r Treat excels in the anthology format. The freedom to toy and fool around with story/character structure is at the heart of Trick ‘r Treat and writer/director Michael Dougherty playfully carries us all over the town, and ties everything up at the end most amusingly.

Night of the Demons 88

working draft
Word of warning: this review contains nudity


Damn kids.

I think that energy can really translate well on screen. If those involved in a movie have enough talent and there’s a really strong joy involved in the making of a movie, not just going through the motions and trying to push out some sort of shit hoping to turn some sort of profit if possible , then magic might can happen. 

You can have a cast that shouts dialogue and has overly animated performances, the movie burdened with obnoxious characters spewing rather earsplittingly garbage dialogue (shit like “dropping a load” and “playing with his pet snake”, “sun dried poodle turds”, and people calling each other pussies and bitches and whores), but if enough skill and fun can transport from their hearts to ours it can somehow persevere. It has remained a cult favorite. Well, we do have Linnea Quigley in a ballerina outfit, and her first scene has us looking right at her ass. She spends her time in the mirror because she just wants to look good for the boys. We all appreciate the effort, honey. 

Oh, boy, but does Hal Havins grate on my nerves. This portly, loud-mouthed cretin with a hog snout, named appropriately “Stooge”, who ingratiates himself with those around him by constantly shouting and ridiculing them, wears out his welcome immediately, unless you find his sort of boob amusing. The Hull House has a surrounding underground stream with a brick wall on top. This demon possessed former funeral home with an owner that practiced the black arts and necrophilia, a bloody night that marks the place with a notoriety that brings stupid kids willing to party and spend the Halloween there. The script gives those able to survive not being possessed a way out if they can cross over the wall. Not that easy. “Barbequed maid..no wonder she didn’t keep the house clean.” Yeah, nice joke. “Flaming asshole, Count Dingleberry of Transylvania.” I can’t make dialogue like this up. No one excelled at portraying “the girl you wouldn’t bring home to mama” quite like Quigley, as evident when she shakes her ass to heavy metal music from a boom box as the guys gathered ogle her with ear-to-ear grins of approval. “Holy shit, any of your idiots ever heard of Duracel!”  “It’s just a mirror..what harm can it do?” 

The through-the-eyes-of-the-demon POV perspective was a technique all the rage, Evil Dead popularizing it, director Kenney utilizing it here as a séance and the use of a found mirror provide access for the evil inside Hull House to come out to play…and possess. “The noise, the stink, and the chill…all signs of demonic infestation.” Die, Hal, Die. Cool stiff breezes from the butthole, this from Hal’s brain for our perusal. “Maybe I’m in the mood for pork tonight.” I’m with a lot of the fans of this movie in regards to two particular showstoppers. The lipstick boob effect and the “Dance of the Damned” (well, my name for it, anyway) strobe lights sequence where Angela Kincaid, possessed after a kiss from Quigley, loses herself in the hard rock as Sal can only watch in bewilderment. Good thing about Stooge’s demise, he gets his tongue bitten out..we are spared from further irritation thanks to demon Angela.


Tenney, I thought, does a hell of a job formulating the disorienting dark and labyrinthine maze that seems to be the Hull House, and when our last remaining members of the party that are unpossessed try to find an exit or a path out of harm’s way, doors shut and the night does them no favors. And, man is the place dark. Again, this setting is fab. And the make-up work is first-rate for such small budgeted affair, the demon face very much akin to Evil Dead (this film seems inspired thematically, the way its shot, and the demonic look of those possessed; I don’t mind this since I have a soft spot for surreal demon possession horror comedies). I have seen directors/filmmakers not take advantage of an abandoned location, exploiting as much out of the “production value” provided as possible (umm, talking about you, Death Tunnel), without getting in the way through bad camera work or that damned technique where the lens remains up and close to the faces of the characters instead of establishing space and setting.
First, let’s pray. My daddy told me how to pray real good.
I was putting together my blog review for Halloween III after watching it and Friday the 13th was on. AMC Fear Fest with a slogan "Gore Matters Here". I could only laugh to myself because that slogan is such bull shit. All the gore scenes are cut, and it is 1 am in the morning for chrissakes. It doesn't particularly matter to me because I have the movie on dvd, but I just couldn't help but comment on how stupid a channel can be for claiming such a moniker, doing so with a sense of pride even, only to feature a line up where their movies have all the gore excised.

Halloween: Season of the Witch



I think of the phrase “visual tableaux” when watching Cundey’s work in Halloween: Season of the Witch and like that he didn’t seem uninspired when photographing and lighting movies in the horror genre many critics and non-fans might consider unworthy of his talents. I can continue to watch Halloween: Season of the Witch even as I have my share of problems with the flawed plot as it unfolds. I'm more than a bit bewildered at some of the developments like the transport of the missing statue from Stonehenge by the evil Conal Cochran and his cybernetic minions, somehow stolen and brought to his Silver Shamrock Novelties Factory in a tiny, unassuming but meticulously watched (through carefully placed video cameras scattered all over the area) town of Santa Mira, California, a mostly Irish community, confined and quietly enigmatic, with tight-lipped locals who closely eyeball out-of-towners or when the movie’s hero, Dr. Dan Challis (a boozing divorcee and rather crummy father), is able to cause destruction to Conal’s machinery and controls that operate the equipment sending out the signals that will set off a trigger on the mechanisms that rest on the masks with bugs and snakes coming out of some sort of dimension (I really have no idea where they come from, to be honest..) and eating those wearing them alive.

That evil plot is really diabolical as it gets, the whole idea that Cochran is behind a master plan to kill children all over the country (and the fact that this movie actually shows a family destroyed, a child wearing the mask killed in ghoulish fashion while his mother passes out and father is bitten by a snake; not only does it break the taboo on child endangerment coming to fruition, but seeing those bugs and snakes coming out of the mask while he lays motionless on the floor is unsettling). You have a doctor, Challis and this young woman, Ellie, in Santa Mira investigating a death to Ellie's father who knew of Conal’s plot and tried to tell others...his death motivating Challis and Ellie to pursue the truth, placing them in unspeakable danger.

You have Tom Atkins stepping out in the lead of a film, with a character who is a rather poor father, overworked at the hospital, but when he ditches his kids again to go on the trip with Ellie it’s hard to look at him as the father-of-the-year. Heartbreaking even more when Challis tries to contact his wife to tell her to remove the masks from their kids’ heads, reprimanded for even making such a request, the estrangement of his relationship with her proving perhaps fatal.

“A good magician never explains “: this Conal uses to label how he’s using the Stonehenge statue. “We had a time getting it here," said with a smile only someone cruel as Conal could express. All of this going toward how this ancient stone and the force in the particles that come from it contribute to how the masks kill...it really does baffle me, but these details are considered unnecessary by the filmmakers, what matters is the horror produced.


It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we’d be waiting, in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal. And the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires of turf. Halloween. The festival of Samhain. The last great one took place 3000 years ago, and the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children. It was part of our world, our craft. To us, it was a way of controlling our environment. It’s not so different now. It’s time again. In the end, we don’t decide these things, you know. The planets do. They’re in alignment and its time again.


Dan O'Herlihy personifies pure evil, man, doesn’t he? He has that smile that can twist into menace in one complete change. He does so especially when he talks, gleefully, about Samhain and his reasoning behind his masks massacring children with that damned commercial, the “big giveaway”, to Challis after showing him what his creations can do to the Kupfer family. Dan O'Herlihy is so damned good in this movie, how he’s such the perfect salesman, laying on the charm and hospitality, yet can turn on a dime and convey that rotten, black soul instantaneously. He’s a marvel to watch. He’s strangely stupid at the very end, though, his genius forsaken just so we get to see the hero upending him (but not his master plan). Conal, instead of just killing him by allowing one of his human robots to pull Challis’ head off, pulls the James Bond villain routine, by over-elaboration, bounding him to a chair, leaving him alone in a room (with the appropriately placed ventilation shaft for easy access out and anywhere in the building), and not immediately nabbing him although he knows where the man will be going..to find Ellie.

The fate of Ellie has always be a source of fascination to me. I’m confused as to why Conal bothers with her upon capture. Challis returns for her, Ellie trapped, supposedly, in one of those *cells* in the factory, and it is later learned she’s an automaton in the likeness of the young beauty he once knew (knew *very well*, we see as the two masquerade as husband-and-wife, staying at the “Rose of Shannon Inn” in Santa Mira, while trying to learn of what happened to Ellie’s father, finding /passing time having plenty of old man/young woman sex). For one thing, she accompanies Challis as he disrupts the controls in the epicenter of the Shamrock factory, the blinking pumpkins on the monitors, ongoing sound of the music jingle repeating, as he pours a box full of the mask trigger devices all over the place. If she is a robot designed by Conal, then why wouldn’t she stop Challis before he can cause such destruction (the building eventually erupting into an explosion, the Stonehenge stone, along with the devices, creating an active spherical beam)? If Challis is able to cause the Shamrock factory to go up in flames, all of the machinery exploding into sparks and fire, then how is the signal emitting? There was a point made about the differing time zones I read one time, but I can forgive that, although I’m at a loss as to how anything can happen past the point where the Shamrock factory becomes an inferno.

It is all about the bummer ending. Challis escapes, does battle with Ellie’s robot (which, for me, is just an entirely odd sequence), a wreck caused by her interference in his driving, with her parts eventually severed, head one place, arm another, mechanical guts and wires exposed. I guess the point was that Conal wanted to make sure Challis either got it from his men, the mask around his head, or from the recreation of his former romantic interest. The screenplay does a lot of this, whether it be the face mangled when one of the trigger devices, that had fallen off a mask, “misfires” or snakes and bugs coming out of a Don Post mask killing a kid--lots of weird plot developments emerge.

While thematically and storyline deficiencies are put aside, I think Halloween: Season of the Witch is definitely aesthetically pleasing, particularly how the human robots are framed in Cundey’s flawless compositions, often shooting them from the back or following their walking from the legs, creepily and quietly moving about without future victims knowing they’re there. I think these robots are purposely composed and lit similar to Michael Myers who himself operates like an unemotional automaton, a mission of destruction to its chosen target. Santa Mira is quite an ominous town, too, the curfew at night and lack of activity during the day creating a feeling of unease, as if the whole area is populated by automatons, a mirage, a falsity that works as a front for Conal, allowing him to shield his nefarious schemes from the public at large—Santa Mira carries the appearance of a functioning town, but is merely a charade to fool those on the outside. It’s a ruse that works to perfection.

The murders are more than a bit cold-blooded and done so matter-of-factly and efficiently, with a lack of pounding music to punch the gut, such as a face’s nose “rearranged”, a head pulled from the roots of the body of a victim, and a lab doc held down while taking a drill to the skull (not even seen yet still very effective). Each murder is carried out by Conal’s blank-faced soldiers, in suits, surprising the victims who are unaware and dispatched with a precision and proficiency as their programming requires.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the score which adds extra intensity to the "run rabbit run" scenes where people are trying to flee from Conal's men, as well as, intimate danger, how the human robot killers, following orders as programmed, can be anywhere, not to mention, show up out of a corner of the screen, in alleys of the Santa Mira town, seen faintly in doorways, etc. That Silver Shamrock theme/jingle just really starts to grate--intentionally, I believe--and I certainly consider its continual presence often showing up in commercials and on the radio a chilling reminder to us that these advertisements are a means to wipe out a large number of children in the ceremonial cult ritual of Samhain. The helpless expression, his final, of Atkins' Challis, trying desperately to get networks to remove the ads closes the film on quite the unnerving note.


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The Boogens - Intro

While I must admit that as a monster movie, The Boogens (1981) doesn’t quite measure up (its monsters aren’t particularly menacing ...