Archive for the ‘Cinema / Film’ Category

the-blob-film-1988There is one film in my vault of horrors that I watch every Halloween, regardless of what my yearly theme may be. It’s a film I associate with the holiday, (despite having nothing to do with it) starting way back to when I was fresh out of diapers, and stumbled across it for the first time on cable. Now I’m sure many purists out there will scream blaspheme when they discover it’s a remake, but it’s one of the best, and a prime example of how they should be done. Taking what worked from the original, and building upon it while omitting the kitschy bits that kept it from achieving greatness.

The film in question is a mortifying one, responsible for my outright abhorrence of a certain Cosby marketed gelatinous treat that makes me gag just thinking about it. The crusty film that spreads across its surface if left to fester in the fridge for too long. The way it jiggles upon a spoon as it creeps toward your mouth, and how it slurps, and slithers down your throat like an edible slug. I’m of course talking about Jell-O, and its amorphous acidic older brother, The Blob.blob-4

Released in 1988, The Blob is director Chuck Russell, (known for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors) and writer Frank Darabont’s, (of Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, and spawning the now beloved Walking Dead series) loving remake of the Steve McQueen led 1958 classic.

The film follows the citizens of Arborville, California as they’re attacked by an organism that devours, and dissolves anything unfortunate enough to cross its path, while growing to astronomical proportions in the process.

blobThe major divergence from the original was making the creature a biological weapon, rather than an extraterrestrial organism, which provides a terrifying political subtext that’s much more effective than the outer space craze so rampant in films from the fifties, and sixties.

The gruesome special effects, provided by the legendary Tony Gardner, (Army of Darkness, Michael Jackson’s Thriller) are extraordinary for the time the film was released, and hold up exceptionally when compared to what we see today.
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The Blob, is hands down one of the top three best remakes of all time, the other two being Carpenter’s Thing, and Cronenberg’s The Fly. It’s gory, it’s scary, and it’s a hell of a good way to kill an hour and change.

A fun fact to end on, Tony Gardner has been investigated two times by authorities. The first, by the FBI, then again by the Arizona State Police, and Missing Persons Bureau for his work on .

houseofthedevilThere’s something entrancing about 70’s horror movies. Without the advancements in practical effects, and animatronics perfected during the eighties or digital imaging we have access to today filmmakers were forced to rely on storytelling, and atmosphere to evoke terror, and that’s why so many films from that era remain effective today, titles like The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, and Suspiria to name a handful.

Ti West is a modern filmmaker responsible for a quasi-renaissance of 70’s style horror, with films like The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and the subject of today’s post, The House of the Devil.
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House of the Devil follows college sophomore Samantha Hughes, who, desperate to make some quick cash for a deposit on an apartment takes a job babysitting for a wealthy family in the countryside. Samantha soon discovers that the seemingly polite owners are hiding a sinister secret, and that there’s no so thing as easy money.

Ti West is an artist behind the camera, and as with most of his filmography the frights come from his sweeping shots, crawling pace, and reliance on atmosphere to unsettle the audience. Credit must also be given to Jocelin Donahue’s performance as she creates a charming heroine you can’t help but root for, and the always enjoyable Tom Noonan, (who house3most gore-mongers will recognize as Francis Dolarhyde from Manhunter) as Mr. Ulman.

As with most 70’s inspired horror films, The House of the Devil is a slow-burner, but stick with it. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

dogsoldiersA good werewolf film is hard to come by these days. Aside from the obvious Universal monsters, Wolfman there have been arguably three effectively scary films featuring the furry bastards throughout film history, An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, and the subject of today’s post, Dog Soldiers.

Directed by Neil Marshall, (also responsible for the stellar, The Descent) Dog Soldiers follows six British Army soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish Highlands who face off against a family of ravenous werewolves.dogsoldiers2

The special effects are amazing, the werewolves themselves some of the best ever created for the screen, and the cast, including everyone’s favourite Onion Knight, Liam Cunningham are fantastic as well.

If there’s one complaint I have, it would be that I’ve been waiting since 2004, for its sequel Fresh Meat!

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Rusty Cundieff is not a name you’d associate with horror as he’s a man primarily known for his work on Chappelle’s Show, but in 1995, Cundieff directed a delightful horror anthology entitled, Tales From the Hood.

Tales From the Hood contains four segments centred around racism, police-brutality, gang violence, and domestic abuse presented in a wraparound story by an eccentric funeral parlour director to three drug-dealers looking to, “score some shit.”
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Despite containing some mature subject matter, Tales From the Hood is a lot of fun, and unlike many of the films we’ve taken a look at this month it delivers its scares via the harsh truths that surround us in society, rather than the things that go bump in the night.

It’s not a particularly easy film to find considering the HBO, DVD has been out of print for years, and Universal Pictures who currently holds the distribution rights has no plans of re-releasing it.

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I love Clive Barker. There’s something about the man’s seamless blend of the morbid, and erotic that I’ve always been attracted to.

Hellraiser was one of the first true horror movies I watched as a child, and I still remember the experience vividly. Sneaking out from my bed, and creeping downstairs. Peeking out from behind the wall that separated the living room from the entryway in my childhood home, and listening to the blood-curdling screams as a leather-bound man with pins embedded in his head summoned chains from the pits of hell to dismember those unfortunate enough to stumble upon the gateway to his realm. I instantly fell in love, and peed a little, but mostly the love.

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It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered Nightbreed, an adaptation of his horror-fantasy novel Cabal that was released in 1990.

The film nightbreed2follows Aaron Boone, a mentally unstable man who dreams of a supernatural world that exists within a cemetery called Midian, and is led to believe by his psychotherapist, (David Cronenberg in a thoroughly terrifying role) to be the serial killer responsible for the murders of several families. After escaping Doctor Philip Decker, (who we soon discover is the serial killer, surprise, surprise) Boone takes refuge in Midian, and discovers its denizens are an ancient race known as the Nightbreed who were driven to near extinction by humans. Once there he must lead the Nightbreed in a defence against Dr. Decker who intends to destroy them all.

Nightbreed is another example of  studio mistreatment, in this case 20th Century Fox. The studio barely promoted the film, and much to Barker’s chagrin, released a handful of misleading posters, and trailers that marketed the film as a slasher, and not the unique horror-fantasy that it was. They also refused to screen it for test-audiences, and critics, arguing that the people who watch horror don’t read reviews, causing the film to be sold to the lowest common denominator.nightbreed3

Unsurprisingly the film tanked, regaining only 8.9 of its 11 million dollar budget, and quickly faded into obscurity, but has since found a new audience thanks to Scream Factory’s release of the director’s cut on bluray.

Nightbreed is quirky, grotesque, and rich with as much homosexual undertones as you’d expect to find in a Clive Barker piece of art, and I love it.

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Do yourselves a favour skiddies, and check out Nightbreed.

Midian awaits you.

 

In my last post dedicated to the Walt Disney adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, I touched briefly on the darker themes present in the company’s back catalogue, whether intentional or from poor judgement on the creator’s behalf, but there was a time when these themes were common place in children’s entertainment, a time I remember fondly that began in the early eighties, and trickled into the nineties, before dying off completely. Back then filmmakers understood a truth that has sadly been forgotten or is outright denied in today’s overprotective, and overly sensitive world. Children like being scared, it’s right there in their DNA from the early days of Peekaboo, and hide and go seek. Fear produces adrenaline, and as we all know, adrenaline does wonderful things to the brain. Think back to your childhood, to the slumber parties you attended, to the camping trips, and weekend travels to the video store. I bet you remember ghost stories being told, urban legends being spread, even begging mom and dad to rent that scary movie all your friends had been bragging about seeing.

There’s a reason why children love Halloween, and it isn’t just because they get to play dress up, and gobble sack-loads of candy.

Every so often though, filmmakers went a little too far, blurring the line between innocent scares and the outright horrifying, and today I’d like to look at a few of these moments.

                                                              Ernest Scared Stupid

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We’ll start off innocently enough, with an entry from the Jim Varney led series of films following the adventures of loveable idiot Ernest P. Worrell.

As the title credits roll we know right away that Ernest Scared Stupid is different from its light-hearted, but mildly racist predecessors.

In a plot that could only exist in the 90’s, adult garbage-man, Ernest and his group of pre-tween friends venture to a secluded fort in the woods, and unwittingly awaken an evil troll. Shit gets even more questionable from there, but nothing more outright terrifying than when a little girl is convinced there’s a monster under her bed. This misdirecting mind-fuck of a scene shows her leaning over the edge of the bed, carefully peeling back the covers, and gazing into the blackness below to find nothing more than her beloved teddy. Relieved, she lays back down for a much-needed snuggle session with her fuzzy friend, rolls over, and BAM comes face to face with a scrote-nosed midget monster.

Not cool John Cherry. Not cool.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

rogerrabbit2Whether or not Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a kids film can be debated for days, but one thing that’s undebatable is the sheer terror that is Christopher Lloyd’s, Judge Doom. Practically every scene with this bug-eyed cartoon bastard walking around in a skin suit is pure nightmare fuel, but none so horrible as the steamroller scene. Something about the shrill, blood-curdling shriek he releases while being flattened into a human pancake really sticks with you.

Brave little toaster

bravelittletoasterOn the surface Disney’s Brave little Toaster is an upbeat tale about a handful of cutesy sentient appliances on a journey to find their original master, but in true Disney fashion the group encounters a few horrors along the way. There’s the appliance store full of partially dismantled, and out-dated appliances awaiting the electronics version of an organ transplant, Ernie’s Disposal, the junkyard from hell, and of course the mortifying dream sequence featuring a sadistic clown. I’m pretty sure whoever let this one slip through the editing process without being chopped hated children.

The NeverEnding Story

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Don’t let the eighties new-wave synth-pop theme song deceive you. From the moment the dreamy title credits roll, The NeverEnding Story is out to get you, and pulverize your heart with a meat tenderizer. No one scene in this collection of nightmare fuel aimed at children is more terrifying than the death of Atreyu’s faithful steed, Artax in the Swamps of Sadness.

                                                         Everything by Don Bluth

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During the eighties, and early nineties, Disney had some serious competition from Don Bluth, an ex-animator for the company who went on to release a string of successful animated films after his partnership with Steven Spielberg.

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Now despite being mostly warm tales about anthropomorphic animals, talking dinosaurs, and Russian fairy-tales Bluth was never afraid to shy away from showing children the darker aspects of life. Poverty, and immigration in An American Tale, genetic experimentation, and animal testing in The Secret of NIMH, Hell, and excess in, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and how can anyone forget, what was probably their first encounter with racism, and death in, The Land Before Time.

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What made Bluth’s films all the more terrifying was his religious use of old-school techniques like rotoscoping, and backlight animation to bring his creations to life.

I’m pretty sure Bluth’s life-force has been sustained all these years from devouring the tears of children.

                                         Watership Down. The whole fucking movie.

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Based on the Richard Adams novel of the same name, Watership Down is an exercise in pushing the boundaries of kid-friendly entertainment. The film follows a civilization of rabbits as they escape the destruction of their warren in search of a new environment to settle. Along the way the group faces death, betrayal, and more lupine carnage, and blood-shed than any child should ever have to witness.

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Seriously. Fuck this movie.

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When people hear Disney they think about anthropomorphic mice, fairy tales, plot exposition via song and dance, and a sprinkle of mild racism and archaic gender stereotyping. What they do not think about is horror, which is strange, because beneath the cute and cuddliness of their animated catalog is the stuff of nightmares, patricide, animal cruelty, child and domestic abuse, and many more for those willing enough to scratch beneath the skin of their childhood heroes.

During the early eighties Disney found themselves in dire straights financially. Many of the children who grew up loving their usual family friendly animated, and live-action films were now teenagers, and young adults hungry more mature fare. Seeking to capitalize on this new audience rather than lose them they ventured into the darkness, and created a string of horror films. The trend began with 1980’s, The Watcher in the Woods, followed by Dragonslayer, Return to Oz, and the subject of this post, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

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Based on the novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury, and adapted for the screen by Bradbury himself, Something Wicked This Way Comes revolves around Will Halloway, and Jim Nightshade, young boys confronted by a malevolent evil eager to steal the souls of the inhabitants of their Rockwellian community of Greentown, Illinois after a carnival arrives.

It’s rather fitting that Something Wicked This Way Comes marked the end of Disney’s foray into horror as the film suffered a tumultuous production to say the least. Not satisfied with Bradbury’s original screenplay, the studio insisted director Jack Clayton hire John Mortimer to do an uncredited rewrite to make it more family friendly, you know, the exact type of film they were trying to distance themselves from.

After a lacklustre response following a test screening many scenes were cut or altered. One, an animated sequence of the carnival arriving in Greentown, which would have employed the then groundbreaking technology of computer generated imagery was shortened drastically. Another involving a giant mechanical hand was scrapped in favour of the infamous spider scene, which caused actors Shawn Carson and Vidal Peterson a great deal of discomfort after being exposed to the urticating hairs of live tarantulas.

After spending an additional five-million on re-filming, re-editing, and re-scoring the film it bombed, costing disney a nearly twelve million dollar loss.

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In perhaps the greatest review of the final cut, Ray Bradbury referred to it as, “not a great film, no, but a decently nice one.”

Man, I love Bradbury.

Despite its flaws, Something Wicked This Way Comes is an enjoyable film, and a good horror starter horror for families looking for some quality fright time to spend with their killdren in front of the idiot box during the Halloween season.

 

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Movies featuring ghosts, haunted houses and the like have become a little stagnant these days thanks to the seemingly annual release of Paranormal Activity films, and other jump-scare riddled titles courtesy of Blumhouse productions. That’s not to say I dislike Blumhouse, as they’ve released a few titles I’ve quite enjoyed, namely Oculus, Creep, and The Gift, but the more they produce the more I’m beginning to see a trend. There’s a formula to a Blumhouse film, no doubt created to keep them from diverging too far from from their low-budget high-return policy, a singular set, relatively small cast, and the trademark out of place post climax jump-scare. Now, I appreciate the mantra, less is more, many of my favourite films follow it faithfully, but less is not more when the story isn’t strong or unique enough to justify it. When this is the case films come off as nothing more than cheap cash-ins to milk us of our hard earned money, and we had plenty of those in the eighties, and nineties, (I’m looking at you Leprechaun series). Which is why I’m always elated when a film comes along that completely destroys the norm, and forces the complacent to step up their game.

We Are Still Here is that kind of film.

After the death of their son Bobby, Anne and Paul Sacchetti move to rural New England to heal, only to discover their new town harbours a sinister secret, and the ancient evil lying dormant beneath their house has awoken to feed.

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We are Still Here is my favourite horror film of 2015, no contest. I’d even go as far as to say the last ten years. I simply cannot praise it enough. The cinematography is both beautiful, and unsettling, complimented by an atmospheric score composed by Wojciech Golczewski. The cast, featuring scream queen Barbara Crampton, and the inimitable Larry Fessenden, are excellent, and the ghosts, man, those Dagmar’s are terrifying.

I won’t ruin the twist for those who haven’t seen it, (not that it was too terribly unexpected) but I will say the final scene is one that demands be seen. Never before has so much blood been shed by a vengeful spirit.

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Despite some issues with the final few seconds of the film, We Are Still Here is a near flawless example of a haunted house/ ghost story done right.

Take notes Blumhouse, if Ted Geoghegan’s next film is anything like We Are Still Here, you boys may have some competition.

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In keeping with the spirit of horror trash started in my previous post concerning Full Moon Entertainment’s cult classic, Demonic Toys, I thought we’d take a look at a film released by another low-budget horror purveyor, the Empire Pictures garbage-fest, Terrorvision.

Before we dissect the film, let us first go back, and study the history of the now defunct Empire International Pictures.

Founded in 1983, by Charles Band as a response to his dissatisfaction with how his films were being distributed while working for major motion picture studios, Empire Pictures gave him the freedom to release a slew of low budget horror, and science fiction titles, most notably the Stuart Gordon cult classics Re-Animator, and From Beyond, Dolls, the infamous Trolls, and of course Terrorvision.

The company would eventually collapse in the fall of 1988, but the following year the garbage Goliath, Full Moon Entertainment would rise from its mostly sawdust, and cheap latex ashes.

Terrorvision tells the story of a ravenous alien creature accidentally beamed to earth via satellite by an extraterrestrial garbage disposal that ends up in a household occupied by three children who must stop it before it escapes, and goes on a rampage.

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The film is surprisingly dark considering it’s generally light-natured, and goofy aesthetic, and it has a delightfully bleak ending.

The film was a critical, and commercial bomb, being sited as one of the reasons for Empire Picture’s bankruptcy, but has since gone on to achieve cult status after it’s release by Scream Factory on bluray.

Fun fact, the legendary voice actor Frank Welker, (one of my idols) responsible for such pop culture icons as Megatron, Doctor Claw, Nibbler, Slimer, and pretty much every popular cartoon character from the eighties, and nineties not voiced by Jim Cummings, provides the voice of the hungry alien beast.

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Look at all them pretty 80’s colours!

 

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The eighties in a single picture. 

I’ve touched briefly upon director’s in my previous posts, greats like Romero, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Hitchcock, Jackson, as well as a few lesser known names like Henenlotter, Solet, and Craig.

Today I’d like to introduce you to another relatively unknown name, a man responsible for two of my all time favourite horror films, and a handful of episodes from the groundbreaking HBO anthology series, Tales From the Crypt. The one, and only, Fred Dekker.

Fred Dekker was born in 1959, in San Francisco, California. A comic book fanatic, cinephile, and horror nerd from an early age, Dekker applied at USC, and UCLA for film studies, and was subsequently rejected by both. He attended UCLA,  majoring in English instead, and it was there where he met frequent collaborators Shane Black, Ed Solomon, and Chris Matheson.

His big break in the movie industry came after writing the Steve Miner directed, Sean S. Cunningham produced horror-comedy House, and from there he want on the write, and direct the two cult classics I’d like to talk about today, Night of the Creeps, and Monster Squad.

     Night of the Creeps.

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Released in 1986, Fred Dekker’s directorial debut is a loving homage of B-movies that mixes the best bits of zombie, slasher, alien invasion, and creature feature films into a unique, and thoroughly enjoyable picture.

The film follows a couple of loveable university dorks, who unwittingly release a horde of alien slugs after stealing a cadaver in an attempt to join a fraternity. Aided by a haunted detective, the three must fend off an army of zombie-like creatures infected by the slugs before their quaint little own is overrun.

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Night of the Creeps is one of those rare films that makes you smile from start to finish no matter how many times you’ve watched it. The chemistry amongst the cast is wonderful, with a standout performance from the legendary Tom Atkins as Detective Ray Cameron, who chews up every scene he’s given, and the creature effects hold up surprisingly well, thanks in part to Dekker’s reliance on prosthetics, and practical effects.

Although I’ve never seen him admit it out loud, or in an interview, Slither, by James Gunn can be seen as a spiritual successor of sorts to Night of the Creeps, and if you haven’t seen it either, I recommend you watch it immediately, and note the similarities between the two.

Monster Squad

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To put it plainly, Monster Squad is essentially the Goonies meet the Universal Monsters.

The story is every child whom grew up loving horror’s fantasy, and follows the Monster Squad, group of preteen friends who idolize monsters, and get more than they bargain for when Dracula aided by the Wolfman, Mummy, and Gill-man show up in their picturesque town searching for an amulet capable of helping him take over the world.

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Monster Squad is an important film to me. Back when I was fresh out of diapers my grandmother taped it off cable, and I’d watch it for hours while visiting the old farm house where I was born, eventually playing the damned thing into oblivion. It wasn’t until 2007 that I’d get a chance to watch it again after the release of the 20th anniversary DVD, and little has changed since those early days of my youth. Like all of Fred Dekker’s work there’s an inherent playfulness at work, almost as though conceived through the imagination of a child.

Unfortunately Dekker hasn’t written or directed anything like his first two films in quite some time, thanks in part to their lukewarm critical reception, and box office returns, but if the 2010’s have taught me anything it’s that nostalgia is a goldmine, and there’s always the possibility that the long talked about sequel to Monster Squad might be just around the corner, provided his work with Shane Black on the new Predator film is successful.

So I ask of you this Mr. Dekker,

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