Monday, October 29, 2007
The fest itself was a hell of a lot of fun, and went into the wee hours of the morning Friday and Saturday (as those of you reading the posts probably noticed). There was some Haunted House activity and some dueling parties on Saturday, but mostly we watched a lot of horror, and a lot of different kinds of horror.
Highlights included Black Sheep (perhaps the biggest hit of the fest), Night of the Lepus (for its many MST3K inducing moments), The Descent (which earned the first "jump" scare), Planet Terror (which did exactly what it was supposed to do in theatres last April), From Beyond (because I hadn't seen it before) and yes, "Move Your Dead Bones" by Doctor Re-Animator, which became the unofficial anthem of Horror Fest 07.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
You know that you're in for trouble when there's a disclaimer on the back insisting that "this is a re-imagining of the 1968 Public Domain movie and has nothing to do with George A. Romero", but that only scratches the craptasity.
Let's look at a couple of changes: first off, Barbara insists on being called "Barb". Ben is now some white teenager that sells weed and everyone in the farmhouse is stoned out of their gourd. No, really. And you won't believe how it is that the zombies come to be in this version (plus, I'm not going to tell you. you're going to have to watch it yourself. ha ha!). Gone is any of the dread, replaced by some stupid "dark" character moments and really bad dialogue.
Behold, some choice lines:
"Maybe we're being Punk'd."
"There's some fucking crazy fucking stuff going on here."
"Shit, that's heavy."
"No man, I don't allow cell phones, man. That's how they track you!"
COMING 4 U BARB (that's the text message Barb receives from Johnny after fleeing the graveyard. seriously.)
Note to the makers of Night of the Living Dead 3-D: It's a really bad idea to feature the original Night of the Living Dead in your film as prominently as you do in the first half. It just reminds us how shitty your movie is.
Two nice things about NOTLD3D:
1. It's really short. Like, 75 minutes short with long credits on either side.
2. The 3-D does look really good, and not just in the gimmicky scenes. I'll give credit that for a 3-D film, it's shot very well using the format.
Otherwise, this little turd sandwich can fester away with the bastardized "special edition" that came out nine years ago (the one that introduced two new subplots with characters that never existed before and a cheezy synth score) in the bargain bin for all of eternity.
So endeth the official Horror Fest of 2007
Based on a Clive Barker story and directed by John McNaughton (maker of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and who replaced George Romero at the last moment due to scheduling conflicts) Haeckel's Tale is a twist of Tales from the Crypt style storytelling, complete with science gone awry, necromancy, and trademark Barker love between the living and the dead.
To say much more would rob any surprise for you, but I'm quite pleased to say that this is one of the better Masters of Horror, something I was not expecting to bed honest. Much of the first season leaves something to be desired, and I'd held off on this one because it didn't seem like Haeckel's Tale would be too promising.
Freddy's Dead is still waiting, along with thirteen pairs of glasses for anyone willing to slip into them...
* There's still one I haven't seen, but I also probably won't see it, and that's Imprint.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers only really sells because it tries to do something none of the sequels that came after it did: keep the story going in a way that movies the mythology of Halloween forward.
In the wake of Season of the Witch, the very unsuccessful attempt to continue making Halloween movies without Michael Myers, producer Moustapha Akkad took the rights to the series back and decided to get things back on track with a sequel based on what worked about Carpenter's original. Unlike Halloween II (or any subsequent Halloween film) Halloween 4 is low on nudity, low on explicit gore, and generally more about tone than cheap scares. Instead, it picks up the story ten years after things left off, in Haddonfield, on Halloween.
What really works about Halloween 4 is that writer Alan B. McElroy tries two things that you don't really see in sequels: 1) a concerted effort to make Michael Myers scary again, and 2) showing us how the town of
Halloween 4 borrows a lot from the original, but in a way that doesn't make you think "oh yeah, wasn't that better then?". And taking a cue from Friday the 13th Part 4, there's a nice twist at the end about passing the torch of evil from the boogeyman to a younger protege (in both cases one of the victims), much to Loomis's chagrin.
But not everything about Halloween 4 works. In order to buy that Jamie (Danielle Harris) is really Laurie Strode's daughter (get it? her name's Jamie because Jamie Lee Curtis was Laurie!), we have to assume that Laurie had here right after the events of the first Halloween. It's also a little weird that the local teenagers don't all seem to know about Myers since Tommy Doyle was about their age when it happened the first time. Also, 4 takes the idea of Michael being nigh invincible to new levels, although never quite as ridiculous as in 6, 7, or 8. Still, the gas station sequence is a little straining on credibility, and shouldn't he be totally atrophied if it was true he'd been in a coma for ten years?
Ah, but I quibble too much. The truth is that Halloween 4 at least tries to break the "sequels always suck" rule of horror films, and by and large it succeeds, moreso than any other that followed it.
It doesn't always work, I'm afraid; there are a handful of instances where the editing is a little to well done and they didn't add quite enough grain and scratching to convince anyone it isn't actually from 1925 (and having watched mostly films from the silent era in the last few months, even the best restorations can't make movies like Metropolis or The Gold Rush look as good as The Call of Cthulhu does), but even still, the short film is quite a feat.
Without losing any of the dread of Lovecraft's story, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society manages to compress it all into forty five minutes and still not look hokey or stupid where many films might have. The silent acting is showy but not obvious, the music is very appropriate (where certain scores for Nosferatu are painfully not) and the art design, lighting, and effects really sell the dream world of the elder gods. Even something that has the potential to be disastrously silly, like the
Overall I'd have to say that the quibbles are minor and that the short itself really is a success where many Lovecraft adaptations are failures (or very good bastardizations, like Stuart Gordon's filmography.)
As I was walking some folk outside early this morning, our neighbors downstairs (who were having a party) asked them if they were "coming out of Horror Fest?" when they replied in the affirmative, one guy asked "damn, was it scary?"
I felt good. Our reputation precedes us.
For one thing, the Machete trailer is the perfect warm up for Planet Terror, because it puts you in the right mood for what you're about to see. I know I tend to criticize Rodriguez for putting really cool camera angles and effects gimmicks in at the expense of story, but since the trailer for Machete is just that, a trailer, then it's all he needs. Like Eli Roth said about his Thanksgiving trailer, it's all the best moments rolled into two and a half minutes, so why not go all out?
But Planet Terror doesn't suffer from the same problem I have with Once Upon a Time in Mexico and
I could probably babble on and on about this movie, but there's still at least one thing left to watch, and sunlight is rapidly approaching...
After watching that absolute garbage, Neil Marshall's tale of spelunking gone horribly awry would've seemed great even if it wasn't. Fortunately, The Descent is even better the more times you watch it. We finally registered our first legit "jump" scare about halfway in, but the monster reveals aren't necessarily effective if the first part in the caves doesn't work.
But what I like about The Descent isn't just the cave, or the monsters even, but the fact that the characters have relationships with each other that don't break down into stupid bickering or are dropped when it's inconvenient. Oh, and that ending.... Remember how I said 1408 had an appropriate, albeit dark ending? Well, The Descent's ending is pitch perfect, and literally and figuratively dark.
Okay, time to lighten the atmosphere with half of Grindhouse. Be back in a bit...
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Return to Horror High thinks it's a very clever movie, with its myriad flashbacks and flashforwards, but instead the movie is a heaping hunk of crap disguised as a horror comedy. The promise of George Clooney and Maureen McCormack were dashed after Clooney is killed thereabouts eight minutes into the film, and McCormack only appears during the frame story that has so many plot holes it rivals the movie within a movie for logic gaffes.
Oh right, the story: well, when we jump in, police are investigating a mass killing at
The whole film is classy, finding excuses to get almost every female on camera naked at least once, and then packing every small part with outlandish stereotypes (like the black janitor who wants to make "pussy films" and brags about his ten inch penis) and occasionally kills people in giant litter boxes or by propeller (don't ask). Alex Rocco (voice of Roger Meyers Jr on The Simpsons) appears as the sleazy producer, except that compared to some of these slimeballs, he looks pretty harmless.
I could spend more time telling you how awful this movie is, but to be honest, it just isn't worth it. Return to Horror High is the kind of movie that could only be a product of the mid-to-late eighties, the type that promises skeletal cheerleaders only to renege on it at every opportunity, and the sort of film that gets rereleased on dvd because it has a (now) huge star in it that barely registers as a cameo. Damn, what a terrible movie...
As a big fan of Stuart Gordon's other Lovecraft inspired films (Re-Animator, Dreams of the Witch House, Castle Freak, and... well maybe not so much Dagon), I've always wanted to see From Beyond, but I could never seem to find it on video and until very recently there was no dvd of it (officially at least), so it was a big treat to be able to pick one up when it finally came out two months ago.
Gordon is reunited with Re-Animator vets Jeffery Combs and Barbara Crampton, along with Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, The Devil's Rejects), who make up the central group of two scientists and an ex-NFL player turned cop (guess which one is which) who try to recreate the mad experiments of Doctor Praetoreous (Ted Sorel) and his Resonator, which stimulates the pineal gland and opens our perception of other worlds.
Of course, it also allows the hideous monsters to see us, and attack us, and that's just the beginning of some of the demented shit that Gordon has in store for us. It's probably easier if I just provide you with a list of some things you'll see over the eighty six minutes that is From Beyond:
- Home made S&M videos
- Flying eel monsters and jellyfish monsters
- Brain eating through the eye socket
- Pineal gland castration
- Giant worm monsters living in the basement
- Mutants that sprout wings and multiple heads
- Heads being twisted off in monster's mouths
- Barbara Crampton again being molested by the monster
- Jeffery Combs being ingested in various ways
- Ken Foree being eaten by... locusts? (maybe)
- Knee caps ripped open
- Electro Shock therapy
- The token black character saying "Speaking of heads being eaten, I'm hungry" and "Damn!"
- Delicious soul food
- Guys running around in speedos
- Naked people covered in jelly
All this and so much more can be seen in From Beyond, a movie that defies conventional wisdom and is funny in some very twisted ways. If you like Re-Animator, trust me when I say you need to see From Beyond.
I think we're going to step away from the movies to go check out a Haunted House, but believe you me we'll be back with a vengeance!
1408 is a movie with a very simple premise: Guy investigates haunted hotel rooms, finds the ultimate haunted room, spends the night. Shit happens. For the purposes of this kind of movie, it's basically a one man show, and if you're looking for a guy who can go unhinged and still maintain credibility, you can't do much better than John Cusack.
Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a guy who had a promising future as a writer and then gave it up to pen trashy books about the degree of "haunted-ness" a place has on a five skull rating system (cute). After we see him debunk one and get some idea of his limited fame, it's on to the big kahuna: a postcard saying "don't stay in 1408", the infamous haunted room of the Dolphin Hotel in
The movie would have you believe that Samuel L. Jackson is the co-lead in 1408, but don't be fooled, dear reader: depending on which cut you watch, his role is either a cameo or an extended cameo, and nothing more. Yes, you get Sam Jackson and John Cusack in a room together once (maybe twice), and
"Enslin: Most hotels have switched to magnetics. An actual key. That's a nice touch, it's antiquey.
Olin: We have magnetic cards also, but electronics don't seem to work in 1408.
Hope you don't have a pacemaker.
Enslin: [into his tape recorder] General manager claims that the phantom in room interferes ...
Olin: I have *never* used the word "phantom."
Enslin: Oh, I'm sorry. Uh, spirit? Specter?
Olin: No, you misunderstand. Whatever's in 1408 is nothing like that.
Enslin: Then what is it?
Olin: It's an evil fucking room."
And evil it is; the build up once Enslin gets inside of 1408 is nothing short of awesome, because for the first little bit you can argue either way about whether the room is evil or that Olin is fucking with Mike, but when 1408 finally asserts itself, all hell breaks loose and the movie kicks into high gear, and stays that way for about an hour.
Then something happens. Something that just doesn't work with this kind of movie, and it's sustained way too long, and even I got impatient, wondering when they'd get this shit over with and get back to the REAL plot, which they eventually do. Depending on which version you watch, the movie is either a) slavaged, but not saved, or b) totally wasting your two hours.
I urge anyone interested in seeing 1408 to find the two disc version, because the Director's Cut on disc two is the only thing that's going to keep you from totally feeling gypped in the end. After I watched the ending that went to theatres, I was bitterly disappointed. It's a total cop out, and thematically just doesn't fit with the trip Enslin takes in the rest of the film. The director's cut is darker, but so much more appropriate, with a final image that makes sense considering everything else you've seen come before it. It's still not enough to totally wipe out the stumble two thirds of the way in, but at least it doesn't make everything nice and happy.
Up next:....? Maybe From Beyond. I haven't decided.
Tonight is probably going to be 3-D night, but failing that, we're going to watch 28 Weeks Later, Planet Terror, The Monster Squad, Night of the Comet, The Call of Cthulhu, and part of Death Proof, if not more stuff.
So move your dead bones on over here, you slackers!
For those of familiar with the legions of Hellraiser sequels, it should be noted that Doug Bradley's Pinhead isn't in a lot of the original film; in fact, he isn't even Pinhead this early in the game. The Cenobites make up a very small portion of the third act of the movie, mostly as a foil to Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) and Uncle Frank (Andrew Robinson).
In fact, most of the movie is about Frank and Julia Cotton (Claire Higgins) and their game up murder as Frank slowly recomposes. And does Clive Barker ever know how to make it disgusting. It's not just that Frank is just muscule and bone for big chunks of the movie, or the slightly off way he wears the skin he steals, but something about the way Baker lights and films the effects are just disgusting. I don't know what type of material was being used for flesh in 1987, but it really is disturbing to watch it pierced with oozing blood right underneath in extreme close ups. And it's not just Hellraiser that does it; watch the opening sequence in Lord of Illusions for a similarly disgusting effect. Ugh.
Still, the build towards Kirsty finding (and solving) the Lament Configuration and unlocking Hell is still effective twenty years on, and no matter how much the seven sequels diminish the name Hellraiser, it's good to know the original holds up.
Up next: 1408
If there was any doubt this movie is spiritually kindred to Peter Jackson's Bad Taste, the first sheep attack will clear that right up. This is a shamelessly goofy, gory, and frequently inventive take on the "animal attack" genre, and about as night and day as you can get following up Night of the Lepus (which actually should be more like Several Days of the Lepus, but I digress).
The plot is pretty simple: guy with fear of sheep returns home to find genetically tampered with sheep now have a taste for human flesh and also can mutate people into sheep. Throw in some eco-friendly activists, some random businessmen, and dispensable scientists and you have a horror-comedy of epic proportions.
I really thought Hostel Part II was going to take home the "Best Castration On Film" award this year, but damned if Black Sheep doesn't top it. Black Sheep also manages to make fun of Hippies, Beastiality, genetic mutation, and has the second best sheep explosion scene ever (an obvious nod to Bad Taste, which has the best of all time). Kudos to writer / director Johnathan King for keeping the
Off to watch Hellraiser and pass out, as Neil already has. Until the morrow...
Friday, October 26, 2007
Or, we were, and then our Night of the Lepus people came over, so that took center stage.
I can't really sum the movie up any better than I did two years ago, so here it is:
"Boy oh boy, Night of the Lepus is one stupid movie.
Don't get it twisted, I enjoyed it in some ridiculous way, because the premise is brilliant:
"Fed up with the bunnies hopping across their land, a group of ranchers attempt to stunt the rabbits growth with the aid of a cooked up hormone. But instead of shrinking the bunny population, it only makes the animals larger --- 150 pounds larger, to be exact --- with a newfound appetite for human flesh."
Yes, that's right; Giant. Killer. Bunnies.
Well, regular bunnies hopping around minature sets and guys in rabbit suits attacking people. And the kind of fake blood normally reserved for Herschell Gordon Lewis films. I could not stop laughing the first time I saw the glove fall off of one of the bunny suits, because until then the editing was so unclear that I wasn't sure what was happening.
At 88 minutes, this movie is much too long (due mostly to the half baked finale borrowed from The Giant Mantis, or is it The Beginning of the End?) but if you're in dire need of the giggle fits, pop this sucker in and watch the likes of Janet Leigh, DeForest Kelley, and Rory Cochran try to stifle laughter in this very silly movie."
further thoughts: Boy, what a difference watching this with other people makes. Yes, it's every bit as inept, but the running commentary of sleep deprived folk really kicks the unintentional comedy into high gear.
Okay, I'll be right back with some thoughts on Black Sheep.
Brad Anderson, he of Session 9 and The Machinist brought a pretty good Masters of Horror, called Sounds Like. The plot is pretty straight forward, about a guy who does nothing but listen and has a preternatural ability for sound, which of course gets out of control. Since you've probably seen an episode of Buffy just like this, I'll skip the plot specifics and discuss the technical dimension. Anderson, who has a real knack for editing and more subtle camera trickery, really lets the sound take center stage, to an effect you probably will appreciate, considering the familiarity with the story.
Dead & Buried is a favorite of mine, but I'm going to ask Neil to give you his brief thoughts:
I'd never seen Dead & Buried before, and I'm kind of surprised by that, considering how many of the now cliche horror conventions were present. At first I was thinking, "oh, this is where Hot Fuzz" got it from, but no, there was actually a pretty nifty "twist" (in that I figured it out halfway through, rather than right away). Instead, Charlie's (the one with the chocolate factory) grandfather just got creepier and creepier.
So D&B was a pretty decent horror/mystery set in a small town thingy, but that's not what I really want to discuss. I'd love to tell you all about the Beyond Reanimator techno remix (yes, you read correctly) in all it's... well, I don't know the word. Unfortunately, if I described it, you would not believe me. It is quite possibly the worst thing I have ever seen, in too many different ways to count. Josh is playing it right now, and I may just have to claw out my eardrums and eyeballs, but that still won't dislodge it from the deep recesses of my brain. Looks like death is the only way out.
Anyway, I just heard a strange noise coming from downstairs, so I'm going to go investigate. I'll be right back.
Well, most of Twilight Zone: The Movie; I've never been fond of Steven Spielberg's "Kick the Can" or the Rod Serling moralizing at its worst that is the Vic Morrow segment (and believe me, had things not happened the way they did it would've ended with Morrow learning his lesson), so I stuck with the Prologue, Joe Dante's "It's a Good Life" and George Miller's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet".
The prologue does seem a bit out of place for The Twilight Zone; it's really more the kind of thing you'd see on Tales from the Crypt, but it pays off in such a great way later in the movie I can't fault it for being too dark.
Speaking of too dark, Joe Dante strips all of the dread from the original "It's a Good Life" and replaces it with truly nightmarish imagery, particularly what happens to both of Anthony's "sisters". When I was younger the mouthless girl scared the hell out of me, but it was nothing compared to Ethel being eaten in the cartoon. Jesus. The short is packed with references to the original show and the Warner Brothers cartoons Dante loves so much, but with the sensibility he brought to The Howling, and it's still kind of creepy. Still, I love the art direction in the house and several lighting cues predate Creepshow, which used them to a similar effect.
George Miller, on the other hand, takes everything that worked about the original and magnifies it, most importantly by scaling back the gremlin. If there's anyone that can go unhinged like Shatner did, it's John Lithgow, and he's a sweaty, bug eyed, disheveled mess throughout. But you believe him, even when he's sure he's losing it, and the way that events work in his favor are actually more logical than in the original episode. If you ever wondered where the Simpsons got their gremlin from in Treehouse of Horror, it's from the movie, and not the show. But that ending! First the slow reveal that he wasn't crazy, compounded with the ambulance gut punch really ties everything together, and sets up the more cynical anthology shows that followed in the movie's wake.
Twilight Zone: The Movie may not be perfect from beginning to end, but damn if it doesn't pick up some speed in the second half and never lets go.
Since I couldn't sleep, I decided to watch Hostel Part II, mostly because I couldn't think of anyone else who would watch it with me. Aside from Adam, I think I'm pretty alone in having liked Hostel (although I think we're pretty much in the minority of people I know who saw Hostel). Unfortunately, I guess I'm in the even further minority, since Adam hated Part II, and I liked it.
Here's what separates Hostel from Saw, and it's an important distinction because the two get lumped together frequently under the nickname I'm so fucking sick of so I won't say, but it rhymes with "Scorcher Corn". And yeah, I'd say that Saw and Saw II definitely have that going for them. I never gave two shits about any character in either of the Saw movies I watched (sorry, but I'm sitting out three, four, five, six, and however many more they make).
What Hostel did was present you with three characters, two of which you didn't give a shit about, and one who kinda sorta seemed like he'd be the hero. Sure enough, one of the guys is dead before the halway mark, but then Eli Roth did something different: he killed the good guy, and instead of rooting for the other guy you don't know to die, you follow him as shit unravels to the point that by the end you kind of want him to live, or at least get out.
Aside from the opening, which dispatches the surviving character in a Friday the 13th manner (or like in Nightmare on
What I was really worried about was that Roth was going to demystify the organization that puts all of this together, the one we learn just a little bit about in the last part of the third movie, but that's not what he's after. Yes, we see a little bit more of how people are lured to the hostel, and it's implied that after the first movie security stepped up, but other than a disturbingly amusing bidding war sequence for the girls in the film, we still don't know that much about this killing club.
But since I brought up the girls, it's probably fair to dispel one myth about Hostel Part II: this is not the first movie on estrogen. From the first frame Roth knows the audience is already aware of what direction things are going, so instead of drag us into a slow reveal again, he gives us another side concurrent to the "girls in peril" plot, that of the kind of people that would pay to kill someone. Just, not in the way I assumed they would, or I suspect the way you assumes he would based on the previous sentence. It's more like expanding the story of the german who pays to kill Paxton in Hostel, but not in the stupid, obvious way you'd think. In fact, their story isn't so different from the guys story in the first movie, just with a much, MUCH more graphic payoff. (Think Last House on the Left, and then imagine seeing it with crystal clarity).
I understand where Adam's coming from with the very ending, and were it not for the fact that the films are structured the same way, I'd agree. It's a little bit more blunt than "killing the car", but there's a scene earlier in the movie that warrants the ending. At least I think it does.
Honestly, since I don't expect many of you will ever see Hostel, let alone Hostel Part II, it's unlikely this review did anything but reinforce you not being intersted in ever seeing them, so more power to you. I'm not trying to change your minds, just giving you some idea of how I read the film.