HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

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CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

Child’s Play is a fun 80s horror thriller that proves that a talented director can turn even a silly premise like this into an entertaining movie. The film opens with psychotic killer Charles “Chucky” Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) being hunted and shot by police. The mortally wounded maniac finds temporary solace in a toy store long enough to use his skills in Voodoo to transfer his soul into a Good Guys doll before his body expires. Enter widowed mom Karen (Catherine Hicks) and her 6 year old son Andy (Alex Vincent) who is a huge Good Guys fan and wants nothing more then an expensive talking Good Guys doll for his birthday. But when gal pal Maggie (Dinah Manoff) finds a street peddler selling one, she alerts Catherine who buys one for Andy. The doll announces itself as Chucky and no sooner is the doll in the apartment when bad things start to happen like babysitting Maggie taking a dive out of the apartment window. When Andy is found at the scene of another death, that of a former associate of Charles Lee Ray, the police begin to expect something is wrong with Andy, but the boy insists it was Chucky’s doing and his mom starts to investigate the doll’s origins, refusing to believe her son is a killer. But the more she investigates the more she starts to believe the impossible, that the soul of a killer inhabits the doll and she, her son and anyone that crossed Ray are in mortal danger… but who will believe her? Worse still is that Ray must transfer his soul into Andy’s body as his doll body becomes more human and thus vulnerable as time goes by.

Directed and co-written by Tom Holland, who also gave us the 80s classic vampire flick Fright Night, Child’s Play is a fun thriller despite it’s silly premise and the fact that the killer is a 3 foot tall doll with the voice of Brad Dourif. Holland and his cast, including Fright Night‘s Chris Sarandon as Det. Mike Norris, take the proceedings seriously and not making a joke out of it helps us to go along with it to enough of a degree that it entertains us. As a child with a pretty demanding role, Alex Vincent is quite good as Andy, which also goes a long way in making this flick work. Holland crafts some suspense which is an achievement since our villain is a plastic doll in overalls. He imbues Chucky with a lethality that, along with Dourif’s vocals, which give him quite the personality and some excellent FX to bring him to life, also help make this work far better then it should. The film moves very quickly which gives us little time to question plot holes or the sheer audacity of what we are watching. Once the film is over, you’ve had a good enough time to not really care that you just spent 90 minutes watching a homicidal maniac possessed doll killing people.

The film’s not perfect, the story moves a little too quick for it’s own good and it basically get’s it’s principles believing there is a killer doll on the loose far too early and easily when it was far more intriguing to have Chucky let Andy take the blame and having his mother deal with the possibility her son is a killer. The Terminator-like finale is borderline ridiculous, but somehow works and works well. But by the time the credits roll, you’ve let Holland and Co. convince you to take this nonsense seriously enough to enjoy yourself, so you can forgive the film some of it’s flaws and enjoy the fact that you’ve spent the last 90 minutes in fear of a kid’s toy.

Fun flick that created a horror icon and inspired a franchise that got more twisted and outrageous as the series when on… and mostly in a good way.

-MonsterZero NJ

A solid 3 killer dolls!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)

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FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)

I have to admit I was never a really big fan of this series…though I appreciate them a lot more now than back then…even when Jason took over the machete in Part 2. I found them very repetitive and they got increasingly silly as they went on. The original is still the best and while it’s a solid 80’s slasher movie and did set the gore and body-count template for the slashers of that era, I don’t think it’s quite as good as it’s reputation suggests, though I still have fun with it and certainly recognize it’s significance in the horror genre and status as a horror classic. It also holds nostalgic significance to me as I can proudly say that I saw this in a packed house at the Rialto theater on Friday June 13th 1980, the day it takes place and it was filmed in my home state of New Jersey.

Friday The 13th tells the story of Camp Crystal Lake, re-opening after being closed for decades because of the drowning of a young boy named Jason Vorhees and the unsolved murder of some counselors a year later. A group of new, young idealistic counselors have begun to renovate the place despite warnings from crazy local Ralph (Walt Gorney) that “camp blood” is cursed and they are all “doomed.”  But there may be some truth to what crazy old Ralph has said and soon someone is stalking the camp ground and one by one the young counselors are being murdered in gruesome and horrible ways. Will any of them survive and just who is it that wants them all dead and why?

Director Sean S. Cunningham has a fairly basic directing style, but does create some suspense and scares, though Friday’s strength is more the gory kills with various sharp instruments than tension. He gives it a methodical pace, but that is intentional and how a lot of horrors at this time were paced. Harry Manfredini’s classic score helps a lot with the atmosphere and chills and Tom Savini delivers some really effective gore FX. The performances from it’s attractive cast, including Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer and a young Kevin Bacon, range from weak to adequate and there is some silly dialog for them to utter along with their screams. The characters are fairly likable, though not truly endearing, so that we really care about them. You can pretty much tell which of the young counselors is going to get it next with the suspense being more from in what bloody way they will meet their doom. But Friday The 13th is still a fun slasher and the final act gets pretty intense once our survivor meets the mysterious killer for the final confrontation, which is a bloody good time and the ending also set the standard for films having to have that shocking final scene to give audiences a last jolt before the credits role. I don’t consider it a classic on the same level as the film that inspired it, Halloween but, it is still a classic B movie horror in it’s own right and the film set the tone for 80s slashers with promiscuous teens dying gory deaths and body count becoming an equal element along with suspense and scares. It may not be quite as good as it’s given credit for, but it is an important film in the context of the era it was made and shaped the tone of what followed till Evil Dead and A Nightmare On Elm Street added their own style to the horror genre of that era. The 80s nostalgia also now helps add a lot of entertainment, too, as it is the type of horror that is rarely made anymore unless as a homage.

A great movie? … maybe not quite, but a damn fun slasher and an important horror nonetheless. In part 2 Jason took over and in part 3 he gained his iconic hockey mask and horror history was made. Always thought that Jason was a great horror icon that was never in a really great movie, though I did like Part 4 and the bloody fun Freddy v.s. Jason. The series quickly ran itself into the ground creatively and became more of a joke with increasing silly kill methods, telekinetic girls and trips to NYC and outer space in later installments. At least numerous gore FX technicians got to show their stuff. A recent reboot went back to the more serious roots, but was basically more of the same.

A solid 3 and 1/2 hockey masks… and yes I know Jason isn’t in this one and didn’t get his mask till part 3!

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Have to admit I had a crush on adorable Annie (Robbi Morgan) when I first saw this, but sadly she is the first to go.

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And who could forget good old Ralph (Walt Gorney), the crazy doomsayer who set a character standard for future horror flicks.

-MonsterZero NJ

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: PHANTASM (1979)

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PHANTASM (1979)

Phantasm is a true horror classic and one of my all time favorite horror films. No matter how many times I watch it, it’s just as weird and creepy as when I first saw it back in 79. It may be considered slow moving and tame by today’s standards, but I still love it.

Phantasm tells the story of the Pearson brothers, Jody (Bill Thornbury) and younger sibling Mike (Michael Baldwin) who have recently lost their parents and now are burying their friend Tommy (Bill Cone) who is said to have committed suicide, but from the opening moments, we know different. All this time spent at the local mortuary has had an effect on the already traumatized Mike, who is starting to believe that the deaths are part of some supernatural conspiracy lead by the mysterious Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who is the ominous undertaker at the Morningside Funeral Home. But as Mike continues to investigate the creepy mortuary to prove his beliefs to Jody and their best friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), he finds that not only may he be right about the devious goings on, but the Tall Man may now have the brothers and their pal targeted as his next victims.

Phantasm is a creepy and surreal horror tale from writer/director Don Coscarelli who also made the cult favorites The Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep. It is full of spooky atmosphere and Coscarelli and crew achieve some really nightmare worthy visuals and SPFX on a small budget. From it’s freakish horde of hooded dwarves…whose creation is a disturbing part of the Tall Man’s plan…to the murderous silver spheres that patrol Morningside’s hallways, Phantasm delivers an original and offbeat fright flick with plenty of chills and thrills. The cast for the young protagonists are basically amateurs and are fine, but it is Scrimm and his evil Tall Man that really helps make things work by crafting a malevolent and memorable villain who is now considered a classic horror icon. There is a decent amount of gore throughout the flick, but it’s rather tame compared to more modern horror…though ironically, back in the day, critics sighted it along with Alien and Dawn Of The Dead as examples of horror violence going too far…and the story nicely combines the supernatural with the extraterrestrial to make for a delightfully weird tale. The film does have a dream-like quality and doesn’t always follow a traditional straight and narrow narrative, but it is never hard to follow and it’s surreal tone adds to the overall effectiveness of the film. Phantasm’s equally goose-bump inducing electronic score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave also adds a lot of atmosphere to an already atmospheric film and the sound effects guys came up with some pretty unsettling sound effects to accent the bizarre events occurring onscreen.

Obviously Phantasm now also comes with that late 70s, early 80s nostalgia too and that only adds to the fun and while I understand why the newer generation of horror fans may not quite get what the fuss is about, this film for me is an influential classic that has yet to ever really be matched, even by Coscarelli’s own four amusing, but not quite equal sequels. One of my top 5 Halloween season must watches!…and I still want the black 1971 Plymouth Barracuda the Pearson Brothers cruised around in!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) silver spheres!

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Maybe the coolest car in horror history since The Munster Mobile!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: JEEPERS CREEPERS (2001)

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JEEPERS CREEPERS (2001)

Jeepers Creepers tells the ill-fated story of twin siblings Darry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Philips) who are headed home through rural countryside on break from college. On the way they encounter a sinister truck who toys with them and nearly runs them off the road. They later see it again, parked by an abandoned church and the cloaked driver looks like he is dumping something resembling a body into an old storm drain. The twins decide to investigate to see if someone needs help and find a cache of preserved bodies hidden underground. Their discovery triggers a pursuit by what turns out to be an unstoppable mythical creature called The Creeper (Jonathan Breck) who comes out once every 23 years to feed for 23 days to regenerate it’s body with parts from it’s victims… and one of the twins is it’s next meal.

Jeepers Creepers is a fun and spooky Saturday night horror best enjoyed with a brew or two. There are some good scares and some nice FX work and the film moves at a very brisk pace. Writer/Director Victor Silva has an understanding of the visual style a film like this needs and the film looks great and he doesn’t waste time as the story begins right away and never slows down. He builds some suspenseful sequences and gives us some very spooky moments. The Creeper is a very cool creature that is given a very threatening presence and that is always a plus in a film like this. Philips and Long have a great chemistry and work very well together and their brother and sister are very likable and are sympathetic in their plight and we care if this hellish creature catches up to them.

The film is not perfect. There are some lapses in logic… such as how did this elusive creature get a specialized license plate from the DMV?… and the psychic character, Jezelle (Patricia Belcher) brings things down a bit. Her part is badly written exposition and serves only to fill us in on information about our Creeper that we wouldn’t know otherwise. It’s understood why the character is there but, is a bit too obvious and Belcher isn’t winning any awards here either as her performance is weak and forced. Veteran actress Eileen Brennan appears in a small role as an ill-fated cat lady and she would have been far more effective in the role of the psychic, Jezelle then Belcher. There are a lot of suspenseful pursuits and a bloody police station attack that leads to a truly unsettling climax that helps keep the film’s effectiveness despite it’s flaws and leaves one fairly spooked and entertained by the time the credits finally roll. And you should watch through the credits, too.

Not a great movie, but, still a fun Halloween treat or a good part of a weekend spook-fest with friends. The Creeper returned in a sub-par sequel involving a bus full of high school kids and there have been rumors for years of Silva making a third film, supposedly titled Jeepers Creepers 3: Cathedral but, nothing has yet to materialize. The Creeper is a cool monster who has been sadly underused.

3 Creepers!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: PUMPKINHEAD (1988)

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PUMPKINHEAD (1988)

Keep away from Pumpkinhead,
Unless you’re tired of living,
His enemies are mostly dead,
He’s mean and unforgiving,
Laugh at him and you’re undone,
But in some dreadful fashion,
Vengeance, he considers fun,
And plans it with a passion,
Time will not erase or blot,
A plot that he has brewing,
It’s when you think that he’s forgot,
He’ll conjure your undoing,
Bolted doors and windows barred,
Guard dogs prowling in the yard,
Won’t protect you in your bed,
Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead.

– Ed Justin

The Halloween season is upon us and in celebration, Tomb Of Nostalgia and Horror You Might Have Missed will be taking a break while MonsterZero NJ presents Halloween Favorites which will obviously focus on horror films I consider essential viewing for this spooky time of year. And what better way to kick off this look at some of my favorite films for my favorite time of year then with a film that is one of my top Halloween season flicks… Pumpkinhead!

Pumpkinhead tells the grim tale of a group of partying twenty-somethings from the city who head into the Appalachian Mountains for a weekend of drinking and dirt biking in a secluded cabin and run afoul of a local legend who is quite real. While stopped at the rural general store of kind, local man Ed Harley (the legendary Lance Henriksen), drunk jerk Joel (John D’Aquino), who already has injured a girl in a drunk driving accident, takes out his dirt bike and proceeds to carelessly run over and kill Harley’s son Billy (Matthew Hurley). Enraged with grief, Harley turns to a mountain woman who is rumored to be a witch named Haggis (Florence Schauffer) to evoke the demon Pumpkinhead that Harley saw once as a boy. The demon is said to grant vengeance to those who call upon it. But as both Harley and the young vacationers find out, evoking Pumpkinhead comes with a powerful price, as not only will it stop at nothing till all it’s prey, including good natured Chris (Jeff East) and his girlfriend Tracy (Cynthia Bain), are dead, but may take Harley back to Hell with it when it’s done. Can a now regretful Harley stop what he started and save the remaining youths or will the demon of vengeance have all their souls before it returns to the pumpkin patch from whence it was called?

Pumpkinhead is a very spooky horror dripping with Halloween atmosphere thanks to the great visuals from first time director and make-up SPFX legend Stan Winston. With a truly great looking creature and production design that oozes All Hallow’s Eve, this is a welcome edition to any Halloween season movie viewing. Aside from his awesome monster, Winston not only gives us some great settings…such as Haggis’ cabin, the pumpkin patch from which Pumpkinhead originates and an abandoned church where our remaining characters flee to…but he also creates some nice suspense, tension and chills. The biggest factor in the film’s effectiveness, though, is imbuing the title creature with a great sense of character and menace. Pumpkinhead is a vicious and unforgiving demon who shows no mercy and even seems to enjoy taunting and then killing his victims. When Ed Harley, who is cursed to feel it’s victims’ pain, changes his mind about calling it, the creature still will not stop till all are dead. Winston, who also co-wrote, also creates likable characters for us to fear for. They are all pretty good people with Joel being the exception and even he shows us he has a soul when he realizes that his friends are being slaughtered because of his selfish actions. A key to a good horror is empathy with it’s characters and here we feel for them as the backwoods demon relentlessly pursues them for a nasty death.

Winston gets good performances out of his cast with Henriksen creating one of his best roles in Ed Harley and the young cast members, like East and Bain, creating likable victims to root for. D’Aquino does a great job of making Joel an unlikable jerk and yet being very convincing in his moment of redemption when it comes. Film vet Buck Flower has a strong presence as mountain man Mr. Wallace and Schauffer is downright chilling as the witch, Haggis.

Overall, Pumpkinhead is part slasher, part backwoods horror and part monster movie with some great special FX to present it’s title creature and the carnage it creates and surrounded in some very spooky visuals that evoke the spirit of Halloween in almost every shot. It is an underrated horror that got a sadly ineffective limited release back in October of 1988 and then dumped onto VHS and then DVD. It should have gotten better and thankfully, it has developed the cult following it deserves and Pumpkinhead himself is now regarded along with Giger’s Alien as one of modern horrors most iconic creatures.

Sadly, the film was followed by three awful sequels and if any character deserves a reboot and another chance, it’s dear ole Pumpkinhead! Also stars Brian Bremer as Bunt Wallce, a local boy trying to help the city folk escape the monster’s wrath and Big Bang Theory’s own Mayim Bialik as one of the Wallace kids.

3 and 1/2 Pumpkinheads!

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