Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: Revisiting the Halloween Series

On September 23rd, there was a release of the entire Halloween series in one lavish Blu-Ray box set. This was something fans of the series dared only dream of. Over the span of 36 years, the series has moved between five different studios, making the prospect of a complete boxed set next to impossible. Leave it to the folks at Scream Factory (sort of a Criterion Collection for horror films) to partner with Anchor Bay (who have owned the home video rights to parts 1, 4, and 5 for ages now) and bring together the boxed set fans only dared dream of. So, I now shall dig in, reviewing each film in the set for your pleasure. Yes, even Resurrection and the Rob Zombie remakes. I will take the hits for you, faithful readers. 


"You know, it's Halloween. I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare."

The original Halloween is a bit of an unlikely success story. It was made for a shoestring budget with largely unknown actors. But yet, through skillful storytelling and dynamite casting, it struck a nerve with audiences and earning the reputation as one of the scariest films ever made. 

The film is a masterwork in suspense with a simple plot that focuses on three teenage girls, Laurie (played by Jamie Lee Curtis), Annie (played by Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (played by PJ Soles), who are stalked on Halloween night by escaped mental patient Michael Myers, who spends the entire film wearing an unnerving pale mask. Michael was locked up for killing his sister on Halloween night and now all these years later it looks he intends to pick up where he left off. In hot pursuit is Michael's doctor, Sam Loomis (played by Donald Pleasence), who acts as the film's Van Helsing of sorts, warning anyone that will listen of how dangerous Michael is.   

What makes this film work for me is a couple things. First, the performances are fantastic, especially from Jamie Lee Curtis in a star making performance and also from Donald Pleasence in what would become his signature role (he would reprise it four more times after this). Curtis finds the perfect balance between vulnerable and tough. She believably shows Laurie's fear, but is also able to be resourceful enough to fight back. It's a great performance and audiences were on the edge of their seats wanting her to get out of it alive. Pleasence gives the role of Loomis a sense of presence and authority as he tries to hunt down his escaped patient. In addition to this, we have great direction by John Carpenter with fantastic cinematography to match from Dean Cundey. They used every penny they had extremely well, employing a widescreen frame and steadicam shots that succeed in adding to the tension of the film. 

The film also is largely responsible for the popularization of the Slasher film, spawning legions of imitators, most notably the Friday the 13th series and to a lesser extent the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It's legacy even extended to the original Scream, with clips from the film featured heavily in the third act of that film. It remains one of the best horror movies of it's kind and is always a favorite to watch this time of year.

Halloween II

This film picks up exactly where the first film left off, with Doctor Loomis still chasing Michael Myers throughout Haddonfield. Meanwhile, Laurie Strode is carted off to the local hospital and Michael is not far behind. 

By the time Halloween II rolled around in 1981, there had already been a wave of slasher films, each more violent than the last and with a higher body count to match. Naturally, this film follows suit as Michael works his way through the darkest, emptiest hospital ever on Halloween night as he continues to stalk Laurie Strode, killing anyone and everyone that gets in his way. Unfortunately, Laurie is sedated for much of the film in her hospital room. The bulk of the film is standard stalk and slash as Michael picks off staff member after staff member, usually with inventive methods using hospital equipment such as scalpels, syringe needles, etc.

Meanwhile, Loomis is running around town trying to find Michael. It's not until he finds out Laurie is Michael's sister that they head for the hospital. It's only at this point, when Laurie wakes up to a largely deserted hotel and encounters Michael that the film picks up steam. He chases Laurie through the hospital until she crosses paths with Loomis, who just arrived. The two wind up cornered in an operating room. Loomis and Laurie flood the room with gas and Loomis distracts Michael so Laurie can escape. She barely gets away before Loomis detonates the gas, exploding the room into a rather impressive fireball. 

Originally, Halloween II was supposed to be the final outing for Michael Myers and realistically he should be very, very dead. We last see him walking out of the fire, fully engulfed in flames, before he finally stumbles and falls down. Of course, it wouldn't last, but the original intention did lead to one of the most interesting entries in the series.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

"Please stop it, there's no more time. There are millions of lives at stake. you have to take it off...Please stop it! Stop it! STOP IT!"

Without a doubt, the one that sticks out like a sore thumb in this series is Halloween III. The film retires the Michael Myers character and crafts a whole new story. The idea was the series would go on with a new story every year as an anthology type series, each with a Halloween theme. Unfortunately, the audiences did not take to a Halloween film without the Michael Myers character and they did not continue in that direction. The film had also gained a reputation of being a dud, although the film has gained a cult following with audiences that found the film and, perhaps to their surprise, found a decent little scary movie.

The film focuses on a doctor, Dan Challis (played by Tom Atkins), who is investigating the mysterious death of a patient who burst into the ER babbling about how they're going to kill him, not elaborating on who. Soon enough, the man is murdered and his assailant sets himself on fire in the hospital parking lot. He teams up with the man's daughter, Ellie (played by Stacey Nelkin) to look into what happened. This leads them to the strange town of Santa Mira, home of the Silver Shamrock Halloween Mask factory. Silver Shamrock masks have been flying off the shelves as the must have Halloween item for the season. What the two discover is far more sinister. The owner of the company Conel Cochran (played by Dan O'Herlihy) is planning to use some old Celtic magic (combined with modern technology) to kill millions of children on Halloween night when they all sit down to watch that night's horror movie. Everything is tied to a certain commercial that will air for Silver Shamrock masks under the guise of a giveaway so everyone will tune in. Dan and Ellie are in a race against time to warn the world of what's going to happen and prevent the deaths of millions of kids.

Halloween III has been unfairly maligned as a bad movie, simply because it diverted from the storyline of Part 1 and 2 to tell a fresh story. In fact, I think this is one of the better films in the series. It's certainly darker, with a villain dead set on killing millions of kids as a form of ritual sacrifice. The film also ends on an uncertain note, with Dan screaming into the phone, begging the T.V stations to take off the commercial as minutes and seconds tick away to the 9 p.m deadline. It certainly deserves a second look from fans of the series and a creepy and fun diversion from the saga of Michael Myers. 

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

After the disappointing reaction to Halloween III, the decision was made to resurrect Michael Myers and give the audiences what they wanted. To be fair, this was actually a decent outing all around, with some good suspense and decent plot. Since Jamie Lee Curtis had become a big time star at this point and was off making movies with the likes of Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd or John Cleese, they would need to find a new target for Michael. They settled on a new character, Jamie Lloyd (played by Danielle Harris), the daughter of the now deceased Laurie Strode. To help bridge the gap, we also have Donald Pleasence back as Doctor Loomis, who is apparently similarly fireproof as Michael, with only a couple scars.

This film picks up ten years later, with little Jamie Lloyd living with her foster parents and foster sister Rachel (played by Ellie Cornell). It's once again Halloween night and Rachel begrudgingly takes Jamie out trick or treating since her folks are going to a Halloween Party. They have no idea that out there in the night, Michael is waiting for them. Meanwhile, Loomis is teaming up with the police to try and hunt him down lest the town experiences another bloodbath. 

The real core of the film and why it was for the most part better than it had any right to be lies in the core relationship of Rachel and Jamie. Rachel more than rises to the challenge to try and keep Jamie safe at any cost and turns out to be a fairly formidable foe for Michael, holding her own with the legacy of Laurie.  Danielle Harris likewise does well as the vulnerable and young Jamie, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats to make sure she makes it through the film. They make the movie for me and are a big part of why I enjoyed it so much.  

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Oh Halloween 5, why couldn't you have been more like Halloween 4? I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one because it's clear the filmmakers didn't either. Donald Pleasence and Danielle Harris are back for this outing. Pleasence gives a performance that frankly screams, "I'm here for my paycheck." Harris does her best but the oddball script with Jamie suddenly having a psychic link to her uncle Michael is ridiculous at best. Ellie Cornell shows up briefly before getting killed off early by Michael in a twist that I suppose is meant to add suspense in a anyone can die now sort of way, but instead is more of a slap across the face to the fans of the previous film and the fans certainly took it that way.

The bulk of the film has Michael carving his way through a Halloween Party because it has no ambition beyond being just another slasher movie, I guess. Every stereotype is on deck and systematically sliced, diced or impaled. Yawn. The entire movie reeks of quick cash grab (it was released less than a year after the first film). It's not the worst of the bunch (that dubious honor belongs to Halloween: Resurrection), but it's far from the best. It would be six years until we got another outing, which is really saying something.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Everyone rags on Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers as being a terrible movie, but compared to some other entries, it's not that bad. It at least tried to do something new and add to the mythology of who Michael really is. It tried to incorporate some of the Celtic myths of Halloween and in a way really captures the season in a way none of the other movies have. Plus, it has Paul Rudd in it and that's never a bad thing in my book. Yes, you read that right, Paul Rudd was in a Halloween movie. Not only that, he plays the grown up Tommy Doyle (the kid Laurie babysat in the first film) and is more or less the hero of the film. He even at one point beats the shit out of Michael with a large lead pipe, so the movie has that going for it, which is nice. 

The curious thing about this film is there are two rather dramatically different versions of the film. There's the theatrical version, which deals with a new family that is living in Michael Myers' old house and become a target of Michael because of it. The film explains Michael first got all stabby because he heard voices attributed to the curse of the Thorn and now the young boy living there, Danny is hearing them too. There's also a plot line with Jamie Lloyd resurfacing with an infant, having been kidnapped by a group calling themselves the Thorn Cult. They also kidnapped Michael and apparently Michael is the father (we never see anything to confirm this, thankfully). She escapes the cult and is on the run with her infant with Michael in hot pursuit. She heads back to Michael's old home town of Haddonfield in hopes of finding Doctor Loomis (played once again by Donald Pleasence in his last film role). Michael catches up to her before she can, but she has stashed the baby away before he could and is found by Tommy Doyle. From here, things get really weird with the storylines converging as the Cult members target both little Danny and his mom Kara and Tommy and the baby. Conveniently, they live across the street from one another as Tommy wanted to keep an eye on the Myers house in case Michael decided to come home. 

The Curse of Michael Myers had a legendary troubled production that produced two very different versions of the film. There is the theatrical edition, which toned down the Cult and celtic aspects and focused more directly on the movie. There is also the "Producers Cut" which circulated at conventions and on the internet in it's unfinished form. Neither film is perfect, The Producers Cut presents a more interesting story line for the film, but the Theatrical version has a more satisfying ending, but both are one of the more curious entries in the series. 

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later

"It's Halloween, I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare."
"I've had my share."

I remember fondly when Halloween H20 was in production and hearing about Jamie Lee Curtis coming back to the series. I was a huge fan of the series and clearly knew what a big deal this was as she had sworn off doing horror films after Halloween II. She had stated that she wanted to do H20 as a thank you to the fans of the series and her horror films in general. After the original film, Halloween H20 may be my favorite of the entire series. Never before had a film series like this caught up with a heroine after so many years to see what their life is like. The film also acts nicely as a closing chapter to Halloween and Halloween II

The film catches up with Laurie Strode, now going by the name Keri Tate, as the headmistress of a private school where she lives with her son John (played by Josh Hartnett). She faked her death and went into hiding across the country in California. She has built a nice life for her and her son, she has a good job and a nice boyfriend, Will (played by Adam Arkin). But she still lives in fear that one Halloween her brother will show up on her doorstep to try and kill her again. Of course, this being a Halloween movie we know that will happen all too soon and it does as Michael indeed shows up and unleashes another wave of terror as he tries to get to not only Laurie but her son as well.

What really makes this film memorable for me though is the last fifteen minutes or so. Laurie has gotten her son and his girlfriend Molly (played by Michelle Williams) out of the school and then stops. She tells them to take her car and go and after they do, she locks the gates, grabs a fire ax, deciding to stop running and face him once and for all. What follows is a one on one fight throughout the school as Laurie uses anything and everything she can get her hands on to try and put Michael down for good. In the end, she winds up chopping his head off with the aforementioned fire ax in a very cathartic moment. For awhile, I thought this was it for the Halloween series, but alas, no there had to be more. But from this high point it was all downhill from here.

Halloween Resurrection

To properly illustrate how I feel about this particular entry in the Halloween series, I need to refer to another film first, Misery. In that film, there is a scene where Annie Wilkes (played by Kathy Bates) discusses a moment from her childhood to the author she is holding hostage, Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan). She talks about loving to go see the old serials at her local theater until one time something happened that upset her. In the previous episode, they had shown the hero being stuck in a runaway car and then showed the car going off a cliff. She anxiously awaited the next episode the following week and when she went to go see it, she was shocked to find an extra scene inserted where the hero broke free and dove out of the car at the last minute before it went off the cliff. She explained the audience cheered at this moment, but instead she got up and started screaming about how this film cheated. Why do I bring this up, dear readers? Because I felt the exact same way when I saw Halloween Resurrection

The previous film, Halloween H20, ended with the long awaited final confrontation between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, culminating with Laurie chopping his head off with an ax. It was the perfect ending and I'm completely serious when I say they should have ended it right there. But no, the movie made money so there had to be a sequel. What to do now that their veritable killing machine was headless? Do an off-shoot with a different story like Halloween III? Move the action to Sleepy Hollow? Nope. We'll just pretend it wasn't really Michael at the end, that he switched places with a paramedic (crushing his vocal chords so he can't speak) and knocked him out so we can continue on our merry way. Of course, when you view the ending of Halloween H20 again with this information in mind, it makes no sense. None of the actions of whoever is in the costume is consistent with how someone would act if they woke up wearing a mask and in someone else's clothes. So, yeah, I call bullshit. You cheated, movie. 

This movie is just painful too. From horrible miscasting after horrible miscasting (please someone explain to me who thought it was a good idea to cast Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks? Both of them are just awful in this). After a brief prologue where we catch up with Laurie Strode (played again by Jamie Lee Curtis in a performance that screams "contractual obligation") in a mental hospital, waiting for Michael to show up again. Of course, he does and she has a trap set for him. The whole thing goes south though, mainly due to bad writing and Laurie is the one who winds up dead. We're not even fifteen minutes in and this movie has already pissed me off. 

The movie then slides into a completely different plot, with the crew of an internet site called "Dangertainment" (ugh, kill me now), have wired the old Myers house with a series of web cams and are going to have a crew of kids from the local college going through the house on Halloween night, overseen by a crew of two played by the aforementioned Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks. This group covers most of the usual horror movie stereotypes and are for the most part picked off in the same order, because of course the real Michael shows up. 

The real problem with the film comes in at the scripting and casting stages. This movie has the blandest, most useless heroine this side of Bella Swan in the character of Sara (played by Bianca Kajlich), who does nothing and has to be saved at every turn by either a karate chopping Busta Rhymes (I'm serious, and it's awful) or her online buddy Myles (played by Ryan Merriman) who is watching from a local Halloween Party. We also have Kattee Sackhoff as her hyper sidekick, Jen and Sean Patrick Thomas, who plays her friend and is a culinary student. That is his lone characteristic and he plays it up to the nines. 

Nothing in this film works because it was crafted to appeal to the lowest common denominator and as such it never rises above it. It turns into another gimmicky slasher picture with nothing real or memorable about it. It's painful, it's tacky and quite frankly I like to pretend it doesn't exist. They should have stopped at H20 and as far as I'm concerned, they did. 

Rob Zombie's Halloween and Halloween II

Okay, I'm going to make this quick because I really hated these films. Maybe some day I'll give them another chance since they came in the boxed set but I just can't bring myself to watch them again. I know I said I would, dear readers and when I started writing this I thought I would but I just can't. I have seen both of them before and I can't bring myself to watch them again. But I will explain why I didn't like them.

Rob Zombie does not know how to make a scary movie. He knows how to make a sleazy, super violent, cruel and unpleasant movie and that is not the same thing. He also fails to understand why Michael Myers is scary. In his remake, he looks back at Michael as a child, giving him perhaps the most hateful white trash family ever. Therefore, the question is no longer why did Michael kill his family and more why didn't he do it sooner? The reason Michael was scary is because in the beginning of the first film, he's just a regular suburban kid from a regular suburban family who one Halloween night snaps and kills his sister for no discernible reason. Now, that's scary. He spends the bulk of the film trying to explore the psyche of Michael, diluting his power to scare even more, with a rushed remake of the original film on the back end, featuring characters we haven't gotten to know and therefore really don't care about. They are also largely unlikable and therefore don't care when they die in gruesome and brutal ways. 

That's the other thing, these films are brutal with an insanely high body count. Rob Zombie throws as much blood and guts on the screen as possible to shock the audience since there is a decided lack of tension or mood throughout the film. 

It makes me wish Rob Zombie would go back to being a musician and stop making movies, because I liked his music. His movies are just absolutely unpleasant trash and I hate his two Halloween films. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate them. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: Ghost Story

The time has come to tell the tale.

I was just a little one when I had my first peek at Ghost Story. One of my parents was watching it on cable, I can't remember which one, and I plopped down to watch a bit with them. I was taken in by the images of a snow swept New England townscape, watching an old man wander through the snow in his pajamas with a fluffy winter coat and boots on over it. Creepy music is playing as he walks through town. He stops on a bridge and hears a woman's voice behind him. He turns around and the camera turns with him, revealing a decomposing corpse of a specter behind him. Cue little Nate hiding behind a pillow and nearly crapping himself in fright. That scene has been burned in my brain ever since. Needless to say it was a good long while before I saw the entire film.

The film opens, not unlike The Fog, with Sears James (played by John Houseman)  telling a ghost story to his three friends, Ricky Hawthorne (played by Fred Astaire), John Jaffreys (played by Melvyn Douglas) and  Edward Wanderley (played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). The four men make up a club called the Chowder Society and share gruesome, scary stories with one another. The four men also share a terrible secret which is now coming back to haunt them.

After the mysterious death of his twin brother David, Don Wanderley (both played by Craig Wasson) returns home to be with his dad. Late one night, while looking through some of his Dad's old things, he's shocked to find a picture of a woman, Alma (played by Alice Krige), who he had known along with all four members of the Chowder society back in their college days. As he tells them, Don met her while he was teaching at a University down south. He eventually broke it off with her when her behavior became more erratic and odd. She then moved on to his brother and Don thinks she is responsible for his death. 

The Chowder Society in turn tells their tale to Don of the girl in the photograph, Eva (also played by Krige) that all four of the boys took a liking to. She ultimately chose Edward, but during their romantic night together, he was unable to perform. Later on, when she threatens to tell the other boys the truth about that night, he pushes her and she falls, hitting her head on the marble mantelpiece. Believing she's dead the four boys panic. Fearing scandal (Edward has political aspirations), the four boys load Eva into her car and drive to a secluded pond. The car is driven into the pond and the four watch as it sinks into the watery depths. Except, just before the car sinks below the surface Eva pops up in the window, still alive and crying for help. Horrified and powerless to help all they can do is watch. Edward runs into the pond to try and rescue her but it's too dark. The scene is played perfectly and is quite horrifying. This is the secret that has kept the four men wracked with guilt ever since.

Don states that he thinks Eva came back in the form of Alma and is determined to exact her revenge on the four boys. Ricky agrees while the others shrug it off initially. But as strange occurrences continue to haunt them, it becomes clear Eva has returned, determine to pick them off one by one. Her revenge also extends to Edward's two boys, since both boys also rejected her and ruined her initial revenge plans that involved re-appearing in the life of Edward and his friends as his son's bride. When that didn't work out, she went for a more overt revenge plan. 

Ghost Story is a very much a plot driven spook story, more concerned with creating a chilling and creepy atmosphere and less with jump scares (although there are a couple, including the one described above). In that regard it is successful. It does have the fault of dragging a bit in the middle, but still remains fairly intriguing all the way through. I always appreciated that the film took the time to give us an extended flashback, giving us the backstory of the four boys and their summer with Eva. It is admittingly quite dysfunctional with four boys and one girl, charged with an underlining homoeroticism that I'm honestly not sure was intentional or not. But if you look at it in that context, Edwards actions make a lot of sense. All he wants to do is hang out with the boys, even when they leave him alone with Eva to do their thing. 

Overall, Ghost Story is an intriguing and at times very scary movie. It has an absolute dynamite cast, with four acting legends in the main roles, in fact this was the last film a couple of them made. The film is well directed by John Irvin and a memorable and creepy score by Phillipe Sarde. It's well worth checking out if you're in the mood for a unique and creepy spook story. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: The Lost Boys

"I don't believe it! My own brother, a god-damn shit sucking vampire! Boy, just wait until mom finds out buddy!"

The Lost Boys is not just one of my favorite horror movies, it's one of my favorite movies period. With an amazing cast, a witty script and hip direction by Joel Schumacher that will forever have me defending him to irate Batman fans. It was also one of the few 80's horror movies to not have it's reputation sullied by sequels. That's right there are no sequels to The Lost Boys and no one can convince me otherwise.

The film centers on two brothers Sam (played by Corey Haim) and Michael (played by Jason Patric), who have just moved to Santa Carla, a small beach town in California with their mother Lucy (played by Dianne Wiest) after her divorce. They're moving in with their eccentric Grandfather (played by Bernard Hughes) and Sam in particular seems less than thrilled, especially with his Grandfather's taxidermy hobby and the fact that there is no TV in the house (which means no MTV either). 

Left with nothing better to do, Sam and Michael wander the Santa Carla boardwalk. There Sam meets Edgar and Alan Frog (played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), two self professed vampire slayers who try to warn Sam of the dangers on Santa Carla. Michael, meanwhile, falls for the beguiling charms of a young woman named Star (played by Jami Gertz). She leads Michael to her friends, a gang of dirt bike riding boys led by David (played by Kiefer Sutherland). He's initiated into the gang only to discover they are all vampires and he is now well on his way to becoming one himself. When Sam finds out, he turns to the Frog brothers for help and learns that if they kill the head vampire, all half vampires like Michael will return to normal.

Meanwhile, Lucy meets Max (played by Edward Herrman), the charming owner of the local video store. He hires her to be the day manager and the two begin dating as well, with mixed results. Things get complicated when Sam and the Frog brothers suspect Max is the head vampire, leading to an amusing scene where they subject poor Max to a series of vampire tests while crashing a dinner he's having with Lucy at home. But Max passes the tests so, with no other options, the boys fill their squirt guns with holy water, sharpen their stakes and prepare for battle against all of the vampires.

The film itself is rather light on actual scares, with only one scene of the vampire gang slaughtering a bunch of punks partying around a bonfire on the beach being genuinely frightening. But what it lacks in scares, it more than makes up for in just being a fun movie. It moves along at a brisk pace, with a rocking soundtrack and plenty of witty dialogue, much of it from the younger brother Sam and delivered perfectly by Corey Haim. There's also a bit of romance between Michael and Star and Sutherland gives David a sense of seductive menace. And all these years later, I still can't quite believe Dianne Wiest and Edward Herrmann are in this movie. Both are clearly having fun in their roles, especially Herrmann who is having fun in a role outside his usual type, playing a hip video store owner. 

The Lost Boys is an absolute blast from start to finish. It's an interesting take on the vampire legends, populated by a cast of colorful characters backed by a rocking soundtrack (I'd even rank it higher than Top Gun for best 80's movie soundtrack) a witty script and great direction from Joel Schumacher. Yeah, the plot is a little predictable at times, but never quite in the ways you expect. There is a charm to the film that I cannot deny. I fell in love with it when I first saw it way back when on VHS and it continues to be an absolute favorite.  

Halloween Horrorfest: Shaun of the Dead

I fell completely and utterly in love with Shaun of the Dead from the moment I first saw it. There was such a fresh wittiness to it that was unlike anything I had seen before. It was both a loving satire of Zombie films while also being a full blooded Zombie film itself. Layered with plenty of humor and callbacks makes for a memorable and funny film.

The film begins with Shaun (played by Simon Pegg) feeling a bit trapped in his life. His girlfriend, Liz (played by Kate Ashfield), wants to spend more alone time away from their friends. He lives with two roommates, slacker Ed (played by Nick Frost) and high strung Pete (played by Peter Serafinowicz). He doesn't get along with his stepfather, Phillip (played by Bill Nighy), who comes around his work to remind him to visit his mom (played by Penelope Wilton). When he forgets to make reservations for dinner, Liz finally reaches her breaking point and dumps him. Distraught, Ed takes him out to the local pub, named The Winchester, for drinks. They get drunk and in the process completely fail to notice the beginnings of the zombie apocalypse. This continues into the next morning when Shaun makes his routine walk to the corner store for a paper, only this time he fails to notice the crashed cars, bloody handprints on the shop's fridge door and people running for their lives. 

It's not until Ed spots a girl in their backyard that they begin to realize something's up, especially when she impales herself on an umbrella stand and then proceeds to stand up again with a large hole in her gut in an impressively gruesome effect. The two come up with a plan to retrieve Liz (because surely she would take him back if he rescues her, or so he thinks) and Shaun's mother and head for their beloved pub to ride out the crisis. Things go wrong almost from the get go as Phillip winds up coming along as well as Liz's roommates Dianne (played by Lucy Davis) and David (played by Dylan Moran). Nonetheless, they all press on, determined to make their way through the zombie apocalypse to their desired refuge.

The film's director, Edgar Wright, wrote the script with Simon Pegg and the two created something very special. It's a film that is at once both a zombie movies and a satire of zombie movies. There are great gags throughout the film, including ones mocking the slow shamble of the zombies with Ed and Shaun ransacking their house for stuff to throw at them, miss with every single item, go back for more and come back with them more or less in the same place. The real brilliance in the film is in the set up. Many of the background characters in the beginning of the film show up later as zombies. Many of the exchanges between characters are also repeated in the second half in a completely different context. And then there's Ed's speech in the pub of what they should do that night  at the beginning of the film that perfectly foreshadows the rest of the film. Jessica Hynes, who collaborated with Pegg and Wright on their TV series "Spaced" (which also starred Nick Frost as well), pops up as Yvonne. Yvonne is more or less Shaun's female counterpart and at one point shows up with her own group, made up of practically doppelgängers of Shaun's group. These are just the tip of of the iceberg as the jokes, winks and callbacks come rapid fire and most certainly rewards repeat viewings. I've seen the film countless times and I'm still picking up things I've missed before. The film also contains several references to Romero's Dawn of the Dead, including Shaun working at Foree Electronics (named after Dawn star Ken Foree) and actual music cues taken from Romero's film. It's a nice nod to the film's primary inspiration. 

Shaun of the Dead is a comic treat, a sort of Rom-Zom-Com as it was called. With a smart script with a wicked sense of humor that is at once both a spoof of zombie movies and is at the same time a zombie movie (it gets considerably darker as the film goes on and our bad of misfits starts getting picked off). But it never stops being a funny and genuinely memorable comedy. It also kicked off the "Cornetto Trilogy," a series of three films made by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, with three films inspired by the three flavors of Cornetto sundae cones (a popular UK ice cream treat, similar to our Drumsticks). It was followed by Hot Fuzz, which lovingly parodied buddy cop films and concluded with The World's End, which similarly parodied alien invasion films.   

Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: Dawn of the Dead

"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."

George Romero's Dawn of the Dead remains one of the best zombie movies ever made. It has a richness to it that I haven't found in other entries in this particular sub-genre. It's a fantastic mix of end of the world mayhem and subversive satire. 

The film opens with Frannie (played by Gaylen Ross), a news producer trying to cope with the onslaught of the zombie apocalypse. The newsroom is in chaos as outdated information is being reported  out as news anchors argue over what is happening. She is waiting for her boyfriend, Stephen (played by David Emge) to return. Stephen is a Helicopter pilot and has a plan to try and get away. Meanwhile, we are also introduced to two SWAT team members, Peter (played by Ken Foree) and Roger (played by Scott Reiniger), who are part of an operation to clear out an apartment building full of zombies. Roger is supposed to leave with Frannie and Stephen and after bonding with Peter a bit he invites him along. The four depart after stealing the television station's helicopter and begin searching for a place they can escape the zombie onslaught only to realize it is literally everywhere. Looking for a place to stop and rest, they come across an abandoned shopping mall and land on the roof. Initially, they were just looking for a place to rest momentarily and gather supplies but come to realize it may be the ideal refuge. 

The quartet set about clearing out the zombies that are wandering around the mall, lock the doors and block the entrances from the outside to keep any more from getting in. From there, they have free reign of the mall and all the goods it holds. The raid the stores for appliances and the sporting good store for guns and ammo. They set up a nice oasis for themselves in the survival shelter area on the upper floor of the mall. They also build a false wall to over up the entrance to their area of the mall so should anyone stumble across the mall, they would hopefully never know they are there. 

The film is a loose sequel to Romero's Night of the Living Dead, but also functions as a stand-alone film. It is also a very different film with a both a larger and a more intimate scope. What makes this film so successful is in the four main characters and their distinct, individual personalities. You can't help but love them and want to root for them. By limiting the cast to four central characters, you get to know them well and get attached to them and naturally want to see them survive. I also loved the way the character of Frannie asserts herself, stating she is on the same level as the three boys and refuses to play den mother. The film allows the characters time to grow within their situation, which opens the film to some clever satire on consumerism, as the characters start to feel like they're losing themselves as they become more and more settled in the mall, bringing more and more goods into their shelter. Of course, shots of zombie wandering in and out of stores around the mall also contribute to this theme. 

But the film also has a sense of fun to it as well to break up the bleakness of other parts. As the four characters are getting set up in the mall, running around dodging the shuffling zombies, you get the feeling that in a way they're having the time of their lives. At one point, they take a car that's on display within the mall and use it to zip around as they lock the place down. I always loved that energy that it brings the film and it felt true to me that people would enjoy the freedom of going on the sort of a shopping spree, which of course ties back into the consumerism themes that are apparent in the film. 

Overall, Dawn of the Dead, remains one of the best zombie movies ever in a large part due to it's fully developed characters and a smart script, also written by the film's director George Romero, that gives it a sort of richness that one does not expect in the horror genre. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: Hocus Pocus

"Oh look, another glorious morning! Makes me sick!"

I realize that when it comes to Hocus Pocus, I am using the term horror extremely loosely. In fact, the movie isn't so much scary as it is absolutely hysterical. But at the same time, it is such essential Halloween holiday viewing, I just had to include it. With a witty script and a delightfully over the top Bette Midler performance, it's hard not to love it. 

The film opens on 17th Century Salem, as three witches (and sisters), Winifred (played by Bette Midler), Sarah (played by Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary Sanderson (played by Kathy Najimy) are brewing a potion to suck the life out of the little children of Salem, including one they have already swiped, Emily (played by Amanda Shepherd). Her brother Thackery (played by Sean Murray, but dubbed by Jason Marsden) tries to stop them, but fails and is turned into an immortal black cat. Before the witches can kidnap any more children though, the townspeople catch up to them. Two of the sisters, Winifred and Mary try to pass themselves off as kindly old spinsters until Sarah literally announces they are sucking the lives out of little children.  This leads to them being promptly hanged, but not before Winifred gives one last curse, stating that one Halloween night, a virgin will light the black flame candle and then they will return.  

We then jump ahead 300 years as a new family has just moved to Salem from Los Angeles. The brother, Max (played by Omri Katz) is having trouble fitting in. He's not feeling the Halloween spirit, doesn't believe the stories of the Sanderson sisters and to top it off, two moronic school bullies stole his sneakers. He just wants to be left alone when he finds out he has to take his younger sister, Dani (played by Thora Birch) trick or treating. However, things take a turn for the better when their paths cross with Allison (played by Vinessa Shaw), a girl Max has a crush on. She takes them to the old Sanderson house at Dani's request. Of course, in an attempt to prove that it's all fake, Max light's the fabled black flame candle and much to their shock, the witches actually return. As it turns out, the three witches have one night to re-brew their potion and suck the life out of another child or else they're dead for good. In an effort to hinder them, the three kids steal their spell book in an attempt to keep them from being able to do this. What follows is an epic chase throughout Salem as the Sanderson sisters attempt to retrieve their book and the three kids, along with cat Thackery, try to stop them.

Much of the humor of this film comes from the three Sandersons trying to deal with a modern world, unfamiliar with even paved roads. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy are absolutely priceless in their roles, with infinitely quotable line after infinitely quotable line and each trying to outdo the other makes for three memorable comedic performances. Still, it's Bette Midler who effectively steals the show as Winifred. She gives such a beautifully over the top performance and is clearly having a blast doing it. She also perfoms a magnificent rendition of "I Put a Spell on You" because if you have Bette Midler in your movie, she has to sing at some point, it's required. Also it is frustratingly not on the soundtrack album. Midler has since stated several times that Hocus Pocus is her favorite of the movies she has done and I'm inclined to agree. 

It's funny to see how popular this film has become now because it was a bit of a flop when it first came out in 1993. Of course, a lot of this can be blamed on some brainless Disney executive deciding to release the movie in July of all times. If they had released it in October when people were in the mood for a movie about Halloween and witches, it may have been a hit. Nonetheless, the movie has had the last laugh and thanks to repeated TV showings has become the Halloween classic is always should have been. No Halloween celebration should be complete without it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: The Conjuring

There are few films that really scare me anymore. I don't think it's so much desensitized, as much as I hate that word because if I saw the stuff I see in most scary movies in real life I completely freak out, but rather as a writer I tend to deconstruct plots and understand the mechanics of a scary movie. But, oh baby, there is something about The Conjuring that scared the crap out of me. I saw it in the theater on a sunny Saturday afternoon and that was both one of the best and worst ideas of my life. There I was, seated in my usual spot towards the front and as this movie went on, I sank further and further in my seat hugging myself from the unremitting dread and tension that was building on screen. I had no idea where this movie was going to go and I was just along for the ride.

The film tells the story of the Perron family who are just moving into a new house. This is the way these films usually start and this one is no different. The father, Roger (played by Ron Livingston) is a truck driver and frequently away, which leaves the mother, Carolyn (played by Lili Taylor) to look after their five daughters. The supernatural events in the house start slowly and are things that could easily be explained away, such as doors opening on their own. Then things slowly escalate. The clocks keep stopping at 3:07 a.m. Rotten smells that come and go with no apparent explanation. Birds keep crashing into the side of the house. Things escalate further when the spirits in the house start full on attacking the occupants. 

In over their heads, Roger and Carolyn reach out to famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) for help. Initially reluctant to come out, they agree when they see the desperation in Carolyn's face. As soon as they get there, they can tell there is something seriously wrong with the house. They soon set up for a full blown investigation along with their research assistant Drew (played by Shannon Kook) to gather evidence in an attempt to request a formal exorcism of the property since it is the source of the trouble is determined to be demonic in nature.

What makes The Conjuring work is not so much the story itself, which is not that much different than most haunted house films, but how it's told. The film takes its time to establish the characters and as a viewer you come to care for this family and what they are going through. Likewise, the film also establishes the Warrens as well and they are crafted as three dimensional characters. Of course, the film is also based on a true story from an actual case the real Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated, which probably helps add a bit to it as well. Of course, how much is actually real is subjective and some of it is probably exaggerated for the sake of poetic license. The casting of all four leads are very well done and they all give great performances which adds a lot of emotional weight to the film as well. 

I hesitate to give a lot away in this review because the element of surprise is what it has going for it. Within the framework of a typical ghost story hides a real chiller of a movie. I'm not even entirely sure how they managed to make it so scary beyond the fact that they made the characters so relatable that the audience immediately cares what happens to them and as a result, the tension in the film rises as well. Perhaps the best way to illustrate it is as such, this film is rated R despite containing very little violence, no nudity, and very little swearing. It earned it's rating on just how scary it really is. If you're looking for a movie to really creep you out this Halloween, this is the one to see. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: The Fog

The Fog is a good old fashioned ghost story. It's about past sins coming back to haunt people made with style and a genuinely creepy mood that makes the film a memorable scary movie.

The film centers on several residents of a small seaside California town, Antonia Bay. The town is getting ready to celebrate it's centennial. One night, the town preacher, Father Malone (played by Hal Holbrook) discovers a journal hidden inside the church walls. It is a journal written by one of his descendants documenting the deeds of him and five others to cause a ship of settlers to crash into the shores, killing it's occupants in the process. The conspirators then looted the wreckage, using the proceeds to help found the town. This took place 100 years prior. Malone tries to warn the mayor, Kathy Williams (played by Janet Leigh), to cancel the ceremony as they are honoring murderers. She turns him down, determined to have the ceremony go ahead. 

Meanwhile, broadcasting from the local lighthouse radio station is DJ Stevie Wayne (played by Adrienne Barbeau). She was given a piece of old driftwood by her young son, Andy (played by Ty Mitchell), who states when he saw it from far off, it was a gold doubloon, but when he got closer, it had turned into the piece of driftwood. The board reads "DANE" as in Andrea Dane, the ship that crashed into the shore 100 years prior. It's the first sign they are coming back for their revenge. Elsewhere in town, one of the town's fishermen Nick Castle (played by Tom Atkins) picks up a young hitchhiker named Elizabeth (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and the two hit it off, so she decides to stick around awhile. Of course, by the end we know she will wish she hadn't. She and Nick find themselves playing detective as Nick tries to figure out what happened to some of his fishing buddies when their boat turns up far off from shore, trashed and seemingly abandoned.

As night falls on the town, an ominous, glowing fog bank rolls in with the ghosts lingering within it. Stevie realizes early on that something is amiss and tries desperately to warn others to stay away from the fog. Nick and Elizabeth also realize something is deeply wrong and manage to collect Andy after hearing Stevie's pleas over the radio. They then head for the church, followed by Mayor Williams and her secretary Sandy (played by Nancy Loomis). They work with Father Malone to try and discover a way to appease the ghosts and break the apparent curse the town has fallen under (It's also a nice excuse to have Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh share at least one scene in a movie they both are starring in).

The Fog remains one of my favorite scary movies. It does a great job of setting up a creepy atmosphere right from the beginning of the film with a ghost story around the camp fire that sets up the story of the shipwreck quite nicely, as told by the great John Houseman no less. Backed with a memorable score by the film's director John Carpenter, fantastic cinematography from Dean Cundey and strong performances from an ensemble cast makes this for a fun, scary movie for Halloween. It's nothing too terrifying, but it gives some decent thrills and chills along the way, as any decent ghost story should. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: The Final Conflict

With The Final Conflict, The Omen trilogy comes to a conclusion not with the bang it seems to be building up to, but with a bit of a whimper. Originally, we were supposed to get a couple more chapters between Damien: Omen II and The Final Conflict, but 20th Century Fox got cold feet and decided to do only one more film to cap things off. 

The film picks up roughly twenty years later, with Damien Thorn (played by Sam Neill) all grown up. He is the head of Thorn Enterprises and now fully in evil bastard mode. He's good at turning on the charm in front of people, but behind closed doors, he is absolutely ruthless. The trilogy comes full circle as Damien is asked by the President to assume the post of Ambassador to England (the current ambassador had just conveniently (and violently) blown his head off in front of the UK press corp in one of the film's more shockingly horrific scenes).  

Meanwhile, a group of seven monks have gathered and are plotting to assassinate Damien. Of course, since these are monks and not trained assassins you can imagine how it goes. Most of them are cannon fodder for more spectacular Omen deaths (including one fall from a bridge that still holds the Guinness World Record for highest free fall movie stunt and is admittingly pretty spectacular). When he's not dodging half-assed assassination attempts, Damien begins romancing TV newscaster Kate Reynolds (played by Lisa Harrow) and takes a shine to her pre-teen son, Peter (played by Barnaby Holm). Before long, Peter is being inducted as an apostle of Damien (along with the hundreds of others he's managed to recruit. Umm...well done?) and it's only a matter of time before Kate finds out the truth. She teams up with the lead monk, DeCarlo (played by Rossano Brazzi) to stop Damien forever and try to reclaim her son. 

The Final Conflict is not without it's flaws. It takes such a giant leap forward from it's two predecessors that there are some growing pains felt. The film makes it clear it takes place in the present day of when it was released (1981). The problem is that The Omen also made it clear it took place in present day the year it was released (1976) bringing about the need for some serious retroactive continuity issues. But I'm really just being nitpicky (although it is apparent to most viewers). The other issue is pacing. The whole film seems to be building to the ultimate showdown between good and evil. Damien spends the entire film trying to head off the forces of good with no holds barred. He even orders his apostles to murder all the male children born on March 24th because that's the day it's believed the second coming of Christ was born. Nothing is shown, but just the idea that this is carried out is horrifying. But when we get to the big ending, it quickly rushes through it and frankly feels like a little bit of a cop out. Yes, we all know Damien is going down, but after everything that came before it, it just comes too easily. 

If you're going to watch the first two films, The Final Conflict is still worth seeking out as well and for the most part it's a decent closing chapter with a fantastic performance from Sam Neill, who adds some real menace to the role of Damien. However, towards the end you do get the feeling they just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible and therefore makes it the weakest of the three. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: Damien: Omen II

Okay, I have a bit of a confession to make. Out of the three films in The Omen Trilogy, this is actually my favorite. Maybe it's because I saw it for the first time in my mid-teens and therefore could relate more to the two teenage protagonists of the film and that led me to have more affection for it. Technically, I will admit it's not the "best" of the three (as subjective as that is), but deep down I don't care, it's still my favorite.

This film takes place seven years later and Damien (played this time out by Jonathan Scott-Taylor) is living in Chicago with his Uncle Richard (played by William Holden), his Aunt Ann (played by Lee Grant) and his cousin Mark (played by Lucas Donat). Damien and Mark attend school together at a Military Academy. They're both in the same platoon under Sergeant Neff (played by Lance Henriksen). Richard is the CEO of Thorn Industies, a multi-national conglomerate and is busy dealing with Paul Buher (played by Robert Foxworth), an executive proposing that Thorn Industries buys up as much land as possible for extensive farming opportunities, which means Thorn Industries would control a large portion of the world's food sources. Richard has trouble with this idea, thinking it unethical and perhaps illegal. 

Of course, anyone familiar with the book of Revelations has quickly pegged Paul as another of Damien's followers and is setting the stage for his eventual rise to power. The movie wastes no time in cluing us into this either with Paul talking cryptically to Damien about destiny. In fact, Damien has a number of followers or protectors this time around, popping up all around the place. You can usually pick them out fairly easily although a couple were a bit of a surprise the first time I saw it.

Everything changes when Sergeant Neff (another protector, obviously), clues in Damien to his true heritage. It's a credit to the film that Damien is initially horrified when he finds out and literally tries to run away from it. Yeah, it's a bit melodramatic but it works and is easily the most sympathetic the character has ever been in the film series as a whole. It also struck a chord with me on a personal level, like "Ooh, I've been there." Not literally, of course, but still it's weird to have that kind of feeling in the middle of a horror film, especially with someone who is more or less supposed to be the villain, but somehow it made the film for me. It really is one of my favorite scenes of the film. 

It's not long before Damien has accepted his new found destiny and the body count starts to rise as a new group of people have discovered the truth and without fail each have a terrible accident befall them either before or shortly after they try to warn Richard and Ann of the truth about Damien. Like any true horror sequel, the death scenes are much more elaborate this time around, especially an Elevator death sequence that will leave you thinking twice about not taking the stairs. 

Of course, now that the audience knows for certain Damien is indeed the Anti-Christ, the supernatural element is much more overt this time around with Damien taking a far more active role. When we first see him, the shot is through a burning brush fire because, well, subtlety has never been this film series strong point. He first unleashes his growing powers on a school bully Teddy, causing Teddy to freak out and it's implied he is hallucinating that something is attacking him (we don't see what it is though). As someone who was bullied myself as a kid, perhaps scenes like this one where Damien turns the tables on his aggressors is part of the appeal for me. 

Overall, Damien: The Omen II follows a lot of the same plot beats as the original especially in the last quarter of the film as Richard finally learns the truth and finds out it's up to him to destroy Damien (considering there's a third film, we can guess how well that goes). Still, there's enough here to recommend it. It's interesting to see Damien take a more active role after being a more passive character in the first film. There's the relationship between Damien and his cousin (and practically brother, since they more or less grew up together) Mark that adds some layers to it. There are also a few surprises for the audience who think they have the entire plot figured out already. It's a fun scary movie and not one to take too seriously. Even after writing about it now and picking it apart a little, yeah it's still my favorite of the three. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: The Omen

There's something to be said for a movie that still has it within it's capacity to shock and thrill audiences 38 years after it was first released. While some of the scenes may not have quite the same punch they once had, The Omen still packs a wallop and is backed by a great cast led by Gregory Peck and expert direction by Richard Donner.

The film tells the story of a married couple, Robert (played by Gregory Peck) and Katherine Thorn (played by Lee Remick). Robert has been notified that the son his wife just given birth to has died. He's convinced to adopt another baby, Damien, in his place so that his wife need not ever find out. It's a creepy notion, but he goes along with it because he wants to protect his wife, I guess. Anyway, things go well for awhile and they seem like a happy family. Robert is appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom and they move to London. Everything is going swimmingly until Damien's nanny commits suicide by tying a noose around her neck and jumping off the roof of the house in front all the guests at Damien's 5th Birthday party. It's the first of several horrifying death sequences this series would become known for. Before long, a new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (played by Billie Whitelaw) comes along. To Robert and Katherine, she seems perfectly sweet, but her true colors quickly show when she meets Damien (played by Harvey Stephens) and identifies herself as his protector.

Meanwhile, Robert is frequently bumping into a priest, Father Brennan (played by Patrick Troughton), who is desperately trying to warn Robert of the true nature of his adopted son. Also lurking about is Jennings (played by David Warner), a photojournalist trying to figure out why pictures he's taking have odd imperfections in them. It quickly becomes clear that they are foreshadowing people's deaths. As the body count rises, Jennings and Robert team up to find out the truth and discover that Damien is foretold to be the Anti-Christ and it is up to Robert to destroy him. Will Robert be able to go through with it and kill his own son? Considering there are two more entries in this series (we don't talk about the "fourth" one), eh, probably not. 

Even though the ending has been thoroughly spoiled by now just by the fact that there are two well known sequels that feature Damien as well, The Omen is still a superior thrill ride. I've always liked movies like this that are seeped in a sort of prophetic, gothic horror. People giving dire warnings of what will come to pass and this film is filled with it. Yet, it grounds everything in reality. It's a nice touch by Richard Donner and screenwriter David Seltzer to not have anything overtly supernatural in the movie. It's all suggestive and a rational explanation can be made for most anything that happens. Of course, by the end, the prophecies are proven to be true and it's revealed Damien really is the Anti-Christ. But by keeping things grounded, the characters don't seem quite so dumb for refusing to believe the truth. Then you pair this with the still horrifying death scenes, especially the famous decapitation that was edited so that people who looked away would look back and still see the head spinning in midair, and you have the recipe for a memorable scary movie.

Of course, one cannot review The Omen without talking about the amazing and frightening score done by Jerry Goldsmith. He adds so much creepiness and gravitas to the film with his music, he certainly deserved the Academy Award he won for it. The themes are absolutely iconic and Richard Donner himself said the film wouldn't have been half as scary without it.

The Omen remains one of my all time favorite scary movies along with the two that followed it (those reviews are forthcoming over the next two days). They still remain chilling and scary after all these years. Yet, there's also something a little goofy and over the top about them that makes me love them all the more. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Halloween Horrorfest: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Much like The Watcher in the Woods before it, Something Wicked This Way Comes is from a bygone era of when Disney was perfectly content to scare the bejeezus out of the little kiddies. With it's Autumn setting and general creepy mood of magic and mystery, it makes for perfect Halloween viewing for the whole family. 

The film centers on two boys, Will Holloway (played by Vidal Peterson) and Jim Nightshade (played by Shawn Carson) and Will's father Charles (played by Jason Robards) and tells an enchanting and dark tale of one October when a mysterious and menacing carnival came to town. The carnival, led by Mr. Dark (played by Jonathan Pryce),  appears like most any other carnival on the surface. But underneath, it aims to tempt it's attendees with granting their deepest wishes, but with a terrible price. 

When the two boys discover the dark secrets of the carnival, they become the target of Mr. Dark and his cronies to either silence or preferably tempt the boys. Mr. Dark also sets his sights on Charles, a man filled with regret and remorse, to try and tempt him to give into his deepest wishes. The three of them try to resist the promises of Mr. Dark and find away to stop Mr. Dark and his sinister carnival from preying on the townsfolk of their small Illinois town.

I've always really enjoyed this film, from it's romanticized Autumn Midwest setting of a bygone era (the year it's set is never explicitly said, but I'm guessing mid-late 1920's) to the fantastic performances, especially from Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce. There is a scene between the two of them in the town library that is absolutely electric and easily the best scene in the movie. The film also manages to capture the mood and lyricism of Ray Bradbury's writing (he wrote both the screenplay and the original novel it was based on) quite well. To top it off there is also a unique and haunting score by James Horner.    

Overall, Something Wicked This Way Comes, is perfect Halloween viewing and is certainly one of the darkest Disney films they have made, while still being a Disney film. There are several creepy moments in the film, but that's what makes it perfect scary movie viewing for the whole family.   

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stephen King Week: Maximum Overdrive

"Honey? Come on over here, sugar buns. This machine just called me an asshole!"

As we continue with Stephen King week here, faithful readers, I want to take a moment to tell you about a very special film. One about machines that come to life and wreck havoc upon mankind, directed by a man at the height of his cocaine addiction. That man was none other than author Stephen King. The result is a movie that is the epitome of so bad it's good. I give you Maximum Overdrive.   

The film opens with a title card stating that the planet Earth was passing through the tail of a large comet, strongly suggesting that is the reason the vast majority of machines in the world become sentient and homicidal, especially 18 Wheeler semi-trucks. Of course, this makes no sense, but whatever. The whole plot is just excuse to smash and blow shit up real good for ninety minutes, and in that context, this movie is perfect.

The film centers largely on the Dixie Boy Truck Stop and the assortment of misfits that populate it. It includes loner ex-con Bill (played by Emilio Estevez), his bully of a boss Bubba (played by Pat Hingle, just shy of literally chewing the scenery), a newly wed couple Curtis (played by John Short) and Connie (played by Yeardly Smith, aka the voice of Lisa Simpson), and a drifter Brett (played by Laura Herrington) among others, many of whom are only there to stand in place for an impossibly long enough time to get creamed by speeding trucks or otherwise be cannon fodder.

Bill rises to the role of hero fairly early on, fighting with his slimy boss and trying to reason with the crowd in an attempt to keep the situation under control. Before long there is also a bit of a romance developing between him and Brett that adds a little sweetness to the film. He and Brett, a streetwise and tough gal make a good team. It's the two of them that discover Bubba has been doing some arms dealing on the side and the basement is stockpiled with grenades, rocket lauchers, automatic weapons and other heavy artillery to use against the sentient trucks (how convenient). What follows is largely a standoff between the people of the truck stop and the machines as our characters try to find a way out of the situation. 

The film plays out as more of a sci-fi action film than a straight up horror film, although there are plenty of deliriously gruesome moments, including a soda machine attack, projecting cans of soda like cannon balls and the fastest steam roller I've ever seen going on a rampage through a Little League game. There is also the lead truck, known as the Happy Toyz truck, with the giant visage of Marvel's The Green Goblin plastered on the front of it that seems more than a little creepy (and is pictured above).  

Maximum Overdrive has earned an unfair reputation as being horrible. Yes, the plot is ridiculous, I don't argue that. But in a way it's a throw back to the sci-fi B-Movies of the 50's. The movie knows how absurd it all is an has it's tongue firmly planted in it's cheek. I mean, the opening scene has an ATM calling Stephen King himself an asshole and the soundtrack is done by AC/DC for crying out loud. It's clear we're just supposed to go with it and enjoy it on it's own silly terms, which is what I've always done.  For those who are curious to view it, it is available for viewing in it's entirety on YouTube.