HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY TO THE LATE, GREAT DONALD PLEASENCE!

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Donald Henry Pleasence 1919-2019

Legendary actor Donald Pleasence would have been 100 years old today had he graced us for so long and not passed away in 1995. He legacy, however, will live forever!… and of course, it wouldn’t be Halloween¬†ūüéÉwithout him!

 

-MonsterZero NJ

Sources: internet

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HALLOWEEN II (1981) and HALLOWEEN (2018): A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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HALLOWEEN II (1981) and HALLOWEEN (2018): 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 Halloween II¬†(1981) or Halloween (2018),¬†there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW¬†for each film. You have been warned!

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Comparison In Horror is back!…and in this installment the comparison is between the two direct sequels to John Carpenter’s original classic¬†Halloween. In 1981, the success of¬†Halloween¬†led to an inevitable sequel,¬†Halloween II. Recently, for¬†Halloween‘s 40th anniversary, a new film, Halloween (2018), was made that went back to the source and erased all the previous sequels, as a direct continuation of Carpenter’s original story. It’s created a unique situation where one classic film now has two direct sequels…remember,¬†Halloween H2O, acknowledges the story elements of¬†Halloween II, so it is not quite a direct sequel to the 1978 classic.¬†Two direct sequels that take place forty years apart, let’s take a look these two films and compare…

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

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THE STORY

Halloween II takes place on the same night of the original, basically picking up right where the first film leaves off. The flick continues with an injured Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) being taken to a hospital in Haddonfield, while Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and the police scour the neighborhood for the still at large Michael Myers (stuntman Dick Warlock). Unbeknownst to them, Michael has discovered Laurie’s whereabouts and heads to the hospital to find her, leaving a trail of bodies along the way. Once there, he begins to decimate the hospital staff, one by one, in search of his prey. It is in this film that it is revealed that Laurie is actually Michael’s other sister and he has come home to finish the job he started 15 years ago.

Halloween (2018)¬†opens forty years later to find Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) living in solitude after some failed marriages and loosing custody of her only daughter Karen (Judy Greer). She‚Äôs taught herself to survive and fight and is in a constant state of preparedness for Michael Myers‚Äô (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney) possible return. As for Michael, he was recaptured after that fateful night and has been re-incarcerated in the Smith‚Äôs Grove Asylum ever since. A pair of British journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) visit Michael, on the eve of his transfer to an even more secure institution, and try to evoke a response by presenting him with his old mask. Of course, that night, the transfer bus suffers an accident and Michael escapes, reclaims his mask and heads off to Haddonfield in time for Halloween. Hearing of his escape, Laurie intends to protect her daughter and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) and goes on the hunt to confront Michael once and for all. By ignoring all the sequels, this film eliminates the subplot that Laurie is Michael’s sister and returns her to a random victim.

Except for both films being direct sequels to John Carpenter’s¬†Halloween, the stories are vastly different.

 

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MICHAEL MYERS

Obviously the Michael Myers in 1981’s¬†Halloween II is the same as in John Carpenter’s¬†Halloween,¬†as the film picks up minutes after the first movie. He’s about twenty-one years-old and is a brutal killer, murdering anyone he encounters during his pursuit of Laurie. It starts out as random neighbors, as he flees from the police and Loomis, to various hospital staff once he finds Laurie at Haddonfield Hospital. He uses a variety of weapons or his hands to brutally dispatch his victims. His mask is still new, stolen earlier that day from a general store. There are hints that there is something supernatural about him, a pure evil more than human.

Halloween (2018)‘s¬†Michael is a Michael forty years older than when we…or Laurie…last saw him. He’s got grey hair, is balding and covered in scars from his first encounter with Laurie. Once reunited with his mask, it too is showing wear and tear, with cracks and thinning hair much like it’s wearer. Despite being 61 years-old, he is still a strong, brutal and efficient killer murdering any innocents he encounters on his way back to Haddenfield and Laurie. In comparison, he seems a bit more vicious here, using his bare hands more often and otherwise mostly sticking with a simple kitchen knife, ironically obtained in a nice homage to¬†Halloween II. He still prefers gas station coveralls and stalking women home alone or babysitting. The supernatural hints are downplayed here, save for a few lines in a nice homage/vocal cameo by Dr. Loomis.

In neither film does he ever speak and any emotions are marked by a shifting of his head or an intensifying in his movements. While he seems more interested in babysitters than their charges in the 1978 and 1981 films, 2018’s Michael has no qualms killing a young boy with a gun…but will still spare a baby. In the 1981 sequel, he started to appear more invincible and unkillable like his cinematic rival Jason Voorhees. In the 2018 sequel, he is back to being more human and can be hurt or injured.

 

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LAURIE STRODE

The Laurie Strodes portrayed in both films are a vast contrast due to the proximity and/or passage of time to the original film’s events.

In Halloween II Laurie is a terrified high school girl who is still traumatized from her encounter with Michael that night. She is basically a damsel in distress, continually on the run from Myers once he reacquires her. She actually seems to have a little less fight in her than she did in her earlier battle with the masked killer, though understandable being wounded and sedated by the hospital staff. Loomis once again comes to her rescue.

In¬†Halloween (2018)¬†we find a Laurie Strode who has been haunted for forty years as a result of the attack by Michael Myers and the murder of her friends. Aside from a few failed marriages and having a daughter from one, Laurie has lived a solitary life where she constantly prepares for Michael’s return…in fact she actually prays for it. The only way Laurie can purge the events of that Halloween night in 1978 from her mind is to kill the man who traumatized her and turned her into the paranoid recluse she now is. When she hears of Michael’s second escape, instead of hiding, Laurie arms herself and the hunter becomes the hunted. Laurie is more Sarah Conner than damsel in¬†David Gordon Green’s film and Jamie Lee Curtis gives one of the best performances of her career.

 

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THE SETTINGS

The settings for both of these films is Haddonfield, Illinois and despite taking place forty years apart, not much has changed. In both films Haddonfield is a small suburban midwestern town that seems to celebrate Halloween enthusiastically.¬†Halloween II¬†‘s town is still mostly unaware there is a killer in their midst and are only starting to hear the news that there has been an escape at Smith’s Grove and murders committed locally. The original Myers murder of his sister Judith, fifteen years earlier, is almost an urban legend at this point, especially to the town’s younger generations. A lot of the action takes place in the local hospital where Laurie has been admitted.

Same goes for¬†Halloween (2018)‘s Haddonfield which has almost forgotten about the murders of forty years ago, save for the reminder of the eccentric woman who lives secluded in the woods. The new generation of teens know very little about Myers and that night and are too busy partying and trick or treating to realize a killer is on his way home again. Much like¬†Halloween II, the Myers story is treated as an urban legend by everyone but for Laurie and a save few, including her daughter and granddaughter. The action takes place first at Smith’s Grove and then moves to Haddonfield with a last act at Laurie’s fortress home.

 

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THE OPENING SCENES

Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 sequel opens at¬†Halloween‘s climax with Michael vanished and Loomis pursuing him into the street, much to the chagrin of a next-door neighbor. The opening sets the tone of the movie by quickly recounting the closing moments of the first film and then establishing that the danger is still out there. After a very effective opening credits scene where a pumpkin splits open to reveal a skull, we get Michael’s theft of a knife and first kill to make sure the dread is re-established.

Halloween (2018)¬†¬†Opens with a pair of British podcasters visiting Michael at the Smith Grove Asylum. Journalist¬†Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) uses some connections to borrow Michael’s mask and brazenly shows it to him to no effect. The other inmates react and it is their reaction that gives the opening an unsettling creepiness. After a very effective title sequence with a rotten pumpkin slowly reforming, we then follow Korey and his partner¬†Dana (Rhian Rees) as they visit the reclusive Laurie, thus re-introducing us to her after all these years.

Both openings serve their respective stories well. Though in terms of sheer effectiveness,¬†Halloween II¬†is definitely the more potent opening, when going from Loomis’ classic “You don’t know what death is!” line to the pumpkin/skull credits, in getting us in the mood to be scared.¬†Halloween (2018)¬†only really gets going at a gas station scene which amusingly homages Halloween 4.

 

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end in fiery conflagrations with Michael at the receiving end.

In¬†Halloween II, Michael bursts in as Loomis and Laurie are hiding in an operating room. Blinded by some well placed gunshots, Michael is lured into the center of the room as Laurie escapes. A wounded Loomis ignites the oxygen tanks causing a massive explosion. Myers walks out of the fire engulfed in flames before collapsing. Carpenter intended this to be the end of Michael Myers, though he would return for five more sequels before being “re-imagined” by Rob Zombie.

Halloween (2018)¬†has Michael and Laurie engaged in a final(?) showdown at Laurie’s remote fortress house in the woods. She traps Michael in the cellar and then ignites the house which was always fitted to be a trap for the serial killer. Michael stares up at her as the room becomes engulfed in flames around him. Next we see the room, it is completely in flames, yet we see no sign of Michael. As we do hear his trademarked heavy breathing during the end credits, we are led to believe¬†David Gordon Green is not done with the saga of Michael and Laurie quite yet.

 

 

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MISC

Halloween II is directed by Rick Rosenthal from a script by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, while Halloween (2018) is directed by David Gordon Green from a script by he, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley. Both films are scored by Carpenter himself, with collaborations from Alan Howarth on the 1981 film and son Cody and Daniel Davies on the 2018 film. Both films look great with Dean Cundey doing the cinematography on Halloween II and Michael Simmonds on Halloween (2018). Both films feature graphic violence which is well represented by their respective make-up effects departments. As the recipient of such, both flicks have characters that are obviously there just to be Michael fodder. Each film does make good use of spooky Halloween imagery and were both box office hits with Halloween (2018) coming in just under the original film when tickets are adjusted for inflation.*

*as per Box Office Mojo

 

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IN CONCLUSION

Both films have their flaws and both have their merits. Both films effectively continue the story, but from completely different points in the timeline. One movie beginning where the first left off and the other continuing the story four decades later. As in all cases such as this, it’s up to the individual to choose a favorite. On a personal level, I’ll go with¬†Halloween II¬†as it’s an 80s slasher after all…my favorite kind…and flaws aside, it’s still the last Michael Myers film to really feel like a Halloween movie with Carpenter scoring and Dean Cundey doing cinematography…and let’s not forget the sadly missed presence of Donald Pleasence as Loomis. Halloween (2018), certainly got a number of things right, and does include a great performance from the queen herself. It also stumbled too, especially with it’s Loomis wannabe Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) and a failed subplot involving him. The 2018 film does have a strong police presence in Will Patton’s Deputy Hawkins who makes a nice replacement for the original part I and II’s Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) and Deputy Gary Hunt (Hunter von Leer). Addressing issues such as the long term effects on an attack victim, Green’s film has more substance, though Rosenthal’s sequel is simply more fun. Either way, Michael Myers fans win, as we probably haven’t seen the last of him.¬†ūüéÉ

-MonsterZero NJ

Check out more editions of A Comparison In Horror here!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HALLOWEEN (2018)

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HALLOWEEN (2018)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

It’s the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter’s Halloween and so there is no surprise that there is a new Michael Myers film this year. This film hits the reset button and rejects all the other sequels and remakes and is a direct continuation of the first film, picking up the story 40 years later…

Halloween 2018 opens to find Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) living in solitude after some failed marriages and loosing custody of her only daughter Karen (Judy Greer). She’s taught herself to survive and fight and is in a constant state of preparedness for Michael Myers’ (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney) possible return. As for Michael, he was recaptured after that fateful night and has been incarcerated in the Smith’s Grove Asylum ever since. A pair of British journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) visit Michael, on the eve of his transfer to an even more secure institution, and try to evoke a response by presenting him with his old mask. Of course, that night, the transfer bus suffers an accident and Michael escapes, reclaims his mask and heads off to Haddonfield in time for Halloween. But Laurie intends to protect her daughter and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) and goes on the hunt to confront Michael once and for all.

John Carpenter returns to the series to executive produce, along with Jamie Lee Curtis. He also co-wrote the score with son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. The film itself is directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) who co-wrote with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley for Blumhouse and Miramax. Background in comedy aside, Green delivers what is probably the best of the post Halloween III sequels, though technically that is not saying much. It also feels much more like a¬†Halloween film than Rob Zombie’s efforts, but those are their own thing and exist in their own universe. It’s not perfect and still can’t come close to the original, but it does provide some intense scenes, especially in the last act confrontation. There is some brutal violence and Myers hasn’t mellowed in his old age (he’s about 61 here) as he still has a fondness for babysitters, anyone home alone…and or course, the Strode women. The film’s drawbacks are mostly script problems. The character of Loomis prot√©g√©e, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) seems shoehorned into the story, just so it has another Loomis. He doesn’t provide any useful exposition and as Michael hasn’t spoken in 40 years, he can’t know anything much more about him than Loomis did. There is also a last act plot twist involving him which simply doesn’t work and serves only to set up one of the film’s many conveniences. The flick also never maintains a constant feeling of dread as did the original. It’s never really scary, though it does get intense and there are some suspenseful moments. Michael’s killings in Haddonfield seem far more random than before. In the original he stalked Laurie’s friends, here it’s just randomly picked people to add body count before the last reel showdown. It works, but still seems like filler. When that showdown comes, it is intense and delivers what we came for and Green does pay nice homage to the original and some of the sequels it chooses to ignore. It also looks great, Green has a good visual eye and Haddonfield looks the most like Haddonfield since it did in 1981’s Halloween II.

Green also gets good work out of most of his cast. Jamie Lee Curtis is great as the emotionally troubled survivalist that Laurie Strode has become. If her character evokes the transformation of Sarah Conner from The Terminator to it’s sequel, T2: Judgement Day, it’s probably intentional…and it works. She’s still the queen of final girls. Greer is very good as her somewhat estranged daughter and it’s a shame this talented actress constantly gets these second banana supporting roles. Andi Matichak was solid as Strode’s granddaughter Ally. She seems to take more after her grandmother than her mother, though due to the story trajectory, she takes a backseat to Curtis in terms of final girl duty. Will Patton was solid as the local sheriff, Haluk Bilginer is no Donald Pleasence as Sartain, and Rees and Hall were suitable in their brief roles as the British journalists who rattle the wrong cage. Last, but certainly not least, Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney combine to make an imposing Myers, who is more threatening than he was in any of the post Halloween III, pre-Zombie sequels.

Overall, Halloween 2018 was a suitable enough sequel, though not without it’s flaws and it’s no classic. Director Green gave us some intense scenes and some brutally violent moments, as well as, a strong last act confrontation. His script let’s us down a bit, with some really contrived conveniences and a Loomis replacement that wasn’t necessary and who suffered one of the worst plot twists of the film. The continual sense of dread Carpenter established was missing and Michael’s kills seemed especially random and there to “kill” time as we awaited his reunion with Laurie. Curtis is still queen of the final girls forty years later and Dr. Sartain aside, most of the cast and characters worked, even if some were obvious Michael fodder.

Halloween 1978 is a masterpiece and a horror classic, so one can’t expect the same from any of the sequels. Most of them sucked, anyway, making it easy for this film to be able to at least hold it’s ground against the original three…and flaws aside, it does. Stay through the credits.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 three carving knives. Happy Halloween ūüéÉ!

 

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR (1983)

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THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR (1983)

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

In 1683 in the rural town of Devonsville, three women where arrested and put to gruesome deaths, accused of being witches. The last one to die was indeed a witch and cursed the town with her final breaths. Three centuries later to the day, three young women, including the new school teacher, Jenny (Suzanna Love from The Boogey Man) arrive in the small¬†town. As the new ladies are of modern thinking and behavior, they soon garner unwanted attention in this backward thinking community. The male descendants of those who, 300 years earlier, sent the three women to their deaths, start to become afraid that these women are reincarnations of the suspected witches and back for revenge. As strange occurrences creep over the town, the men plot to stop these new suspected ‘witches’ before they can have their vengeance on the citizens of Devonsville.

Flick is directed by Ulli Lommel, a german filmmaker who also directed the cult favorite The Boogey¬†Man. While it’s basically as bad as that movie, it’s nowhere near as fun. The story, written by Lommel, along with George T. Lindsey and wife and star Suzanna Love, is tedious and slow going with very sparse supernatural activity until it’s climactic scene. Most of the running time, save for the opening scene set in 1683, is a bunch of bigoted and paranoid men seeing everything these three women do as suspicious and evidence they are witches. Obviously, there are feminist messages here about the oppression of women by ignorance and misogynist¬†thinking, but it’s hard to take them seriously when the men are¬†proven right about at least one of these modern-thinking women being a devil¬†in disguise. Also, it makes no sense that such a sheltered community would bring in a stranger from the outside to teach their kids‚Ķnot that much logic was evoked here anyway.¬†Some of the scenes meant to serious are laughable, such as widower Walter (Paul Wilson) trying to seduce Jenny with a violin¬†and most of the locals are just continually creepy.¬†The FX are all pretty poor, especially the few visual ones. There is some laughable gore at the climax, as well as, a demon incarnation that literally looks and moves like a muppet. The dialogue is pretty terrible and even at less than 90 minutes the film feels like at least two¬†hours.

The cast are pretty much wooden across the board. Even a veteran like Donald Pleasence…not sure how he got dragged into this…seems to be delivering his lines very by-the-numbers. Star Suzanna Love is perky and cute, but not all that much of an actress. She has a couple of nude scenes, so at least here is that. The rest of the supporting cast give forgettable performances and the flat reciting of the terrible dialogue only enhances the lack of any real energy or passion in the performances.

Overall, this is a pretty forgettable flick. There are a few scenes that have a little impact, mostly the cruel opening sequence, but for the most part, it’s a snoozer.¬†The Boogey Man¬†may have been a fairly bad film, too, but at least it was fun to watch. Even a veteran like Donald Pleasence seems to perform as if he wished he was elsewhere and the laughably bad make-up and gore takes any impact away from the climactic scene. Not much to recommend here unless, like me, you just have to see this stuff for yourself.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 muppet-like demon incarnations.

devonsville terror rating

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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‚Ķunless 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‚Ķon 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‚Ķwe rarely see an adult‚Ķwhile¬†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‚Ķpresumedly dead. As Loomis tries to comfort Laurie she asks if it was the ‘Boogie Man’‚ĶLoomis 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‚Ķsomewhere. 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‚Ķif 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‚Ķand 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‚Ķand while I respect the filmmaker’s vision‚ĶI 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‚Ķand 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‚Ķwhich is when I saw it in NYC‚Ķand 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‚Ķif 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: ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)

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ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)

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

This is an odd 80s movie directed and co-written by Jack Sholder, who went on to direct the lackluster ANOES 2: Freddy’s Revenge¬†and the awesome The Hidden. The movie tells the twisted story of Dr. Dan Potter (The A-Team’s Dwight Schultz) who goes to work at the psychiatric clinic of the renown but, eccentric Dr. Leo Bain (Donald Pleasence). The most dangerous of Bain’s patients are resigned to the 3rd floor and consist of former priest¬†and arsonist, Byron (Martin Landau), enormous child molester, Ronald (Running Man’s Erland van Lidth), “The Bleeder” (Phillip Clark), who never shows his face and former POW, Col. Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance).¬†Unfortunately for Potter, Hawkes’ paranoid delusions make him come¬†to believe the new doctor has killed their former handler, Dr. Merton. When a massive blackout neutralizes the institute’s security systems, Hawkes convinces his psychotic compatriots to escape and hunt down Potter and exact revenge. Now the four leave a trail of bodies as they head toward Potter’s house where he and his unsuspecting family sit “alone in the dark.”

While this movie has it’s entertainment value, I just expect more with a cast and premise such as this. The film has some odd moments…especially the last head-scratching scene‚Ķand just should have been either a lot more fun or a lot more frightening. Jack Sholder seems to take the middle road with his directing and script‚Ķco-written with Robert Shaye and Michael Harrpster‚Ķand delivers something more of a fairly tame slasher with some oddly humorous moments peppered throughout. Either he wasn’t sure which direction to go with the material, or wanted it both ways, which takes a deft hand to pull off. There are some effective moments and there are some uncomfortable giggles, such as the murder of a bicycle deliver man but, the film never really takes off with any horrific intensity or over-the-top lunacy. It could have used one, the other, or both! It’s body count is also¬†remotely tame and the gore FX are average and simple. It just never fully takes advantage of the premise, or it’s great cast of veteran character actors whose loonies never really get to ‘cut’ loose. There are a few good kills and some disturbing moments but, not enough to make this unevenly toned film completely satisfying. I personally enjoyed the film to an extent but, ultimately still feel disappointed that it never lives up to it’s giddy potential. Palance and Landau were much more effective in similar roles in the 1980 Without Warning, where they were allowed to ham it up and give their roles some energy. There is some atmosphere, though¬†and Joseph Mangine’s nice cinematography adds to that, as does Renato Serio’s very 80s score. There is also some added 80s nostalgia, now and despite being underutilized, it is still great to see all these character actors together. Too bad Sholder couldn’t have really taken this flick and run with it, one way or the other.

Alone In The Dark is an Ok flick but, one comes away feeling that it missed being something really special. It has a bit of a reputation and following and I can understand that but, I still feel with it’s story and the cast assembled to tell it, that it should have been so much more. If the Jack Sholder who directed the fast paced and over-the-top¬†The Hidden¬†had directed this one, it would have been a real treat and a true cult classic at this point. Not a complete failure but, not a complete success either.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 delivery guy hats.

alone in the dark rating

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BOOK REVIEW: ON SET WITH JOHN CARPENTER by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

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This is one book review, I definitely need no excuse to post. Not only is it a great chronicle of the making of some of the early classics of the legendary John Carpenter but, an amazing album of behind the scenes shots from some of my favorite films from my favorite filmmaker…

ON SET WITH JOHN CARPENTER by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

John Carpenter is perhaps my all time favorite filmmaker and, as my favorite of his works are those from the 70s and 80s, this book was an amazing trip down memory lane and an incredible glimpse behind the scenes at some of Carpenter’s early classics as told through the talented camera lens of Kim Gottlieb-Walker with some comments and anecdotes from Kim, John Carpenter and some of those involved. The photography is not only breathtaking but, captures a side of the productions of Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, the Carpenter produced Halloween II and Christine that we’ve never seen before. Gottlieb-Walker was hired by Carpenter and Debra Hill as his unit photographer and as such, she captured some wonderful behind the scenes shots of cast and crew from these classic films. Add the commentary and some delightful stories from the photographer, Carpenter himself and others such as Adrienne Barbeau, DOP Dean Cundey and many, many more, and this book becomes a trip back in time to a long-gone era and a side of these productions that we have only barely glimpsed previously. It chronicles the rise of a legendary director and some other now very established filmmakers, as well as, shares tales of some sadly gone talents such as Lee Van Cleef, Issac Hayes, Donald Pleasence and pioneer producer Debra Hill. As a Carpenter fan, or simply a fan of filmmaking, this is a must-have book with some simply amazing photos that will take us back to the days when a group of young filmmakers and actors were making their dreams‚Ķ and some of our favorite films‚Ķ a reality. A simply beautiful book and instantly one of the most cherished in my collection‚Ķ and it doesn’t hurt either that the largest section of the book is dedicated to Escape From New York, my favorite Carpenter flick and one of my all-time favorite films. I. Love. This. Book!

4 stars!

four stars rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and SHAKEDOWN

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This week’s double feature combines two movies I’ve covered before but, since NYC was on a lot of people’s minds this past week and the World Trade Centers figure¬†prominently in both features, I decided to pair up two of my favorite 80s action guilty pleasures! Enjoy!

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite B movies and a bonafide film classic. I instantly fell in love with this film upon seeing it opening night at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and John Carpenter solidified himself as one of my favorite directors.

An outrageously original idea has New York City in a war torn, crime filled, future turned into a maximum security prison, and legendary¬†director Carpenter makes it work by taking his subject matter just seriously enough to make the audience buy it. Add to that a colorful cast of characters, including one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heros of all time, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and you have the recipe for a B movie classic. The story is simple, war hero turned outlaw, Snake Plissken has been captured and is about to be sentenced to life imprisonment in New York City Penitentiary. But, fate intervenes and the President’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked on the way to a crucial peace summit and crashed inside the city.¬†Former special forces soldier Plissken is the only man skilled enough to sneak in quietly and get him out alive¬†and¬†Snake now has a chance at a full pardon for all his crimes if he takes the job. But, a vicious gang leader called The Duke Of New York (Isaac Hayes) has other ideas for both The President and Snake, who has less then 24 hours to complete his mission or the world goes back to war.

Director and co-writer (with Nick Castle) Carpenter creates some nice tension and suspense and his visual eye is great at creating a gloomy hellhole out of the world’s greatest city. And Dean Cundey’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as it captures the world inside New York, which is very effectively portrayed on a small budget. Carpenter moves the film along well, although not as fast paced as today’s audience are used to, and there is plenty of action and chases to keep one entertained. And despite being released in 1981, this film may be the last film to have a real 70s feel to it before the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards changed action films forever. Another film that inspired many and was imitated many times and another great Carpenter film score to add to the atmosphere.

As for the cast‚Ķ Kurt Russell does his best Clint Eastwood as Snake and it’s only natural then to pair him up with Eastwood co-star Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner, Bob Hauk. Rounding out the cast is Halloween vet Donald Pleasence as the President, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie and legendary soul man Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York. And not to forget, there is also genre favorite Tom Atkins as Hauk’s right hand man, Rehme and frequent Carpenter collaborator Charles Cyphers as the Secretary Of State. A simply classic B-movie sci-fi/action flick and one of my all time favorites! MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:¬† The studio wanted Charles Bronson as Snake, but, Carpenter fought for his choice of former Disney child actor, Russell and the rest is history. Also, the SPFX were done in part by a then unknown James Cameron, who went on to direct Terminator and Titanic. And despite it’s setting, most of the film was lensed in St. Louis and L.A. with only one night actual shooting in NYC at the Statue of Liberty.

One of the greatest B-movies of all time!

A classic 4 Snakes

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Shakedown

SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown¬†is an 80s action guilty pleasure from¬†Exterminator¬†director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film but, a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all it’s sleazy pre-90s glory.

Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But, the dealer says it was self defense, he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliot) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.
Sure some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy but, Shakedown, as written and directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment that is both grind-house action flick and slick crime thriller.
But, aside from it’s dirty, backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes¬†Shakedown¬†work is that Elliot and Weller makes such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actor who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr, Blanche (Sixteen Candles) Baker as Dalton’s fiance’ and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame.
One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and it’s title in other parts of the world was¬†Blue Jean Cop¬†which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the campy Gary Busey action vehicle¬†Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.
3 and 1/2 bullets!
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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: PRINCE OF DARKNESS and THEY LIVE

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For this week’s double feature I have decided to go with the two low budget movies John Carpenter made¬†as part of his deal with Alive Films in the late 80s. A little burnt on dealing with big studio films, these¬†where modestly budgeted flicks¬†which Carpenter wrote and directed himself and were financed by Alive. A disagreement over the budget of a third film ended the deal, but these two films have become cult classics. I have covered Prince Of Darkness here before, but do think it makes a really good fit with the other film in the Alive Films/ John Carpenter collaberation, They Live
… If you are interested in these titles, both films are currently available¬†with gorgeous new prints and some fun extras from the awesome folks at Scream Factory.

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PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)

Prince of Darkness is a strange movie written by Carpenter and combining religion and theoretical quantum physics. It sounds like a contradictory combination, but it works better then you might expect. It was the first of a multi-picture deal with Alive Films where Carpenter would make 3 or 4 low budget flicks. The second and last film was the cult classic They Live, as a disagreement over the third film’s budget ended the collaboration.

The story opens with the death of a priest who presided over a small inner city parish. Enter Donald Pleasence as another priest…who’s name is never given…who discovers that the deceased priest was part of a secret society within the church called The Brotherhood Of Sleep. And this sect have been protecting a dark secret that may challenge the very core of what we have come to believe both scientifically and religiously. A team of college students, led by Professor Birack (Victor Wong from Big Trouble In Little China) and including Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker) and Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount), are brought to the parish to investigate a strange cylinder filled with a pulsating green liquid in a locked chamber in the basement, as well as, the scriptures that come with it. They discover that the liquid is a form of the Anti-Christ and it seeks release in order to bring it’s father, the Anti-God into our world. And as members of the team start to fall under it’s powerful thrall and they all become plagued by the same strange dreams, it’s terrifyingly obvious that the remaining team members are in a fight against an ancient evil that their science may not be able to contain.

Carpenter delivers a very odd but effectively creepy film. It’s has an atmosphere of dread from the start to the finish and presents a very chilling scenario that there may be things in existence that neither our religion or science may be able to handle. And as these are two things people most put their faith in, it is a disturbing concept. It also presents an interesting idea that Bible prophecies may have actually been warnings sent from the future as the dream effecting all our college science students appears to be exactly that. Carpenter also presents the possibility that certain Bible stories were put in place to cover more disturbing truths as the scientific knowledge to explain or understand the reality of it was not available. Basically we were told things in fable form because the science wasn’t there to properly explain it and we weren’t advanced enough to understand it. As someone who was born and raised Christian yet has always had an interest in science, I actually have had this thought myself occasionally and it was interesting to see the master filmmaker weave this theory into his plot. Carpenter also uses his low budget well and keeps the story, for the most part contained in the church. Again working with the fear of isolation as a horde of homicidal homeless people keep our besieged team members inside. Gary B. Kibbe provides the atmospheric cinematography and would collaborate with Carpenter on seven¬†more projects and he gives Prince a very unsettling look yet, rich with color. This is a strange film that may not appeal to everyone, it took me a few years and repeat viewings before I fully appreciated it and it’s grown on me since I first saw it in 87 and wasn’t quite sold on it then.

The film has it’s flaws, some of the make-up FX are cheesy and some of the violent death scenes, especially those perpetrated by the army of homeless people surrounding the church, lead by Alice Cooper, seem a little out of place in a film that starts out working in subtlety. But since it does switch gears and become more of a traditional horror film in it’s second half, as the possessed students try to kill or possess the others who are fighting against their former friends to stay alive, so in the overall scheme they work fine. Some may not have patience for some of the science heavy dialog, but I though Carpenter’s script does a good job of giving scientific explanations for some of the more supernatural elements of the religious scripture presented in his story.¬†Regardless of your beliefs, Carpenter poses some interesting questions and the film is really creepy throughout. And adding to the effectiveness is one of Carpenter’s spookiest scores to date composed with frequent collaborator Alan Howarth.

Overall, Prince Of Darkness is perhaps Carpenter’s oddest and most daring film, in some respects, but yet another that wasn’t all that well accepted at first and now has gained a following over the years and rightfully so. This flick may not be for everyone and it’s mix of science and religion may not work for some, but I think it’s an interesting and thoroughly creepy movie that not only presents some well executed traditional horror elements, but poses some interesting questions and theories about what we believe in as well. Also stars another Big Trouble In Little China alumni, Dennis Dun in a fun role as a skeptical student.

3 canisters of gooey pulsating dormant evil!

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THEY LIVE (1988)

John Carpenter wrote and directed his second and last feature in the ill-fated Alive Films deal. This flick was a fun alien invasion, Sci-Fi/Action¬†flick based on the short story Eight O’Clock In The Morning by Ray Nelson.¬†Carpenter also mixed in some deft messages about class warfare and how the rich and powerful manipulate the government and media to reduce the rest of us to little more then slaves…a message even more relevant today¬†then it was in 1988, with big corporations running our media and, to be honest, our government…but I¬†digress…

The story focuses on unemployed construction worker John Nada (Roddy Piper) who through a series of events comes across a pair of special sunglasses that let him see the world for what it truly is, an alien run society where humans who collaborate and cooperate are made rich and powerful and those who don’t are coerced by subliminal messages placed in all the media to basically follow orders and do what they¬†are¬†told. If you’re not one of the haves, you’re little more than a have-not slave. Nada¬†has nothing else to lose so, he decides to join a growing underground rebellion and fight back, taking reluctant friend Frank (Keith David) and accidental hostage Holly (Meg Foster) along for the ride. But the aliens are everywhere and so are the traitorous humans that have sold out and John Nada and Co. have some pretty big odds to overcome if they are to find and eliminate the beings’ hypnotic signal and wake the world up from it’s alien induced slumber.

They Live may not be Carpenter’s strongest work, but it is still a fan favorite and a lot of fun. The film moves fast and there is a lot of suspenseful action including a now classic fistfight between “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and The Thing’s Keith David and the gunfight finale inside a cable TV office building. As usual Carpenter gives the film a nice look on a low budget with Gary B. Kibbe once again filling former Carpenter DOP Dean Cundey’s shoes nicely with some¬†beautiful¬†camerawork. The political messages are a little heavy-handed, but there is enough action and aliens to even it out and the film has some really nice SPFX for a very modestly budgeted film especially those that portray the real world as seen through the signal blocking glasses. The film has some clunky dialog and it could have used some more time within the workings of the rebellion to get us a bit more endeared to the freedom fighters before they clash with the invaders, but the focus is on Nada and Frank and it is they who are left with the task of taking the bizarre invaders down. The film also has¬†some very uniquely designed extraterrestrials to act as our villains and the make-up FX work well. It is both one of Carpenter’s lighter films and yet, ironically, one of his most politically and socially critical.¬†As, despite the dire message, the film also has a very satirical sense of humor as well and that helps us past some of it’s flaws as it doesn’t take itself too seriously that we don’t have a good time watching Piper run out of bubblegum and kick ass.

And as for our leading man, Piper does OK here. Carpenter hired him because he felt he had a look of someone who has lived a hard life and that works in the case of down on his luck Nada. Piper isn’t the best actor, but he holds his on especially during the action scenes and only stumbles a little in some of the more dialog heavy moments. Kurt Russell would have been prefect, but Piper works better than expected. Keith David is good as always. He makes Frank a likable and honorable man, but one who we believe doesn’t take any crap from anyone. Foster is a little stiff as Holly, but since she plays a woman thrust into a very surreal situation, it almost fits the part. There are also some solid small roles from frequent Carpenter collaborators like Peter Jason as the rebellion leader Gilbert and George ‘Buck’ Flower as a homeless man who discovers the benefit of playing nice with the ruling alien elite. Carpenter and associate Alan Howarth again deliver a memorable score to support the film.

They Live is now considered a cult classic and I certainly agree. While it may have some familiar elements and common themes, it still comes across as a unique little movie and one with an important message that still resonates almost three¬†decades later. And despite it’s message being a large part of the film’s plot, Carpenter wraps¬†it with a fun, Action/ Sci-Fi coating to make it easily digestible. Piper may not have been the strongest actor to cast in the lead, but he does carry the flick and it’s fun to watch him have a good time with the part even if he stumbles a bit in the film’s more serious moments. Not Carpenter’s best flick, but still very enjoyable and once again another film that has found it’s audience years later. Again John Carpenter proves he is a director who is¬†well ahead of his time.

3 men all out of bubblegum!

they live rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: PRINCE OF DARKNESS and IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS

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For this week’s double feature I have decided to go with two underrated and under-appreciated films from recent birthday boy, legendary filmmaker John Carpenter. These two films also happen to be his strangest and most surreal efforts. Carpenter has referred to these two films as the second and third part of his “Apocalypse Trilogy” that was started with his classic The Thing. I wasn’t sure about either when I first saw them but, both have grown on me over the years and I have now come to believe that they are not given their proper due …

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PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)

Prince of Darkness is a strange movie written by Carpenter and combining religion and theoretical quantum physics. It sounds like a contradictory combination but, it works better then you might expect. It was the first of a multi-picture deal with Alive Films where Carpenter would make 3 or 4 low budget flicks. The second and last film was the cult classic They Live, as a disagreement over the third film’s budget ended the collaboration.

The story opens with the death of a priest who presided over a small inner city parish. Enter Donald Pleasence as another priest… who’s name is never given… who discovers that the deceased priest was part of a secret society within the church called The Brotherhood Of Sleep. And this sect have been protecting a dark secret that may challenge the very core of what we have come to believe both scientifically and religiously. A team of college students, led by Professor Birack (Victor Wong) and including Brian Marsh (Jameson Parker) and Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount), are brought to the parish to investigate a strange cylinder filled with a pulsating green liquid in a locked chamber in the basement, as well as, the scriptures that come with it. They discover that the liquid is a form of the Anti-Christ and it seeks release in order to bring it’s father, the Anti-God into our world. And as members of the team start to fall under it’s powerful thrall and they all become plagued by the same strange dreams, it’s terrifyingly obvious that the remaining team members are in a fight against an ancient evil that their science may not be able to contain.

Carpenter delivers a very odd but, effectively creepy film. It’s has an atmosphere of dread from the start to the finish and presents a very chilling scenario that there may be things in existence that neither our religion or science may be able to handle. And as these are two things people most put their faith in, it is a disturbing concept. It also presents an interesting idea that Bible prophecies may have actually been warnings sent from the future as the dream effecting all our college science students appears to be exactly that. Carpenter also presents the possibility that certain Bible stories were put in place to cover more disturbing truths as the scientific knowledge to explain or understand the reality of it was not available. Basically we were told things in fable form because the science wasn’t there to properly explain it and we weren’t advanced enough to understand it. As someone who was born and raised Christian yet has always had an interest in science, I actually have had this thought myself occasionally and it was interesting to see the master filmmaker weave this theory into his plot. Carpenter also uses his low budget well and keeps the story, for the most part contained in the church. Again working with the fear of isolation as a horde of homicidal homeless people keep our besieged team members inside. Gary B. Kibbe provides the atmospheric cinematography and would collaborate with Carpenter on 7 more projects and he gives Prince a very unsettling look yet, rich with color. This is a strange film that may not appeal to everyone, it took me a few years and repeat viewings before I fully appreciated it and it’s grown on me since I first saw it in 87 and wasn’t quite sold on it then.

The film has it’s flaws, some of the make-up FX are cheesy and some of the violent death scenes, especially those perpetrated by the army of homeless people surrounding the church, lead by Alice Cooper, seem a little out of place in a film that starts out working in subtlety. But, since it does switch gears and become more of a traditional horror film in it’s second half, as the possessed students try to kill or possess the others who are fighting against their former friends to stay alive, so, in the overall scheme they work fine. Some may not have patience for some of the science heavy dialog but, I though Carpenter’s script does a good job of giving scientific explanations for some of the more supernatural elements of the religious scripture presented in his story. Regardless of your beliefs, Carpenter poses some interesting questions and the film is really creepy throughout. And adding to the effectiveness is one of Carpenter’s spookiest scores to date.

Overall, Prince Of Darkness is perhaps Carpenter’s oddest and most daring film, in some respects but, yet another that wasn’t all that well accepted at first and now has gained a following over the years and rightfully so. This flick may not be for everyone and it’s mix of science and religion may not work for some but, I think it’s an interesting and thoroughly creepy movie that not only presents some well executed traditional horror elements but, poses some interesting questions and theories about what we believe in as well.

3 canisters of gooey pulsating dormant evil!

prince of darkness

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in the mouth of madness

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995)

John Carpenter directs what might be his most surreal film, from a script by Michael De Luca, and the final film in Carpenter’s self denominated “Apopcalypse Trilogy” begun by The Thing and Prince Of Darkness. The Lovecraftian film opens with Insurance Investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) being dragged in a straight-jacket into an insane asylum. An interview with his psychologist, Dr. Wrenn (David Warner) reveals that Trent was on a case to discover the whereabouts of famous, best-selling horror author Sutter Cane (a creepy Jurgen Prochnow) when his publishers file a claim that the Stephen King-like author is missing and hasn’t delivered his next book, which is due to be released very soon. Trent starts to read Cane’s books as part of the investigation and starts to have strange hallucinations but, chooses to wave them off as effects of his imagination combined with Cane’s effective prose which is said to have an equal effect on his readers. He decides to find Cane’s favorite setting, the supposedly fictional town of Hobb’s End which he believes is very real and is where Cane is hiding as part of a publicity stunt. Publisher Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston) agrees to Trent’s quest as long as he brings Cane’s editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) along with him. But, while the journey does indeed lead to Hobb’s End, Trent and Styles find that the town may not be all that is real from Cane’s books as they are slowly drawn into a nightmare that may suggest that the belief in Cane’s novels by his massive fan-base, may be giving life to his prose and that his influence for those books may be from darker depths then just his imagination. Can Trent and Styles escape this living nightmare or are they just characters whose fates have already been decided by the pen of Sutter Cane and the ancient evil that serves as his muse.

Carpenter presents one of his strangest and most surreal film to date and while it gets a little hard to tell whether Cane’s books are effecting reality or if we are actually watching one unfold before us and it’s taking such life that it’s characters don’t realize they’re fictional… but, maybe we’re not supposed to figure it out which, does add to it’s unsettling atmosphere. Carpenter delivers his trademark visuals supported by frequent cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe and we get glimpses of horrible things lurking in the shadows, all tentacles, eyes and teeth, much like the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft. Hobb’s End seems like a typical sleepy New England town but, Carpenter slowly reveals that there is something horribly wrong here as there is an evil underneath the Norman Rockwell exterior with it’s children blood-thirstily pursuing a frightened dog or the sweet old lady who runs the inn and keeps her frail old husband handcuffed behind the counter. When we finally meet Cane things really start to spiral into madness for Trent and Carpenter takes us on the ride with some of the most bizarre and trippiest sequences he has presented and that’s saying a lot.

Where Madness really stumbles is in some weak dialog in it’s script and in an area that Carpenter is usually strong in, casting. For characters in a John Carpenter film, I found Trent and Styles to be fairly weak… though it is not his script or they, his original characters… characters from Carpenter’s own scripts are usually memorable and strong. But, I also thought that Sam Neil and Julie Carmen, didn’t quite fit their roles properly with Carmen especially appearing very uncomfortable or unsure how to play the material. She is the weak link in the film though I don’t really feel Neill, who I am a big fan of, quite fits the role of Trent either. He just seems like he really isn’t clicking with the weird material though he is nowhere near as awkward as Carmen who is borderline annoying here. Neill at least seems to enjoy playing the ‘going mad’ part of his role while Carmen gets worse as the story gets stranger. Prochnow is the only one who seems to get what’s going on and dives in with both feet in his portrayal of the sinister Sutter Cane and Heston is a perfect fit as Arcane Publishing head Harglow. Except for a few of the supporting characters in Carpenter’s The Ward… another film not written by the master… this is one of the only Carpenter films where weak characters or miscast actors were a factor. Classic characters are Carpenter’s forte’, at least when he writes the script.

Overall, In The Mouth Of Madness is a creepy, freaky, surreal film that works far more then it doesn’t. It’s his visually and conceptually most surreal film and it is very effective in both atmosphere and delivering some really cool creatures and bloody gore. Carpenter again writes a cool score, though this time with composer Jim Lang. While it’s leads don’t seem quite right for their roles, it still provides a spooky 90+ minutes that messes with your head a bit and there’s nothing wrong with that. Another Carpenter film that has garnered a bit of a cult following and as a fan of his work, ¬†I agree this under-appreciated flick deserves it, even with it’s flaws. Also stars Bernie Casey as Trent’s boss Robinson and John Glover as an eccentric asylum employee.

3 deranged Sam Neil’s!

in the mouth of madness rating

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