HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: HALLOWEEN (1978)

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HALLOWEEN (1978)

What better way to wrap up our month long look at some of my Halloween Favorites then by taking a look back at one of the all time great horror flicks and a bonafide classic that is appropriately named after my favorite holiday. John Carpenter’s Halloween is recognized as a masterpiece of suspense and terror and while it wasn’t the first film that fits the definition of slasher, it did start a horror trend that gave birth to quite a few other classics during the following decade and beyond. It’s also simply one of the quintessential horror flicks to watch on All Hallows Eve!

The story starts out in sleepy Haddonfield, Illinois where 6 year old Michael Myers (Will Sandin), for no apparent reason, takes a butcher knife to his teenage sister Judith (Sandy Johnson) and brutally slaughters her. Fifteen years later on the eve of Halloween, Michael (Nick Castle in costume, Tony Moran when briefly unmasked), who has been incarcerated in the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, awakens from his trance-like state and escapes the facility with his psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (the great Donald Pleasence) in pursuit. While no one believes him, Loomis is certain he knows where the escaped Myers is going…home. And Haddonfield is exactly where the soulless killer is heading and soon teen babysitter Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) and her friends are going to be trick or treated to the most horrifying night of their lives as evil returns to their little town and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. And despite Loomis’ warnings, can Myers be stopped on the night HE came home?

John Carpenter takes this simple concept…from a script he co-wrote with Debra Hill based on a story idea presented by producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad…of a killer stalking a small town and turns it into a masterpiece of suspense and terror as he establishes not only that our killer has, overtime, become a soulless vessel of evil, but gives him a likable batch of typical teens such as Laurie and her friends Annie (Nancy Kyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) for us to fear and cheer for, as this fiend targets them for the slaughter. He then uses his camera lens and the cinematography of Dean Cundey to create tension setting shots of Laurie and her friends innocently going about their lives while Michael, or the car he stole, lurks in the background letting us know evil has found them while they remain blissfully oblivious. When Myers begins his carnage that night, we get shots that are filled with shadows from within which evil may lurk and more shots of Michael and his haunting white mask peering in windows or from behind trees watching his unaware prey. And once the audience is drawn in, we get to watch Michael start to eliminate this likable cast in brutal fashion leading to an intense last act that is literally one long stalking chase as Laurie tries to fight back and escape the mysterious killer who has targeted her as his next victim. The legendary director cranks up the pace after a deliberately slow burn and really gets our hearts pumping as the film heads toward it’s haunting conclusion. Carpenter stages all these scenes perfectly and we are with Laurie through one close call after another as the seemingly unstoppable boogeyman is relentless in his pursuit of the babysitter and her young charges (Brian Andrews and Kyle Richards). If his keen direction isn’t enough, Carpenter himself wrote and performed the haunting and now legendary score which really intensifies the atmosphere and accents every scare.

The cast are all good from Pleasence as the frustrated and desperate Dr. Loomis, Curtis gives us simply one of the greatest horror movie heroines of all time, Kyes and cult favorite P.J. Soles are endearing as Laurie’s horny gal pals and Charles Cyphers is convincing as a small town sheriff who is more doubtful then concerned…until it’s too late. There is actually little gore in the film, but what bloodshed we do get is well executed, though it is sound FX that really make these kills effective as Michael’s knife makes impact with his unsuspecting victims. The sound is chilling as is his victim’s struggles when the killer simply uses his bare hands to finish them off. Which in my opinion is even more horrifying. Whatever flaws this film has, they are minor and it is a text book example of how to make a low budget horror, achieving a lot with very little.

Whether the film is an allegory on the dangers of teen promiscuity or simply a damn good horror flick, it all comes down to Carpenter’s camera and how he uses it that creates a lot of the tension and suspense. While today’s generation brought up on more blunt and visceral horror may find this too tame, I think it is truly the masterpiece of horror that it’s reputation suggests and quite possible changed horror films forever. A classic and one of the greatest Halloween season flicks of all time.

“Was it the Boogeyman?… As a matter of fact it was…”

A classic 4 carved pumpkins!

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REVIEW: FRIGHT NIGHT 2: NEW BLOOD (2013)

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FRIGHT NIGHT 2: NEW BLOOD (2013)

Sequel to the Colin Farrell starring Fright Night remake is oddly enough actually another remake/reboot itself. It retells the story with Charlie Brewster (Will Payne) now a college student on a field trip to Romania with friend ‘Evil’ Ed (Chris Waller) and estranged girlfriend Amy (Sacha Parkinson), but only this time Jerry Dandrige is a ‘Gerri’ (Jaime Murray) and Peter Vincent (Sean Power) is the host of a monster hunter reality TV show who happens to be in Romania filming the latest episode. As with the original Fright Night and it’s sub-par remake, Charlie soon believes his hot female professor is not only a vampire, but Elisabeth Bathory herself…and as with the other versions, no one believes him until the night stalking she-bat decides it’s time for these pesky students to be dealt with.

Despite the odd choice to reboot the story already, I actually liked Fright Night 2. I’m a big fan of the original 2 flicks, but was not impressed at all with the lame remake that’s only right move was the casting of Farrell and Yelchin. But this direct to home media sequel is actually a fun and blood soaked flick that is far from a classic, but is an entertaining enough watch that makes spooky good use of it’s Romanian locations. Director Eduardo Rodriguez gives the film a nice visual style and has some novel touches in presenting his blood sucking villainess and her various powers. There are some nice action sequences and some decent suspense as Charlie and his friends find themselves stalked by a creature from out of ancient Romania folklore. There is plentiful gore and the cast all do well enough with Murray making a nicely sexy and scary vampire and Payne being a suitable Charlie. Waller can be a bit taxing as Evil, but the character always was in any version. As for Peter Vincent, Power needed more screen time to really establish Vincent a bit better. Despite being a major character in other versions, he has limited screen time here.

Overall, the movie does it’s job and gives us some chills and thrills, but won’t win any awards or stick with you after it’s over. Matt Venne’s script does deviate from the original story somewhat in the last act and that was a bit refreshing and I did find it more enjoyable then the overblown remake it follows. Sure there are better vampire flicks out there, but you could do far worse and it does entertain.

3 fangs!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: DEADLY BLESSING (1981)

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DEADLY BLESSING (1981)

While I wouldn’t say Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing is one of my all time Halloween Favorites, I would say it’s a film that holds sentimental value being one of the films seen at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and if you’ve been coming to this site for a while you know that was a special place for the movie geek in me and holds a lot of equally special memories. But, having recently revisited this creepy thriller thanks to Scream Factory’s gorgeous blu-ray, I found that not only was it still very enjoyable but, has some really nice 80s nostalgia attached to it now, too!

Deadly Blessing tells the story of young couple Martha (Battlestar Galactica hottie Maren Jensen) and Jim (Douglas Barr) who live on a farm near the rustic and religious Hittites of whom Jim is family but, was exiled for marrying a woman not of their clan. Tragedy strikes as a horrible accident…or was it…leaves Martha a widow and soon she is joined by loyal friends Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) who come to console her. But, someone or something is watching the young women and soon Jim isn’t the only body turning up on Martha’s land. The Hittites, lead by the strict Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), say that it is the work of the Incubus, a seductive demon come to temp all to sin and damnation, while Martha and her friends believe it is the work of someone far more down to earth…but, who and why?

While Craven…who co-wrote the screenplay with story writers Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr…would really hit his stride with A Nightmare On Elm Street three years later, he still delivers a solid little horror thriller here that is actually an entertaining and well made film. It has some spooky sequences and keeps you guessing while presenting us with some likable characters to fear for and some other characters to be suspicious of. Craven gives the film some nice atmosphere accented by some beautiful cinematography by Robert Jessup and a nice score from James Horner.

The cast are fine, Jensen is a bit wooden but not enough to sink things, Stone is good as the emotionally troubled Lana and Buckner makes a crush-worthy and perky Vicky…and a big crush on her Vicky I had upon seeing this flick in 1981. Borgnine is perfectly menacing and just over the top enough as clan leader Isaiah and genre favorite Michael Berryman is equally effective as a Hittite man with an eye for his pretty neighbor. Also good are Lisa Hartman as Faith and Lois Nettleton as her mother Louisa, who live near Martha and who appear nice enough, if not a little odd.

There is a body count but, not a large one as this is more a mystery thriller then a slasher. The bloodshed is moderate as is the violence and Craven has his usual fun with dream sequences…one involving Sharon Stone and a spider is still goose-bump inducing even today. There are also a few scenes and lines that almost seem to foreshadow Mr. Krueger’s appearance a few years later, now that we are familiar with that classic and it’s legendary boogeyman.

The film isn’t perfect. As said, Jensen is a bit wooden and there are some weak bits of dialogue throughout. And while it is enjoyable, the last act, including the film’s big reveal, does skirt very close to going over the top and becoming silly. And the final scene is an unnecessary shock ending that does come across as more silly then scary. It almost appears like it’s tacked on from another movie.

Overall though, Deadly Blessing is a nostalgic and fun early 80s horror that may seem tame by today’s standards and even the standards of Craven’s later work but, it shows the director of the brutal and shocking Last House On The Left, the vicious The Hills Have Eyes and the comic book-ish Swamp Thing (which came after Blessing) was continuing to show his versatility and could handle something on a more subtle level that didn’t require the heavy violence or over the top theatrics of his previous films. A very entertaining and delightfully 80s horror from one of the genre’s greats.

As said, this cult classic is now available from Scream Factory including a beautifully restored print along with some nice extra’s including fun interviews with genre favorite Michael Berryman and sassy lead Susan Buckner who both have amusingly different versions of how well…or not…the three leading ladies got along. Fun stuff!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Borgnines!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)

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TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)

Trick ‘r Treat has already become an instant cult classic and it makes it’s rather odd release by Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures all the more a mystery. The film was originally supposed to come out in October 2007 for Halloween, but a major release never happened and it was only shown at a few film festivals and then was finally dumped direct to DVD two years later in October 2009, despite favorable reviews and good word of mouth. But the movie has been discovered by horror fans and has quickly become a Halloween favorite for many… it’s definitely one of mine. So, not sure what the studios problem was with this great little Halloween flick, but at least it is finally getting the attention it deserves and has earned a well respected status in the genre.

Trick ‘r Treat is a ghoulishly entertaining anthology that tells a group of stories that are unleashed upon it’s audience in a Pulp Fiction-like narrative structure that goes back and forth in time linking them all together and they are all presided over by spooky new horror icon Sam, who watches from a distance or becomes directly involved as in the first and final tales. We get the story of a young husband and wife (Tahmoh Penikett and Leslie Bibb) who find out certain Halloween traditions are there for a reason, the tale of a school principal (Dylan Baker) with a gruesome Halloween hobby that may come back to bite him, a group of kids investigating an urban legend about the murder of a busload of Special Ed. students with horrifying results, Anna Paquin playing a young woman about to lose her virginity in blood curdling fashion and the final tale about a grumpy and mean old man (Brian Cox) who is tricked and treated on Halloween night by Sam himself.

Written and directed by Michael Dougherty we get a movie that understands that Halloween should be spooky, scary and ghoulish fun…and Trick R Treat is all those things, a movie that embodies the spirit of Halloween as few others apart from John Carpenter’s classic have. The film is thick with atmosphere, stunning cinematography by Glen MacPherson, top notch gore and make-up FX and plenty of frights and delights. The cast all take their parts seriously and play them with exactly the right tone needed in the context of their story, making it all work perefectly in the Halloween spirit it is intended and evil little imp Sam is the spooky icing on the ghoulish cake.

A real Halloween treat if ever there was one. Trick ‘r Treat is now part of my Halloween watching tradition alongside Carpenter’s legendary fright fest and one of my all time favorite Halloween season films!

4 spooky Sams!

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES OCTOBER 25-27

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Complete estimates are in for this weekend’s box office and Gravity gets sent down to Earth by a Bad Grandpa!

1. “Bad Grandpa” $32 Million

2. “Gravity” $20.3 Million

3. “Captain Phillips” $11.8 Million

4. “The Counselor” $8 million

5. “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2” $6.1 Million

6. “Carrie”  $5.9 Million

7. “Escape Plan” $4.3 Million

8. “12 Years A Slave” $2.2 Million

9. “Enough Said” $1.6 Million

10. “Prisoners” $1.06 Million

source: box office mojo

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE THING and THE FLY

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This week’s double feature showcases two horror classics, both great remakes of films that themselves were classics and both directed by two of the greatest horror directors of the modern era. Watched this the other night and it was a great evening of classic horror cinema!

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THE THING (1982)

Arguably John Carpenter’s best film and his masterpiece, The Thing  was a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 classic The Thing From Another World, which was itself based on John W. Campbell’s story Who Goes There? Instead of using the 1951 film’s walking, blood sucking alien vegetable, he went back to Campbell’s story which featured an alien creature capable of imitating whatever it fed on. Carpenter’s film opens with an isolated American research station in Antarctica being buzzed by a Norwegian helicopter that seems to be trying to gun down a lone sled dog. The incident results in the helicopter being destroyed and both raving occupants being killed, one by the station commander Gary (Donald Moffat) in defense of his crew. Now the team including helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) are stuck with a bizarre mystery and the surviving sled dog. But, when MacReady and Doctor Copper (Richard Dysart) investigate the Norwegian camp, they find it destroyed, it’s occupants dead and a huge hollowed out block of ice… not to mention a burned corpse of something barely human. The investigating of the evidence indicates the Norwegians found a strange ship in the ice and brought a specimen back to their camp that apparently was not dead when thawed out. But the real nightmare is yet to come as the Norwegian dog reveals itself to be something quite unworldly and that an alien creature with the ability to absorb and become it’s prey may now be among them… or worse, may be one or more of them already. The paranoia and terror grows as the team try to discover who may be a creature in disguise and the creature feeds their paranoia and seeks to eliminate any of the men with the scientific knowhow to unmask it. Can those still human stop it and if they fail, what will happen to the rest of humanity? The Thing is both a masterpiece of suspense and tension, as well as, of visceral horror. Carpenter along with Bill Lancaster’s script perfectly creates the paranoia of not knowing who around you is human and who is not. The setting of isolation is made all that apparent as Carpenter seals his characters in an ice and snow surrounded maze of hallways and dark rooms where the 12 men are trapped with something very inhuman and they can’t even trust each other as it could be anyone. The team all suspect each other but, as is human nature, turn to those they like for support and turn on those they may have not liked or not gotten along with before. We have 12 men who are social outcasts thrust into a situation where no one is coming to their rescue and they are forced to not only try to save themselves but, literally save the planet as their failure to stop this creature will unleash it upon an unsuspecting world. And just so we fully understand the enormity of this creature’s threat, we are treated, via make-up FX master Rob Bottin (and Stan WInston who created the dog kennel creature), to some of the most gruesome creature transformation sequences ever filmed. Bottin convinced Carpenter to not go with a standard true form for the creature design but, an organism that is constantly changing and different once revealed and is made up of parts of all the beings it has absorbed during it’s journey through space. And the results are visually horrifying and still hold their full impact even today. And all this is brilliantly filmed by cinematographer Dean Cundey and accented by a haunting score by Ennio Morricone… who later voiced disapproval of how Carpenter used it. It is said the prominent electronic bits were actually written by Carpenter though, a lot of Morricone’s music is still used. As for the human players, obviously this is Kurt Russell’s show as he plays a man who is reluctantly forced to try to save a world he seems intent on hiding from and does so, honorably and selflessly. With 12 characters not everyone is given a lot of attention but, the cast all handle their roles well in presenting a bunch of eclectic social misfits who would rather be in the antarctic then with the rest of the world. The standouts aside from Russell’s MacReady are Dysart’s Dr. Copper, Moffat’s Gary, who crumbles when he really needs to take charge forcing MacReady to lead the rest, Keith David’s Childs and Brimley’s scientist Blair. Ironic as Brimley has voiced his complete distain for the film. Maybe he should have read the script before signing on? Rounding out a solid cast are Richard Masur as Clark, David Clennon as stoner Palmer, Charles Hallahan as the meek Norris, Joel Polis as the quiet scientist Fuchs, T.K. Carter as the smart-ass cook Nauls, Thomas G. Waites as cowardly radioman Windows and Peter Maloney as complainer Bennings. Carpenter’s wife at the time, actress Adrienne Barbeau, also has a vocal cameo as the voice of MacReady’s chess computer. The history of this film is as legendary as the film itself. The flick was critically panned for it’s gruesome gore FX and grim tone and audiences stayed away… not me though, I saw it at least 3 times back in the day… and it has taken decades for it to finally be recognized as the masterpiece and classic it truly is. Simply a great horror/sci-fi film that has yet to be equalled. Followed by a Carpenter-less prequel in 2011 that is a moderately amusing companion piece at best.

A classic 4 Things!

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THE FLY (1986) 

Much like Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The Fly is based on a 1950s horror flick of the same name and similar plot which itself is based on a short story, this one written by George Langelaan. Cronenberg’s telling is of brilliant scientist Seth Brundle ( Jeff Goldblum) who plans to revolutionize travel and change the world by creating teleportation devices which can instantly transfer people from one place to another when perfected. He meets and falls for pretty journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) and decides to reveal his work to the world through her as she documents his progress. The two quickly become lovers and during an evening when Ronnie leaves to deal with slimy publisher/ ex-boyfriend Stathis Borans (John Getz), a jealous and drunk Brundle decides to use himself as the first human test subject for teleportation. At first Brundle seems to somehow have been improved through teleporting being stronger and faster but, soon his body and behavior starts to change for the worse and his health starts to deteriorate. An investigation into his teleporting session reveals a fly was in the telepod with him and the computer became confused and fused their DNA at a molecular level. Now the man is slowly turing into a monster and Ronnie is torn between staying to help the man she loves or fleeing an evolving creature that becomes less human… and more dangerous… by the day. Where David Hedison’s scientist in the 1958 classic simply became a human with a fly’s head and claw and the fly had his human head, Cronenberg, working from his own draft from Charles Edward Pogue’s script, uses the transformation as a metaphor for disease… some interpret it as AIDS but, Cronenberg himself nixes the idea he was being so specific. Instead of swapping part’s, Goldblum’s Brundle is merged with the insect at a molecular level and Cronenberg treats us to a grotesque and horrifying gradual transformation from man to insectoid monster. All the more effective because we like the charming and eccentric Seth so much and the romance between he and Veronica works so well, we are horrified to watch him degenerate in front of his helpless lover. Davis and Goldblum have such great chemistry together and both give terrific performances which really makes the film work as we become endeared to this cute and off-beat couple and watching her pain and his confusion and terror as he mutates slowly into a human/insect hybrid, that can walk on ceilings and and could kill viciously if provoked, is mortifying . And as performances go, let’s not forget John Getz who creates a slimy, self centered jerk in Stathis Borans yet, still makes him heroic and sympathetic during the films horrifying climax. Even minor supporting characters all perform well here. The SPFX from Chris Walas Inc. are stunning and rightfully won an Academy Award… though Goldblum was robbed of a deserved nomination. Walas and his team gruesomely take us from skin blemishes and fingernails falling off to a full blown insectoid creature in the film’s intense and heartbreaking last act. Their make-up FX not only show the graphic effects of the gradual transformation but, allow the human underneath to come through and enhances an already sympathetic and strong performance by our leading man. Assisting Cronenberg, his actors and his FX team is a wonderfully moody and intense score by Howard Shore and atmospheric cinematography by Mark Irwin. The Fly is a true horror classic and arguably Cronenberg’s best film and was oddly praised for the same reasons our first feature The Thing was criticized for only 4 years earlier. It is a horrifying and yet heartbreaking sci-fi film about the price and sacrifice one man pays for delving into things possibly best left alone. And underneath all the grotesquery and horror, there is also a tragic love story and an allegory to the torment of dealing with the illness of a loved one or one’s self. A great horror but, also, simply a great movie. Followed in 1989 by an amusing but, far inferior sequel that had only Getz returning as a bitter and now handicapped Borans and was directed by Fly FX man Chris Walas.

A classic 4 flies!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: THE FOG, THE EVIL DEAD and THE HOWLING!

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For Halloween Favorites today we have not one but three must watch favorites of mine for the Halloween season. I’ve covered these three classics before as part of Tomb Of Nostalgia so, instead of reposting all the reviews, all you have to do is click on the film’s title and the link will take you back to our original post! So enjoy a look back at The Fog, The Evil Dead and The Howling for this edition of Halloween Favorites!

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THE FOG (1980)

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THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

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THE HOWLING (1981)

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