MONSTERZERO NJ’S 10 HORROR FLICKS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 10 HORROR FLICKS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH!

February is the month where we mark the achievements of the black community and there have been some wonderful contributions to the world of horror films by some amazing talents. Whether it be black filmmakers like William Crain and Jordan Peele, or actors such as William Marshall, Pam Grier and Duane Jones, there is much to celebrate! Here are ten films that illustrate the sometimes groundbreaking and always entertaining achievements in the horror genre that this month so proudly commemorates!

REVIEW LINKS: click to read the corresponding review!

  1. Blacula
  2. Scream Blacula Scream
  3. Abby
  4. Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde
  5. Sugar Hill
  6. The House On Skull Mountain
  7. Candyman
  8. Tales from the Hood
  9. Night of the Living Dead
  10. Get Out

 

To all these talented men and women in front of and behind the camera…CHEERS!

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DR. GIGGLES (1992)

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DR. GIGGLES (1992)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Dr. Giggles may have been released in 1992, but is very 80s from it’s look and feel to the metal tune blasting during the end credits…though sadly it reflects the exhaustion of the 80s slasher trend more than anything else.

The story has it’s roots in 1957 where Dr. Evan Rendell was murdered by the townsfolk of Moorehigh for killing his patients by removing their hearts in order to revive his dead wife. Rendell’s son escaped the mob and has disappeared without a trace. In modern day (1992, that is), a John Doe mental patient referred to as Dr. Giggles (Larry Drake), for his obsession with medical procedures and disturbing laugh, escapes an asylum and makes his way to Moorehigh. It would seem Dr. Giggles is actually Evan Rendell Jr. and he has set his sights on the people of the town for revenge. His plans alter a bit when he encounters pretty young Jennifer Campbell (Holly Marie Combs), a teen with a heart condition of the same kind that claimed Rendell’s mother…and Jennifer’s own. Now Dr. Giggles is out to acquire his patient and perform surgery on her at all costs and will kill anyone that gets in his way…or has the right amount of heart!

Flick is directed and co-written (with Graeme Whifler) by Manny Coto, who is far better known for his TV work than his few feature films. Coto doesn’t seem to know what kind of film he wants to make, as while Dr. Giggles has a serious tone, it is filled to the brim with goofy kills and frequent quips from it’s killer that highlight all the medical jokes and clichés it can fit in it’s 96 minute running time. Is it a comedy?…or a horror? The problem is that, as either, it is not very successful. The film has it’s fans, but it’s dull as a routine slasher and the medical jokes and exaggerated kills get tiresome quickly. There are little chills and suspense and the kills aren’t quite gruesome enough to shock…and are neutered by the jokiness anyway. There are also some major plot holes, such as when did Giggles have the time to make all his exaggerated/comical medical implements to use on his victims and if his father was suddenly dragged from his home and stoned to death, who sealed up his secret operating room in the basement? His escaped son was only seven. There are a few more questions we’d liked answered, but the film never really does and only it’s climactic showdown between Rendell, heroine Jennifer and her boyfriend-to-the-rescue Max (Glenn Quinn), gives us some intensity and action. Otherwise, this is a fairly ho-hum horror with a few gross moments, but mostly a lot of bad doctor clichés and far too obvious plot holes that just illustrate how tired slasher flicks had become at this point.

The cast, at least it’s leads, are far better than the film deserves. Larry Drake is very creepy as Giggles and gives him just the right balance of over-the-top and restraint. Too bad the material let’s him down. Same can be said of pre-Charmed Holly Marie Combs who makes Jennifer a feisty, strong-willed young lady and she is very likable. Cliff De Young is fine as her recently remarried dad and 80s hottie and horror veteran Michelle Johnson is hot and bitchy as Jennifer’s new shrew of a step-mom. Glenn Quinn is also likable and charming as Jennifer’s boyfriend Max and makes a suitable hero. A decent cast with sadly weak material to work with.

Not overly fond of this flick. It has a few scant moments, but for the most part, is dull and a perfect example of the slasher genre out of gas and at the end of it’s initial run, before Scream came along and revived it as self-aware, pop-culture reference dropping homage. The cast are actually very good, but the script is weak and full of far more holes than usually tolerable in a horror movie. Director Manny Coto doesn’t leave much of a signature on the film and was far more successful writing for TV. The flick has it’s fans, so it’s up to you if you want to catch up with it, if you haven’t seen it yet.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 (out of 4) scalpels.

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WITHOUT WARNING and PREDATOR: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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WITHOUT WARNING and PREDATOR: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Without Warning or Predator, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Last time around I compared the similarities in David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and John Carpenter’s Halloween (link here). Now, I’d like to have a little fun comparing the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator and Without Warning, a B-movie sci-fi/horror with a very similar plot that predates Predator by seven years. So, how does 1980’s Without Warning measure up to 1987’s Predator? Read on to find out!

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

Greydon Clark’s cult favorite Without Warning tells the story of a group of teens who go up to a mountain lake to party in an area that has been staked out as a hunting ground by an alien being, hunting humans for sport. The surviving teens’ only hope is a local hunter named Joe Taylor (Jack Palance) whose own hunting skills make him a worthy adversary for the extraterrestrial big game hunter. This pits hunter vs. hunter in a battle for survival.

Directed by John McTiernan, Predator tells the tale of a group of special ops commandos who are dropped on a rescue mission into a section of the South American jungle that has been staked out as a hunting ground by an alien being, hunting humans for sport. As his squad dwindles, it’s up to team leader Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to use his every skill as a solider to try and stop this big game hunter from another world. This pits hunter vs. soldier in a battle for survival.

Except for some story details, the similarities in the basic plot are quite obvious between the two.

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THE ANTAGONISTS

The alien hunter of the low budget Without Warning is a modest looking creature made by make-up FX legend Rick Baker and played by the late Kevin Peter Hall who was 7′ 3″ tall. The creature stalks it’s prey day or night and it’s only weapons are star-fish shaped creatures that it throws at it’s victims. These little buggers latch on to prey with their pointy fangs and finish them off by digging their tentacles deep under the victim’s skin. When wounded, the creature seems to be able to heal itself with a mere touch of it’s own hand, though, doesn’t really seem to feel pain anyway. It keeps the bodies of it’s victims, temporarily in an old shed, to keep as trophies…or possibly food. The creature is malicious and has no sense of honor and will attack basically anyone, whether they can defend themselves or not. The creature growls but never speaks.

The alien hunter of the larger budgeted Predator is a now iconic movie monster made by make-up FX legend Stan Winston and is also played by the late Kevin Peter Hall, who became a film icon himself for portraying such roles. The Predator hunts it’s victims day and night using a cloaking device to remain hidden. Once it has it’s prey in sight, the better equipt hunter uses a variety of retractable blades and laser weaponry to finish off it’s victims. When wounded, the predator has some impressive self-surgery skills to mend it’s wounds and keep on going, though, it does seem to feel pain and can be hurt. It keeps it’s prey’s skulls as trophies and leaves skinned bodies hanging around to evoke fear in potential game. It is a fair creature, that seems to like a challenge and will only attack prey that is armed and can put up a fight and defend itself. The creature doesn’t outright speak, but communicates by mimicking voices and phrases it’s heard.

While budget advantages make our Predator far more effective than the simply designed hunter of Without Warning, in terms of character, The Predator uses far more technology and weaponry than his 1980 counterpart and seems far more susceptible to pain and injury. Though in terms of the type of hunting they do, The Predator likes a challenge and only attacks armed prey, while Without Warning‘s alien hunter will attack anyone whether they are armed or not…though there is subtle implication that it does not consider children fair game.

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HEROES and FINAL GIRLS

Without Warning has both a hero, our local hunter Joe Taylor (Jack Palance) and a final girl, Sandy (Tarah Nutter). Joe is a bit of a recluse who has lived in the mountain area setting all his life. He’s a hunter who lives off the land and runs the small town’s only gas station. He seems to keep to himself, but has a strong sense of nobility and when the creature sets his sights on the helpless teens, Joe takes up his hunting rifle and takes on the alien invader who’s hunting on the local man’s turf. Final girl Sandy is a sweet girl brought on the lake excursion by her friend Beth (Lynn Thell) as a blind date for her boyfriend Tom’s (David Caruso) bud, Greg (Christopher S. Nelson). She’s sweet and timid, but does rise above being a damsel in distress, when placed in the middle of the life and death struggle between the hunters from different worlds.

Predator has a hero and a final girl (technically, the only girl), too. Our hero is Dutch, the leader of an elite black operative’s team played by action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is a highly skilled soldier and when faced with a creature more powerful and far better armed, Dutch must use every skill he has to outwit his alien adversary that is slaughtering his men. Our final girl is Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), a rebel soldier captured by Dutch’s team that has encountered the creature before. While she is a soldier, the film never let’s her rise about being a captive damsel as Arnie takes center stage for a one on one climactic confrontation with The Predator.

Joe and Dutch are from two different worlds (figuratively), but are the best at what they do in their respective ways of life. It’s in our ladies that there is a bit of a difference. Ironically, while she’s the far more timid character, Sandy gets to show a bit more moxie than Anna who is actually a resistance fighter, but never given a chance to show it in the film.

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THE SETTINGS

Here there are equal parts similarities and differences. Without Warning takes place in a rural mountain area, here in the U.S., surrounding a lake. There is a very small town located in it, but the alien creature seems to track and kill anyone that enters the surrounding woods only. The fact that the locals are unaware of it’s existence, except for crazy army vet Sarge (Martin Landau), it would seem that the creature avoids the town and only enters to pursue prey that has gotten away.

Predator takes place in the thick jungles of South America where there is a lot of military conflict going on between government soldiers and rebels with clandestine U.S. and Russian support on the opposite sides. The Predator not only uses the conflict to mask it’s presence, but to provide it with abundant and heavily armed targets to prey on. It’s also implied that the creature prefers the heat.

While both aliens hunt in remote, dense areas, Without Warning‘s hunter seems to prefer a quieter, less traveled place to secretly hunt while The Predator prefers it’s remote jungle to be a hotbed of chaotic activity and fighting, to cover up it’s big game hunt and provide a numerous selection of aggressive and armed adversaries to prey upon.

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THE OPENING SCENES

The opening scenes for both movies are effective in their own way but vastly different.

Without Warningin 80s horror fashion, starts us off right away with the slaughter of an argumentative father and son (movie vet Cameron Mitchell and former child actor Darby Hinton) on a hunting trip. It establishes right away that there is something wrong in these woods and opens the flick with some blood, gore and a good glimpse at the star fish-like creatures our hunter uses. It sets the stage for what’s to come.

Predator opens with a quite different approach. It introduces us to Dutch and his team and then their insertion into the jungle. It takes a while for the film to start letting us know that there is something wrong here and quite sometime before we begin to realize that there is something otherworldly lurking in the trees. The air of mystery works very well at pulling us in and keeping us interested.

Both openings work in setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. One film does it by showing it’s bloody hand right away, while the other, by keeping us in the dark as to what exactly isn’t right with the situation.

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end with a bang, thought one is intentional, the other a final F*&K YOU from a defeated opponent.

After a cat and mouse chase in the woods, Without Warning has Joe Taylor rigging explosives to the shack where the alien is storing it’s trophies. When the alien returns, Joe sacrifices himself to lure the alien close enough for Sandy to blast it. The creature…and Joe…go up in a ball of flame.

The Predator, on the other hand activates a self-destruct device after being mortally wounded by Dutch during a vicious battle. Dutch barely escapes the conflagration as the alien hunter laughs at the prospect of having the last…well, laugh.

Both endings are dramatic and provide fireworks, but obviously Predator’s budget and star provide far more action than the very low budgeted Without Warning. Joe Taylor and the alien trade a few shots before the explosion and destruction of the shack and an obvious alien dummy. Predator treats us to a last act cat and mouse game between Dutch and The Predator before a brutal physical encounter which has the alien game hunter coming up short and detonating the surrounding jungle to take his victorious opponent with it. Either way, both films have their alien critter going boom.

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IN CONCLUSION

The similarities in these two flicks are extremely obvious. The biggest difference is that Without Warning is a very low budget B-Movie horror flick that plays more like a slasher movie while Predator is a big budgeted studio action film with a major star and gives us one of the screen’s most iconic monsters. Predator’s budget gives us much bigger and more extravagant action while Without Warning works with what it’s got and gives us a flick more like the slasher/horror flicks of it’s time…and it did come first. Greydon Clark was a fairly successful exploitation filmmaker (Satan’s Cheerleaders) while Predator’s John McTiernan would go on to become a renown action movie director with the classics Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October under his belt. Without Warning can’t compete with Predator for action or it’s make-up and gore effects, but does splatter the red stuff frequently and while it’s costume is much simpler, the alien does have some personality and menace. Kevin Peter Hall gave both creatures a presence and while Without Warning does’t have a big marquee name like Arnold, it does have long-time veteran actors like Palance and Landau (along with fellow vets Cameron Mitchell and Neville Brand) to ham it up just enough to make the proceedings fun. Two very similar movies made at different times and at different ends of the filmmaking spectrum, but both provide their own brand of entertainment in their own way. One is now a cult classic and the other a bonafide action movie classic. Win win for us!

 

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CREEPSHOW (1982)

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CREEPSHOW (1982)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

In 1982, horror masters Stephen King and George A. Romero collaborated on this anthology movie that was inspired by the old horror comics from EC Comics. The film, written by King and directed by Romero, presented five horror-themed stories bookended by a segment about a young boy (Joe King) having his horror comic thrown out by his overbearing father (Tom Atkins). Outside in the garbage can, the pages of the book come to life, opening up and allowing the skeletal “Creep” to present it’s tales. Our first is Father’s Day which tells the story of Nathan Grantham (The Boogens‘ Jon Lormer) a rich curmudgeon murdered by his daughter (Viveca Lindfors). As his children and grandchildren gather for Father’s Day, Nathan comes back from the grave for ghostly revenge. Next is The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill which has King himself playing a country bumpkin who has an unfortunate encounter with a fallen meteorite. This is followed by Something to Tide You Over, a story of infidelity, murder and revenge from beyond the watery grave with Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson. Then we are treated to The Crate, a tale of an old crate discovered in a university basement and the horrific creature that lives within it. Finally we get They’re Creeping Up On You, a segment about a mean, old, germ-fearing, Howard Hughes-like recluse (E.G. Marshall) with a very nasty bug problem.

Back in the day, those expecting a fright-fest of epic proportions from the collaboration of Romero and King were sadly disappointed by this comic bookish and tongue-in-cheek anthology that focuses on ghoulish humor far more than scares. Creepshow is a lot of  fun, though, especially years later with the added 80s nostalgia, but while there are some chills, it is never really all that scary…and it wasn’t meant to be. The film retains the dark humor of the comics that inspired it and is even filmed as a comic book come to life, with comic style frames and scenes filmed like comic book panels, all with a ghostly animated creeper beginning each segment. First story Father’s Day is fun and spooky and features some nice visuals and make-up effects. The next story, Jordy Verrill, is OK. King can’t really act, but his exaggerated style oddly fits with the story. Despite a bit of a goofy amusement factor, as his nimrod Jordy turns into a form of alien plant-life, the story itself really doesn’t go anywhere or have much of a point. Third story, Something to Tide You Over, is the dullest, with Nielsen’s pontificating villain taking up most of the running time, happily laying out his diabolical plot to his captive audience. Creepshow picks up again for the last two stories which are, by far, the best. The Crate is spooky, gory and really works the dark humor as a beleaguered professor (Hal Holbrook) uses the discovery of a vicious and very hungry creature to rid himself of another monster, his overbearing wife (Adrienne Barbeau). They’re Creeping Up On You is fun and will make your skin crawl as the ruthless and heartless Upson Pratt is trapped in his germ-free apartment by a power outage with an army of invading cockroaches. You get three strong stories, two weak ones and a Halloween set bookend segment that is devious fun, too. So, overall Creepshow is not perfect, but is ghoulish entertainment made even more fun by a healthy dose of 80s nostalgia, brought on by it’s charming hand-drawn animation and live make-up and prosthetics…something sadly missing in today’s movies.

With five stories and a bookending segment, we have a large cast with many horror veterans and each seems to get the tone of the material and have a good over-the-top time with it, in the varying degrees their individual roles call for. Stand outs are…Tom Atkins (The Fog, Halloween III) as the bookending tales’ hard-nosed father. Atkins is no stranger to edgy characters and this time he gets to play a real jerk. Leslie Nielsen oozes malice in his segment and while it is the weakest story, the veteran actor makes a contemptible bad guy. Adrienne Barbeau is deliciously overbearing as the wife of her The Fog co-star Hal Holbrook’s meek professor, Northup. Barbeau really makes you hate her and beg for her comeuppance…call her Billie, everyone does! Last, but certainly not least, is E.G. Marshall who is a delight as the modern day Scrooge, Upson Pratt. Pratt is a ruthless and heartless individual and his skin crawling encounter with an army of cockroaches makes us cheer on the bugs! Also good are Viveca Lindfors, Carrie Nye, Fritz Weaver, Ted Danson and there is a fun cameo from make-up FX master Tom Savini and small roles from future Oscar nominee Ed Harris and Dawn Of The Dead‘s Gaylen Ross.

Overall, I like Creepshow and it’s a lot of fun, especially now that it carries such heavy 80s nostalgia. I will admit I was a little disappointed back in the 80s that it wasn’t a more serious horror, considering who was involved, but it has grown on me considerably. It isn’t completely successful with all it’s stories, but the ones that are, really work and provide some fun and goosebumps to keep us entertained. The large cast gets the material completely and is filled with familiar faces to horror fans. An entertaining comic book style horror that sadly gets forgotten when people discuss comic book style films as it does convey the comic book feeling far better than many a superhero movie. Creepshow was followed by a sub-par sequel in 1987, directed by Michael Gornick and written by Romero, based on some Stephen King short stories. A third flick, without the involvement of Romero or King, was made in 2006 and seemed to go straight to DVD with little or no fanfare.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Creeps!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

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THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

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Classic flick is considered one of the earliest modern slasher films, though, it is more revenge thriller and doesn’t really follow the formula that seems to have become standard with the advent of films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas and Halloween. The movie is produced by future Friday The 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and was the first feature film directed by future legend Wes Craven. The film is also one I got to see at a re-release in 1981 at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. With Craven’s recent passing, it’s time to revisit this flick that initially disturbed me on first seeing it on the big screen over thirty years ago.

Film tells a violent and vengeful tale of irony both cruel and just. Cruel in that two pretty young girls Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) and Mari (Sandra Cassel) head into the city to see a concert and just happen to run into two escaped convicts Krug (David A. Hess) and Weasel (Fred Lincoln) along with Krug’s son junior (Marc Sheffler) and the sadistic Sadie (Jeramie Rain). They are held against their will in the group’s apartment and suffer torment and rape before being taken bound and gagged up into a rural wooded area. There the torment and rape continues until both girls are brutally murdered. The just irony comes in that the four fiends responsible are not far from Mari’s house. Without knowing who they are, they trick their way into the couple’s home intent on more evil doings. Now inside, though, their identities are discovered and when the Collingwoods (Gaylord St. James, Cynthis Carr) find out who their guests are and what they have done to their daughter…there will be hell to pay!

Written and directed by Craven this is a raw and crude, but very effective flick. Some may see the events as convenient coincidence, but the ironies that brings characters to their fates are certainly effective. As first, it brings the sweet Mari and her more rambunctious friend into a snake pit where they both cruelly meet deaths they don’t deserve and then it delivers those responsible to the very doorstep of Mari’s loving parents. Movie plot device, maybe, but life can deliver such ironies as we all know. The sequences of the girls’ torture, rape and murder are still uncomfortable to watch after all these years as our villains are truly detestable and are enjoying their acts. All the more disturbing as that they are perpetrated on are sweet young girls who have done nothing to deserve it. When Craven’s script brings his four deviates to the Collingwood home, revenge is almost as cruel, but far more deserving…and that’s what makes this work. There is some disturbing violence and ample bloodshed, obviously, and it is an interesting portrayal of how grief and anger can turn good people savage…a theme Craven would explore again in The Hills Have Eyes.

Not everything is perfect. There is a subplot involving the antics of a bumbling sheriff (Marshall Anker) and his incompetent deputy (Karate Kid‘s Martin Cove) that is played for laughs and sticks out in an otherwise serious and brutal film. Also, aside from the perfectly placed ironies, it is a bit of a stretch that the Collingwoods could stay so cool in the presence of the murderers, even after they find Mari’s body. I also thought it a bit of a stretch that they would invite the four strangers into their home, long before they found out who they were, even if this is the early 70s. There are also some songs on the soundtrack…the music is by star David Hess who was also a singer…that don’t seem to fit the mood of what is occurring onscreen.

The cast are all fine for such a low budget flick. Cassel is sweet and portrays a good girl simply wanting to sow a few oats at a concert and Grantham is the more vivacious friend who wants to help her do it and have a good time. Both are very likable and Grantham in particular shows some strength as her Phyllis remains protective of Mari even during their ordeal. Our villains are truly detestable and contemptible. David Hess is an abusive and sadistic monster, plain and simple as Krug. A man who seems to know nothing else but violence and he openly enjoys it. Fred Lincoln is equally disturbing as Weasel a man who enjoys depravity and killing and at times seems more demented than Krug. Equally sadistic and heinous is Jeramie Rain as Sadie. A cruel woman who enjoys the pain of others and appears sexually perverted as well. Rain makes her very disturbing. The only slightly sympathetic characters is Junior, Krug’s son. As portrayed by Marc Sheffler he seems more a young man too afraid to oppose his father than someone who actually wants to be involved in such depravity…though go along with it he does. Rounding out are Gaylord St. James and Cynthis Carr as Mari’s parents, who seem like typical good-natured, all-American parents, which is all the more reason their descent into sadistic violence is so shocking when they seek to avenge their daughter’s murder. The two actors fit the bill well as a Norman Rockwell-esque family driven to deplorable acts of revenge.

So, yes this is a cult classic and an auspicious debut for a man who would go on to be recognized as one of the greatest horror directors of all time. It’s a crude film in many ways, but it is still effective, even if not quite as shocking as it was back in it’s day. There are some obtrusive comic elements and it takes a little effort to accept some of the ironies that set things in motion, but they do work. It’s a landmark horror and a solid career starting point for writer/director Craven and producer Sean S.Cunningham. Certainly recommended, but be warned, even after 40 years the flick still has some bite.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) chainsaws…yup, 2 years before Leatherface, Last House made use of one!

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HALLOWEEN and IT FOLLOWS: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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HALLOWEEN and IT FOLLOWS: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen John Carpenter’s Halloween or David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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When sitting in my seat at New York’s Angelika Film Center and David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows was about to begin, I was wondering, based on all the hype, if I might be witnessing today’s generation find their “Halloween“. Once the film was over and now after repeat viewings, I feel that these films are a lot alike in many ways. Whether Mitchell’s flick will someday be considered a true classic, like Carpenter’s masterpiece, only time will tell. The two films, though have a lot in common and whether they are revered on equal levels at some point, it is worth looking at those similarities now…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

John Carpenter’s classic Halloween has a young boy murdering his own sister on Halloween night. Fifteen years later Michael Myers breaks out of Smith Grove Sanitarium and returns to his home town of Haddonfield, Illinois with his psychiatrist (Donald Pleasence) in hot pursuit. Michael randomly picks high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)…remember, it wan’t until Halloween II that we found out she was Michael’s baby sister…and begins to relentlessly stalk her and her friends. Michael leaves a trail of bodies in his wake as he tracks down young Laurie while she babysits on Halloween night.

It Follows has some sort of vengeful entity passed on to pretty college student Jay (Maika Monroe) through sexual intercourse. This demonic entity relentlessly stalks Jay, taking the form of anyone it wishes and only she and the one who passed it on to her can see it. It will stop at nothing to kill Jay…unless she passes it on to another through sex…as she and her friends seek to somehow evade or destroy it.

There are stark differences in plot details, but basically both flicks have a young woman targeted and stalked by a relentless, malevolent force.

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THE ANTAGONISTS

One of the things that makes Halloween so effective is the randomness of it’s killer. Evoking the feeling it could happen anytime, any place, to anyone. Michael Myers is an average little boy who on one Halloween night, takes up a knife and slaughters his sister. He is immediately incarcerated and over the years, remains a silent vessel of some kind of growing, intense evil that is never explained. For no outward reason, he chooses to escape and return home the night before Halloween, 15 years later. He picks Laurie Strode at random and just starts to follow her relentlessly, then murdering her friends before finally coming after her. He can be slowed down and injured, but apparently not stopped. Whatever Laurie and Dr. Loomis throw at him, he keeps getting back up. He wears an ominous Halloween mask and never speaks, nor seems to take any outward pleasure out of his violent acts. He is just an malevolent juggernaut that won’t stop until he gets what he wants. His motives and what drives him are a mystery.

The unnamed entity of It Follows is similar in many respects. Jay is seemingly picked at random by Hugh (Jake Weary) to have the entity passed onto. Once it has been, it pursues Jay relentlessly. Unlike Myers, it can assume any guise as it does. Sometimes it is in the form of an old woman, sometimes a tall man and even appears as Greg (Daniel Zovatto) and his mother, when Jay passes it on to him and it comes to kill him. It’s true form may be more demonic as the wound it gives Paul (Keir Gilchrist) appears to be claw marks. While the entity seems far more supernatural than Myers, and can only be seen by it’s victim, it also seems like it can be physically wounded and slowed down, though not stopped. It is methodical and patient much like Haddonfield’s infamous killer and also never speaks or seems to truly revel in it’s acts. A big difference, though is the entity will only kill it’s target. It only harms someone else, as with Paul, if they directly get in it’s way. In this, Halloween‘s Myers leaves a far larger body count.

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THE FINAL GIRLS/HEROINES

Here is a point where there are some vast differences, probably more due to a sign of the changing times, but Jay and Laurie are very different young women, despite their mutual resilience. Laurie Strode is the quintessential girl-next-door. She’s dedicated to her school work, very pretty, but dresses conservatively and she is still quite the virgin. She is also very shy around boys. Jay Height, on the other hand, is a few years older and is not only a sexy young woman who is very comfortable around boys, but very sexually active as well. The whole plot of It Follows is started with a sexual encounter she has in the back seat of a boy’s car…on only their second date. Again, it’s almost four decades after Halloween, so the portrayal of women and youths in movies has changed and the society they grew up in, is a lot different than it was in 1978. For example, from the brief meeting with Laurie’s dad, we can see she comes from a good, loving home with caring parents. She’s courteous and polite. Jay, in contrast, comes from a broken home with an alcoholic mother. She curses and is promiscuous and rebellious. With her mother almost always in a stupor, she has only her friends to turn to. Unlike Laurie, there is no Dr. Loomis waiting in the wings to save the day, either.

Both films carry the time-honored horror film themes about the dangers of casual sex, that their respective heroines’ peril represents. In contrast, the virginal Laurie survives, while her horny friends die, while not only does promiscuous Jay’s fate remain uncertain, it is casual sex that got her in trouble in the first place.

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THE SETTINGS

Here there are equal parts similarities and differences. Both film’s have a suburban setting, but very different suburbs. Haddonfield is more of a Norman Rockwell all-American neighborhood with white picket fences, well manicured lawns and trees everywhere. Jay lives in rundown, suburban Detroit where paint is cracking, there are old beat-up cars in the driveways and not every house looks lived in. Where Carpenter used the Halloween time of year to establish a mood, with leaves blowing and cloudy fall days giving way to nights filled with pumpkins and trick-or-treaters, Mitchell uses the desolate look of a dying community to give his chiller it’s feeling of desolation and isolation. Jay’s neighborhood is disturbingly void of activity both day and night while Haddonefield is filled with playing children. It gives us the feeling that Jay and friend’s are all alone…we rarely see an adult…while Halloween gives us an almost idyllic family community unaware and unprepared for the evil that has entered it’s peaceful streets. Two separate methods of using settings to establishing fear and dread, which both films have in abundance.

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THE OPENING SCENES

Both movies have great opening scenes that really establish the mood and tone. Halloween opens on October 31st, 1963. We see pretty Judith Myers being watched as she makes out with, then makes love to, her boyfriend. After he leaves, the observer takes up a kitchen knife and we find it is Judith’s little brother Michael, who then brutally slaughters his nearly naked sister for no apparent reason. His horrified parents arrive home in time to see their little boy standing outside the house holding a bloody knife and staring blankly into space.

It Follows opens with a pan across the Detroit neighborhood as the sun sets when pretty Annie (Bailey Spry) in lingerie and heels bursts out of her house. She looks terrified despite assuring her inquiring neighbor she’s fine. The girl runs back into the house and emerges with her keys, blowing past her concerned father and getting in her car and leaving. We then see her alone on a beach, lit only with her car’s headlights, tearfully telling her father on the phone that she loves him. As she looks in the distance in terror, at the tree line lit by her car’s red break lights, we get an intense feeling of dread even before we cut to the following morning with Annie’s body lying in the sand in a horrifyingly brutalized condition.

Both openings are perfect for setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding.

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THE ENDINGS

Here’s where Halloween really comes out on top. Carpenter’s classic and Mitchell’s films both have ambiguous endings, but only Halloween really pulls it off. After a very intense battle with Michael Myers, Dr. Loomis comes and shoots the masked killer repeatedly till he falls off a balcony and hits the ground…presumedly dead. As Loomis tries to comfort Laurie she asks if it was the ‘Boogie Man’…Loomis replies with an ominous “As a matter of fact it was.” We then see that Michael’s body is gone. It’s very effective and leaves us chilled long after the credits roll. He’s still out there…somewhere. A perfectly spooky open ending with a classic line that still resonates.

It Follows drops the ball a bit by not quite knowing when to stop. Jay and friends have an intense battle with “It” as they lure it into the high school pool where Paul finally shoots it while it’s underwater and trying to drown Jay. Jay looks over the edge of the pool to see it ominously filling with an expanding cloud of blood. Is it dead? We’re not sure. Then the film goes on, having Jay return home and finally sleeping with Paul, who has crushed on her for years. They ask each other if they feel ‘different’ and decide they don’t. After Paul’s declining to pass it on to a pair of hookers…if it’s even still following them…the film cuts to Paul and Jay walking down the street holding hands while there is another person in the distance behind them…and then just ends. It’s supposed to leave us feeling unsure if the entity was defeated or not, but just seems abrupt. The added sex scene with Paul is motivationally unclear, especially after Jay was so guilty over what happened to Greg. It gives us the impression that the story is going to continue, but then just ends. It’s more abrupt than ominous and personally, left me unsatisfied. In my humble opinion…and while I respect the filmmaker’s vision…I would have ended it as Jay looked into the blood-filled pool. The sex scene with Paul doesn’t really add anything and doesn’t further the story. It also gives the intense pool scene a feeling of not having gone anywhere and deflates it’s impact as the film continues on with a new plot point that doesn’t resolve anything either.

Carpenter knew to end Halloween at the right point, while we’re still catching our breath. Mitchell let’s us wind down and then continues the story a bit before his ambiguous ending and thus it gives the appearance of just ending suddenly…and un-satisfyingly. Basically the only real stumble he makes with this film.

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MISC.

There are other similarities. Both films have excellent cinematography and shot framing. John Carpenter’s shot framing has always been impeccable and the moody yet vibrant cinematography of Dean Cundey really makes it effective. Cundey uses shadow brilliantly and Halloween truly looks like the holiday it represents. David Robert Mitchell sights Carpenter as an influence and it shows. Much like Bereavement‘s Stevan Mena, Mitchell has learned well from the master and he frames his shots exceptionally. He is backed up by some sumptuous digital cinematography by Mike Gioulakis, who like Cundey, knows how to use light and shadow to his advantage and he gives the rundown streets of Detroit a sense of hopelessness that fits along with the film’s mood.

Also adding atmosphere for both film’s are their electronic scores. Carpenter’s score for Halloween is legendary and it brilliantly highlights what’s going on in the film, setting the mood for every frame. The same can be said for Disaterpeace’s electronic score for It Follows. A bit more complex than Carpenter’s perfectly minimalist score, it also adds a lot of mood and atmosphere even adding ominous touches when the film is in quieter moments, as Carpenter did with his keyboards.

Finally, both films got gradual releases that slowly expanded from the weeks of their premieres. Staggered releases weren’t uncommon in the 70s and Halloween slowly expanded it’s release and thus it’s reputation grew and began to precede it, as it was regionally released across the country from late October through November. It Follows was supposed to have a small four theater release in mid-March…which is when I saw it in NYC…and then open on VOD a week later. It did so well in those four locations that the VOD release was postponed and the film added more and more theaters over the following few weeks till it achieved a full wide release on 3/27/15 and a solid gross for a low budget film originally slated for VOD.

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So is It Follows the Halloween of today’s generation? By way of comparison, in many ways, it is. The true test will be years from now when we see if horror fans still revere and talk about it or…if it turns out to be a ‘horror of the moment’ and fade away with the next big thing. Only time will tell. Personally, I think it falls a few steps short, but is still a solid and refreshingly offbeat horror flick that should stand the test of time well, if not quite as importantly regarded as Carpenter’s classic masterpiece.

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

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RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

I have to admit, I am not the biggest fan of this flick. True, I was first disappointed because, I was expecting something far more serious from the co-creators of Night Of The Living Dead and Alien and instead got a silly horror/comedy trying a little too hard to be hip. But, over the years I’ve come to realize that simply not all of the bits work and it wears out it’s welcome and gimmick long before it’s 90 minutes are over. Sure it has some fun scenes and a few quotable lines and I understand that many consider this a cult classic and I respect that, but, to me the flick is mediocre at best.

The film uses the original Night Of The Living Dead as a springboard, as medical supply warehouse worker Frank (Poltergeist’s James Karen) tells newbie Freddy (Jason Lives’ Thom Mathews) that the film Night Of The Living Dead actually happened and and George Romero changed the details to keep the army off his back. The zombie outbreak was caused by a military chemical weapon called Trioxin that accidentally raised the dead and an army screw-up brought some of the containers here to Louisville, Kentucky. He shows him some drums that he claims contain the imprisoned zombies and… of course… one gets punctured and Frank and Freddy become infected and the zombie inside escapes. With Freddy’s friends on the way to pick him up and party in a nearby graveyard and warehouse owner Burt’s (Clu Gulager) misguided idea to cremate a re-animated corpse during a rainstorm, it all adds up to a night of terror for all involved as the dead rise with one thing on their hungry dead minds… BRAINS!

There is some witty stuff in director Dan (Alien) O’Bannon’s script from a story by Rudi Ricci and NOTLD co-creators John A. Russo and Russell Streiner but, a lot of it is fairly by-the-numbers, too and adding a lot of punk rock songs to the soundtrack doesn’t really cover up the fact that this should have been a lot more clever. It uses another classic movie as a springboard and while there is the initial clever notion that NOTLD actually happened and there was a cover-up, the film doesn’t really use it for anything other then another routine zombie siege flick. I do like the notion that they eat brains to ease the pain of death. That was a clever touch, but, aside from that, it’s just another board the windows and doors zombie movie with some only half-successful comedy and slapstick thrown in. O’Bannon directs the proceedings with a fairly pedestrian hand, translating the script to screen with very little style or finesse. The film could have used a director who was willing to really go for broke with the premise and doesn’t play it safe like O’Bannon. Even Scream Queen Linnea Quigley’s nude cemetery striptease is done quickly and over before you can blink without ever even trying to exploit the whole nude minx in a sacred cemetery angle. The gore and creature FX are well done but, stay well within the R-rated limits and the last act simply gets annoying as characters shout, curse and cry continuously about their dilemma but, accomplish very little. The slapstick reaches a fever pitch but, O’Bannon is not skilled or experienced enough a director to keep it down to a tolerable level and let’s his cast over-act and it just gets grating. The film basically showed us all it had in the first half and now just barrels along to it’s predictable conclusion. There are some fun zombie bits but, they are few and far between as the action remains focused on those trapped in the mortuary and warehouse… and splitting the characters up and thus our focus, doesn’t help things either. It’s no surprise when the film is discussed that the conversation and quotes are all about the zombies as the human characters never really register.

The cast all over-act a lot, especially Karen who you just want to shut up sometimes. Don Calfa as the mortician is in constant bug-eyes mode even before the zombie show up and Clu Gulager is shamelessly unrestrained the whole flick. Quigley is certainly fetching as nude punk rocker/zombie Trash but, her line readings are flat and her dialog, not much better. And the film sadly makes little use of it’s naked, curvaceous brain-eating sex kitten… again, O’Bannon playing it safe. Mathews spends most of his time shivering and whimpering as he takes over an hour to turn into a zombie and the rest of the cast play stereotypical Hollywood cliche’ punk rockers and hipsters… two groups that would never have hung out together in real life. Even heroine Beverly Randolph is reduced to a crying, shrieking mess and it gives us no strong characters to endear ourselves too or identify with.

So, in conclusion my original opinion remains. The film has some fun bits but, overall plays it far too safe and doesn’t really make good use of it’s premise. Anything clever the film has to offer is basically in the set-up and aside from a legitimately creepy dialog scene with a dead corpse, the film really doesn’t do anything new with the whole zombie formula except to make a joke out of it in an attempt to be hip. There is some fun nostalgia at this point and the flick is very 80, but, overall it’s an overrated attempt to get more gas out of a classic movie’s legendary status and needed a far more deft and clever hand behind the camera to succeed in what it set out to do. Watchable but, very overrated. Made enough money to warrant a number of sequels with only Part 3 being a recommendable watch…and one that might be actually better than the film that inspired it.

2 and 1/2 tar men.

return of the living dead rating

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: BLACULA and DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE

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Black History Month MonsterZero NJ style! I thought I’d revisit the blaxploitation era for this week’s double feature paying tribute to not only pioneer African-American director William Crain, with two of his most famous films but, African-American acting icons William Marshall and Bernie Casey who headline these two cult classic horror flicks!

 

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BLACULA (1972)

Blacula is one of the best examples of the 70’s blaxploitation films refered to in today’s politically correct times as Soul Cinema. Not only does it properly represent the era but, it is also simply a good horror flick, providing some legitimate chills and thrills, as well as, a bit of bittersweet romance too. As written by Raymond Koenig and Joan Torres and directed by William Crain, the tale of an African prince cursed to become the undead by Dracula himself and released from his ages old prison in modern day (at the time) Los Angeles, is a very entertaining movie even without the added 70s nostagia factor. There is lots to enjoy as Blacula builds his undead army and romances a woman who is the striking image of his long dead wife. A big part of the film’s success is the casting of Shakespearean actor William Marshall (know to many of today’s movie fans as The King Of Cartoons from Pee Wee’s Playhouse) in the lead role. Marshall brings a sense of power and nobility to the cursed African prince, Mamuwalde and knows exactly how and when to bring the monster to life when called upon. He even succeeds in making him sexy and sympathetic at the appropriate moments. He is supported by a good cast that brings life to what could have been two dimensional roles including Vonette McGee as Tina, a beautiful woman who resembles Blacula’s lost wife, Luva (also McGee) and veteran actor Thalmus Rasulala as a Dr. Gordon Thomas, a forensics investigator who serves as the film’s Van Helsing character and is helping the police investigate a rash of mysterious deaths. Three guesses who’s responsible for those. Sure it’s campy fun at this point and the FX are cheesy by today’s high standards but, that doesn’t negate the work of those in front of and behind the camera as Blacula delivers lots of spooky entertainment with class, style and not without a touch of humor. A classic of more than one genre.

EXTRA TRIVIA: It is said that  William Marshall himself worked with the filmmakers to give the character nobility and is responsible for his origin as an African Prince which was not part of the original script.

A solid 3 and 1/2 fangs

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DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE (1976)

Blacksploitation classic tells the story of African-American Dr. Henry Pryde (Bernie Casey) who is working tirelessly to find a cure for liver disease. He develops a serum that shows potential but, he can’t perfect it without human experimentation. After a failed test on a dying woman, Henry decides to test the serum on himself. The result transforms the valiant doctor into a super strong, violent tempered… white man. Directed by Blacula’s William Crain, this 70s horror treats it’s story with respect despite how silly it is and Crain, as with Blacula, gets good performances out of his cast that also includes Rosalind Cash (The Omega Man) and Marie O’Henry as Pryde’s love interest, a local hooker named Linda. Sadly, Larry LeBron’s script from an idea by Lawrence Woolner doesn’t nearly make as much use of the classic story it’s based on as did Blacula, nor is Crain able to give this film the same gothic flavor and style he did with that film. It’s pretty much a generic monster movie with Mr. Hyde stalking and killing Linda’s fellow hookers and their pimps while the police trying to find and stop the rampaging killer. The obvious blaxploitation elements are present but, seem a bit forced here as opposed to Blacula where they were just part of the characters and their life at that point in time. Still, the film does have that 70s nostalgia and is worth a look for those interested in the blaxploitation era of filmmaking. Not to mention the movie certainly is not without it’s entertainment value and is never dull. Also noteworthy are the Mr. Hyde make-up effects on Bernie Casey which were created by the legendary Stan Winston.

2 and 1/2 stars!

2 and 1-2 star rating

WARNING: trailer features some nudity and violence.

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