Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Rules Review: Halloween (2007)

It always looks to me like there's a huge dichotomy amongst horror fans when it comes to Rob Zombie. Maybe some of the dissenters were okay with him when he was doing his own stuff with House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects; but when he took on the remake of one of the biggest horror classics of all time? Understandably, there was much scrutiny involved. As a general fan of Zombie's feature work, my opinion of the Halloween remake has always been favorable, with only the tiniest bit of nitpicks.

Zombie's movie follows the basic storyline that Carpenter's gave us, with the young Michael Myers murdering his sister on Halloween night and being sent to an institution under the care of Dr. Loomis. He escapes many years later, again on Halloween, in pursuit of his now teenaged sister Laurie and her friends.

What Zombie adds to the story is an attempt at an explanation for Michael's actions, mostly stemming the possibility that he was a just a born sociopath, exacerbated by a dysfunctional home life and his time at Smith's Grove. The audience is given a look at just what this life was like with a stripper mother, a bitchy older sister, and a disgusting stepfather. This is the part where Zombie loses me just a little bit - I'm not particularly fond of the overly crude language in the first scenes of the film. And I don't mean that in a snooty or prudish way, either. The original Halloween has retained a certain level of respect and dignity over the years, and what Zombie did to the story is admittedly quite jarring at first. Eventually, you learn to get used to it and accept it - really, you have to, because it doesn't go away for the rest of the movie.

Where Zombie gets the biggest points from me is his artistic style. I saw it and loved it in The Devil's Rejects and was glad that he brought it back for Halloween. I'm very fond of his handheld work, and the way he frames his shots - putting the camera in strange angles and often shooting through objects in the frame. He's not afraid of using close-ups, and lots of them, to bring the action and violence right to the audience's face. He has an eye for what looks beautiful and cinematic, not static and boring like some other films. The use of color is perfect for the fall setting, which gradually becomes darker and more bluish in tone as the film approaches its violent climax. Most appreciated is how Halloween's theme music is used at just the right spots throughout the film to keep the spirit alive.

Watching the film again, I always forget just how long it takes to move on to the main plot of the original Halloween. Laurie Strode and company do not show up until the 54 minute mark - at least in the director's cut version, which is the one I own and the one I know the best. But is too much time spent on Michael's backstory? Did fans really want a backstory in the first place? Would people have complained more if it was just another pointless shot-for-shot remake? The story works either way for me, even though I don't think the Michael that Carpenter created had the backstory that Zombie created. The little bits that Zombie did with how Michael requisitioned the mask, knife, and coveralls was different from the original but made more sense to me.

Of course there's a whole slew of cast members to talk about with Halloween - both from the two main sets of characters and several cameo or one-scene appearances. Some of them seem like they are only there because they were in previous Zombie films (Sid Haig and Ken Foree), but some of them are brilliant casting decisions. Malcolm McDowell taking on the role of Dr. Samuel Loomis was the best of these, as I think he has the same distinctive look, voice, and acting style that Donald Pleasance gave. Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie Strode was an interesting choice because she was relatively unknown at the time, but she's great. While she plays the coy and innocent side of Laurie well, she also gave her more life and spunk so that she's not so dull and unrelatable.

The Laurie-Lynda-Annie friendship in the original always bothered me a bit, frankly because of how bitchy Annie and Lynda were towards Laurie. Compton, Kristina Klebe, and Danielle Harris play their respective versions of these characters more believably to me. They're all different people with distinctive personalities, but they could all easily be good friends also. I loved that Laurie's (adoptive) parents also made it into this story not only because I love Dee Wallace, but also because it added more heart and more sympathy to Laurie's character. Brad Dourif is always a good choice in my book for pretty much anything, and here he is just perfect as Sheriff Brackett.

The truth is, it's really hard for me to fault Zombie at all about Halloween because I know that it means just as much to him as it does to the fans. The references he has made in his music career have more than proven himself as a big fan of the horror genre, so he obviously meant no disrespect. Zombie just has his own style, and was even told by John Carpenter to "make it [his] own" movie. He did just that and more, combining and adding in some of the most important parts of the story into this one movie. I love it and support it... although I definitely cannot say the same for Halloween II.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween for Halloween

They may be a day early, but a local theater was kind enough to provide me (and its other patrons, but mostly me, I think) with a truly sweet treat this Halloween - a chance to see John Carpenter's classic film about the holiday on the big screen!

Ah, what an amazing experience! Seeing a film in a theater - even a film you've already seen a dozen times over - is really something totally different, especially with Halloween. The opening credits was probably my favorite part, because that pumpkin that gets closer and closer to the camera has never looked more awesome. Definitely meant to be seen on the big screen.
(Yes, I took sneaky pictures of the screen.)
There were times when the score was playing that I closed my eyes and just concentrated on the music for a few seconds. And I absolutely loved seeing my favorite sequences played larger than life before me.
 Like this one...

And this one...
 And Donald Pleasance rules as always.

I'm so glad I found out about this. Apparently this theater does "Retro Night" on Thursdays and I never knew about it - a horror girl needs to be told these things. Anyway, all I'm trying to say is that celebrating Halloween by watching Halloween in the theater is such a very cool thing to do. And this Halloween will only get better with theater experiences because I'm also going to catch the re-release of the first Saw film either tomorrow or Saturday night. SO. FREAKING. AWESOME.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Short and Sweet: Dog Food (2014)

Totally loved this delicious (pun intended) short film from writer/director Brian Crano - "Dog Food." It's always hard for me to review short films without unduly giving anything away, so let me just say that the film is about a lonely butcher who loses his beloved dog Ralphie and... stuff happens. That's the best I can do. It looks beautiful, it's got some great actors - I love Amanda Seyfried - and it's got a great story with a twist that could be interpreted a couple different ways. Watch it, you won't regret it!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Movie Roundup: Basket Case (1982), Cold Prey (2006), and The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)

Basket Case (1982)
Oh, I waited too long to watch Basket Case. What a joyous little bundle of weirdness and strange creativity! I actually had a bit of apprehensiveness going into this movie because it was one that, for some reason, I really wanted to like but was afraid that I wouldn't be receptive to it. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Basket Case is no doubt a very absurd movie but it is also one that is put together surprisingly well, and actually has some decent acting and effects. Even the story is not that bad! It's completely implausible, for sure, but I dug it for the moment and was totally willing to go along with the fact a couple of doctors would perform a difficult operation on someone's kitchen table. I definitely rooted for Duane and Belial in this story because of their plight and the "connection" that they had. It was even kind of sweet the way Duane took care of Belial and talked to him like he wasn't a freakish deformed mass. The hotel tenants were also pretty awesome. The sequels are coming from Netflix soon - can't wait!

Cold Prey (2006)
Christine Hadden from Fascination with Fear is one of my favorites bloggers, and I think she and I have very similar tastes when it comes to our beloved horror movies. I seem to remember her praising both Cold Prey and Cold Prey 2, a pair of wintry Norwegian slasher films, and given the region's recent reputation in the horror genre (very good!), I knew I had to see what this one had to offer. Cold Prey is simple, if not a bit cliché with the story of a group of traveling young adults who run afoul of a masked killer. But sometimes simple is the right way to go, and though Cold Prey offers no big surprises or anything, it works. I love the snowy setting, and therefore how massive and mysterious the killer looks all covered and bundled up. I was a little disappointed that it was not at all difficult to figure out who the final survivor would be or the origin of the killer, but not enough to make me give the movie bad marks. The characters are likable and there are some wonderfully well crafted sequences - especially the final encounter with the killer. Just like Basket Case, I can't wait to see the sequel! Coming soon.

The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)
Okay, I need stop saying that every new Dario Argento film I see is my favorite one until I've seen all of them. Even ones that aren't all that exciting or bloody are still appealing simply because they are just really good, really well put together films. Maybe this is why Argento himself isn't as fond of this one as some of his other films, but I would have to respectfully disagree. The Cat O' Nine Tails is a beautifully classic murder mystery that gets a little twisted, though not so much that you can't follow along. There are a lot of good individual scenes that make up for the times when the movie can't seem to decide just what kind of movie it wants to be - a serious mystery or a comedy, even though I think the comedy works a lot in the movie's favor. Actually, I would almost give the movie high praise simply for the unexpectedly hilarious barbershop shaving sequence. The Cat O' Nine Tails also boasts some of my favorite acting in an Argento movie. Ex-detective Franco Arno and his young niece Lori are an adorable pair, and I absolutely loved their scenes together. Carlo and Anna are also standouts, but Franco is really the star of the show. So far, I've been the biggest fan of Argento's earlier movies and think that they are some of the best giallos out there. He's a true talent, that's for sure.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Movie Review: Hatchet III (2013)

The Hatchet films are awesome. I can nitpick about small problems here and there, but the absolute truth is that I have adored all of the movies, if only for the unrelenting, amazing gore and nothing else. The goal of each Hatchet film is to take any kind of sharp instrument, show as much of the inside of the human body as possible, drench it in blood, and call it a day. And by goodness, do they ever succeed.

Again picking up exactly where the last film ended, Marybeth has supposedly ended Victor Crowley's reign of terror in the swamp when she leaves him a bloody, dismembered mess. She turns herself into the police, who go to Honey Island Swamp to clean up Victor's massacre. But they turn out to be just more victims for the unstoppable killer who is of course not dead, and will not be until the sheriff's wife convinces Marybeth to help her put a stop to him once and for all.

I gave Hatchet II a bit of criticism for taking itself and the story way too seriously, and for taking so long to get to the action that we were all waiting for. Thankfully this third installment doesn't make the same mistakes. Hatchet III is nothing more than an insane gore-fest, packing as much craziness, brains and intestines it can in the movie's short 80-minute run time. It's short and sweet in the best way possible, and the fun cast of characters - and the actors who play them - are obviously enjoying themselves just as much as the audience.

Scream queen Danielle Harris returns as Marybeth, but she is surprisingly not really the star of the film. She spends most of her screen time uncooperative and pissed off - which I guess is understandable for anybody who had been through what her character went through. There are a couple of different groups of people that the film follows, and it's weird because that makes harder to guess who is going to live and who is going to die. Parry Shen, the token Asian, returns as a completely different character again - not related to the swamp boat brothers, though. The real scene stealers are Zach Galligan as Sheriff Fowler and Caroline Williams as Amanda, his ex-wife and Victor Crowley legend expert. Galligan is absolutely hilarious with his bayou accent and I loved seeing him in a movie like this. Williams provides much of the subtle comic relief as she constantly argues with the deputy and Marybeth, and when she is trying to win over Thomas Crowley's nephew, played by Sid Haig, and convincing him to give them his uncle's ashes. One of the coolest things is seeing Derek Mears's SWAT leader Hawes square off with Kane Hodder's Victor - two Jasons coming face to face, love it!

The gore gets off to fantastic start. We see Marybeth again blowing off Victor's head with a shotgun, but he comes back, grabs her, and she punches her whole arm into his pulpy face. Gross. The scene ends with Victor falling on an active chainsaw that cuts his body in half height-wise, spraying a delicious amount of blood all over poor Danielle Harris. Plenty more inventive kills follow. Normally I would love to describe them all here, but one of my favorite things about the Hatchet films is the anticipation of the crazy kills. I'll leave the surprises for you to experience on your own.

Being so over-the-top and unbelievable, director and writer Adam Green - who for some reason decided not to direct the third installment - has created a series and a killer that is a real love letter to the best and most extreme the genre can be. I'm seriously lovin' it.

Afterthought: The ending got the gears in my  head turning about where the series might go - Marybeth dies, the screen goes black, then comes back up on her again taking one last breath. Most would say that means she lived but I'm hoping that's her coming back as sort of the new Victor Crowley, a ghost and a repeater. Victor couldn't be stopped until he was reunited with his dad, so maybe the same is true for Marybeth - she never found the bodies of her father and brother. Unless I'm remembering things terribly wrong and therefore this whole idea is moot...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Halloween Rules Review: Trick 'r Treat (2007)

It may have taken a while to get Trick 'r Treat to the masses, but it didn't take horror fans long to embrace it as one of the best horror anthologies around. It is also one of the most perfect films to watch on Halloween night, because it wonderfully captures the spirit of the holiday as horror fans know and love it. Also, as an anthology, it is able to explore some of the most popular subgenres of horror, including werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and serial killers.

On Halloween night, a young man in a brown sack mask named Sam roams the streets, making sure the sacred traditions of Halloween are followed. There is plenty of mischief happening on this night, too - including a group of kids who take a prank way too far; a principal who has a deadly secret; a seemingly innocent girl who runs afoul of a masked man; and a hermit whose past finally catches up to him. I feel the best way to review an anthology is to just go through it segment by segment, so let's do this!

The short opening segment of Trick 'r Treat introduces audiences to the character of Sam (the name taken from "Samhain" though that's pronounced differently) and his job of protecting the sacred traditions of Halloween - and punishing those who don't follow them. Emma and Henry return home from a Halloween party, and while Henry warns her about keeping their jack o' lantern lit through the holiday night, but she blows it out anyway. Sam brutally dispatches of her with his pumpkin lollipop and adds her to her own front yard decorations. You really don't miss Emma's character at all, though, because this is a woman who actually says the words "I hate Halloween." We don't need people like that in the world.

After this scene, Trick 'r Treat takes a few liberties with the typical anthology format, as some of the stories are interwoven with each other and edited together simultaneously. The next segment to be told fully is the one with Principal Wilkins, and it has the same kind of ghoulish sense of humor like you would find in a Tales from the Crypt episode. Dylan Baker is awesome as Wilkins, as he is both creepy and darkly hilarious, especially in the scene where he's burying the body of a young student he just killed. The ending is another ghoulish twist that's hard not to love (though this isn't exactly the end of Principal Wilkins himself) and makes this segment a great one to start things off with.

The third segment tells the story of the Halloween School Bus Massacre, which is probably the most detailed and serious story of the bunch. This is one that would work great as a feature-length film because it has a very original story and has the potential to be very creepy and possibly gory. The location and set design of the rock quarry and the school bus in the lake looks amazing, as does the costuming on the school bus children. Innocuous masks are always creepier than scary ones. And who didn't love the little bitchy blonde girl dressed ironically like an angel? What an amazing little actress she is, and really did an awesome job with this role.

The segment I like to call "The Virgin" is next and it is definitely my favorite. It stars a quartet of hot chicks looking for dates on Halloween night, with Anna Paquin playing the virginal Laurie attempting to find someone to be her "first." Of course, the story does not play out at all how it sounds. The girls are all werewolves, and Laurie's virgin status refers to the fact that she's never killed anyone before. I love this segment simply because of the different way it handles the werewolf transformation scene, where the girls dance around the fire and start peeling off their skin as if it were their clothes. I love the way this sequence was filmed, and the use of Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams" cover. The werewolves aren't exactly the best looking ones out there, but the effects are awesome so it's really hard to fault them too much if at all.

The story of the recluse Mr. Kreeg rounds out this anthology and brings it to a very satisfying conclusion. Kreeg is the ultimate breaker of Halloween traditions, as he didn't decorate his house and is not handing out candy. The segment is a nice little cat-and-mouse game between Kreeg and Sam, who finally is unmasked and reveals himself to be this strange pumpkin-headed demon child thing. This part is maybe not as exciting or funny as the other stories in Trick 'r Treat but it did a good job of tying all the stories together at the end. The twist ending with Kreeg is predictable, maybe, but nice and really ends the whole movie on a great tone and note.

Oh, I'm just so happy that Trick 'r Treat exists. It's a perfect film to add to your Halloween viewing every year if you haven't already, and it's also just a great horror anthology. Trick 'r Treat 2 was announced last year around this time and hopefully creator Michael Dougherty can make that happen soon!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Movie Review: Stress Position (2013)

Stress Position came to me courtesy of Brink Vision as a screener (along with another screener that I will hopefully be getting to shortly) and it was a movie that I really, really wanted to like. Every time I read the description, I would get all these different ideas in my head about cool things I thought the movie would do. And I was enormously disappointed with what I got.

Stress Position is a sort of experiment between two friends, AJ and Dave, after a conversation they have about how well they could survive the torturous conditions of a place like Guantanamo Bay. They decide to put that to the test, and let one person have control of the other for one week and let them implement what torture they can come up with either until the end of the seven days, or until they break down and reveal the code that will give the torturer access to a bank account that holds $10,000. The only rule is that they can't do anything that will cause physical harm.

The movie is impressively and beautifully filmed in a way that is very eye-catching and appealing. The stark whiteness of the torture room and the torturers' costumes may seem bland, but it really serves to make you focus more on the characters and what is being said and done. Even the food and drink that AJ serves to David when he is in the room is white - milk comes out of a small spout in the wall and the food is The only thing in the room is a huge abstract metal structure that makes both the torture victim and the audience very uncomfortable, especially when one of the men is tied to it and you can see how painful it must be. The very first scene is interesting because it is just a five-minute conversation between AJ and David that introduces the tension in their friendship and sets up what the movie is about.

But that's really where the positives stop. The execution of the movie's interesting premise is, frankly, incredibly lame. The "torture" that AJ inflicts on David is more like just random annoying shit that has no effect on David whatsoever. AJ actually uses tickling as a torture method! He even strips David down to his underwear and brings in three hot chicks when he's trying the tickle torture in order to embarrass him more, but this turns out to be all for nil because... David is not ticklish. How boring. David is also forced to make a self-portrait out of his own hair in order to be able to go to the bathroom, and then he's ut of his own blood - it's not at all as interesting as it may sound.

When the tables are turned and AJ becomes the victim, things are completely unbalanced. While AJ's torture methods never really went beyond the psychological, one of the first things David does is freaking waterboard AJ. Um, how is that not against their previously agreed upon rules? In truth, AJ's acting like a bit of a dick during his week with David kind of makes the audience want him to get his comeuppance, and so he does. The ending seems to suggest that the whole movie was really about AJ or at least leading up to his big reveal from the torture, and it is totally anticlimactic and again, lame.

After watching the film, I still had many questions and was happy to see that the DVD included a commentary track from both director AJ Bond and actor David Amito. However, listening to it confused me a lot more than I already was. If I understand correctly, Stress Position is not exactly a fictional film. Bond and Amito really had the conversation about Guantanamo and really did decide to do this experiment with each other and film it and make it into a movie. The film was not necessarily scripted - they just came up with ideas and then shot them. So they were playing themselves in a way and they really did torture each other, but it's still sort of a fictional film. I don't know how they made this whole idea work for themselves because it did not work at all for me.

It's an interesting but completely confusing and messed up idea for a movie that really isn't as cool as they think it is. Someone else could probably take this story and make it much more complex and a much better character study than what these guys came up with. It is too specific to their personal lives and therefore does not have as big an impact on a general audience. Stress Position looks pretty and is executed well, but the story is very weak and hard to understand for people that were not involved in the project.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Short and Sweet: Forever Light (2014)

Another short film for those like me who sometimes have problems with their attention spans. This one is a little ditty called "Forever Light," by filmmaker Ryan P. Adams. There's not much to it, as it is only two minutes long, but I have to give it a shout-out because the filmmaking quality is aces and looks very professional. There's a nice WTF ending that gives the story room to grow. I dig it! I Also, the actress also reminds me of Famke Janssen and I love her, so bonus points there. Enjoy!

Watch This Cute As Hell Music Video

So because I'm a horror-lovin' gal, somebody sent me the link to this music video for the Chicago band Common Shiner, performed by a local comedy group. It's a very cute and funny video starring some of our favorite slashers as high school students, combines the movies in a really clever way, and is filmed really beautifully. The song is not my style but it matches well with the action. If you got five minutes, give it a watch! It'll make you chuckle.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Halloween Rules Review: Hocus Pocus (1993)

Hocus Pocus has always been a huge favorite of mine - one of those movies that I just had to watch whenever I saw it come on TV. I didn't even realize until recently how much everyone else seems to love it, too, and what a big following it has. And that's just fine, because though Hocus Pocus is a PG rated Halloween film, it is clever and fun enough for every horror fan to enjoy.

In the town of Salem, Massachusetts over 300 years ago, the Sanderson sisters are three witches who suck the lives out of child in order to give themselves immortality, and are therefore hanged for the crime. Now in the present day, these three bewitching beauties have returned and it is up to skeptical California boy Max; his younger sister Dani; his high school love interest Allison; and a talking cat named Binx to stop them from finishing what they started 300 years ago.

I don't care who you are, Hocus Pocus is a rad Halloween movie, or just a rad movie in general. It's one of those childhood movies that never ages in your mind, and always retains the same charm and lovability that it had when you were ten years old. Its star performers perhaps give it more credibility, but I think what people love about it is its endearing sense of humor that works for people of any age, and also its fun and quick pacing that tells a more than entertaining story. Black flame candles, riding vacuum cleaners like brooms, hiding out in cemeteries, dancing with the devil... Hocus Pocus has everything you could want in a movie that celebrates the best holiday of the year.

The Sanderson Sisters are no doubt the biggest stars of the show because of the hilarious and amazing performances by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker. They all had a gleeful time with their roles, giving each sister a distinct, side-splitting personality, so much so that it's hard to pick a favorite. Midler's personality as Winifred Sanderson is just as big as her red hairdo, and of course she dazzles us all with a wonderful performance of the song "I Put a Spell on You." Parker also has a memorable song in the movie herself, when she is riding on her broom, luring children to the Sanderson's house. Her performance as the ditzy sister Sarah is so freaking adorable, and she has such amazing comedic ability and timing that it's a wonder she didn't do similar stuff later on. Literally everything that comes out of her mouth is quotable. Najimy has always been a great comedienne, so it's no surprise that she kills it here as Mary, who by the way, also has a bitching hairdo.

The rest of the cast is also pretty stellar. Omri Katz as Max doesn't have many other credits to his name, which is a shame considering the great performance he gave in Hocus Pocus. Little sister Dani is one of my favorite actresses (both when she was a child and as an adult), Miss Thora Birch. And Vinessa Shaw, who turned out a beautiful and heart-breaking performance in The Hills Have Eyes, makes her character of Allison very likable and sweet. There's also two great cameos from Penny and Gary Marshall to watch out for, and even the two actors playing Max and Dani's parents are a hoot. And how could anyone forget Billy, the sweetest and most adorable zombie in history?

Another reason to enjoy Hocus Pocus? The two most non-threatening bullies ever: Jay and Ernie... I mean, Ice.

The picture doesn't show it, but am I the only one who thought Jay had the most beautiful smile ever? Anywho, it does seem like with this kind of all-around talent that Hocus Pocus was destined to be a success, and I think we are all very thankful for that.
Many more paragraphs could not do justice to the awesomeness that is Hocus Pocus. It has been a part of pretty much every Halloween since I can remember and will hopefully continue to be for many years to come (in fact, I know it will be because I finally bought it on DVD this year). It easily appeals to both younger and older audience alike with its sense of humor but also with the seriousness that it has about its own mythos. I can't even talk about my favorite moments in Hocus Pocus because the whole movie is my favorite moment. I love it, and I know you all do too!

Also, I just had my mind blown when I was doing some quick IMDb research and found out that the character's name is actually "Thackery" Binx and not Zachary. All these years I guess I just thought that everyone in the film had a weird lisp...