HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

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THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

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

In Almost Human writer/director Joe Begos gave us a horror/sci-fi with some nice homages to flicks like Fire In The Sky and John Carpenter’s The Thing in a gore wrapped story of alien abduction and a creature within stalking a small rural town. Here Begos returns to pay tribute to David Cronenberg’s Scanners with a story of individuals with powerful psychic abilities, even setting his flick in the early 90s. The story tells of Zack (Graham Skipper) and Rachel (Jug Face and Darling’s Lauren Ashley Carter) who are two people with incredible psychokinetic abilities and are being held by Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos) for his own nefarious purposes. The two escape and thus begins a tale of pursuit and revenge that leaves a trail of bodies in it’s wake.

Joe Begos certainly knows his influences and his affection for that which he pays homage is certainly apparent through his past two films. That being said, the same applies here even more so than Almost Human in that, while it is entertaining, the film is a little too close to it’s source material to really have it’s own identity. Almost Human was, at least, a bit of a mash-up within it’s own story. Here the flick is basically just a stripped down version of Cronenberg’s classic, right down to exploding heads…a tribute, we get that…to the climactic duel between good and evil psychokinetic powered individuals. Again, it is a fun tribute, that while it spares us the more complicated conspiracy aspects of Scanners, ups the gore and violence quotient in it’s place. As with Begos’ last flick, the film is moderately paced, which to be fair, is much like the films it purposely evokes. Also like Almost Human, the acting is again a bit wooden especially from the overacting Speredakos, who might have been a bit more threatening bad guy with some moderation and less eye-rolling. The gore FX are quite good, Begos has a good visual eye and style and there is a wonderfully nostalgic electronic score by Steve Moore to give it that 80s/early 90s feel.

Overall, this was an enjoyable tribute to a classic flick from a filmmaker who has an eye for what made those flicks work. As with Almost HumanBegos shows potential as a good low budget filmmaker who certainly has some classic influences and his heart in the right place. Now it’s time for him to take what he has learned from the films he grew up with and do his own thing…and looking forward to it when he does. A fun Cronenberg love letter that while isn’t overly original, successfully evokes what it is giving homage to. Also stars indie horror flick icon Larry Fessenden as Zack’s dad and Noah Segan who is racking up quite the horror resume.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 beers lifted cinematically to David Cronenberg.

worlds end rating

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: JASON X and FREDDY vs. JASON

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My Friday The 13th film retrospective is back with a vengeance with the final two films in the original series before the 2009 reboot…which we will cover soon…these two are certainly the most over the top of the series as one brings Jason into not only the future, but outer space and the last pits him against the Springwood Slasher himself, Freddy Krueger…

 

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JASON X (2001)

With the awful Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday not making that much of an impact, despite trying something a bit new with the franchise and being yet another entry boasting it was the series’ last, it was eight years before New Line tried to get the series going again in anticipation for their plans for Freddy v.s. Jason which was in development at this point, but not ready for production. Not sure why they chose this completely over-the-top approach to get Jason back in action, but the 10th Friday The 13th flick finds Jason not only in the future, but in space and turned into a cyborg as well.

The film starts out in 2010 where Crystal Lake apparently has a research facility and Jason is imprisoned there as the subject of government research into why they can’t kill him and why he can regenerate his body tissue so quickly…though from what I gather he is still a zombie at this point, so not sure how he is regenerating anything if he is dead. The arrogant Dr. Whimmer (legendary director David Cronenberg in a cameo) wants him studied, while Research Director Rowan (Lexa Doig) wants him cryogenically frozen after repeated attempts to destroy him have all failed. During an attempt to transfer Jason elsewhere, he escapes and kills everyone before Rowan tricks him into the cryogenic freeze chamber, but not before being wounded and frozen herself. We then cut to 2455 where earth is uninhabitable and a research ship filled with students, who are not unlike the nubile camp counselors and partying teens in previous installments, find Jason and Rowan and bring them back to their ship with intents of returning to Earth 2 with their find. Rowan is revived and healed and warns the crew to destroy the frozen Jason. A greedy professor (Jonathan Potts), however, sees dollar signs in making the infamous serial killer an exhibit and has no interest in seeing him destroyed. Jason has his own agenda and despite being thought dead, thaws out and returns to his old habits and starts slaughtering the crew…including their well-armed security force. Can Rowan and the remaining crew fend off the revived killer, or will their ship become a floating tomb?

This installment at least is smart enough to try to have a good time with actor/writer Todd (Drive Angry) Farmer’s silly script and makes no pretense in trying to be a serious horror flick. As directed by James Issac…a Visual FX Supervisor who did FX work for both David Cronenberg and Sean S. Cunningham, which explains Cronenberg’s cameo and being hired to direct this flick…the film makes a solid effort to have a fun with the outlandish premise and yet deliver at least some of the familiar elements that F13 fans look for. Unfortunately, Issac’s minimal experience as a director doesn’t give the film the vitality and faster pace it needed to really make effective use of the Sci-Fi imbued story. His directing is very by-the-numbers and the film only really livens up in the last act when Jason goes up against a female android, the KM 14 (Lisa Ryder) who goes all Ripley on the Crystal Lake juggernaut. This leads to a computer malfunction repairing Jason and turning him into an even more lethal cyborg. It’s these moments when the film really takes off and has a good time with taking the iconic character into space. It’s a little too late to really turn the film into a B-movie treat, but it saves it from being a little more then a head scratching curiosity. Issac at least knew his material was silly and it’s too bad he couldn’t have given it a little more spark till these scenes. Not that some of what came before isn’t entertaining, it just isn’t outrageous or fun enough to match the premise. Again…by the numbers. Issac’s approach is competent but very straight-forward and if you’re going to take Jason Voorhees into space, go with it and have a blast. Maybe…and I’m just guessing here…it’s simply because Issac’s experience is more technical and that’s how he approached directing it. The film needed someone with a more passionate touch. The gore FX are, at least, well done and there is enough to please fans.

The cast are fine. Lexa Doig makes a decent enough heroine as Rowan, but she really doesn’t become that endearing. Lisa Ryder steals the show as the spunky, sexy android KM 14 and the film could have used more of her. Peter Mensah makes a good impression as tough-as-nails and resilient Sergeant Brodski who bonds with Rowan, and Jonathan Potts is appropriately slimy as Professor Lowe. Kane Hodder returns for his fourth and final…at least for now…appearance as Jason and gives the character his needed presence and menace.

Overall, it is not the weakest entry, but certainly not one of the better flicks. I was moderately entertained and only wished there was more fun had with the premise like we were treated to in the last act. The film was not the success New Line hoped for, considering the 14 million investment they made on it and it barely made it’s money back. But Freddy v.s. Jason was on the horizon and that would become the highest grossing film containing Mrs. Vorhees’ baby boy thus far. Worth a look if you are a fan of this series and haven’t seen it.

2 and 1/2 hockey masks.

friday 13 2009 rating

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FREDDY vs. JASON (2003)

After quite some time in development, New Line Cinema finally brought two of modern horror’s most infamous icons together for a throw-down…and in my opinion it is a bloody blast of gory fun. The clever plot has Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) finally outwitted by the people of Springwood. His memory has been wiped almost clean from the townsfolk by a diligent policy of never discussing the nightmare demon and institutionalizing and medicating anyone who dreams about him. He’s powerless in his dream realm and quite unhappy about it. Not to be outwitted, Freddy has a nefarious plot to get back in action. He needs someone in the physical world to return to Elm St. and start killing again. The murders will obviously be attributed to him and once he is in the minds of the townsfolk and they begin to fear him again, his power will be restored. The monster he’s chosen for the job is a certain Crystal Lake resident. Freddy revives Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) and sends him to Elm St. to start a killing spree to which he will gleefully take credit. Jason picks the original Elm St. house to start his carnage, which is occupied now by a troubled girl named Lori (Monica Keena) and her widowed father (Tom Butler). Jason thus interrupts a get-together between Lori and some friends in gruesome fashion and Freddy’s plan is set in motion as troubled locals and the authorities think the Springwood Slasher is back. Freddy’s plan seems to be working fine except for two things he didn’t expect….One, Lori is a smart and resilient girl who figures things out a lot quicker than Freddy anticipated and rallies her friends to stop him. Secondly, Jason may have a kill-switch but not an off-switch and if he kills all the beleaguered Elm St. teens, Freddy will be back to square one with no one to fear/empower him. Now the dream demon has to not only foil Lori and friends from stopping him, but must now destroy the very fiend he set in motion. It’s monster vs. monster with Lori and her decreasing number of friends caught in the middle. Who will win?

As directed by Honk Kong filmmaker Ronny Yu, Freddy vs Jason is a lot of gory fun as long as you don’t take it too seriously, or expect it to be the least bit scary. The movie moves very quickly and Yu’s visual style is colorful, as with his Chinese films, but it is when these two modern horror icons finally lock horns that Yu’s HK filmmaking style really kicks in. The final battle is vicious and ridiculously gory like a Tom and Jerry cartoon by way of George Romero. When the smoke clears, you’ve had a bloody good time.

Yu also has a good cast with gorgeous Monica Keena making a sexy and smart final girl. The lively supporting cast features fan favorite Katharine Isabelle, as tough but cute Gibb, Kelly Rowland as smart-ass Kia, Jason Ritter as Lori’s ex Will, who has escaped from being hospitalized and drugged to prevent his dreams from evoking Freddy, with Brendan Fletcher as Will’s oddball bud and fellow hospital inmate, Mark. The supporting characters are all fun and likable and the cast members give them some nice personality to make it all the more effective when either Freddy or Jason take one of them down. The movie works very well because the cast of characters are endearing and our fiends are at their best. Obviously, Englund is at the top of his game as Freddy and he is given some fun dialogue and bits to chew on and serves as the main villain of the piece with Jason ending up being a sort of anti-hero or lesser of two evils. As Jason, big Ken Kirzinger gives him presence and menace and he holds his own against Mr. Krueger.

Sure some of the hardcore fan base may have been hoping for a more serious attempt at a legitimate horror with these two, but at this point, both characters have become more like anti-heroes and it would have been hard to take the bringing together of these two icons all that seriously. Yu chose an approach which never makes a joke out of it, but has a good time with the possibilities as does Damian Shannon and Mark Swift’s script which provides some clever touches such as Freddy discovering Jason’s only ‘fear’. The flick gets a lot of mileage and fun out of the legacy of both characters and the bringing them together for a fight. It’s a very energetic movie and is a blast of fun and works very well for what it is. The characters still have some threat and there is plenty of the red stuff spurted about as their paths cross and the make-up effects portraying the carnage is top notch. The production as a whole is very slick and and makes good use of it’s healthy budget. A really entertaining flick that deserved, but sadly never got a rematch. A fun blast to end the original series for both Freddy and Jason.

3 and 1/2 hockey masks.

friday 13 1980 rating

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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. 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. 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. 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. The results are visually horrifying and still hold their full impact even today. 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 than 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 (out of 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 . 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. 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 (out of 4) flies!

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A SPECIAL PLACE: THE ORITANI THEATER IN HACKENSACK, N.J.

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The Oritani Theater: 300 Main St. Hackensack N.J Photo from the Mitchell Dvoskin collection

A SPECIAL PLACE: THE ORITANI THEATER IN HACKENSACK, N.J. by MonsterZero N.J.

Everyone has a special time and place in their lives that they will always remember. For me it was the Oritani Theater in Hackensack N.J. during the late 70s and early 80s. A place which was an important part of my youth and played a large role in developing my tastes in movies and my love of movies in general. Since I will probably mention this special theater quite often on this site, I might as well tell you a little bit about it and why it is special to me…

Grind-house is a term used to describe a movie theater that showed low budget exploitation films as opposed to more mainstream movies. The Oritani triplex in Hackensack N.J. could definitely be described as a grind-house, presenting badly dubbed martial arts, horror, and raunchy low budget comedies. I was fortunate enough to have experienced seeing a lot of great exploitation films on it’s screens before the video age killed the grind-house and these movies went direct to videotape and now DVD.

My first visit to the Oritani Theater was in 1976. It was still a single auditorium theater at that point and my parents took me there to see the cheesy rubber monster-fest, “At The Earth’s Core” which was on a double feature with the sci-fi/horror “Bug”. It was an odd double feature and a herald of things to come. I would venture there a few more times to see delightfully cheesy fair like “The Incredible Melting Man”, but it wasn’t till a few years later when visiting the Oritani would become an almost weekly occurrence.

I started high school in 1979 as a new kid in Ridgefield Park N.J., a small town where everyone grew up together. My parents had divorced and my mother remarried and we relocated there to live with my new stepfather. I was an outcast at first and it was the other outcasts that I bonded with as friends. My pals Roger, Ray and Dorian all held similar interests and movies was one of them. Ray especially was a big horror and gore movie fan and I wonder if he still is. We weren’t old enough to drive and Hackensack was in walking distance, so Friday and Saturday nights were spent walking along the railroad tracks that paralleled the Hackensack River into town and onto Main St, where the Oritani theater was located. The Oritani was now split into a triplex, so there was at least three movies to choose from each week, more with the occasional double feature. If the weather was bad, Ray’s grandfather drove us, so we were there almost every weekend, sometimes twice. There was always something playing there to catch our interest. Worse came to worse, there was the Fox theater across the street, which showed it’s share of exploitation flicks, too.

Obviously what we saw there was a mixed bag. I remember seeing the classic “Shogun Assassin”, as well as, one of my all time favorites, “Escape from New York”. But for every future classic, there was a “Final Exam” or a “Revenge of the Shogun Women in 3D” which evoked more laughs and mockery then chills and thrills. I discovered the films of David Cronenberg watching “Scanners” there. My first exposure to Cronenberg’s work and he has become one of my favorite filmmakers. Got to see some early Charles Band productions there like “Laserblast” and “The Day Time Ended” before he embraced DTV and started making films specifically for the home video market. I also saw “Mad Max” there starring a then unknown Mel Gibson, which was on an odd double feature with “Humanoids from the Deep”, another great B movie from Roger Corman, whose movie productions I love. I saw Corman’s answer to “Star Wars” and “Alien” respectively, “Battle Beyond the Stars” and “Galaxy of Terror” at this special theater, too. Both had production design by a then unknown James Cameron who went on to direct “Terminator”, “Aliens” and “Titanic”. Future memories formed watching future stars. You’d be surprised how many acclaimed actors and filmmakers had their start in these movies…whether they acknowledge it or not.

The audience at the Oritani was as diverse as the selection of flicks and these movies brought everybody together to laugh and shout comments at the screen as one audience. Whether it was to challenge a master’s skill in “Kill and Kill Again” or question the threat factor of one of “The Boogens”, the audience became part of the film. Some of the comments heard were better than the film viewed and I will never forget them. When the film broke before an epic battle in “Shogun Assassin” and restarted after the fight ended… well, you had to be there. I’m glad I was. Even when I revisit that B-movie classic today, it doesn’t seem quite the same with that jarring bit of missing footage now intact.

Unfortunately, video tape came along and exploitation film studios realized it was cheaper to release things directly on tape than to spend money on prints and advertising. The grind-house died and the Oritani died with it. There are now a couple of stores standing where the Oritani used to be and I can’t name one of them. Don’t care to. I wish I could name the last thing I saw there*, but in it’s final run, the Oritani tried to save itself by becoming more of a mainstream movie house, so we stopped going. By then we were old enough to drive and could see these mainstream movies on a newer, bigger screen with better sound. I remember one night coming out of the Fox theater, we might have gone there to see John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, and I gazed across the street to see the Oritani marquee and feeling sad that “E.T”. was playing there and not some cool exploitation flick or low budget horror. Maybe in my heart I knew at that moment that those days were now gone and to an extent, so was the Oritani I knew and loved. And sadly, it was. The Oritani closed in 1983, the year I graduated high school. Perhaps a bit symbolic of the end of my youth, or at the very least, the end of an era. I will never forget this special theater nor the impact it had on me as a movie lover. I cherish the memories of all the great B-Movies I discovered there, seeing them on the big screen where they belong. The spirit of the Oritani Theater still lives within this movie geek, though and on many a quiet Saturday night I get a six pack of my favorite brew and pull some of the great B-movies first seen there from out of the collection and relive some of the memories of that very special place.

The Oritani Theater  1922-1983.

*UPDATE 2/8/2015: After a lot of deliberation and checking of release dates, I have come to believe that “Friday The 13th part 3 in 3D” may very well have been the last film I saw at the Oritani Theater. If correct, Friday 8/13/1982 is the last time I was at this great theater and special place…and the 3rd “Friday The 13th”, the final film. -MZNJ
-MonsterZeroNJ
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