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31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Thirty-One: Halloween (1978)

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

And here it is, the movie you all knew was coming. The one film that is most likely on everyone’s “Must Watch On Halloween” list. The movie named after the day itself.

I’m speaking, of course, of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic: Halloween!

Details:

Year Released: 1978
Written By: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Directed By: John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence
Trailer:

Plot:

There’s a black sheep in every family. One person who drinks too much, or talks too loudly, or maybe spent some time in prison for reasons no one is willing to talk about. The Meyers family is no exception, only their black sheep is named Michael and he may or may not be the boogeyman.

At the ripe old age of six years old, Michael took his first life, that of his teenage sister Judith, one All Hallows Eve in 1963. It was at this point that Michael was shipped off to a mental institution, presumably for the rest of his life. But these things don’t always work out the way we want them to, especially in horror films, and fifteen years later, Michael escapes. He returns to his family home, the scene of the crime, to see what other family members are still hanging around, waiting to be brutally murdered.

Enter Laurie Strode, typical American teenage babysitter living in the suburbs.

Michael Meyers stalks Laurie, practically living in her shadow, until Halloween night when Laurie is babysitting a young boy named Tommy Doyle. It’s then, on the fifteenth anniversary of Judith Meyers’ murder, that Michael strikes at poor Laurie Strode and her friends. Will Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis be able to stop him in time?

Thoughts:

Halloween is the movie that launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis, and for that, I will forever be thankful to everyone involved. But even putting that aside, even ignoring Curtis’ memorable performance, Halloween is just a fantastic horror film through and through.

The suspense builds very early on and keeps climbing until the climax of the film; The inevitable showdown between Michael and Laurie. Some of John Carpenter’s best work can be seen and felt and heard in this movie and it still holds up, nearly thirty five years later.

Whether it’s the jump scares, or the quick glimpses of Michael Meyers over Laurie’s shoulder, or the music, this movie keeps you feeling terrified from the first scene straight through to the closing credits.

As far as makeup/effects go, it’s mostly just blood work, but it’s good. The most memorable part of Halloween’s antagonist, Michael Meyers, is of course the stark white mask. Which was actually a Star Trek Captain Kirk Halloween mask coated with white spray paint, so really it’s been an albino William Shatner that has been scaring you since you were a kid. Go figure.

The writing, the memorable performances put forth by both Jamie Lee Curtis and noted James Bond villain Donald Pleasence, and even the original score (also composed by John Carpenter) all work together to make this film genuinely creepy and can also all be listed as reasons that we all keep coming back to this movie, year after year.

Should You See It:

For the love of all that is scary, yes. If you’ve ever celebrated Halloween, but have never seen the movie named after it, I suggest you do so. Dim the lights, pull the covers up to your chin, and make sure to have plenty of candy on hand.

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Thirty: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

October 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Wes Craven is a disturbed individual. No, really. He read a string of LA Times articles printed in the 1970s about a number of men in South East Asia who died under mysterious terms while experiencing vivid nightmares. A normal person reads a few articles of that nature and thinks “Oh, how terrible.” or “Those poor men and their families.” or “That is very creepy and I wish I hadn’t read it.”

But not Wes Craven. A man like Wes Craven reads those articles and thinks “I can use this to scare the living hell out of children for decades to come!”

And so was born tonight’s feature: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Details:

Year Released: 1984
Written By: Wes Craven
Directed By: Wes Craven
Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp
Trailer:

Plot:

When all-American teenager Tina has a nightmare in which a grizzled and burned figure slashes her with a bladed glove, and she awakens with four slash marks across the front of her nightgown, she becomes a bit distressed. Upon telling her friend Nancy of her experience, Nancy reveals that she had a similar dream, though their other friends refuse to believe them.

That changes over time, as one by one, gruesome deaths befall each one; In their sleep.

Nancy soon comes face-to-crispy-face with the shadowy figure haunting her dreams, who calls himself Freddy Kruger, and he almost ends her. But as her friends and family all die around her at the claw-gloved hands of Mr. Kruger, Nancy has no choice but to take a stand and face him in a fight to the death. Will she survive the night?

Thoughts:

Ah, Freddy Kruger. The ugly bastard who stalked the dreams of teenagers through the 1980s and well into the 1990s. One of the most iconic movie monsters and arguably one of the scariest ever put on film, it’s not the outright terror that people tend to remember most about Freddy, but rather the over-the-top hilarity of his horrible actions. I mean, Johnny Depp gets killed by a bed in this movie. A bed. It eats him and throws up a fountain of blood. Just in case you fail to grasp what I just said, let me repeat it: Johnny Depp gets killed by a bed in this movie.

Granted, the truly goofy stuff (yes, goofier than a kid being killed by a piece of furniture) doesn’t happen until later sequels. Oh, yeah. There are sequels. Quite a few of them, too, and only a couple of ones I’d call good. Okay, not “good”, but “entertaining”. Still, a whole lot of silly in this movie, and that’s what I love most about it.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie does the scary stuff right. This is, after all, a Wes Craven film. Wes almost always does a good job of balancing the silly with the scary. The premise alone is terrifying and Craven does a lot with it in this first film.

The acting is pretty typical for a mid-80s horror film, and the standout of the crowd is Robert Englund as Freddy Kruger.

The effects are decent for the time the movie was made, a lot of the makeup work and prosthetics are actually pretty impressive.

Should You See It:

Listen, if the words “Johnny Depp gets killed by a bed in this film” are not enough to entice you, I just don’t know what is.

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Twenty-Nine: Friday the 13th (1980)

October 29, 2012 Leave a comment

The slasher genre of horror movie is a thing of beauty. You take a bunch of teenagers doing “bad” things (having sex, drinking alcohol, doing drugs) and toss in a maniac with a machete to “punish” them. To death.

The 1980s was lousy with slasher films, many of which are being remade today, but arguably the best is tonight’s feature: Friday the 13th.

Details:

Year Released: 1980
Written By: Victor Miller
Directed By: Sean S. Cunningham
Starring: Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Betsy Palmer, Kevin Bacon
Trailer:

Plot:

It’s 1958 and we find ourselves at Camp Crystal Lake, where a large group of children are busy enjoying the sunshine and refreshing lake waters, while the two teenage counselors in charge of watching over them are busy enjoying each others bodies. So busy, in fact, that neither of them notice the young boy by the name of Jason Voorhees who is struggling to stay afloat in the lake. One year later, on the anniversary of young Jason’s watery death, the two camp counselors are found brutally murdered. The murders shock everyone and Camp Crystal Lake is close down. Forever.

Just kidding.

It’s now 1979, twenty-one years since the horrific murders, and Camp Crystal Lake is set to reopen to a whole new generation of young victims. I mean children. Young children. Since a camp isn’t a camp without a staff of irresponsible teenage counselors, a new batch of fresh faced is hired on the run the place. These fresh faces include Annie, a young woman with what can be assumed is a bright future ahead of her. Annie is hitchhiking to Crystal Lake, because apparently her parents didn’t love her enough to ever tell her not to, when she comes across a local crazy person who warns her that Camp Crystal Lake is cursed and tells her she should go no further. She ignores this local crazy person and enlists the help of a truck driver who agrees to give her a lift, but after learning her destination is the lake, tells her about the drowning of Jason Vorhees and the subsequent murders, and decides to drop her off halfway to the camp instead. He does so, leaving her outside of a cemetery because fuck her, that’s why.

While on her scenic walk past a bunch of headstones, a jeep pulls up and the unseen driver offers her a ride. Annie, being once again the victim of poor parenting in the “don’t get in cars with strangers” category, agrees and they go off on their merry way. Once they reach the entrance to the camp, the driver surprises Annie by driving right by it. Annie begins to freak out and asks the driver to stop, but her request is met with not only silence but also an increase in speed, at which point Annie decides to get the hell out of there and so she jumps out of the speeding car and makes a mad dash for the woods. She doesn’t make it far before she trips and falls, because of course she does, and when she makes it back to her feet, the faceless driver has caught up to her and slits her throat, killing her.

Annie’s blood is only the first to be spilled, as the other counselors at Camp Crystal Lake begin meeting similarly gruesome fates, one by one. Are these killings at all related to the deaths twenty-one years prior? Have you ever seen a horror movie before?

Thoughts:

Let this film be a lesson to you, teenagers: Don’t have sex. Ever. It just complicates things and causes little boys to drown in lakes. Also, if a crazy old man warns you away from a creepy camp in deep in the woods because he says a curse hangs over it ever since two teenagers were murdered there over two decades earlier, you should probably go ahead and listen to him. Maybe just this once.

Friday the 13th is the seminal 1980s slasher flick, in fact most would call it the first slasher film, though I disagree with that. However, I will agree that it kicked off the decade-long love affair with masked maniacs brutally killing sex crazed teenagers that seemed to grip American movie goers throughout the 1980s.

Should You See It:

If nothing I said in the above review has convinced you to see it, you might want to skip it. But if you want a true understanding of the “slasher” genre, specifically the string of movies released in the 80s, I recommend you give it a shot.

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Twenty-Eight: Night of the Living Dead

October 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve already covered zombies, with Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, but I felt it only right to go all the way back to the film that started it all, the film that changed the very meaning of the term “Zombie” and gave us all a genre of horror movie that remains popular even to this day.

I’m talking of course about George A. Romero’s 1968 masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead

Details:

Year Released: 1968
Written By: George A. Romero, John A. Russo
Directed By: George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea
Trailer:

Plot:

Poor Barbara. When she and her brother Johnny go to visit their father’s grave, Barbara feels a sense of unease while traveling through the cemetery. Johnny makes light of this, poking fun at her by saying “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” But Johnny’s words will serve, not only as a warning of things to come, but also as some of the last words Johnny will ever be alive to say.

A man of pale complexion in a disheveled suit shambles toward them and attempts to bite them. Johnny valiantly tries to save his sister from the overpowering creature, but dies in the process. Barbara flees the horrible scene she has just witnessed and takes refuge in a nearby farm house. It is at this farm house where she meets a small group of people fighting back against the reanimated corpses outside, it is at this farm house where everything will change forever. Not just for Barbara, but indeed, for the world.

Thoughts:

What can you say about this movie that has not already been said? It changed the way we talk about zombies forever. Prior to this film being made, the definition of zombie was steeped more in voodoo lore than the realm of reanimated corpses hungering for human flesh.

When all is said and done, this is still a 1960s horror film, and due to that fact the acting is less than stellar. In the case of the two leads, Duane Jones (Ben) and Judith O’Dea (Barbara), however, I feel the acting still holds up fairly well.

The creature effects are lacking, in terms of blood and gore, as this was made before blood and gore on film was even done, let alone as commonplace as it is today.

The revelation that there is something very, very wrong happens right away, with the attack at the cemetery, and allows the suspense to build throughout the rest film. The tone of the film is full of fear and dread and uncertainty as the characters clearly have no idea what is going on around them, nor how far it reaches or when –or if– it will end.

The character of Ben, portrayed very well by actor Duane Jones, holds the distinction of being the first African American character in film to be shown as a strong and cool-headed leader in a cast of mostly white actors. This was a controversial decision in 1968, but one that paved the way for more of the same in later films.

Should You See It:

Absolutely. Even if you’re not a huge zombie fan, you should still see where the whole thing started.

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Twenty-Seven: Creepshow

October 27, 2012 Leave a comment

There’s something magical about a horror anthology film, especially one that ties all the stories together in some way. It’s a series of morality tales, all teaching you something different about yourself or the world around you, in one package. A bargain, a lost art form, and a sub-genre that is in major need of a comeback.

Tonight’s feature is arguably one of the defining entries into the sub-genre and is a title that is often recommended to those looking for a fun way to cram five stories into one movie: Creepshow

Details:

Year Released: 1982
Written By: Stephen King
Directed By: George A. Romero
Starring: Hal Holbrook, E.G. Marshall, Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, Ted Danson, Stephen King
Trailer:

Plot:

When young Billy is discovered reading a comic book by his father, he is thoroughly punished and his comic book, entitled Creepshow, is tossed in the garbage. Billy’s father fears that the comic book will be a poor influence on his son’s mind, one that will corrupt him. Luckily for Billy, The Creep has come out of his comic book and has a few lessons to teach him.

And his father.

Thoughts:

Five Jolting Tales of Horror! reads the poster for Creepshow, which is itself a throwback to the old EC Comics that had titles like Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt, and Haunt of Fear. As far as anthology movies go, within the horror genre anyway, this is near the top of the list for me.

Hal Holbrook and E.G. Marshall bring a touch of class and validation to the film, along with great performances by Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson, not to mention genre darling Adrienne Barbeau.

The writing is some of the best screenplay work Stephen King has done, with three of the five stories written expressly for the film and two being adapted from a couple of previously published short stories. Say what you will about the film work of Stephen King, but when given the opportunity to present his stories in a format like this, he shines. He even forgoes his usual one-and-done cameo appearance for a starring role in one of the segments. His son, then known as Joe King, appears as the main character featured in the “wraparound” story that ties all of the other tales together. You might know him now as Joe Hill, acclaimed author of novels such as Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

The effects work is impressive for a 1980s horror movie, but that’s to be expected once you learn Tom Savini is the one in charge. His work on 1978’s Dawn of the Dead (also directed by George A. Romero) and the father of all 1980s slasher movies Friday the 13th is the stuff of legends.

Should You See It:

If you like horror anthology, be it in book form or on television (Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside), and if you’re interested in seeing George A. Romero direct something outside of the zombie sub-genre, then this flick is for you.

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Twenty-Six: Silver Bullet

October 26, 2012 Leave a comment

The 1980s was a good time for werewolf fans. With An American Werewolf in London The Howling opening in theaters early in the decade, the latter spinning into a franchise of sequels with varying success, there was even a television series that aired a single season between 1987 and 1988 entitled, simply, Werewolf.

Another gem from the string of 1980s werewolf movies is the subject of tonight’s review: Silver Bullet.

Details:

Year Released: 1985
Written By: Stephen King (based on his own novella entitled Cycle of the Werewolf)
Directed By: Dan Attias
Starring: Corey Haim, Gary Busey
Trailer:

Plot:

Tarker’s Mills, ME is an idyllic small town full of good, hardworking people. The sort of town where everyone knows everyone else, where there are snowball fights in the winter and fireworks in the summer, and where the townsfolk enjoy their lives as a community.

Until a string of mysterious deaths causes unrest, as people start losing their loved ones to the jaws of a nightmarish beast.

Young Marty Coslaw is a member of this community, just a boy in a wheelchair who is upset by the cancellation of the annual fireworks, who feels awful for those losing family members, and whose own best friend is soon counted amongst the victims.

In an unseen turn of events, it may very well be the boy they said could do nothing who holds the key to their survival and who might just bring about an end to this cycle of death and despair.

Thoughts:

I love Silver Bullet. I bought the Stephen King illustrated novel (it’s really a short story with gorgeous illustrations), entitled Cycle of the Werewolf, on which it was based and I love that too. It’s brief, and it differs from the film in a few areas, but the illustrations are haunting and beautiful.

The creature design was never one I was completely happy with, as once the full werewolf is finally revealed on screen, it looks more like a bear than a wolf (to me). It’s worse than some, better than most. There is a dream sequence somewhere in the middle of the film, however, in which the entire town begins to transform into werewolves. The makeup work on this scene is pretty wonderful.

The acting is great, as Corey Haim gives what I feel is his second best horror film performance (the first being in The Lost Boys), and almost all of Gary Busey’s lines are fun and quotable (“Jesus Jumped Up Palomino!” is one of my favorite movie exclamations, even to this day).

The tone of the film is very dark, dealing with not only the horrible and bloody murders taking place all over town, but also the stress the family is under with Marty being in a wheelchair. This is made clear by his sister’s outbursts throughout the film, as well as the tendency shown by Marty’s mother to coddle him and keep him away from “danger”, such as his Uncle Red’s risqué sense of humor. They love each other, they stick together as a family, but the hardships they face together are made clear. I liked this, as it shows that even in the face of tragedy, our every day problems do not disappear. We must cope with all that is given to us in life.

But what I also love is that Marty never sees himself as disabled. He pulls pranks on his sister, begs his mom to stay up late, and sneaks out at night to light off fireworks, never once letting his disability stop him or bring him down.

Should You See It

I feel like Silver Bullet is in the pantheon of 1980s werewolf movies, and as such, yes. Yes, you should see it.

31 Days of Horror Movies | Day Twenty-Five: Frailty

October 25, 2012 1 comment

There are times when we watch these horror movies, with their monsters and their blood and gore, that we sometimes forget their original purpose: To get inside our heads and make us afraid.

There are a lot of ways a horror movie can achieve that, to be fair. Jump scares to get your heart racing, suspense building while the viewer helplessly watches a masked killer stalk the hero/heroine of the film, witnessing the death and carnage put forth by a hideous beast the viewer never gets a clear image of.

But for my money, nothing tops a movie that keeps you guessing, sometimes even after it has already ended. Few movies have had this effect on me as strongly as Bill Paxton’s directorial debut, Frailty

Details:

Year Released: 2001
Written By: Brent Hanley
Directed By: Bill Paxton
Starring: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe
Trailer:

Plot:

FBI Agent Wesley Doyle has been searching for the God’s Hand serial killer but has so far come up empty handed. That is until a man named Fenton Meiks enters his office and says he knows who the God’s Hand killer is.

Doyle listens as Fenton’s story unfolds before him, and he’s forced to question what he can believe as truth. What follows is twisting and turning roller coaster ride that proves it’s best if some things don’t run in the family.

Thoughts:

This movie is genuinely unnerving. I wouldn’t say it scared me, but it definitely took me out of my comfort zone for a good chunk of it. You’re never truly certain, throughout the entire movie, exactly what is happening. It keeps you guessing on so many levels, really gets into your head.

The acting is great, Bill Paxton is moving as the Meiks family patriarch, and Matthew McConaughey gives one of my favorite performances in the film.

The visuals of the film match the suspense, as each location has its own creepy vibe. Some might call this movie a psychological thriller, rather than horror, but I feel it fits both genres quite well.

Should You See It:

Yes, unless you want to hurt Bill Paxton’s feelings.