Monday, October 4, 2010

31 Days of Foreboding!

Buddha Man's Tricks and Treats!

Halloween (Lionsgate, 2007) - Initially I was very disappointed to hear that the next movie from the long running Halloween franchise would be yet another "reboot," or "reimagining" of the original movie rather than another sequel. I'm torn on this trend of remaking the classic horror films of my youth, initially finding most unnecessary. But at the same time, I came to realize that a set of British remakes of the Universal Studios Monsters movies of the 30's resulted in the Hammer Horror series nearly thirty years later, so there is some precedent of quality and worth. At the same time, I'm also one of the few people who will cut an eighth horror sequel some slack, plus in this case I also had a script written for Halloween 9 that I was hoping would be chosen for the next entry. Later I was a tiny bit less disappointed to hear that Rob Zombie had been chosen to write and direct the reboot as I have enjoyed his other movies to varying extents. Zombie's Halloween grounds Michael Myers in a horrible white trash upbringing, spending the first fifty minutes detailing why he descends into madness and murder. Part of that extra time is spent in Smith's Grove, giving more screen time to Dr. Loomis, now played by Malcolm McDowell. After that the story basically follows Carpenter's original with the almost feminine looking and tiny ten year old somehow growing to be 6'5'' Tyler Mane on institution food and becoming kind of a Terminator, bashing through walls to grab his victims instead of silently popping out at them from the dark. He pursues Laurie, Annie, and Linda through their worst October 31st ever, but also grabs several other victims every chance he gets, tripling the body count of the original Halloween. The supernatural dread Michael Myers originally had is muted by his grounded in reality origin all the way through the new movie's finale, a far cry from the sick fear you felt when Michael's body was no longer lying on the ground in front of the Wallace home. Weirdly, although I find this more realistic origin undermining to Michael Myer's ability to be fearsome, I find the movie's first 50 minutes more entertaining than the last hour, though the greasy long hair on everybody started to be annoying eventually. In the second hour, during the final chase between Michael and Laurie I finally grew a bit bored, ready for the movie to just wrap it up.

"Take it back! My mask does not look like William Shatner!"
 Overall, while it is kinda fun to see how Zombie populates nearly every adult speaking part with a familiar genre face, even that starts to grate when a lot of them are only on screen for a few seconds or don't even speak. As far as the full on negatives go, I dislike almost every bit of casting Zombie did on the younger cast, especially Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie. Jamie Lee Curtis was so good as Laurie in 1978, and this new actress pales so far in comparison. Her Laurie is actually unlikable, and most of the time I couldn't even tell her and Linda apart even with the glasses shtick. The only bright spot among the younger cast is Danielle Harris as Annie. Harris, a vet of Halloweens 4 and 5 is a bright spot here and completely pulls off being a high schooler even though the actress was around 30 at the time of the production. I was a little sad to see her do a nude scene this far into her career though. McDowell is probably the best choice you could make to play Loomis, but it was a mistake for him to avoid watching the original, because he never takes the character as far out as Donald Pleasance did which is who Loomis is. And it's not as if McDowell isn't capable of scenery chewing when he chooses. So, to put the final nail in this one, though there is a level of quality to this production and a few positive moments here and there, this remake is one of those unnecessary ones I mentioned.

Garden of the Dead (Millenium Productions, 1974)  - This super low budget zombie flick almost makes it past the entertainment finish line, falling just short, unfortunately. Speaking of short, the movie certainly is, clocking in at only about 58 minutes. The story has a bunch of prison inmates working outdoors to produce the prison's big export: formaldehyde. A bunch of the prisoners have taken to sniffing the formaldehyde when the guards aren't looking (which seems to be most of the time) and since the scrutiny is so light, the same prisoners have already dug an escape tunnel by the time we meet them. On the night they plan to use it, they take out a guard and steal his shotgun, but sadly, a misstep by one inmate leads to the shotgun going off, which alerts the rest of the guards, which leads to several more shotguns going off, which leads to a bunch of dead escaped prison inmates, which leads to a large shallow grave, which leads to…the dead inmates getting up as zombies!?!? That formaldehyde must have had some special ingredients, to say the least. The newly minted zombies grab a shed full of gardening tools and decide to kill everybody they meet. Eventually the remaining guards and inmates team up to battle the undead invaders. Who will survive and what will be left of them?

Formaldehyde - the choice of a new generation.
As mentioned, this one almost makes it , with the positives being the brief running time, some decent makeup work on the zombies, the one female in the cast being 70's cute and a couple of genuinely creepy moments along the way. On the downside, even running less than an hour this actually starts to drag a bit in the final fifteen minutes, the acting is pretty nonexistent, and with all the kills being handled in wide shot as the zombies whack their victims a time or two with their implement of choice, a complete lack of gore or the expected gut munching from the walking corpses actually work against the movie. I'm not for wallowing in the red stuff as much as I used to be, but the violence in this movie is on the level of a stage fight in an elementary school play. Still, if you are a walking dead completist, you'll want to check this one out, others would be well advised to steer clear.


Part of the 2010 Halloween Film Festival

Chamber of Horrors  (Warner Bros, 1966) - In gaslit Baltimore at the end of the 19th century, we are cordially invited to the wedding of Jason Cravatte (Patrick O'Neal) and his attractive blonde fiancee. There's something old (the clergyman), something new (Cravatte's pistol is certainly shiny), something borrowed (the clergyman again, at the point of Cravatte's shiny pistol) and something blue (the bride, since Cravatte strangled her prior to the ceremony). After a night of implied bliss between the newlyweds (eeewwww!) the mad Cravatte legs it for the nearest horizon leaving police inspector Strudwick (Philip Borneuf) and Sgt. Albertson (Wayne Rogers) perplexed and standing over a bridal gowned body with no clue how to apprehend her killer. Lucky thing then that local wax museum owner Tony Draco (Cesare Danova) and his pals Harold Blount (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and Pepe (Jose Rene Ruiz, here billed as 'Tun Tun') moonlight as amateur detectives. At the behest of Cravatte's class conscious aunt (Jeanette Nolan), they begin an investigation, even as they unveil their new Jason Cravatte exhibit in their Chamber of Horrors in the wax museum.
    One evening spent trolling and polling the dregs of society on the bad side of Baltimore nets them enough information to lead them right to the psycho's hideout, a house of ill repute run by Madame Corona (Marie Windsor). Not distracted by seeing the late Tony Curtis pulling cameo duty in the gambling room, Sgt. Albertson wastes no time getting Cravatte into handcuffs. When he sees a chance on the train ride to his appointment with the hangman, Cravatte wastes no time getting out of the handcuffs by using a fire ax to lop off one of his hands and jumping into the river. Now presumed dead (these police are really the worst. Seriously. They find his clothes and one hand in the river so of course the man is dead.) Cravatte returns to Baltimore some time later for revenge on those responsible (in his depraved mind) for his capture, conviction, and cut off hand. And look out - he's now tricked out with a snazzy new stump cover with detachable accessories (hook, cleaver, knife blade, and at least one surprise attachment).

"This procedure will only cause you extreme pain for the rest
of your life, which will be approximately four minutes."

Using his not inconsiderable charm, Cravatte enlists the somewhat unwitting aid of Marie (Laura Devon), a striking blonde to act as bait for his list of targets: the doctor, for pronouncing him sane for trial; the judge, for sentencing him to death; Sgt. Albertson for actually managing to clap the cuffs on, and... Tony Draco for being the only man smart enough to look for him at one of his known hangouts. Will Draco and his buddies figure out that Cravatte's alive and on their trail before it's too late? This is a fun little chiller with an interesting background. It was originally shot as a TV movie that was also serving as a pilot for a potential series that would have been called House of Wax. It would have had Danova, Hyde-White, and Reyes solving bizarre crimes from their wax museum headquarters every week. When this movie proved a bit too potent to be shown on television (I'm thinking the hinted-at necrophilia near the beginning didn't help) it was decided to release the film to theaters. Then they really went wild and added a William Castle-style gimmick: the 'Fear Flasher' and 'Horror Horn.' As unbilled narrator William Conrad intones at the opening, during the "Four Supreme Fright Points" the red flasher and weird sounding horn would alert the squeamish in the audience to look away. In actuality, the level of onscreen violence was not changed from what was originally shot when this was headed to television, so there's no graphic gore. The tone of the scenes is fairly intense, but what's actually shown is TV tame. But that doesn't take away one iota from the fun of it! Director Hy Averback keeps things moving, the period atmosphere is well represented, Laura Devon is luscious to look at, and overall it looks like a feature film. I'm actually kind of sad this didn't make it to series, as the lead trio come off well in their crime solving. Danova is stalwart and dashing; Hyde-White is the perfect dithering foil; and little person Reyes brings a lot of charm to his role. I think had there been a House of Wax series it would have a fervent cadre of fans now, whether it lasted one season or five. But in the end we only have this one movie, and it is highly recommended. Check it out!

My Bloody Valentine  (Lionsgate, 2009) - One of the better and more unappreciated 80’s slasher movies got a remake, and I am thrilled to report the filmmakers went all out on this one. Not only does it carry a solid R rating, and for good reason, it was also in 3-D!!! This was the first 3-D theatrical movie I’d seen in more than 25 years! The story is close to the original, which is another plus. A small coal mining town faces a disaster that leaves several miners dead. This time, though, the trouble was caused by inexperienced mine owner’s son Jensen Ackles (TV’s Supernatural), who didn’t “bleed the lines” when he was supposed to. Eventually, one survivor is pulled from the depths, one Harry Warden, whose seeming triumph over death takes a sour turn when it becomes known that all the bodies in the mine died from pickaxe wounds. Hmm, sounds like ol’ Harry was getting a little stingy with the air down there. Soon after Harry pops up from the hospital and does some “bleeding the lines” of his own. But we’re talking veins and arteries here as Harry wipes out several hospital workers and some high schoolers partying at the mine before disappearing into its depths one last time, shot and bleeding badly. And we’re only fifteen minutes into the movie! From there we move “ten years later” as Ackles returns to town just as someone decked out in miner’s gear starts swinging that pickaxe again. Is it Harry? Or one of the other suspects the movie wastes no time in setting up. Like Ackles? Or maybe new sheriff and Ackles rival Kerr Smith (Final Destination)? Former Sheriff Tom Atkins (The Fog '79)? Shady mine guy Kevin Tighe (TV’s Lost)? Or maybe one of the ladies?

Lisa had been warned about the dangers of eating soup with a ridiculously
large spoon many times.
    In any case, if you like horror movies, this is simply a lot of fun. In the acting department it’s always great to see old pros Atkins and Tighe; and younger dudes Ackles and Smith handle their contentious roles well as they fight over Jaime King (White Chicks) and try to figure out who’s doon it. Director Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000) makes sure there’s no shortage of zesty gore, and Betsy Rue has a wonderfully lengthy nude scene, a rarity in these days of too much PG-13 horror. The 3-D in the theater was fantastic, both in the depth it brought to the picture as well as stuff poked out at you. They actually didn’t do as much of that as you might expect, but they did throw a lot of stuff, which used to be a problem in the older 3-D movies because the thrown item usually split into two due to the problem of holding the focus on a fast moving object. This new process is great, however. Sadly, the 3-D on the DVD/Blu-Ray is old school red/blue 3-D, which doesn't work nearly as well, and might even give you a headache before the movie is over. Still, I give this one a very high recommendation to those so inclined.

And that is all the wisdom I can impart at this time. Please join me again when next I post, and read the other postings too, it makes the other fellow happy. And always remember, a smile is a frown turned upside down.


  1. I enjoyed the Halloween remake, but I can't help but think Rob hadn't made a decent horror flick OUTSIDE the Hicksploitation genre that he started in House of 1000 corpses.

    On the otherhand, glad you think those red-blue lens are annoyingly painful! This is why I watch my 3D flicks in the big screen...

    1. It doesn't appear he's going to anytime soon, either. My nephew has a real home 3-D TV setup that is wonderful - but I don't get to watch movies there too often. *sigh*

  2. Craig, excellent Halloween review, really enjoyed it... Even though we disagree on this one, it's nice to see a review of the film that is lucid, measured, intelligent and meaningful - I've seen so many reviews of this film that hated the idea of the film more so than anything else. For me remakes are annoying because they're mostly bad - the studios tend to hand them out to first-time directors who were previously making stuff for MTV. But fans seem to fear remakes, which is something I don't understand. You're can't really remake a film - to remake Dawn of the Dead, one would have to travel back to 1977 and replicate the same conditions the film was made under - which is impossible of course considering so much of what goes into a film is left to chance (as you no doubt know yourself better than most)...

    1. Thanks very much for the kind words. I slammed his part two even harder - I figure we'll pick this chat up when I work my way chronologically to the sequel on your blog - really interested to see what you thought of it - as I found it far worse than this one.