Sunday, August 30, 2015

And the Horror Genre loses another...


Well, today the genre so many of us love and are devoted to lost another strong personality that meant a great deal to Horror...Wes Craven. From brain cancer. I can recall listening to an audio commentary on the Nightmare on Elm Street film where Craven cracked that perhaps the boiler room building might contribute to their demise one day due to asbestos issues. I am not saying that was what caused the brain cancer that took Wes from us, but it came to mind immediately to me just the same. Certain filmmakers were active during a critical period of my development as a horror fan. I can remember so many instances of cable showing Shocker (a film I admit is loony tunes) and Deadly Friend (a film that is so tonally odd I love it) as a kid. I was nineteen when Scream (1996) became a surprise hit, and I firmly recollect the influence of his Freddy Krueger on us kids. I didn't watch The Hills Have Eyes or Last House on the Left until much later, in my 20s, but I don't deny their place as exploitation/horror stalwarts. Each film he made was a little different, and although "slasher" is attached to him, I don't think he was really that identifiable to a serial killer slicing up teenagers completely. Mutant psychos in the desert, products of too many bomb experiments. Psychotics looking to humiliate, rape, and mutilate a couple girls. A nightmare burn psycho with a dirty sweater and razor knife gloves preying on teenagers in their dreams. A teen genius using his talents to bring a girl he cared for back to life like some high school Frankenstein. A death row inmate able to move through electrical outlets, while a high schooler must stop him one way or the other. Teenage horror fans applying movie logic to attack their peers using tricks of the trade they learned by watching too many movies. A couple move into a house in the community of Mennonites soon encountering a demonic evil, resulting in the wife being literally dragged to hell by perhaps the devil himself. Bill Pullman encountering voodoo. A wacko family with a dark secret uncovered by a black kid involving "captives under the stairs".

The plots certainly are all over the place in terms of horror content, but what a career, if you stop and think about it. The topics covered (the death penalty, how normal parents can commit atypical violence when pushed over the breaking point, voodoo, cryogenics, nuclear fallout and how the effects of the environment can warp the lives of inhabitants, the effects of the Vietnam war and how the era of hippy love took a dark turn into the 70s, etc.) characters featured (wise-cracking killers, vengeful normal folks who couldn't take it anymore, horror fans a bit too influenced by the movies they watched, etc.), developments that often were unexpected (basketball decapitation, anyone? Don't tell me you saw that devil from hell coming out of the floorboard to snatch the homeowner...), and the actions committed in his films (often quite inhuman and fiendish) all really established Craven as a unique kind of filmmaker.

Let me tell you, though, he came under scrutiny by horror fans. There are (and always will be) supporters. He made several key horror films, and a few sleepers that will be re-evaluated and re-visited after today. Perhaps certain films will be re-considered as more than they are or maybe even a few of his less-valued efforts will be viewed anew for what they might offer.

Some of his films will entertain some and repel others. That won't change regardless of how long he is gone. I wish he wasn't, though. I have already ordered Deadly Friend, and plan to rent and watch a few of his films I haven't watched in a while (People Under the Stairs, The Serpent and the Rainbow) just to honor his memory and remember the past movies and the number they did on me in one way or another. Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, there's no denying he made an impact. It was loud and has lasted. It will continue to last. Craven may be taken from us, but his films will live on. No doubt, A Nightmare on Elm Street will live on long past me and the generation after.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Stage Fright



****


The Master's film returns to London. It is important to know, though, that the opening being told to beginning understudy, Eve Gill (Jane Wyman) is from a murder suspect on the lam. In a glamorous co-starring role, Marlene Dietrich is presented by the murder suspect as a theater actress, Mrs. Inwood, who supposedly sets up her actor lover, Robinson (Richard Todd, playing a potentially manipulated patsy), for the murder of her husband (a murder she maybe committed). He is motivated by Inwood to go to her home to retrieve a new dress (her old dress has a stain of her husband's blood), messing up the nearby study to make it all look like a robbery. Soon a maid for Inwood, Nellie Goode (Kay Walsh, turning out to be a deliciously wretched blackmailer), arrives, noticing (from a distance) Robinson in the study, but he flees without her getting a good enough look. Soon he's on the run, deciding to explain his situation to Eve, interrupting her while training on stage with students and her acting professor. She is in love with him and agrees to listen to his story, eventually taking him to hide at her father's getaway cottage out of London. Meanwhile, Eve decides to pay Nellie to take her place temporarily so she can hope to learn of something that will help Robinson.


When she meets a detective inspector, "Ordinary" Smith (Michael Wilding; her nickname for him that he soon rather takes a shine to (along with her), in a pub while trying to figure out how to help Robinson, her life will never be the same. As a maid, Eve becomes more of a highly regarded assistant to Inwood, helping her during her performances, with wardrobe and just seeing after her. What Eve doesn't expect is to fall in love with Smith (and vice versa) instead as she works as her own disguising detective, placing herself at risk. Aiding and abetting a fugitive doesn't help matters, neither does placing herself in the possible crosshairs of a murderer.





The ending soon throws the viewer for a loop, turning the usual "the wrong man" formula on its head (which I thought was kind of neat, because we just assumed what was being told to Eve at the beginning was the truth). Hitchcock made some films like Stage Fright which obviously suffer from the fact he made so many classics before and after them. Any other director would consider Stage Fright a grand achievement. Truth is after this film he made Strangers on a Train, and just a few years prior to it he made Notorious and Spellbound. Stage Fright is a wonderful showcase for Wyman, who had not long before it won the Oscar for Johnny Belinda. She's sweet and very soft-spoken. Driven, for sure, and trustworthy, loyal to a fault; Wyman's Eve is exactly the kind of heroine Hitchcock can utilize for a film regarding a young woman who must assume an identity to help a friend in need, all the while, juggling a blossoming romance with one man while falling out of love with another.


Then you have an absolutely marvelous Alistair Sim (right before he would forever be aligned to the character of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol) as Wyman's father, allowing himself to assist Wyman in her quest to salvage Robinson's name, and his contribution at a "Garden Party" festival (during a rainy day where tents are up to help the arts, specifically performance and stage) through the use of a doll, attained by intimidating a little man (after being intimidated himself by someone bigger than him) after he successfully hit a duck with a rifle shot in a rally game is especially memorable. But, Sim has so many good scenes and has such a grasp of his character (the kind of wise, clever, witty, quick-thinking sort that steals scenes in films easily) that this is just one moment of many he has in the film. Sim's casting is just one of many good choices: Wilding as a smitten detective has a swell scene with Wyman in a taxi as he makes no bones about how he feels for her while she gives in to her burgeoning feelings for him, while Todd is fantastic at the end where the "real Robbie" emerges in an extremely well lit conclusion involving him in a theatre on stage. The lighting of faces is exceptional.


As is usual with the Master's repertoire, the camera elaborates when no dialogue is spoken, often instead talking volumes (how Sim sees the blood stain as Hitch's camera points out how to "call Dietrich out" for her involvement in the murder while performing on stage in a tent; hands of Todd and Wyman when he contemplates hurting her and how light is spotted right on Wyman's eyes, deeply hurt while Todd's are maddening), while the performances are still key to telling the story.

The thing about Hitchcock movies is that everything matters. The sets, how the camera moves, the way the actors/actresses are positioned in shots, and how the dialogues and scenarios play out all add to the Hitchcock experience that I live for. Maltin says this wasn't a success, but I disagree. I think it is a gem worth devoting time to. I don't think disappointment will follow.


This might not be a "Dietrich movie" but that doesn't mean she doesn't command when she appears. This is Wyman's film, but I have to say that when she is on screen with Dietrich, it's clear why the latter was so admired and revered. I'm not a fan of her musical numbers, though. Never have been, but Hitchcock knew how to make hers in the tent totally rock it. The little doll brought to her by the kid thanks to Sim and Wilding seeing her reaction to it. Then Eve being called on by Inwood to help her with Smith realizing she's in deep. Good stuff.

Sybil Thorndyke, as Sim's wife and Wyman's mother, is a hoot, always attentive to her guests while finding her husband rather contemptible (while obviously still in love with him; his "walking on egg shells" around her is cute). How she is an "accidental nuisance" regarding Robinson is quite amusing. Again casting in Hitchcock films are often littered with cherished performances.

Friday, August 28, 2015








A few clips from the film I watched tonight, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1941)

Tracy Finds His Dark Side...

29 August 2015
MGM spared no expense for this lavish production of the oft-told Jekyll & Hyde story (it had been filmed with the excellent Frederic March in the lead role(s) in 1931) with Spencer Tracy (uncharacteristically) taking the honors of portraying the memorable scientist experimenting with the notion of separating good and evil so that man could be free from the ill effects of the latter. Instead, the experiment, when reduced to a liquid form in a flask unleashes the scientist's dark side, and as each night continues, as does Hyde's control over Jekyll. Soon Jekyll's life begins to unravel, while Hyde remains an increasingly powerful nuisance, out and about in London to be a rotter, a malcontent, and a fiend. Was it truly worth it?
The sets are a feast for the eyes if you love seeing 1887 London brought to life as only Hollywood could do in the 40s. Tracy is a curious casting choice for such a character, but it lead to Marsh achieving the Oscar, something that wouldn't happen again for a horror film until Hopkins rightfully won the golden man statue for Demme's Silence of the Lambs.
Lana Turner is absolutely gorgeous as Tracy's fiancé while Ingrid Bergman (ridiculously) is "glammed down" for the part of a street-wise "lady of the night", a free-spirit who takes an immediate shine to Jekyll, although he views their flirting and near-cavorting as an experiment to test his wild side. His experience with Bergman's Ivy motivates Jekyll to not abandon his research, even though Beatrix's (Turner) stern father (Donald Crisp) demands it. Soon Jekyll is takes a swig of the experimental fluid and Hyde rears his ugly face and foul presence.
Bergman is too lovely and movie star goddessy for the part of Ivy, and from her first scene on, it is hard to suspend disbelief when we see her, no matter how she tries to use slang and present herself as poverty row. Turner is cast because she is such a beauty, and the role really only requires her to be the concerned beloved of the doomed scientist. However, the performances of Tracy and Bergman are first rate. Why Jekyll/Hyde is such a plum part is it is just right for an actor's actor due to the duality of personalities duking it out for supremacy.
You get a chance to portray two distinctive characters: one virtuous while the other is hideous. Victor Fleming (Gone with the Wind; Wizard of Oz) being attached to a horror film is rather a big deal. I think, though, critically this film version of Jekyll/Hyde will be looked at (and perhaps the 31 version, too) as a literary melodrama and less like a horror film. Tracy even wanted to not physically transform (in a way, removing the less respected "tacky B-movie horror" trappings many highly regarded thespian and Big-Time Movie Star types considered beneath them), but I think there's an importance in showing the wretchedness that Hyde represents manifest itself internally into an external monster. Even if he didn't want the makeup and disheveled hair/eyebrows, the work does add gravitas to Tracy's performance. He gravels his voice, too, when talking in the form of Hyde, and his appearances, much to Bergman's horror, really pop on screen. You can just imagine the dread that Ivy must feel, and Bergman, the pro that she is, truly conveys the fear, increasing psychological deterioration, and wearying stress her character endures thanks to Hyde's hold over her. She's as damned as Jekyll is thanks to his meddlesome scientific curiosity and drive to succeed in the separation of good and evil. As in other adaptations of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, Hyde becomes too strong while Jekyll eventually succumbs to him. The final scene is a humdinger as Jekyll tries one final time to keep Hyde from emerging, failing miserably.
What a great period for "costume dramas" and Gothic horror benefited from studios dedicating money and intrigue to the evocation of period London on many an occasion. One great set piece has Jekyll out walking London streets/sidewalks as the ever thickening fog threatens to suffocate him, while street lights just keep the shadows from enveloping him is a sublime Gothic work of art. Soon becoming Hyde, seeing him move about at night, Victor Fleming brings an energy to his direction; in particular, the sequence where Hyde harms Ivy and flees her flat, using his cane to ward off those trying to stop him, while flying about with only survival on the mind. This film spends a great deal of time with Hyde while Jekyll pines for the return of Bea when her ill father has whisked her away to parts of Europe. The use of dissolves for the transformations are decent enough. Discussions on what Jekyll believes and is dedicated to are met with criticism, but it doesn't stop him.
I think this will be of interest to Tracy fans just because it is atypical of what he normally starred in. Same for Bergman and Turner. Of course, a film that allowed Bergman to sink her teeth into "tormented victimized women" parts and prove the caliber of actress she always was. Like Gaslight and Notorious, this is the kind of film that gave her a part with some meat on the bones even though the kind of street character it represented was maybe a stretch. She rises to the occasion, though.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stay Alive

*
I failed to write about this the other day because I kept thinking to myself, "Does such a worthless movie deserve any sort of energy dedicated to it?" I have hardly felt that way about many movies. I can always find something, anything, that might be worth noting even in terrible movies. Few positives came from me at all a few nights ago when I just numbed my way through it with so little care at all. It is such an insufferably lame premise. Just awful. How could even the most talented among filmmakers get something of quality out of a "video game Elizabeth Bathory character come to life to kill gamers" plot?

Frankie Nunez had his moment in the sun during the Fox run of Malcolm in the Middle but here, the poor kid wears his cap upside down and tries to dress like Hip-Hoppers. Jon Foster, one of the most boring leads imaginable, heads the cast, while Jimmi Simpson (master of the smart-ass wit) and the smokin Sophia Bush (right before she is even better looking in The Hitcher) are brother and sister gamers. Samaire Armstrong is a gal with a camera always taking pictures who shows up at the funeral for an utterly wasted Milo Ventimiglia, who wound up lynched because that is how he died in a video game he was playing called Stay Alive. Armstrong is always snapping pictures, even during the funeral much to Jon's surprise (and why wouldn't a camera going off just after your friend was buried?). Armstrong just kind of emerges in the film and stays. Nunez is another gamer friend of Jon's. Adam Goldberg is Jon's gamer company boss (everyone and their mother is a gamer in this damn movie). During one point or another, they are all hunted, dying as they do in the game (unless the screenplay gives them an out like Samaire and Jon).

The horse buggy scene with Jimmi takes the cake. All of the murders are underwhelming or off screen so what might bring certain viewers to Stay Alive will probably check out after Goldberg bites the big one. Jimmi has that fast talking wise cracking douchey quality that makes him perfectly suitable for a good going away present from the film, but he is taken out in the lamest of possible scenarios. I guess if I were to comment on a positive it is how hot Sophia looks in ruby red lipstick and in black. Other than that, I have a hard time siphoning from my brain anything remotely worthwhile from a film that just doesn't deserve to exist. Nunez, bless his heart, tries to glean appeal from his old Malcolm persona, but this film doesn't offer him a character that could benefit from it.

To tell you the truth, I was just apathetic towards it. It was on and I forbid the finger from pressing the "next channel" button on the remote. Maybe I should have.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones







***

Not bad fifth film in the Paranormal Activity series is a marked improvement over the previous installment. Moving the series to a Latino street setting is refreshing and allows us to spend time with a different set of characters, this time taking us away from affluent suburbia, transplanting us into a tough, working class neighborhood in Oxnard, California. I think the one mistake this film makes is at the end when it decides to tie into the very first PA film in a way that feels rather forced (it is almost like the filmmakers felt obligated to fit this film into the canon, instead of just allowing The Marked Ones to be its own animal).

 
After graduating high school, an 18 year old kid named Jesse starts to gradually deteriorate after discovering a bite on his arm. The same bite was on the arm of the high school valedictorian, Oscar, noticed at the home of a weird neighbor of Jesse’s named Ana. Ana, soon learned, is a “bruja”, a practitioner of witchcraft (they learn this when they enter her abandoned home after her murder at the hands of Oscar (Carlos Pratts) and find a number of items and drawings (including a fascinating notebook which has a number of demonic writings, art designs, and incantations) that indicate a lifestyle absorbed by the dark arts) and perhaps responsible for what soon happens to Jesse. Photos of Jesse (including as a baby and featuring the deceased mother (died during her giving birth to Jesse)  while pregnant with him) are found in a basement under a floor door you pull up to get inside. Oscar hides there before revealing himself, with dark eyes and a deeply troubled soul…throwing himself out of a window and into a car seems to be a suicidal alternative to what ailed him! Jesse’s high school pals, Hector and Marisol, try to understand what is starting to damage their beloved friend, falling victim eventually to what is unraveling and taking control of him.

 
This is all recorded through the lens of a camera Jesse picked up in a pawn shop, with him and Hector shooting the activities of the paranormal plot mostly. Brief glimpses at street and gang life are exposed (Hector and Jesse are accosted by a pair of thugs in a basketball park, with the demonic evil surfacing in Jesse’s person hurling both of them into the air, incapacitating them; a few Latino gangster types get angry at Hector shooting their direction during what might have been a criminal activity; Hector and Jesse go to a party thrown in a seedier side of the city, flirting with some girls, getting them to come back with them to make out in Ana’s empty apartment) and the film spends a lot of time with Jesse at his home with a grandmother who speaks mostly in her native language (and is a sweetheart) and friends often over to hang out with him. The three are quite likable and harmless, unlike the neighborhood they live, but the camera doesn’t always eye gang life. When the criminal element isn’t around, the trio investigate Ana’s former abode, her witchcraft, and study the writings which could be a catalyst in the dangers they encounter. But as the film continues, it is obvious what happens to Jesse was prepared 18 years in the making.




The film is a slow burn, so if this approach bores you, avoid like the plague. But it has its rewards for paranormal effects fans. Like Jesse’s levitation in the living room as a type of vortex emerges when he had vanished, Hector capturing it on camera. The torment of a pet dog, held against the ceiling by a rather amused (and quite far gone) Jesse. The aforementioned thugs being lifted off their feet on the basketball park and thrown is a doozy. Jesse showing Hector all the tricks he has discovered (like being held by this invisible force from falling and being able to blow up an inflatable without much breath at all) provides an innocent child’s play prior to the dark path The Marked Ones soon takes when Oscar appears, totally robbed of his future by the pervasive, demonic force eclipsing him. Soon Marisol and Hector find themselves at the house of the Coven, accompanied by two Latino gangster types (one the brother of Oscar), hoping to locate and rescue Jesse. I think most viewers know this was a bad idea.



Andrew Jacobs (Jesse), Jorge Diaz (Hector Estrella), and Gabrielle Walsh (Marisol), thankfully, are well cast and don’t wear out their welcome. Jesse’s downturn in a market, a rage exploding towards the owner and Marisol’s potential boyfriend; this allows us to see an uncharacteristic loss of control which indicates the rest of the film will grow increasingly intense. Grandma Irma’s (Renee Victor) fate with a smirking Jesse, a body at the end of the concrete steps near Jesse’s home, is a really unsettling moment. Michael Landon’s son, Christopher directs with a sure hand and the confidence in handling a sequel in a popular franchise is right there. Good energy in the way the film is made shows. The way Landon has the camera (primarily in Hector's hands) moving quickly from room to room really keeps us on edge because we're waiting on the moment of the "strike", when the evil decides to drive right at us. But even when the kids are goofing off (like food purchased on the street that scorches Hector's taste buds, a firecracker's sudden pop, and a Jackass style trip down steps in a plastic clothes container), the film is watchable.


I think, in a sense, The Marked Ones will be possibly viewed as the black sheep of the franchise due to how R-rated it feels next to the previous films. Loaded with language and urban instead of suburban, I think this could actually be considered by many (including me) as a more compelling addition to the franchise. A shot in the arm. I think it could have even been stand alone and worked, but I get the desire to "keep it in house" so to speak. The Coven has tentacles and is one.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Starting towards the end of August into early September, us horror fans start putting together our lists of films to watch for upcoming October. Summer's end, fall's beginning is exactly what I personally live for. There are those of us who just live for October. I don't think it as much about Halloween day as the entire month. Each day could produce a sleeper horror film perhaps barely mentioned during the year that will get extra attention once October begins. For me, it is returning to the films that truly mean something to me. The Draculas, Frankensteins, Wolfmans, Hammers, Amicuses, etc. are what I live for during October. I rarely watch them sadly (great films like Dracula & Frankenstein really shouldn't relegated to one certain time of the year, but it almost feels like a sin to do otherwise) except during October, but it makes them more special, I believe. Their importance is amplified, and they seem so right, like a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae.

Of course, the Halloween films will get their revisit, but I also like to pursue and view horror films set during the year, festive reminders of the night that closes a month horror fans wait for in anticipation.

I haven't decided if I will partake this year in the October challenge on the IMDb Horror Board or not this year, but I probably will. It is a good chance to read what others are watching (which I do even if I don't participate), and see if perhaps I should give certain movies a chance. Each year it does seem like I find a sleeper, a gem I had never heard of. I have a few films I might watch that have been talked about, like Messiah of Evil which seems to be a cult curiosity that has gained in momentum since it has become widely available to see. I love that there are these films in the 70s and 80s still yet to discover.

But I always like to return to the old goodies. The Williams Castles, like The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, or Mr. Sardonicas (not to mention what I consider his masterpiece, "Homicidal"), and the Corman-Poe-Price classics (Tomb of Ligeia has taken a beating on the Horror board as of late, but I most certainly like it a lot and will have it on the Viewing Itinerary this October) that sit idle during the year waiting to get their just due during the greatest month of the year.

I want to save a little bit of room for the modern era of the last twenty or so years, but I typically let those show up during the year. October is the sentimental time of the year where the old friends, the ole standbys get my full attention. An attention they deserve.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Poor Tommy...from Elephant Boy to Pumpkinhead...



Dolenz receives a night visitor in Jeff Burr's Pumpkinhead II: Bloodwings (1993)

Understanding the difficult production history of Pumpkinhead II gives me pause to let director Jeff Burr have it. To tell you the truth, technically I think Burr did all he could with what he had available to him. He tries to utilize flashy camera work and some lighting aesthetics to compensate for the bone-headed script and characters populating this reimaging of the Pumpkinhead origin story. 

This go-around, a misshapen-faced orphan boy, left to fend for himself, getting food from a kindly wilderness witch who sees after him the best she could as a kind of surrogate guardian angel, is attacked brutally by a gaggle of high school auto club scumbags with jackets, calling themselves the Red Wings. Pummeled with baseball bats, hung on a metal hook over an abandoned, seemingly bottomless well, and sliced numerous times by the Red Wings’ leader, Tommy succumbs to his injuries. Tommy has some sort of odd physical, spiritually symbiotic link to the witch where she feels his pain and later, once he’s conjured by a Pumpkinhead spell thanks to some stupid teenagers [natch], realizes his rage, literally suffering as the creature kills in revenge for the crimes against the malformed-faced boy (think The Elephant Man) that didn’t deserve his injustice.   




Andrew Robinson really deserves better than to be stuck in a film such as this, to tell you the truth. He’s a very good actor squandered here. He does his best, but this is simply beneath his talents. A sheriff who must keep a straight face when trying to talk a creature out of killing his daughter (played by direct-to-video 90s scream queen, Ami Dolenz). Yep, he is pleading in a desperate attempt to reason with a giant monster. Oh, and the piece of work that is the hospital room sequence where even the most professional of actors would probably have to look in a mirror and wonder where it all went wrong: Robinson’s sheriff and the local coroner (Gloria Hendry; the Bond film, Live and Let Die) must question the rising corpse of the witch who had just flatlined about the Pumpkinhead creature and how to stop it. 

The film just goes off into some bizarre areas. When Pumpkinhead emerges to kill the Knox Brothers (one of which is played by Kane Hodder; Mr. Jason Voorhees himself), the bulbs (these two run a cock fighting farm) explode, the wind picks up, and atmospheric conditions just go amok. When the judge of the town (Steve Kanaly of Dallas, the television show) leaves his kitchen into the living room, there are painted blood wings throughout the walls: when would the creature have time to do this? Flames rise up from the well when Pumpkinhead falls into it…why? Is hell really down there as is foretold? 




Why would Danny Dixon, even if he’s thrill-seeking, wish to conjure up a demon? Who does that for kicks? Why would you endanger yourself in such a way? I mean Danny (J. Trevor Edmond; Return of the Living Dead III) literally beats the witch with a flashlight just to take a vial of blood, then leaves her to burn alive in her home, as he enforces the gang of pals he hangs with to scurry off to the car. He wanted to conjure a creature that badly! It is rather absurd if you think about it.

 But that’s the problem here…the movie was made so quickly, with such little money, that getting a half-decent storyline out of this was unlikely to begin with. Burr rushing in to try and scrape together something meaningful is asking a lot. He does apply some skill visually to this, but the monster attacks are a real mixed bag: mostly shitty. I don’t blame him, though, as the gore effects of the 90s were being held from really going for the jugular. You can really tell how restrained this production had to be. When Joe Unger (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) is dismembered in his barn, Burr clearly is a victim of the cautious graphic violence era of the MPAA. 

Not only was Burr dealing with little money, but he also had to contend with fingers wagging at him telling him to not let his movie get too gory. So I don’t blame him necessarily for how sloppy the editing and story turn out. I just felt you can see where the budget was a burden to the director. Whenever Pumpkinhead, for instance, is on the attack, the editing and camera rarely ever have it and victims within the same frame. The attacks are kind of slipshod and haphazard. There just wasn’t enough time or money to get satisfying carnage cohesively on screen. You sometimes see the rubbery clawed hands of the creature grab the torsos and heads of victims, and Unger is lifted off his feet once in a rather poor effects sequence which clearly shows the limitations of what the crew could do in regards to seeing a monster in frame picking up and tossing characters around. It is what is unfortunately.

The refurbished Pumpkinhead origin story just doesn’t have the same kind of boogeyman horror show theatricality as the old one from 1988. There’s too much gloss to the 1993 film while the 88 version just had this Southern Gothic atmosphere that grabbed me. Burr knows how to do that, too, as can be seen in his From a Whisper to a Scream (1987). Winston achieved a lot with a smaller budget but I can’t imagine it was same sort of rushed job that Burr was saddled with.

 Still, I can’t say the film was dull. I still had a decent time. It isn’t good from a plot-sense, and creature feature aspects could have been better. But the creature looks cool, as Burr and company make sure to get it in shots in all its glory. I credit them for that the most…we get plenty of Pumpkinhead. The design of the creature remains devoted to the Winston film. Everything else, including where the body is buried (in a grave with a pentagram design created above his grave), just about is updated/changed from the previous film. 

Quigley picking up her paycheck.

Living up to her mantra: screaming like the queen she is.
There’s mention of if you conjure the Pumpkinhead it will kill for you; in exchange, you give up your soul to a cursed eternal damnation. But in this film the witch, while suffering from the fire and attack by Danny, encourages Pumpkinhead to rise. Blood from a vial Danny stole, sprinkled on Tommy’s dug up body (yep, Danny’s gang, shovels in hand, go to digging), also is a catalyst in the monster’s rise from the grave to get vengeance on the Red Wings, now much older and a sorry lot still. Only Unger seems to recognize his mistake, while the Judge just shrugs off the murders of those once his friends until he gets his own comeuppance. 

It is funny seeing President Obama’s basketball buddy (and once a forensics scientist on CSI: NY) Hill Harper as a tag-along pal of Danny’s, rather afraid of him and compliant. Also amusing is seeing him as the boyfriend of Punky Brewster herself, of all people, Soleil Moon Frye. Frye’s character is colorless and lacks in real personality. All that life seems drained from this particular character. Just no sense of purpose whatsoever, and that is unfortunate as the cast of characters could have used some color to them. Danny is just a douchebag who happens to have gained the attraction and desire by Dolenz who even fantasizes about making out with her in her bed, before PH crashes the dream to scare the shit out of her. 


Dolenz is sure nice to look at, though. By this time, she had already starred in Ticks, Witchboard II, Stepmonster, and Children of the Night. After PH II it seems Dolenz decided to call it a day on horror films hitting rental store shelves. A lot of teenagers like yours truly were having naughty thoughts about Dolenz in the 90s, for sure. She’s okay, here. She is the girl who wants to walk on that razor’s edge of danger, interested in the bad boy (Danny shows a choice few positive qualities, and keeps her in trouble almost every time they’re together), speaking up about saving the witch, not an active participant in Tommy’s resurrection, and disgusted with Danny when it is revealed he attacked the witch, leaving her to die. Then, as you might figure, Dolenz is the last remaining person left in the destructive path of PH, before Sheriff Daddy comes to her rescue.


This film does look slapped together, but I think you can see there’s talent involved in the making of it during certain instances. Burr has never really had very many opportunities to make the film *he* wants. His first film (the aforementioned Whisper) seems to be one of the only few he was able to make in a way he’s most proud. This one, on the other hand, works in spurts but fails overall to be anything less than a video rental dusted off on occasion for revisit. When a director has his name on a product, though, regardless of how it was made or the factors that hampered it from being exactly what he wanted, often the one to blame is the filmmaker in the hot seat behind the camera calling the shots…in this case, it appears Burr had three weeks, a small budget under a mil, and a minute window open to prepare for PH II. How could a movie not suffer from that? Corman used to do this to young filmmakers all the time, though, so economical (or poverty row) productions can keep a vision from meeting its full potential.

To conclude, Linnea Quigley fans will be a bit disappointed as her character is pointless. She doesn't really even give us the typically good look at her nice naked body, as Burr opted to shoot her from behind while riding some slob in a shack with boxes of merchandise he ripped off as a postman! She does get to scream, but the importance of her character is so useless, it is kind of a depressing afterthought. This was the way she was starting to become used, sadly. As poor as Jack-O might be, Quigley has a decent role in it at least. That can't be said for this film.

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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 ...