SLAY BELLES: HEROINES OF HOLIDAY HORROR!

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SLAY BELLES: HEROINES OF HOLIDAY HORROR!

The holiday season is here and sometimes it seems there are more Christmas themed horrors than ones set on Halloween. But if there is a gift these holiday horrors bring, it’s a bevy of cuties and foxy final girls to warm our hearts like chestnuts roasting over an open fire. So without further ado, here are some of holiday horror’s hottest heroines!…

(Click on the highlighted titles and movie posters to get to our reviews and on the gallery photos to get a better look at the slay belles!)

Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas is one of the original modern slasher films and graced us with the beautiful Olivia Hussey as final girl Jess and a pre-Superman Margot Kidder as sexy, saucy Barb!

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night is another Christmas horror classic and this film has it’s shares of beauties as well. Sexy blonde Tara Buckman plays killer Billy’s mom Ellie, Toni Nero plays his work crush, Pamela and legendary scream queen Linnea Quigley plays the hot ill-fated babysitter Denise!

Black Christmas (2006)

Black Christmas 2006 wins the award for most holiday honies in one movie. Remake of the 1974 classic has a bevy of beautiful sorority sisters to melt any snowman…

SILENT NIGHT (2012)

This quasi-remake has a few cuties of its own. It has My Bloody Valentine 2009’s Jaime King as pretty deputy Aubrey Bradimore, Scott Pilgram’s Ellen Wong as adorable police station receptionist Brenda and Zombeaver’s Cortney Palm as ill-fated adult movie actress Maria.

BETTER WATCH OUT (2016)

We finish up this look at festive final girls, Christmas cuties and sexy slay belles with a look at one of the latest to join the holiday fun, Olivia DeJonge as embattled, yuletide babysitter, Ashley from the twisted Christmas thriller, Better Watch Out!

HAPPY HOLIDAYSfrom MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MADHOUSE

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION

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I watched this double feature recently and found this classic and it’s prequel to be a lot of fun together!

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THE AMITYVILLE HORROR  (1979)

The Amityville Horror is renown as a horror classic and I certainly won’t argue that. While I find it more corny than creepy…even when I saw it at the Rialto Theater in Ridgefield Park, N.J. back in 1979…it is a lot of fun and created many of the clichés that now permeate today’s haunted house flicks.

Based on a supposed true story, the film has newly married couple George (James Brolin) and Kathy (Margot Kidder) Lutz moving into a large house that was the site of a grizzly murder the year before. The Lutzes are hesitant, but they can’t beat the price. Soon after they move in, strange things begin to occur…and always at 3:15 a.m., the time of the murders. George’s behavior also seems to start to become more and more odd, as he appears sick all the time and the peaceful man has developed a bad temper almost overnight. A priest Father Delany (Rod Steiger) comes to bless their home and is made to flee as some unseen entity forces him from the house. Now under attack from some malevolent force, the family begins to realize they are in great danger from something inside that house that certainly means them harm. With a history of murder, Devil worship and Native American burial grounds, can the family escape this Hell they call home with such powerful forces aligned against them?

Whether it’s believed this actually happened or not, is still being argued today. Demonologists, the Warrens, who have been brought back to attention with The Conjuring, were the investigators on the case and their legitimacy is debated about as much as this incident. A recent investigation on the TV special Real Fear: The Truth Behind The Movies, revealed new facts that George Lutz practiced the occult and validated that the house was build on Native American burial grounds. So is it real? Who knows. As a movie it is a lot of fun and even though I personally don’t find it very scary, director Stuart Rosenberg and writer Sandor Stern do concoct an entertaining and sometimes innovative horror that established some supernatural elements that now have become movie standards. They take their film, based on Jay Anson’s book, and make a very theatrical horror with bleeding walls, bloody hallucinations, threatening voices and a house that does seem to ooze evil. It just looks spooky, even in daylight. Rosenberg gives it a moderate pace and there are some chilling moments, but to me it’s more fun than actually scary. The film is a bit overly melodramatic, which holds it back for me. The dialogue is corny, especially from Rod Steiger’s very over-the-top holy man and while Brolin and Kidder perform their roles with stark seriousness, they do lean toward over-the-top, too, on occasion. I will admit it has lots of atmosphere, though and Rosenberg is helped in that department by a very chilling score by Lalo Schifrin and there is some moody cinematography by Fred J. Koenekamp. Maybe not very scary, but it is a good time especially with some added nostalgia from it being very 70s.

So while I don’t think this is quite the scare-fest it was meant to be, I do enjoy it as much now as I did when seeing it in 1979. It portrayed some haunted house elements in a way that have now made them tradition in these films and treated what could have been a silly story with dignity and respect. It’s atmospheric and just plain fun. Maybe not one of my all time favorites, but a film I recognize and acknowledge as the classic it now is.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 haunted houses!

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AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982)

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

Even in the 70s and 80s, if it made money, there was usually a sequel. While The Amityville Horror told the complete story of the Lutz haunting, legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis found a way to give us more. The film was a prequel and based it’s story on the real-life DeFeo family murders that occurred in the house before the Lutz family moved in. They changed the names in Tommy Lee Wallace, and an uncredited Dardano Sacchetti’s (Luci Fulci’s Zombie), script and now we get the tragic story of the Montelli family. As with the Lutz family, the Montelli’s, Anthony and Dolores (Burt Young and Rutanya Alda) move in with their kids and almost immediately strange things start to happen. As dad Anthony is an abusive jerk, there is already tension between he and older son Sonny (Jack Magner) who the entity targets as it’s vessel. Also, like with the last flick, there is a priest involved, Father Adamsky (James Olson), who detects an evil force in the house and vows to take it on. The film chronicles Sonny’s being broken down and possessed to the point where he murder’s his family and then Father Adamsky’s attempts to drive the demon from him to prove his innocence.

I actually enjoy this sequel, but this time, for all the wrong reasons. Director Damiano Damiani presents everything with such a dire seriousness that it just accents how silly it all is. While the real-life crime was tragic and horrifying, the film just comes across as campy despite the solemn tone. We get some really cheesy levitation effects that are flagrantly over-used, delightfully corny dialogue and intense over-acting by most of the cast, as well as, some well-executed, but out of place make-up effects to simulate Sonny’s possession. The addition of an incestuous relationship between Sonny and pretty sister Patricia (80s film hottie Diane Franklin) also adds an uncomfortable creepiness, but not of the good kind. It is, however, supposedly a plot point based on a factual relationship between Ronald DeFeo Jr. And his sister. Lalo Schifrin returns to score and it gives the film some atmosphere, as does Franco Di Giacomo’s cinematography. Having the murders occur about two-thirds of the way through and then turning the last act into a routine possession/exorcism flick, also hurts what could have been a very intense finale. The film should have been leading up to the murders, which are very effective, but then the film goes on for another half-hour for Adamsky’s attempt to free Sonny of the demon and that just get’s silly…but it’s fun to watch and entertainment is the point.

The cast all over-act. Burt Young is just doing another version of his “Paulie” though one that likes to smack around his wife and kids. Having one of the leads being intensely unlikable also doesn’t help the film overall. We actually don’t have much sympathy when Sonny guns him down. Rutanya Alda does some really over the top facial expressions and James Olson’s priestly dialogue seems made up as it goes along and never convinces as legitimate prayer. Magner is actually somewhat fine as Sonny. He has his over the top moments, but isn’t quite as flagrant as some other cast members despite having to act out demonic influence. Rounding out the leads, Franklin has some pretty bad dialogue to utter and the script has her way too accepting of her brother’s sexual advances…demonic influence or not. The scene doesn’t have the shock value it needs because she goes along with it way too easy…and it makes her later guilt seem a bit insincere. Maybe not the actress’ fault, but some of her dialogue does invite some generous chuckles….sorry, I don’t envision a demon ever saying “make love” it’s just laughable.

I have fun with this flick. It’s cheesy, corny and has some laughably fun bits. It tries way too hard to top it’s predecessor, so much that it goes over-the-top and neuters a lot of the effect the story should have. It takes what could have been a dramatically intense and disturbing climax and serves it up about an hour in, leaving the last act to fall into a routine and silly exorcism flick. All this does make for an entertaining movie though, but definitely for all the wrong reasons. Also, despite taking place before the late 70s set Amityville Horror, the film has a definite 80s vibe to it. Nostalgic and entertaining in spite of itself.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 “so bad it’s good” haunted houses!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

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BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

While I still believe it was the success and impact of John Carpenter’s Halloween that was responsible for the 80s slasher film era, it may very well be this holiday themed Canadian horror flick that came out 4 years earlier, that is responsible for inspiring Carpenter’s classic… though it has never been acknowledged, there has been talk of it inspiring the Halloween producers to make a horror of their own, and Bob Clark has made comments that Carpenter was a fan of his film. We may never really know. As it is, Black Christmas is perhaps the first horror to use what is recognized as the modern slasher film formula by presenting us with a serial killer stalking and killing the members of a sorority house during the Christmas holiday. With most of the girls away on vacation, those remaining at the Pi Kappa Sig sorority start getting obscene phone calls from some unknown but, obviously deranged individual. Also unknown to them but, made fully aware to the audience, is that this individual is actually in the house and one by one he starts to gruesomely claim his victims. Will any of the young women of Pi Kappa Sig survive?

Directed by A Christmas Story’s Bob Clark, Black Christmas is a stylish and sometimes very creepy little horror that has earned it’s place as an inspirational film and a horror classic. It’s not a personal favorite, as certain aspects of the movie don’t quite click with me but, there is also much that does. Clark makes really good use of some very unsettling POV shots of the killer entering the house and then stalking his victims. He also has the killer using inventive ways to dispatch his victims which would become a trademark element of slashers to follow. The film has a really nice visual style as lensed by Reginald H. Morris… it sometimes evoked the style of Dario Argento’s more classic work, thought it predates his breakout film Suspiria by 3 years… and oddly one can see where the look of Clark’s other Christmas classic evolved from. Clark gives the film a moderate pace and takes his time between the bloody killings, the best of which involving a glass unicorn… one of the Argento-ish scenes I was referring to… but, does maintain the atmosphere of dread throughout. What takes this film down a few notches for me is that the killer’s phone calls with their multiple voices and bizarre rambling, in my opinion, are more silly then scary as are some lighter toned sequences peppered throughout, that seem to shadow the offbeat humor that would make the adventures of Ralphie and family such a delight. There are those who aren’t bothered by some of these borderline silly sequences but, I find them a little jarring in the context of the more serious and unnerving tone of the rest of the film. I also think it’s hard to swallow that with people gone missing and later in the film when the police realize the killer was in the house, that at no point does anyone ever search the attic. Not buying it. But, credit where credit is due, Clark really brings it home in the goose-bump inducing last act and we get an ending that… much like Halloween years later… makes us look over our shoulder after the film is over.

The acting is a mixed bag. Lead Olivia Hussey is a little wooden at times and despite that fact that we should like her, she comes across as very cold in a subplot involving getting pregnant by her musician boyfriend (Keir Dullea). And while on the subject of Dullea, his Peter is a little ‘off’ but, since he becomes a suspect, that was probably intentional. Future ‘Lois Lane’ Margot Kidder plays the feisty bitch Barb with some gusto but, while it appeared she would be the lead, the focus shifts off her to Hussey’s Jess who becomes our main character. We also have SCTV vet Andrea Martin as one of the sorority girls and genre legend John Saxon, who is solid as always, as the cop investigating the case, Lt. Fuller. Rounding out the leads is Art Hindle as the boyfriend of missing girl Clare (Lynne Griffin), whose character Chris fades in and out of the story and wears one of the most obnoxious and out of place fur coats seen in movies.

So, the film is a classic and I certainly agree, especially as it may be the first true modern slasher… Peeping Tom and Psycho are highly recognized as ancestors to what we refer to as the slasher film and certainly were inspirations to some now legendary horror film directors who emerged in the 70s and 80s. It may not be a favorite of mine but, I give it the respect it deserves and am thankful for many of the films it helped inspire. Another must watch for those later generation slasher fans who aren’t yet familiar with it and are interested in how this sub-genre evolved.

3  Christmas trees.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II

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With the Holidays here what better way to show some cheer then by featuring a couple of Rob Zombie movies…and holiday themed Rob Zombie movies at that…OK, the holiday is Halloween, but since it’s Halloween all year round at MonsterZero NJ’s, these flicks are appropriate…in my twisted little mind anyway! I know Zombie’s Halloween features have caused a lot of controversy and evoked some strong feelings both pro and con, but that’s far better in my mind than indifference. So, what did I think of them? Read on…
Both reviews are of the director’s cuts…

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN (2007)

(Click on the highlighted links to go to corresponding previous features here at MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse!)

There are things I like about Rob Zombie’s remake and things I don’t. As far as the things I didn’t like, Zombie’s biggest mistake is de-mystifying Michael Myers. Carpenter’s original had an average little boy from an average family, savagely murdering his older sister for no apparent reason on Halloween night. Zombie makes him the product of a broken white trash home with a stripper mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) who has a taste for loser boyfriends (William Forsythe). Giving Myers a reason for his violent behavior takes away the mystique the character had. Zombie’s Myers is a damaged young boy (Daeg Faerch) who tortures small animals and graduates to killing people and is sent to an asylum where he silently grows into a homicidal man (Tyler Mane). Carpenter’s Myers was pure evil, the young boy stopped existing and grew into a vessel for an unexplained evil force and it was random and thus spookier. The original Myers became a supernatural being, where Zombie’s Myers is all too human. Another mistake is spending almost an hour examining Myers youth and incarceration at the mental hospital before he is set loose to return home to find his little sister, now a teenager with the adopted name of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). Carpenter got things rolling within a few minutes in the original and his flick focuses on the stalking of Laurie and gets the scares started early. And Laurie Strode is a random victim in Carpenter’s flick, the convention that she was related to Michael wasn’t added till the original’s sequel Halloween II. Finally, the casting of genre legend Malcolm McDowell, as Dr. Loomis, doesn’t work for me. I love McDowell, but his portrayal is a bit off. He didn’t quite seem to fit the role. He also botches a couple of the classic lines and these lines are important to the mythos. Patrick Stewart would have made a far better Loomis, not that he would have done such a film.

On the plus side, Zombie does have a nice visual style and things do get intense once he finally let’s Myers loose on the peaceful town of Haddonfield. Zombie’s Myers has a savageness that the original Myers lost after being dragged through numerous sequels, and the havoc he raises is some of the best action the character has seen since the original. Tyler Mane does make an imposing Myers and his Myers is filled with rage whereas Carpenter’s Myers was more methodical. Aside from my feelings on the casting of McDowell, the rest of the cast are fine. Sheri Moon Zombie shows some nice depth as a mother helplessly watching her son become a monster. She generates some real pain in her eyes and it makes her very sympathetic. Scout-Compton is a spunky and cute heroine and plays Laurie as a typical modern teenager,  but also gives her part the needed intensity when HE comes home and she’s forced to save her babysitting charges and fight for her life. Zombie also peppers the film with familiar faces. We get Halloween sequel veteran Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5) returning to the series now fully grown to play Annie Brackett and she plays a typical feisty teen girl with boys on the brain and genre vet Brad Dourif is cast as her father, Sheriff Brackett who is conflicted as to whether to believe Loomis’ warnings or not. We get cameos by the likes of Dee Wallace as Laurie’s mother, Ken Foree as Joe Grizzly, a trucker who unfortunately provides Myers with his trademark coveralls, Sid Haig as a cemetary caretaker, Danny Trejo as a hospital orderly who takes pity on Michael and Richard Lynch as Michael’s school principal. There is also a nice re-imagining of Carpenter’s score by Tyler Bates which adds some spooky atmosphere especially in the second half when Myers is finally unleashed and Phil Parmet’s cinematography captures Zombie’s visuals very well.

The scenes in Haddonfield are really what worked for me as they should have. Zombie shows he can produce some suspense and scares and he cranks it up here. Too bad he chose to focus a good deal of the running time on Michael’s youth and incarceration which is less interesting as we know where it all leads, as this is a remake after all. As for the climax, without giving away any details, Zombie chooses to end his remake with a blunt shock ending where John Carpenter crafted an opening ending that left us with a feeling of dread even after the film was long over. It’s not a bad ending and does have resonance, but doesn’t have the bone chilling effect of the original.

I stand by my opinion that Zombie has a great horror film in him but, he needs to concentrate on using his distinct visuals more often and moving past his fascination with the 70’s grind house style filmmaking and the white trash characters that inhabited a lot of those films. There is nothing wrong with paying homage to your influences, but Zombie has covered that ground in his first three films now and I think he is capable of his own style.

The lowdown: better than pretty much all of the sequels after Halloween III (which, as you may know, I like a lot!), but a far cry from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. I at least give Zombie the credit for trying to do his own thing instead of a stale shot for shot remake.

3 Zombie Myers!

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN II (2009)

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Zombie’s Halloween remake, there are some points of discussion in the sequel review which may contain spoilers for the first film…
This is the film of the two Zombie Halloweens that get’s the most flak, but to be all honest, I’ve come to like this one because it’s more of a Rob Zombie film featuring Carpenter’s characters. He’s free from the confines of a remake and doing his own thing. The results can be mixed, but it is still better than any of the post Halloween III sequels. This film takes place immediately after the last with Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) in the hospital being frantically worked on and Myers being hauled off to the morgue. But when an accident wrecks the morgue transport, the resilient Michael Myers rises from his slab and walks off after murdering the surviving van occupant. He disappears and the story picks up two years later with a traumatized Laurie living with Annie and her father (Brad Dourif) while Laurie is trying to deal with the approach of Halloween and the fact that Myers’ body was never found. Of course it’s no secret to the audience that Michael is on his way back to Haddonfield to finish what he started and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

The fact that this sequel never really feels like a “Halloween” film works both for and against it. It’s more of a Rob Zombie film and here he is not afraid to take Myers’ mask off or get inside his head for some beautifully visualized hallucination sequences of Michael’s dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie). Tyler Bates also forgoes the traditional Halloween music for the most part and his score is quite good despite not imbuing the Halloween sound and flavor like all the other movies. Zombie gives his sequel a more methodical pace and while the film never really gets scary, there are some real brutal and intense moments such as Myers’ reuniting with Annie. There are some savagely violent scenes here that are very effective, but by the end of the film, you do feel a bit bludgeoned with all the brutality. McDowell returns as Loomis who is now a pompous bestselling author writing books about Myers and profiting from the horrible experience that left many dead. I didn’t like Dr. Loomis being portrayed as an egotistical asshole. Just didn’t work. The character was always representative of the good fighting the evil and now he is a douche who is willing to sell everyone out to make a buck and himself famous. It also makes his last minute change of heart near the climax hard to swallow. Ironically since McDowell is freed of the confines of the tradition portrayal of the Loomis character, I accepted him better in this incarnation of the role despite not liking the direction the character is taken.

There is a lot of other things to like here, too, though, unless you are a Halloween traditionalist and just can’t forgive Zombie for taking his own direction with things. There are some really twisted and bizarre dream sequences that have beautiful and surreal visuals that really impressed me and cinematographer Brandon Trost captures them well as with the look of the rest of the film. Much like the final act of Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, it is when Zombie takes his camera into these surreal sequences that his films really come to life and sadly he doesn’t do it often enough, thought I really liked what he did here and how these sequences got into both Myers’ and Laurie’s heads. I liked the sequences of Myers hallucinating that he sees his dead mother and his younger self (Chase Wright Vanek here as Faerch had outgrown the part), egging him on to kill. And the same for Laurie Strode’s nightmares. Great stuff. And I really liked the WTF ending. He really went outside the comfort zone of this series and in terms of traditional Halloween lore and it was daring. The Kubrick-esque final shot gives the appropriate chills the remake’s end lacked.

He gets some really good performances out of his cast again. Compton is good, but I do prefer her as the sweeter Laurie then the foul mouth tattooed traumatized girl here…though the progression is understandable and she does come across as a very messed up teen, mixing psychological damage with teen angst. Danielle Harris shows that she has grown into a really good actress as Annie, who was far more seriously hurt by Michael and yet is handling it a lot better then Laurie. She’s both friend and mother to Strode while soldiering on with her own life. A strong young woman and it makes her confrontation with Myers all the more powerful. And last, but not least, genre favorite Brad Dourif gives what might be the performance of his long career. Yes, he is that good and thankfully Zombie gives him a lot of good material and scenes to show it in. I loved him in this. Again, we also get some cameos by genre vets and Zombie favorites like Margot Kidder as Laurie’s psychiatrist, Howard Hessman as Laurie’s record store/cafe owner boss and Daniel Roebuck as a delightfully sleazy strip club owner.

While it’s not a great movie, I do like it for what it is and the risks Zombie took here with characters that are quite endeared to horror fans. Ironically, Zombie has been criticized and chastised for taking these risks, while equally so for not taking enough risks in the previous film. Sometimes you just can’t please fans when it comes to poking around an established classic. I hope someday Rob Zombie makes an original film that finally lives up to the potential he constantly shows. This film showed a progression from Halloween and I think we are seeing him move away from grind house and more toward Zombie. While many horror fans would disagree, I like this flick and recommend it as long as you have an open mind as to how classic characters are utilized and aren’t offended because someone took an established franchise and thought outside the box with it.

3 Zombie Myers!

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For a look at Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devils’ Rejects click here!

And for a look at his The Lords Of Salem click here!

For a profile of Screen Queen extraordinaire Danielle Harris click here!

For our look at the original Halloween click here and it’s first two sequels here!

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