Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween Horror Wrap-Up 2013

Last year I promised more structure to the wrap-up. Going into this October, I didn't expect to watch so many movies, especially with the Red Sox in the playoffs (CHAMPS!), so I did not keep that promise. Counting the animated collection as one feature, I watched 43 (!) movies this month. I'm as surprised as you. Now that the month is over, I don't really know what to do with myself. Maybe get to know my son a little...

Most Common Year -- 1988
Most Common Decade -- 1980's
Most Common Presence -- Roger Corman (6)
Most Common Director -- Stuart Gordon (2, Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante also have two credits, but Gordon directed two features as opposed to a feature and a short or two shorts, respectively)
Most Common Actor(s) -- Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Vincent Price (2)
Countries Heard From -- 5
Featured Nudity -- 11
No Deaths -- 7 (I counted High Spirits because a dead character and living character switch places so it balances out)
Colons in the Title -- 6
Most Unique Weapon -- Dildos
Notable Subgenres:
Were-Creature -- 2
Giant Monsters -- 4
Regular Monsters -- 3
Psychopaths -- 6
Omnibus -- 3
Vampires -- 2
When Animals Attack -- 3
Demons/Witchcraft -- 6
Zombies -- 3
Ghosts -- 5
Aliens -- 4
Best in Show -- Phantom of the Opera
Biggest Surprise -- Daybreakers
Worst -- Venus in Furs or Rats: Night of Terror

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #38: The Strangers and Bleeders

The Strangers -- Bryan Bertino

The trailer for The Strangers is one of the most effective I've seen. The creepy atmosphere, those damned masks, the skipping record, all the crap going on in the background, "Because you were home." It all works. The first time I saw The Strangers I was underwhelmed. It would've been hard not to be given my expectations (the only thing tempering those were Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman). The ending put me off, though I can't imagine why now. It's still not a great movie. There's not a whole lot of depth to the characters or the story. Fortunately, the mood is practically overbearing in the best possible way. Things don't let up. And the sound design is masterful. If you've got a good surround sound system at your disposal, you're in for a treat.

I'm not really sure how to fit this in, so I'll just end with it. There's a character who I call Dick Hallorann much to my amusement. It will be obvious why.

Bleeders -- Peter Svatek

I know what attracted me to Bleeders. It stars Rutger Hauer, was co-written by Dan O'Bannon, and is based on "The Lurking Fear" by H.P. Lovecraft. I should've realized it fell deep into Hauer's career nadir and O'Bannon hadn't done anything worthwhile since Total Recall seven years prior.

There's really not a lot to say about Bleeders. Maybe with a better cast/director it could've been something interesting, but it's mostly a mess that telegraphs where it's going from nearly the start. Props to it having a creepy VHS cover and at least it doesn't shy away from killing kids. There's always a silver lining.

Halloween Horror Watch #37: Animated Miscellany

I watched a bunch of half hour scare-related animation. I won't talk about each, but I'll link to many of them so you can watch along.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

I watched this last year and commented on it (as well as another TV special later in this list). You can find my comments here.

Pluto's Judgement Day

Lonesome Ghosts (my favorite Disney short ever. This poster hangs on my wall)

The Mad Doctor (also has an awesome Tom Whalen-designed poster)

Trick or Treat

Donald Duck and the Gorilla

Night on Bald Mountain

The Haunted House

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The embedding was disabled, but this is classic. As a kid, I only saw the edited for compilation version. Ichabod is kind of a dick in this and I kind of felt bad for Brom Bones. Amazing songs.

Garfield's Halloween Adventure (no link to full show)

Or, if you don't have time for everything, you should watch this because it rules and covers some of the same ground and a little more (all edited for time, though)

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #36: The Man from Planet X

The Man from Planet X -- Edgar G. Ulmer

The Man from Planet X is pretty unremarkable in nearly every way. Maybe I'm burning out on '50s sci-fi, but there is a considerable lack of charm in this movie. The titular man from Planet X is a terrible design and the way our heroes fight him is to grapple until they can turn off his air supply. Sure, it makes sense, but it's not very interesting to watch. Yes, there's one woman amongst scientists and yes, she gets captured by the alien. I don't feel the need to talk about that again, but there's another trope that is growing tiresome. The megalomaniacal scientist. He became a scientist for fame, fortune, and power and for some reason, the good scientists keep him around. Usually, they already know he has ulterior motives or a questionable reputation. Inevitably, he is responsible for the ensuing turmoil and most of the body count in these movies. He's a pretty lame stock character and The Man from Planet X is a pretty lame movie.

Halloween Horror Watch #35: Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things -- Bob Clark*

This was an interesting viewing experience. I was never really sure where Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things was taking me until it took me there. That's a good thing, but it made the journey sort of confusing. The main character, Alan (who would fit in quite nicely in today's society, 40 years after the movie was made), is overly obnoxious and the only thing that keeps the viewer from checking out instantly is that we all know or know of someone much like him. The fact that everyone else hates him helps, too. Alan is leading a group of actors to an island for some Satanic ritual. Apparently, he pays them to do this. It's not clear what the acting part of the job is unless they all thought they were going out to a remote area to rehearse. The whole acting troupe/getting paid part is really confusing and exists only to give Alan some power over the rest of the crew.

Eventually, they collect a corpse from a graveyard and bring it back to the old resort building they're staying in. There's all sorts of strangeness that happens with this corpse including a fake wedding and Alan going to be with it (not in the biblical sense). Crazy stuff starts to happen with thirty minutes left in the run time, which if you watched the trailer, you already have a sense of. It's an unusual film but worth checking out. Bob Clark (Black Christmas, A Christmas Story, Porky's) directs and one wishes he'd had a more impressive career. His career peaked in 1983 and amongst his final movies before his death were two Baby Geniuses and The Karate Dog. He deserved better.

*I'm fascinated by the fact that his name is really "Benjamin" but he went by "Bob."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #34: Creature from the Black Lagoon

Creature from the Black Lagoon -- Jack Arnold

I follow a blog on Tumblr that frequently shows amazing images from Creature from the Black Lagoon. These inspired me to re-watch the film having only seen it once. And... meh. The creature is a great monster and perfectly realized but, as with most of these sci-fi/horror movies from the '50s featuring scientists at work, there is a TON of awful exposition, most of which is unnecessary. I don't know why this genre thinks its audience is comprised of morons who can't think for themselves but between the exposition and voiceover, very little is left to the imagination.

Maybe that's the biggest issue with Creature from the Black Lagoon. There is nothing subtle about it. Every time Gill Man makes an appearance, he's accompanied by an epic music queue. It's kind of cute at first, but by the end one wonders if the filmmakers had ever heard of building suspense. The music throughout is overbearing, so I guess it's par for the course.

One aspect of this genre that has become glaring (especially after Attack of the Crab Monsters and  Invisible Invaders) is how little the women characters matter. Most of the time they could easily be written out. Women exist only to be objects for men to fight over/protect (count the number of times Julie Adams [bill as "Julia"] is told to "stay here" or "go there") or to be a victim of the monster. As a huge fan of the genre, this trope is really starting to get me down to where it's hard to enjoy the movies.

Great monster. Cool underwater photography (the little ballet between Gill Man and Julie Adams is justifiably iconic). Adequate execution.

This post taught me I cannot type lagoon without making a typo my first try.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #33: Invisible Invaders

Invisible Invaders -- Edward L. Cahn

George Romero rightfully gets credit for being the father of the modern zombie movie (as opposed to Voodoo zombies). I can't help but think that Invisible Invaders held some inspiration for him. Romero was 19 at the time of its release, a perfect age to notice a good concept in an imperfect movie and log it away for later use.

Invisible Invaders is about an invisible alien force who plan on taking over the world. Initially, one of these aliens inhabits a recently deceased corpse (played by the always awesome John Carradine) to communicate to one prominent scientist that he must spread the word of the impending invasion or face annihilation. This makes some sense as the alien as some visual aids and, being invisible, it would be hard to get the scientist's attention. But for whatever reason, the invading force keeps taking up residence in dead individuals and wandering the earth looking for humans (even more perplexing is why they stumble around mindlessly when the John Carradine alien was not only eloquent, but well-coordinated). If an invading force is going to attack, why give up your greatest asset? It allows our heroes to capture one and eventually figure out how to kill them and shows them where they are.

Invisible Invaders is a pretty poor entry in the nuclear horror genre, but it holds several elements for what would become Night of the Living Dead (a quick google search of "George Romero" and "Invisible Invaders" shows I'm not the only one who thinks this), so I won't knock it too hard.

Halloween Horror Watch #32: Basket Case 2

Basket Case 2 -- Frank Henenlotter

It's been a while since I watched the original Basket Case but I remember it as being pretty serious, though darkly comic. The first thing one notices about Basket Case 2 is that it's going to be a lot wackier. For half of the run time, I wasn't on board with this decision. It felt like the tonal shift from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 only less extreme. As the movie went on, I was able to appreciate its particular charms, including the stilted line readings of Kevin Van Hentenryck.

There are a few flashbacks to clips from the original and I was wistful for the look of that film. I say it every time, but what happened to film stock in the late '80s to early '90s? It looks so bland. For an R-rated movie, the kills pretty tame. If not for a few "fucks" and some very brief nudity, Basket Case 2 could easily be PG-13. But there are some great designs on some of the "unique" individuals featured. I'm surprised that this movie doesn't come up more in discussions of great makeup design in horror movies. Perhaps more accurately, I'm surprised this movie doesn't have a larger cult championing its merits. It's probably always going to be an afterthought to the original, but Basket Case 2 deserves a wider audience.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #31: The Little Shop of Horrors (Director's Cut)

Little Shop of Horrors (Director's Cut) -- Frank Oz

I felt a little bad about watching Little Shop of Horrors as the scary movie with my friends last night even though it was voted on by the group. It was our Halloween scary movie and it's not really scary. This was the first musical I ever liked, and by "liked" I mean "LOVED." I did a school presentation on it with a classmate where we built a small model of Audrey II. So good.

The only way you're not going to like Little Shop is if you hate the music. The cast is amazing, featuring Rick Moranis (be in movies again!), Ellen Green, Steve Martin (in the role of the most beloved abusive asshole ever. Seriously, his song is the best and he's hilarious. As a kid I never really understood the abuse part and it makes me feel really guilty for still thinking he is the best part of the movie), John Candy, Christopher Guest, and Bill Murray. The sets are the sort of perfect mix of convincing and fake. I want to wander aimlessly around them. Frank Oz' direction has never been more impressive. And the puppet...

I can't imagine how difficult it was to build and operate Audrey II, but I've never been so impressed. It's the sort of thing you don't appreciate as a kid because movies are still magic then. I can't wait to watch Little Shop with commentary just so I can find out more about it. If you've never seen the original ending, it's mind-blowing. I can't believe how much work must've gone into it to be scrapped for the, to steal a phrase, "Love Conquers All" ending.

This movie is the best.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #30: The Uninvited and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

The Uninvited -- Lewis Allen

I blind-bought the new Criterion release of The Uninvited because I love when Criterion releases horror movies and I had a gift card. I was expecting something along the lines of The Innocents  So color me surprised when The Uninvited opens with a pseudo-screwball opening with (grown) siblings chasing their dog that is chasing a squirrel through an abandoned house. The levity continues throughout the film and is maybe its greatest asset (aside from the appealing performances). It makes the characters easy to like and when supernatural things start to happen, it's more believable because the characters are feel like real people.

Another great thing about The Uninvited is that the siblings move into the abandoned house and quickly discover it's haunted (there had been prior warning), but instead of being terrified, they try to figure out what's going on. It reminded me of The Changeling starring George C. Scott (also terrific). The ending gets a little hokey, but I'm used to that, especially from older movies where things always have to end happy, but The Uninvited was a tremendous surprise and a great blind-buy.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken -- Alan Rafkin

I'm not surprise that The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was disappointing as I've been disappointed in just about every Don Knotts vehicle I've watched in the past year (including The Apple Dumpling Gang, How to Frame a Figg, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Private Eyes). I was really hoping the second movie in my haunted house double feature would feature more time in the haunted house. That's the big problem. Maybe fifteen minutes are spent in the house with Knotts and the rest is him being lauded for writing a great newspaper article or in a courtroom. I can't imagine that's what anybody came to see. It's cute enough for what it is and it was neat seeing many recognizable faces show up (many from The Andy Griffith Show). There were some interesting choices to linger in scenes and on jokes that slowed the movie down but were good character beats or just funny so the choices played well enough. The scary house looks exactly like the Psycho house and it was shot on the Universal lot, but IMDB trivia assures me that it's not the same house. However, The 'Burbs was shot on the same lot, so that's awesome (I love this stuff).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #29: Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit -- Nick Park and Steve Box

Curse of the Were-Rabbit is one of those movies that I hope becomes a seasonal classic. There's very little that would date it and the humor is pop-culture reference free (something Dreamworks struggles to avoid). Even the famous actors providing voices, Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham-Carter, are inconspicuous.

Yeah, this movie should have legs. And why not? It's hilarious; filled with sight gags and puns and some surprisingly adult humor. The animation is great, seamlessly mixing stop-motion and CGI. Wallace and Gromit are so darn lovable that the only thing preventing it from becoming a classic is if people don't show it (I booked it at my theater last October and it did really well, so that's encouraging).

There's really not much to say about Curse of the Were-Rabbit except that it's aces all around. And Ollie loved the theme song.

Halloween Horror Watch #28: Don't Torture a Duckling

Don't Torture a Duckling -- Lucio Fulci

Lucio Fulci is my favorite of the major Italian genre filmmakers. Like his contemporaries, he's made his share of clunkers, but when he's on, he offers some of the best terror and gore you're likely to find anywhere. His movies are inventive and often trippy as hell (watch A Cat in the Brain of The Beyond). Argento my have a better eye for a shot, but Fulci's films have better momentum.

Don't Torture a Duckling is relatively early Fulci and firmly in the Giallo genre. It's a mystery without much gore but a pretty compelling story about a town where someone is murdering children. The movie is kind of sprawling in terms of characters at the sacrifice of character development. We're really just rooting for the crime to get solved. Fulci does a good job of keeping the audience guessing, though if you pay any attention to run times, it's always evident when you're coming to a dead end. Sometimes I think I should put a piece of tape over that time timer...

Many view this as one of Fulci's best (and supposedly, he does as well). It lacks in the visceral thrills I crave from Fulci but is plenty entertaining without them.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #27: Attack of the Crab Monsters

Attack of the Crab Monsters -- Roger Corman

Seven years before getting stranded on Gilligan's Island, the Professor (Russell Johnson) was stranded on another island with giant crab monsters. It's not the same character, but he is tasked with building a radio in Crab Monsters, so he may as well be.

I enjoy these cheesy sci-fi flicks from the '50s. They fun and entertaining, they don't waste a lot of time (this is just over 60 minutes), feature lots of amusingly casual sexism no matter how smart or authoritative the woman is (and there is usually one woman), and take the subject seriously. The latter part is especially welcome given that we live in the Irony Age.

Much like Godzilla, Rodan, Them!, and several dozen others, the crab monsters are created in the wake of nuclear testing. A crew of scientists are sent to the island to investigate the effects of the radiation and are picked off one by one. What's great about Crab Monsters is that it's suitably nuts. After the crabs eat someone, they absorb that persons brain and can speak to the humans through metal devices such as a gun or the morse code lever-thing. Not only that, but knives and other weapons do know damage to the crab monsters and actually pass right through them because the crabs are made of negative energy. It's awesome.

There are all the normal pitfalls of cheesy sci-fi like bad exposition and clearly fake monsters (terrific fake monsters. I want one for my yard), but you don't watch movies like this without that in mind going into it. It's just fun times.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #26: Rodan

Rodan -- Ishiro Honda

I didn't start out the afternoon intending to watch Rodan. I selected The Call of Cthulhu, a silent film made in 2005 that is only 45 minutes long. It only took me a few minutes to realize I was going to hate the crappy digital photography made to look like an old silent film with fake scratches and shutters and other post-effects. Not for me, friends. Not for me.

Instead, I watched the American version of Rodan with the crappy, racist-ish dubbing where many of the voices sound the same even though it's different people talking. As a result, I don't feel completely qualified to talk about Rodan. It's a shame that the powers-that-be think so little of Americans that they can't trust them to read subtitles (it's equally a shame when Americans prove them right). I don't know which I hate more, crappy dubbing or crappy, unnecessary remakes. At least the former is thrifty.

Released two years after Gojira (also directed by Honda), Rodan has little of the magic (again, American version). At 75 minutes, it still feels like it takes to long to get to the monster and without a compelling human element, the monsters are all we have. When Rodan(s) finally show up, they'd be better suited teaming up with Captain Planet as they only have the power of wind with destruction taking the form of building blowing over with little monster smashing. There are lots of explosions in the finale, but it's all one-sided with the army bombing the shit out of a mountain side. I did enjoy that the bug monsters early in the movie turn out to be mere food for Rodan. It was an unexpected turn. I'll still probably give the Japanese version a shot, but this was a pretty big disappointment.

Halloween Horror Watch #25: DeepStar Six

DeepStar Six -- Sean S. Cunningham

1989 saw the release of three major release deep sea monster adventures: The Abyss, Leviathan, and DeepStar Six (The Abyss was the only to feature a benevolent monster). Leviathan is my favorite because it's tons of fun. The Abyss is good, but I don't much cotton to the work of James Cameron and everything of his I watch gets worse on repeat viewing so I won't be revisiting this film. DeepStar Six is, by far, the worst.

There are movies that are so entertaining that you don't care nothing makes sense. DeepStar Six gives the viewer little recourse but to nitpick. The characters are practically swimming in water from uncharted depth of the ocean (typically in the freezing range) yet have no ill effects. One character even drapes his soaking wet sweater over another to keep her warm. What the? The people in the crew are varying degrees of incompetent. A heavy-duty lock breaks randomly to slam a door on some poor soul. Not just breaks. Splits in half. By itself. The monster is interesting looking but only jumps out of the water and flaps it's more than two number of lips around (think Predator). It's not very dynamic. There's a lot of the "here's a glimpse of my life before the shit hit the fan" then that character dies. Love it...

I'll give the film credit for delaying the reveal of the monster for as long as it did. And the cast is affable with many familiar faces but few familiar names. We get Miguel Ferrer in the Miguel Ferrer role. That's mostly fun. At least DeepStar Six ends exactly how you think it will.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #24: Night of the Cobra Woman

Night of the Cobra Woman -- Andrew Meyer

The problem with most exploitation movies is they boil down to a great one sentence synopsis but are made by inept filmmakers hoping to make an easy buck. How can you go wrong with "a woman needs sex to prevent her from turning into a cobra?" Apparently, it's real easy. I don't even want to describe the various ways Night of the Cobra Woman fails because I fear it will still sound interesting enough for people to want to watch. The only way someone will get scared by this movie is if he or she is terrified merely by the idea of snakes. Cobra Woman should sufficiently make that person's skin crawl. Otherwise, it's going to feel like the longest 75 minutes of your day.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #23: Damien: Omen II

Damien: Omen II -- Don Taylor

I don't know if I understand the mechanics of the Omen universe. Damien has the mark of the beast but the evil forces seem pretty formidable without him having to do anything at all. From his birth to when he turns 13 lots of people die, theoretically without him having a hand in it. He learns he has telekinesis of some kind early in Omen II but doesn't make use of it until much later. So how does this evil force operate and where is God in all of this? At least in the Harry Potter books Voldemort keeps getting defeated along the way to regaining his full power. It's all winning for Damien. Oh well...

The biggest issue with Omen II is that it should be all about Damien coming to terms with who he is (if we are to start at age 13). Instead there is a big plot point about a business man who has some sketchy ideas about buying property and the former owners farm on it to help solve world hunger, or something like that. This guy is also a minion of Satan, apparently, who works for Damien's uncle. I love William Holden, but all this business should be in the background without as much detail. Good kid actors are hard to come by, so I can see why a screenwriter would be afraid of focusing the whole story on Damien as a kid, but seriously, it's a drag.

Jerry Goldsmith (who is my film composer) comes up with a score that I thought was a lazy knockoff of his score for the original Omen. I was very disappointed to learn that it was him. When you're that prolific, I guess you can have a few clunkers in there.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch 23: Room 237

Room 237 -- Rodney Ascher

I had a professor at Boston University who, on the first day of class, gave a lecture on how the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin is really about fear of anal sex. I don't know how the rest of the class took it, but I was blown away. Not because I bought into it but because my professor had the balls not only to think about it, but put it right out there. It was a lesson in film studies that I took to heart but never put in to practice (well, maybe once): be bold. As long as you have built up strong enough evidence to support your theory, there is no "wrong." I don't entirely believe it, but I fully endorse the sentiment.

Room 237 features many people swinging for the fences with theories about The Shining. In several instances, I'm not convinced the person actually knows what his or her thesis is. Then there's the guy who is 100% convinced that The Shining is indisputable proof that Kubrick faked the moon landing footage. Another person sees Kubrick's face in the clouds during the opening helicopter shot and a desktop organizer turn into an erection. And I don't know how the guy obsessed about the number "42" can not mention its being the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything (Hitchhiker's Guide came out seven months prior to The Shining's release, so why not?). If you approach Room 237 with the wrong mindset, you might strain your eyes from all the rolling they are going to do.

All the crackpot theories aside, there are some interesting observations such as the carpet pattern changing after the ball rolls to Danny or how Kubrick uses cross-fades (the latter I don't think means anything other than matching shots to create smooth transitions). Then there's the guy who ran The Shining backwards and forwards at the same time. Again, I don't think it means anything, but there are several moments where the images line up in interesting ways.

The use of movie footage to fill in gaps the images from The Shining can't is a unique choice but it doesn't seem meaningful or useful. Even less so when it's not footage from Kubrick movies. Maybe the people offering their thoughts didn't want to be on camera and there's only so many times you can show Danny wheeling around on his little bike or the key to room 237 in the door, but if you're making a movie about the meaning of another movie, make your images count.

Room 237 is a silly diversion that I hope won't ruin watching The Shining for me. I'm just glad that my obsessiveness about things is no where near the level where I freeze-frame through a whole movie. I wonder what Kubrick would have thought about all of this...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #22: The Haunting of Hell House

The Haunting of Hell House -- Mitch Marcus

The Haunting of Hell House feels like it was a paycheck for everyone in the cast and crew. I learned a long time ago not to judge these people for taking a paycheck, but that's what this is. The only thing I hate more than a bad movie is a movie with no ambition at all (not mutually exclusive). The Haunting of Hell House is bland. I toyed around with the idea of writing "meh," and leaving it be. Maybe I should have.

I feel like an emerging theme of these Halloween Horror Watches is to stay away from Roger Corman productions after 1985, or at least to tread lightly (after all, Slumber Party Massacre II came out in 1987). The most interesting thing about The Haunting of Hell House is that, viewed after Castle Freak, it offers the flip side of Castle Freak's mother-takes-her-anger-out-on-her-son plot point. Not all that interesting. Meh...

Halloween Horror Watch #21: Castle Freak

Castle Freak -- Stuart Gordon

My expectations were high for Castle Freak. It reunites Stuart Gordon, Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs who together made the fantastic movies Re-Animator and From Beyond (I'd like to not that I no longer view From Beyond as "high quality cheese." It's stone-cold awesome). The VHS cover for Castle Freak literally haunted my nightmares when I was a kid. I should know better.

In the ten years between From Beyond and Castle Freak it seems like Gordon lost his ability to go batshit crazy. The filmmaking here feels like some middle of the road journeyman who thinks a dutch angle is a daring choice. Combs and Crampton are completely wasted playing nothings of characters who have marital problems because he drunk drove their kids home and wrecked, killing one and blinding the other. There isn't even any good use of the blind daughter and how she experiences what is happening. It's a shame as there is lots of potential and very little followthrough.

Castle Freak does some good things. The freak is a great monster and should be minimally as iconic as Pumpkinhead (which is a far worse movie), but I bet he's not because this movie went straight to video.  The actor, Jonathan Fuller, uses his body masterfully. The final pursuit through the castle where the freak is chasing the wife and blind daughter is solid. Lots of suspense and one legitimately awesome, if unlikely, moment.

A letdown, no doubt, but Castle Freak will still hold a special place in my heart if only for the VHS cover.

As a side note, I will always love the "I can't believe we inherited _____ from our long lost _____" as a trope in horror movies. But if you're going to use it, your movie shouldn't take itself so seriously.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #20: High Spirits

High Spirits -- Neil Jordan

Allegedly, Neil Jordan turned in a very different and darker version of High Spirits to the studio, then the studio barred Jordan from the editing room and cut this version. I'd be interested in seeing the original cut, which Jordan claims still exists, as I quite enjoyed what I saw. There are several very impressive set pieces and the cinematography is gorgeous. Unlike many bland comedies of this ilk, there is an energy to the filmmaking that makes it come alive (I assure you if you watch/have seen High Spirits that this pun is not intended). Add in a fantastic cast and it's pretty easy to coast on however the scenes are cut together.

Without any details about Jordan's original cut, I can only assume that the love story was the main point of contention. In this version, it's the weakest part and features the weakest actors, Steve Guttenberg and Daryl Hannah. High Spirits wastes no time getting into the action and before we know it, Peter O'Toole and his crew are trying to scare the various American tourists. This was all so fun and inventive that I was disappointed that it's revealed as a put-on so quickly. Then Guttenberg meets Hannah the ghost and things slow down. But then the real ghosts start running amok! Then we cut between amok-ness and the Gutte. When the ensemble is so fun and the mayhem so well-done, it a distraction to deal with this silly little love story. However, the silly little love story has a fun little payoff, so I softened my stance. Damn movies. Why won't they let me judge them before they're over?

High Spirits isn't much more of a trifle, but I was entertained. And it takes place on "All Hallow's Eve," so it's seasonally appropriate (and showing in a theater near at least one of you *cough* Paul *cough*). Definitely deserves to be (re)discovered.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #19: Not of This Earth

Not of This Earth -- Jim Wynorski

I'm not one to hold my expectations of a movie against it. But when your ad campaign starts off with "Traci Lords is... Not of This Earth," I don't think it's wrong to feel a little let down that she isn't the blood-hunting alien. Then again, Roger Corman productions have never been shy about misleading the audience in their advertising (Not of This Earth's opening credits run over archival footage from past Corman features and I was certain it was going to be for the trailer. The credits are also the best part of the movie).

There is a lot wrong with Not of This Earth, a remake of Roger Corman's 1957 film of the same name, and having not seen the original, I'm not sure who to blame. Very early on it's established that the alien antagonist has the ability to control minds. Why he doesn't do it to everyone he meets, I'll never know. Sure, he needs Traci Lords to administer drug transfusions, but control her like he controls the doctor. The fact that he doesn't hypnotize (for lack of a better term) everyone allows there to be a movie but it also leaves the movie weakened because none of it needs to play out that way.

This wouldn't be a problem if Not of This Earth was at all entertaining. Instead, it plods along without any suspense or scares. The aliens are able to communicate telepathically and it's riveting watching scenes in which characters stare at each other while voice over plays.

There's an amusing car chase at the end where obstacles were placed in the road just to get run over. Why would anyone have four mailboxes lined up on the road surface? I was surprised that in her first non-pornographic movie, Traci Lords got naked. It's not like there was a lack of nudity in Not of This Earth. Of course, the audience probably would have been disappointed if she hadn't.

Halloween Horror Watch #18: 1408

1408 -- Mikael Hafstrom

There's not much good sub-R horror in the world, especially in the past 15 years which have seen a multitude of remakes of older, R-rated movie for the kids of today. But amongst the sea of dreck, there are a few standouts. Drag Me to Hell, The Orphanage, The Others. 1408 is so close to joining their ranks.

1408 is well-made and sets up the premise very well. It's pretty relentless in its suspense and scares up to a point. There's a completely heartbreaking moment when Mike Enslin (John Cusack), a travel writer who writes about scary places, is brought face-to-face with his dead daughter. But cracks being to show (figuratively. They literally show much earlier in the movie). There's an extended break in the suspense that returns us to a beach Mike was surfing at earlier. The payoff is nice, but it kills the momentum. Then there is a reveal that drops the movie on the spot. Any sense of stakes is lost and every action seems unnecessary. Luckily, it happens in the last ten minutes of 1408 so it doesn't derail and it would be a bigger problem if viewed with the alternate ending. But it would have done nothing to the narrative to take out that one. Stupid. Line.

On the whole, 1408 is a top-notch scare delivery service and shouldn't be dismissed for being PG-13.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #17: Re-Animator

Re-Animator -- Stuart Gordon

What a lovely bit of insanity Re-Animator is. I saw it once years ago, but I had yet to develop the appropriate appreciation for Jeffrey Combs' skill set, meaning everything he does is awesome. It's bizarre because he's literally the face of the movie, but Combs doesn't get top billing and isn't featured as much as one would expect. This is because we need the requisite love story between a Talking Heads loving (you'll get it later) med student and the dean's daughter. It's not that these parts are bad. Barbara Crampton is great in everything and always willing to do anything for the movie it seems, but the leading man, Bruce Abbott just can't hold a candle to Combs. There's a scene where Crampton is breaking down and Abbott looks as though he's trying to force back laughter. Maybe he was trying to act sad?

Things go suitably bat-shit in the end and I love that the dean and the doctor, two upstanding men, wind up bloody and insane by the end. There's something very satisfying about seeing their starched collars come undone. Between this and From Beyond, it feels like Stuart Gordon should have had a far more impressive career than he did.

Thought the title bills it as "H.P. Lovecraft's," it's in a name only. While the movie is great, it loses my favorite aspect of the short story. Herbert West's creation escapes and West lives in constant dread that it will come back to murder him. But that's not the West in the movie. It's just as well. I kind of like living in a world where I can have both versions of the man.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #16: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark -- James Signorelli

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark throws about a dozen tropes together to create a movie. "We need to raise money to put on a Vegas show!" "Your great-aunt just died and you need to go to New England to pick up your inheritance!" "Your inheritance is a giant, creepy house!" I thought that one was going to come with a stipulation that Elvira needed to spend one night alone in it. Surprised how disappointed I was that that wasn't the case. The movie UHF (released a year later) played off of similar tropes and made an astounding, bizarre, and hilarious movie. Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is a vessel for double entendres and boob jokes. It's actually not terrible.

There are a lot of familiar faces playing to type: Edie McClurg, Kurt Fuller, William Duell, the town square from Back to the Future (and Monster Squad, and Gremlins). It takes a while for the movie to get to the really fun witchcraft stuff and when it does, it goes by too quickly. The seeds are planted early and I don't know why the screenwriters would rather take the time to fix up the creepy old house (on the outside only) than have Elvira play around with some witchy fun. It would also make her ability to summon rain at the end feel earned because she'd have some experience. Instead, we basically get another slobs versus snobs story.

I was hoping there would be more love towards older horror films, both good and bad. There is some name dropping, but it hardly feels like Elvira even really cares about the genre, which is weird since it's how she made her name, living, and look. I'll probably say this about any genre-based comedy, but I wonder what Joe Dante could have done with this character (or, if you want me to choose someone working today, Edgar Wright).

That said, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark has everything a 13-year old boy could ever hope for (at least in the pre-internet days), complete with a tassel spinning finale.

Halloween Horror Watch #15: Twilight Zone: The Movie

Twilight Zone: The Movie -- John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller

What we've got here is a murderer's row of late-'70s to '80s movie directors. I mentioned my love of Joe Dante before, but in 1983, all of these director's were aces. John Landis had a bunch of great comedies and one of the best werewolf movies ever under his belt. George Miller already made Mad Max and The Road Warrior. Even Spielberg was working just on the cusp of his turn to mindless fluff and sentimental drivel, though his segment, Kick the Can, is just that and is easily the worst of the bunch (and features a magical negro to boot!).

John Landis' short is mired in the tragedy that left his star, Vic Morrow, and two little girls dead. I'd developed a great appreciation of Landis' work by the time I learned of this incident and still find it hard to rationalize my love of many of his films with his irresponsibility and dickish behavior in the aftermath (of course, Steven Spielberg was also a producer of Twilight Zone and should also be held accountable, at least for the hiring of the two girls against California law). It's hard not to watch the segment and think about the history.

George Miller tackles Nightmare at 20,000 Feet with John Lithgow in the William Shatner role. It's about on par with the television episode with some amped up camera work. The greatest improvement is that of the gremlin on the wing. The gremlin in the show looks like some fuzzy bear-man:

Whereas the movie is much creepier*:

There's also a really cool, quick image of Lithgow's eyes bulging out of his head. Fun stuff.

My favorite segment, obviously, is Joe Dante's. He is unleashed in It's a Good Life. The material is familiar, but he makes it his own and turning in a live-action cartoon. Kevin McCarthy and Dick Miller appear, there are amazing sets and puppets, and an insanely creepy sickly girl with no mouth. If one were to distill Joe Dante into a 20ish minute review, one could simply show this. It's awesome.

There's also a cute, if overlong, prologue with Dan Ackroyd and Albert Brook (the must have been given leeway to riff) that has a payoff at the end of 20,000 Feet.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Richard Matheson wrote or had a hand in writing most of these segments because he is the best. Also, score by Jerry Goldsmith (both men worked on the original series)!

*There's something weird going on with the formatting of these pictures.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #14: Bad Milo

Bad Milo -- Jacob Vaughan

If you dug the trailer, you've basically seen Bad Milo. But if you dug the trailer, you'll like the movie. Duncan (Ken Marino) has an inner demon and it lives in his colon. The feelings of anger and stress Duncan has towards a person cause the demon to unleash itself through the most convenient way possible. That's right, Duncan poops out his demon. For a movie that features a man getting his dick bit off and Gillian Jacobs (playing Duncan's wife) throwing dildos at the demon, Bad Milo is remarkably restrained in how it depicts the demon, named Milo, leaving and re-entering Duncan's butt.

Bad Milo is nothing special but it was damned entertaining. This is, in large part, due to the cast. Marino plays the shock and surprised of having a butt demon and the eventual acceptance with surprising nuance. He also has one of the best readings of "what the fuck?" I've heard in a long time. The supporting cast is a real winner. Jacobs, Stephen Root, Patrick Warburton, Kumail Nanjiani, and Peter Stormare. Stormare is particularly great as the psychiatrist.

For a low-budget movie, the monster effects are generally good. The Milo is pretty cute (one of my friends likened him to the baby in Dinosaurs. There is one instance of terrible CG blood that is pretty inexcusable. I was surprised how invested I was in Duncan's growth as a human by the end. Bad Milo is way better than a movie about an ass demon has any right to be.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #13: Return of the Living Dead 3

Return of the Living Dead 3 -- Brian Yuzna

This barely feels like a Return of the Living Dead movie. With one tweak, getting rid of the 2-4-5 Trioxin, it wouldn't be. Return of the Living Dead 3 is about lovers, Julie and Kurt, who want to be together always except one of them is turning into a zombie. It works in the framework of a Living Dead movie because the zombies can talk and run and think (the first movie is the lone exception to my "no fast zombies" belief). As a tale of these two crazy kids, it's not terrible. Not good, but you really feel bad for Julie as she fights the hunger.

However, the thing that works against this movie is that it aligns itself as part of the Living Dead series. Living Dead 3 features none of the comedy of the first two films. There is no sense of scale (in the first movie, the zombie threat escalates constantly until the dead rise from the earth. It's awesome). Basically five or six people turn and it's all contained in locations that scream "we don't have a budget to work with!" Lastly, it looks like every other movie shot in the '90s: bland and over-lit. I miss the murkiness of the prior movies.

Brian Yuzna has made a career of directing sequels to notable horror movies (this, Re-Animator, Silent Night, Deadly Night), but unlike Beyond Re-Animator which overcomes it's early flaws. Living Dead 3 never really takes off the way it should. It passes the time and has a few neat effects and Julie accessorizes in a most interesting way, but you should just stick with the original.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #12: Phase IV

Phase IV -- Saul Bass

What if insects were intelligent? Not just intelligent, but had a vision for a new world. Would humanity even have a chance? It'd be terrifying if it wasn't ludicrous (or is it?). But that's what Phase IV tackles with a totally straight face and it's amazing.

A mysterious cosmic disturbance creates a change in the intelligence of ants. Researchers are sent to investigate the matter but soon find they are way over their heads. There's not much to the story and that's fine. It's man versus ant. And not giant ants like in Them! Millions of tiny, plotting ants. The cat-and-mouse games are fun to watch, but what really makes it stand out are the close-up shots of ants in action. It feels as though someone took the time to train them.

Saul Bass does a fine job directing, but you'd never really suspect that he was the man responsible for so many iconic opening credit sequences. Unfortunately for most viewers, the distributer replaced his original ending for release. This ending, showing how humans assimilate to the new regime, is surreal and terrific. It's easy to see why it was replaced, but for the love of Pete, it's a movie about super-intelligent killer ants. Are you afraid of losing artsy-fartsy crowd (the irony is that I know someone who didn't like Phase IV because it was too artsy)? The score is terrific throughout but really comes alive in conjunction with the visuals.

I love that the guy who created the Girl Scout logo made this movie.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #11: Splatter

Splatter -- Joe Dante

Roger Corman. Joe Dante. Tony Todd. Richard C. Matheson (son of Richard Matheson). On board so far? How about Corey Feldman? It's easy to forget that before Feldman was a douchebag and before he fell into a pit of drugs, he was a charismatic and good actor. The Goonies, Stand by Me, Gremlins, The 'Burbs, even The Lost Boys. He's terrific in all of them. But now we end up with what we've got here: a joke. It is impossible to take him seriously anymore. It's a shame.

But really, no one comes off too good in Splatter, a web series produced by Roger Corman and helmed by a top-5 all-time director for me, Joe Dante. Corman hasn't been involved in anything interesting since the '80s and Dante has struggled to make movies since the mid-'90s. Splatter feels like a group of kids learning how to make movies, throwing everything at the screen to see if it sticks, not the product of two of my favorite movie minds. And poor Tony Todd is given nothing. Feldman is exactly as you'd expect from the teaser above.

There is some potential, though. If there had been some money behind this (and on Corman productions, there rarely was/is), Splatter could have looked good. And if it hadn't been shot on a really crappy digital camera (some out there may find the aesthetic charming in a low-budget way, but it makes me went to vomit). Get some better actors, flesh out the story a bit so that every line isn't trying to force in exposition. I even legitimately smiled at the finale (as ridiculously as it's staged) after hating the prior 27 minutes.

This is only for Joe Dante completists.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #10: White Zombie

White Zombie -- Victor Halperin

White Zombie used to be "the other Bela Legosi movie" to me. This was during the time that I was terrified to walk down the horror movie aisle at Blockbuster. I didn't know anything about it then and I knew little about it now aside from the fact that it was going to feature voodoo-type zombies instead of Romero-type. Like many movies of the era (and every era after), the leading lady is nothing but a plot point to create conflict between several men. It's a simple and well-worn device, but it's put to good use in White Zombie.

Bela Legosi is the voodoo master subtly named Murder and he is fantastic. I've never been too impressed with his Dracula performance probably because it was iconic long before I was born and held few surprises by the time I saw the movie. But here, Legosi really impressed me. He's got as much charisma, poise, and nuance in this performance that I always hear him lauded for in Dracula. My sadness about his eventual career arc jumped up a few notches after watching White Zombie. The man deserved better.

 The rest of the acting runs the gamut from hammy to solid but it all fits in this world. There are some terrific sets and mattes. Ultimately, I'm just a sucker for the old ways of movie making. There are times in White Zombie where I forgot it had sound, especially near the climax. It's no masterpiece, but it's well-worth your time if you like classic horror or pre-Romero zombie movies.

Halloween Horror Watch #9: Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon -- Jacques Tourneur

As trope-ish as it is, I love a good "man of science vs. the supernatural" story. In Night of the Demon, Dana Andrews plays Dr. Holden, a psychologist who, as a child, always walked under ladders and crossed the paths of black cats just to prove it was all superstitious bunk. He comes to England to present at a convention and expose a cult. Understandably, the cult leader. Dr. Karswell (the awesomely named Niall MacGinnis) is against this idea and curses Holden just as he had one of Holden's colleagues. The rest of the film is Holden rebelling against the idea but slowly coming around to the fact that the curse could be real and he may die. It's tons of fun to watch.

The audience sees the demon early on when it attacks Holden's colleague so we know that he will die. Apparently, the decision to show the monster at all was the the studio's idea and done without Jacques Tourneur's approval. As terrific as the demon looks (and it is really great), I wish that the viewer had been left to wonder if the curse was real. The main characters get to remain in the dark, so why don't we? It would have made an already terrific film even better. Otherwise, top-notch work all around.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #8: Twice-Told Tales

Twice-Told Tales -- Sidney Salkow

Twice-Told Tales was on the other side of the DVD featuring Tales of Terror and why not? It's the exact same structure and each story features Vincent Price but substitutes Nathaniel Hawthorne for Edgar Allen Poe. I want to say that Tales of Terror is the better film because I've read more Poe, like Roger Corman better, and the cast is more impressive, but the films are about on par. The only appreciable difference is that Twice-Told Tales is a half hour longer and probably doesn't need to be that way.

The best and creepiest of the tales is the finale, The House of Seven Gables. There's some good haunting, bleeding paintings and walls, and the finale really brings the house down. Price plays a great selfish asshole looking for a vault filled with money. His demise is charmingly hokey, but only people who don't appreciate this kind of movie will hold it against the film. Even the weakest of the shorts, Rappaccini's Daughter, builds to a fun ending. Maybe I'm sour on that segment because it features that terrible trope of older movies where people fall in "love" after only one encounter.

Having watched Tales of Terror and Twice-Told Tales, I've learned that I'm a big fan of the format and I wish filmmakers and studios would adapt short stories as short stories instead of trying to stretch them into features. It's rare that the resulting film doesn't feel padded out. Maybe modern audiences wouldn't go for that sort of thing, but I'd like it and that's all I care about.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #7: Rats: Night of Terror

Rats: Night of Terror -- Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso

Italian horror has staked its reputation on a few directors: Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, and Dario Argento. A few others have made a decent movie here and there, but those are the big three and the reason that Italian horror is was so desired through the '70s and early '80s. But let me tell you, you stray from those three, then you will be in a world of hurt (I even find Argento is wildly uneven at his best). Enter Rats: Night of Terror.

There's actually not much to say about the movie. It's terrible. Bad dubbing. Totally lacking in suspense. One scene depicts our hero frantically waving a torch at a bunch of very non-threatening rats. It recalls the scene in Ed Wood where Bela Legosi tangles with the rubber octopus creature and has to move the limbs around to make it seem like it's attacking. The only time the rats seem vicious is when a character is thrashing one around his or her head and barely then.

If you're into watching terrible movies, then you will probably enjoy laughing at this. Personally, I can't stand that, though I did get the most enjoyment picturing the rat wrangler off screen dumping buckets of rats on people or tossing them onto bodies from off screen. Poor rats...

I guess the twist at the end is kind of fun. Hardly worth the 90 minutes of terrible.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #6: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht -- Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog's remake of the 1922 silent film of the same (or similar) name feels like an elegy. To what or whom, I'm not sure. Maybe that the events of Nosferatu detail the final months of Count Dracula's living nightmare (one change Herzog made to the original was to restore the character names). The pacing, music, and style remind me of Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man or Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising, two tales about men traveling to their deaths, and it wouldn't surprise me if Nosferatu had an influence on those films.

This is a slow, patient, beautiful film. Hypnotic, even. Silence overwhelms while scenes seemingly take ages to play out. There's very little outright horror, but the sense of dread and terror is palpable. Klaus Kinski brings an unmatched intensity to the role of Count Dracula. His body is impossibly rigid, like at any moment a coil will burst and all hell will break loose. Many actors would dream of expressing as much emotion with their whole bodies as Kinski does with his hands. This may be his best work and Herzog finds amazing ways to play with his shadow or bathe him in light.

Isabelle Adjani may one of my favorite horror actresses between this and Possession. It feels like she will do anything to make a movie work. It's especially evident in the latter, but she lets the crazy eyes fly a few times in Nosferatu and I wonder how many actresses these days are willing to let go of their PR sculpted images like this. Bruno Gans is solid, as usual. For the first time, I noticed that he looks like a cross between Anthony Hopkins and Peter Serafinowicz. Only mildly distracting.

After an hour and twenty of a sober mood, Nosferatu opens up with a bizarre farcical exchange and ends on a note that felt like the end of Vampire in Brooklyn to me. I like it, but it's a bit abrupt. The only other complaint I have is the one I have with most tales of Dracula: I hate Renfield. Why is he always so annoying and overacted?

Maybe not a great movie to invite all of your friends over to watch or to watch at midnight when you're already sleepy (as I did), but definitely one to watch in the land of silence and darkness.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #5: Duel and Tales of Terror

Duel -- Steven Spielberg

The first of the horror watch that I've already seen. I watched it with a group of friends and it's just as enjoyable as I remember. Man, Steven Spielberg was pretty great until about 1982 when I assume he was replaced by his non-union Mexican equivalent. Duel is loaded with interesting shots moving around speeding cars (or attached to speeding cars) and that make great use of screen space. I'm deeply impressed that this movie took only 12 or 13 days to shoot.

I'm a total mark for Duel anyway. Car chases are about my favorite thing in movies. The only other element that comes close is if a moving train features prominently in the plot. Duel is one long car chase with the added element that the pursuer is more interested in cat-and-mouse games than actually catching our hero (why our hero didn't just return home after an hour of this, I'll never know).

The other reason I'm a mark is because Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay (and short story) and he's the tops. Aces all the way. It's amazing that Duel is able to maintain suspense and what little story there is for over an hour and that's a tribute to Matheson's inventiveness in building the story to a point where it doesn't even seem like the truck driver can be human. He's too omniscient. Our hero probably would have been pursued even if he had turned around.

Great movie, all around.

Tales of Terror -- Roger Corman

I had an unintentional Richard Matheson double feature. Once all of my friends left and Andrea went to bed (she actually watched most of the first tale with me), I threw this on as I won't get to watch a movie tomorrow. Talk about marks. Aside from Matheson adapting Poe tales, Roger Corman directs (during the era where Corman did his best work) and it stars Vincent Price AND Peter Lorre. There's no way I'm going to dislike this movie.

The pacing of the segments is a little slow, but that's par for the course with the Corman Poe adaptations. They burn slowly building to frenzied finales. I'm a big fan of that because I like taking in the sets and costumes and watching actors I love act before they are let loose during the climax. One thing I've learned the more I watch Vincent Price, the man was nuanced. More and more I hate that he's known as a parody of himself instead of the great actor (who yes, is in some schlock, but he always looks like he's having fun and giving the material his all) that he is. I don't know when this happened, but I blame cartoons from the '90s. Peter Lorre has the best role, that of a cuckolded drunk. He's incredibly funny throughout but never more so than in the wine tasting scene with Price.

Vincent Price stars in all three tales and does some mood-setting narration between. I was only familiar with one of the Poe stories, The Black Cat. I'm happy with the format as it gives us several more Corman-Price-Poe  adaptations that a feature would have supplied. Good night for movies watching.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Halloween Horror Watch #4: Daybreakers

Daybreakers -- Michael and Peter Spierig

I won't say I didn't have any expectations for Daybreakers except to be dismissive because it has all the hallmarks of modern horror fare (this was released in early 2010). Blue filters. Heavily processed in post. Loud, pulsing, unsubtle music. I'm not really sure how it ended up on my queue to begin with. But it's here, so let's get on with it.

Daybreakers is pretty rad! It combines several old ideas with some new ones that totally work. The world is roughly 95% vampire (I Am Legend), the human blood supply is running out and our hero, Ethan Hawke, is trying to make a synthetic blood (True Blood). I don't know if they tried animal blood, but I can only assume it didn't work out. When vampires don't get enough blood, they start to devolve into vicious bat-like humanoids. Hawke saves several human lives and winds up on the run from... the government? I don't know who is pursuing him, but they are armed and crave blood. He's a friend to the humans and meets Willem DaFoe, who will always be "Gas" (eXistenZ spoilers in that link) to me, who was cured of his vampirism in a baptism by sun-fire.

The first thing to appreciate is that it's rated R. You better have a damn good yarn if your horror movie isn't rate R this day and age. Unfortunately, some of this comes with some really crappy CG gore, but it looks like the Spierig brothers were keen on practical effects, too. Lots of Karo syrup flies along with the ones and zeros. There's even a bit of (not titillating) nudity just in case sensors deem violence even more acceptable than it already is because those boobs, they'll scar you.

I also dig that while they hint at a love story for a moment, it never goes anywhere. Seriously, there are so many movies with sex scenes that happen while the world is falling apart around them. But I guess they gotta do it in case they don't make it out of this mess alive.

The Spierig brothers also assemble a lively car chase (I'm a sucker for those) with no shortage of humor (except they get the angle of the sun wrong, which will make sense if you watch to movie) and a finale that calls to mind Cabin in the Woods (but was obviously in no way influenced by it or vice versa).

The few missteps were that I wish the relationship between the normal vampires and the devolved was examined more. There's a great early scene in Hawke's house that feels the devolved will play a big role in the climax. There's no real sense of people being afraid of what they will become without blood, either. I thought that would be a great bargaining chip once the humans had their cure.

Daybreakers drags in the middle as Hawke meets the merry band of surviving humans and there's a subplot with Sam Neill's daughter that is totally unnecessary. The dialogue is mostly perfunctory (on the writers' part, the actors do with it what they can). Or maybe just utilitarian. Lots of exposition, little charm. At 98 minutes, I can't complain too much. The movie was very entertaining and I have no qualms recommending it


This might be the most likable group of playoff teams in a long time. Each of the eight teams (I refuse to acknowledge the Wild Card game as part of the playoffs until it's at least a three game series. What a joke) is really easy to root for. Here, presented to you, is my lowest to highest rating of who I'd like to see win the World Series.

8. St. Louis Cardinals
Tony La Russa and David Eckstein represented everything I hate about baseball. La Russa was a backwards thinking manager who refused to accept that there were new and enlightening ways to assess the game. He's a man that refused to acknowledge that bunting is a horrible idea 99% of the time. His team's success only built his legend even though they won despite him (it's amazing what having a great pitching staff and baseball's best hitter can do for you). It's debatable how much impact managers have on a game, anyway. I know there's lots of people in the game who think like La Russa, but he became a poster boy so he bears the brunt of my hostility.

David Eckstein was a mediocre baseball player who got by on his "grit," "hustle," and "scrappiness." I don't have time for that nonsense.

Anyway, the Cardinals are past that, so, yay! But they got their rings twice in the past ten years, so it's time to give others a chance.

7. Los Angeles Dodgers
They have an astronomical payroll ($216+ million thanks, in part, to taking a bunch of high-priced talent from the Red Sox) and it's hard to root for that when three of the five bottom payrolls are playing for the championship. But Don Mattingly would finally get his World Series ring and that would give Yankees fans something to cheer about (look at me, being magnanimous).

6. Atlanta Braves
From 1991 to 2005, it was really easy to hate the Braves. They were always winning their division and ubiquitous in the playoffs. Then there was (is) the tomahawk chop. It's bad enough that it happens, but hearing a stadium packed with people doing it is hellish. I didn't appreciate those teams at the time and I'm only now coming around to it. The experience of living through it left a lingering stench. But it's time to start letting go. Plus, I love thinking about the cold sweats the people of Pittsburgh will wake up with if the Braves and Pirates face off in the NLCS. Even more, I love thinking about Pittsburgh getting their revenge.

5. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers feel do for another World Series title. The city could use something to cheer about (aside from their Robocop statue and they've been building towards a victory going into the third year. But Leyland is one of those old school guys and they've got a massive payroll, so I can't put them any higher. It would be fun to see Leyland's Tigers face off against his old team (Pirates), though.

4. Tampa Bay Rays
This is where things get hard. I'd be ecstatic if any of the remaining teams won. There is no legitimate reason (for me) to not root for them. No matter what my grandparents say, Joe Madden has a good head on his shoulders. I noted above that he probably doesn't have much influence on the game, but he certainly keeps a light clubhouse. It's still amazing to me that this is the same organization (though with one less "Devil") that had ten losing seasons to start off their existence. The people of Tampa Bay (St. Petersburg, really) don't deserve this team.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates
I want this year to be the turnaround year for the Pirates. I want their fans to experience the playoffs many times throughout the next decade. I want this to be the start of something great. They feature in my favorite potential playoff match-ups (Pittsburgh - Boston rematch 110 years after they met in the first World Series? Yes, please) and a pretty big part of me hopes for a Pittsburgh - Oakland World Series, ratings-be-damned. But there's two things I want more than a Pirates championship...

2. Oakland Athletics
I want all of the moron sports pundits and hack writers to stop having a reason to say that "Moneyball doesn't work" even though they've been proven wrong a million times by now. I want the A's to cut out these idiot's tongues, stomp on them, putting them in tiny tongue-shaped coffins, set them on fire, piss on the ashes, bury the ashes, and put up a marker that says "Here lie the remains of some dumb-ass motherfuckers' tongues. Carry their fate with you."

1. Boston Red Sox
Yes, I'm a hypocrite. They have the fourth highest payroll and two championships in the past ten years, both reasons I chose not to root for other teams. But The Red Sox had Bobby Valentine as a manager last year! That's got to be worth something. Plus, those damn Yankees fans love throwing around the number 27 like they were alive for all of them. Well, the Red Sox can't stop until they catch up (but seriously, totally stoked on an A's - Pirates series).