TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HAPPY 35th ANNIVERSARY to JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

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JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

John Carpenter’s The Fog was released on February 8th 1980 and my butt was there in a theater to see it! So, in honor of the 35th anniversary of one of my all-time favorite horror flicks, I am re-posting this look back at Carpenter’s classic!

One of my all time favorite horrors and one of my favorite John Carpenter flicks, in fact, since I was too young to see Halloween when it came out, this was the first Carpenter film I saw in a theater and the flick that started me on my love of his movies.

The Fog tells the story of the 100 year anniversary of the small coastal California town of Antonio Bay and as the town prepares for it’s centennial celebration, a dark secret is revealed. Legend has it a leper colony paid the founders of Antonio Bay a lot of gold to let them settle nearby but, they were betrayed and murdered, as their ship was lured onto the rocks to crash and sink on a fog laden night. All were lost but, now a horde of vengeful spirits returns from the sea, wrapped in a surreal fog, to make the descendants of those who wronged them, pay with their lives.

The Fog focuses not on a main character but, a group of central characters whose individual experiences during this supernatural crisis bring them slowly all together for it’s tense and creepy final act set in the town church. A good cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis as hitchhiker Elizabeth, Tom Atkins as local fisherman Nick, Janet Leigh as centennial chairwoman Kathy Williams and Adrienne Barbeau as single mom and radio DJ Stevie Wayne, give life to this ensemble and make them characters we like and care about so, we fear for them when they are placed in harm’s way. Add to that Hal Holbrook as the town’s alcoholic priest and a host of Carpenter regulars…with even a cameo by Carpenter himself…and you have a film wonderfully filled with a variety of characters who are all potential victims for the marauding phantoms. As for those phantoms, lets not forget to mention the ghostly Captain Blake (FX man Rob Bottin) and his vengeful crew who are portrayed with in-camera practical FX. This makes them quite spooky and gives them a heavy dose of menace and a lot of effectiveness when they are on the attack. There is loads of atmosphere and some very solid scares and suspense created by Carpenter, along with some great cinematography from frequent Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey, which makes this a good, solid, old-fashioned ghost story and a fun Halloween season treat. Carpenter again delivers a score which adds chills and foreboding to his tale of ghostly revenge, much like he did for Halloween and he starts the film off perfectly with a chillingly fun opening sequence featuring veteran John Houseman as a crusty sailor who likes to tell kids scary stories. It sets the mood for the thrills and chills yet to come. This classic was made back when there was no phoney CGI, just solid make-up effects from master Rob Bottin (who went on to do The Thing’s FX for Carpenter) and some very basic down to earth smoke and mirrors style visuals, that are as beautiful as they are scary. A great flick the likes of which they rarely make anymore and one of MonsterZero NJ’s must-watch flicks during the Halloween season!

The film is available, for the first time, on blu-ray from Scream Factory with all the extras from previous releases plus, an added new commentary track with Barbeau, Atkins and Tommy Lee Wallace and two really fun and informative interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis and Cinematographer Dean Cundey who also supervised the absolutely gorgeous new transfer!

4 spectral sailors!

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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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CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: TRACI LIN as ALEX in FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2!

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention but, sadly, never returned to these type of flicks or whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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TRACI LIN

Whether billed as Tracy Lin or Tracy Lind, this former model and major cutie made her mark on the hearts of horror and Sci-Fi fans, first with her spunky and feisty heroine, Alex in Fright Night Part 2 in 1988 and then her fiery Christy in Class Of 1999 in 1990! It was first in Tommy Lee Wallace’s vampire sequel, though, that she really made an impression as the smart, sexy and loyal girlfriend of Charlie Brewster…that’s definitely where my crush on her began!
Vampire slaying aside, Traci had a busy film and TV career between 1984 and 1997 before retiring from acting, or so it would appear. She also had genre roles in Don Coscarelli’s 1989 thriller Survival Quest, the zombie comedy My Boyfriend’s Back and the futuristic The Handmaid’s Tale.

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 as ALEX in FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2!

(click on the poster for a full review)

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With her fiery spirit and mane of babe hair, Alex is definitely the perfect girl for cuddling and killing vampires!
Traci appeared in her last film in 1997 and my research seems to imply that she has been happily married for over two decades and is the mother of two children. Whatever her reasons for leaving acting, we wish her well and will never forget her vampire killing college co-ed, Alex!

Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here on the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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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… and some of our favorite films… a reality. A simply beautiful book and instantly one of the most cherished in my collection… 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!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FRIGHT NIGHT PART II (1988)

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FRIGHT NIGHT PART II (1988)

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

Fright Night Part II might be one of the most under-appreciated sequels…at least by it’s distributors as it does have a cult following…of all-time, as the film got an under-the-radar limited release back in the day, despite the success of the original and even worse treatment with sub-par full-screen VHS and DVD releases. I recently able to view a LTBX copy and finally was able to watch the film as originally intended. I’d seen it before, but not in it’s original aspect ratio. The filmmaker’s original vision.

The sequel takes place 3 years after the original Fright Night. Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) is now in college and finishing up years of therapy that has him believing Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) was only a serial killer and the delusion of him being a vampire was all created in Charlie’s head to cope with the horrible events. Charlie also has a hot new girlfriend, Alex (80s flick cutie Tracy Lind) and hasn’t talked to Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) in years. As for the Great Vampire Killer, all the attention has gotten Vincent his Fright Night TV show hosting job back and all seems well when the two finally get together to bring closure to their horrible experience…until Charlie sees large boxes being moved into the abandoned building next to Vincent’s apartment and gets a chilling feeling of familiarity. And his deja-vu is certainly warranted as Jerry Dandrige’s vampire sister Regine (a smoldering Julie Carmen) has come to exact revenge with her ghoulish entourage, the androgynous Belle (Russell Clark, who also choreographed Carmen’s performance art sequences), lupine shapeshifter Louie (Jon Gries, who also played the werewolf with nards in Monster Squad) and hulking, insect eating chauffeur Bozworth (genre favorite Brian Thompson). Regine’s plans are simple…turn Charlie into one of the undead, murder those he loves and take over as host of Fright Night for good measure…then torture Charlie for all eternity.

I have no idea why this sequel has been treated so badly over the years. It’s not quite as good as the first flick, but is actually a pretty solid follow-up and a good deal of fun. The film is directed by John Carpenter alumni Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III, Stephen King’s It) who co-wrote the script with Tim Metcalfe and Miguel Tejeda-Flores. Wallace delivers a good looking film, having learned a lot about shot framing from Carpenter, and while it’s not quite the fun-house that the original chiller is, it mixes horror with humor well and has a number of fun/spooky scenes with plenty of action. The plot also works in giving us a second installment that isn’t forced and provides us with enough elements from Fright Night to feel like a continuation, but also does it’s own thing as Regine is a known personality, recognized as a performance artist and she moves around out in the open, as when she takes over hosting duties on the Fright Night TV show. If the film falters a bit, it’s that it’s momentum slows down somewhat in the middle act as Regine continues to seduce Charlie and Vincent is institutionalized for attacking Regine on the show’s set. The film does pick up for it’s final confrontation, though it is not as bombastic and fun as the first film’s. Overall, the movie seems to have a slightly lower budget and thus the action is a bit scaled down, but I think Wallace makes up for it with some very clever bits and by having some ghoulish fun with his premise and characters such as Regine’s thugs having a gruesome bowling night while she is off premiering on TV. The make-up FX can be a bit rubbery at times, but that adds some charm now and Brad Fiedel returns to score, so it feels like a Fright Night  film. Not sure why all the disrespect from it’s labels.

The cast are having a good time, too. Ragsdale and McDowall pick up right where they left off in the original, but with Charlie being a slightly more mature character three years later and Vincent seems to have developed a bit more of a backbone since he last battled bloodsuckers. The two actors seem to really enjoy working together and their on-screen chemistry is infectious. Lind makes a welcome addition to the team as adorable and smart Alex. In a turn of events, it is she who comes to Charlie’s rescue and proves herself a resourceful and spunky heroine in true 80s fashion. I liked her better than Amanda Bearse’s whiny Amy. Julie Carmen is smoldering-ly sexy and conveys a definite lethal quality as Regine. It is completely believable she can seduce Charlie…and those scenes are hot…despite his dealings with her kind and it is a little disappointing the actress wasn’t given an opportunity to put up a bigger fight in the scaled-down climax. As her eccentric undead thugs, Clarke (whose character is mute), Gries and Thompson all seem to be having a good time, especially the nice touch of Thompson’s Bozworth reciting the Latin genus of his insect meals before consumption. Creepy fun! A good cast who all get the tone of the material and their individual characters.

So, in conclusion, I like this sequel a lot and will never understand the terrible treatment it continues to get. It is not as good as the first film, but is a worthy enough second go around and the cast is charming as always, as is the 80s nostalgia it now carries with it. It succeeds far more than it fails and despite a slow mid-section and a slightly less exciting ending, it is a solid sequel and left me wanting to see a third installment back when I first saw it and McDowall was still with us. This film is crying out for a Scream Factory special edition, but apparently the label who owns it (I believe it’s Lionsgate) won’t budge in allowing it (so I am told), or do anything with it on it’s own. With it’s cult following, I don’t see how a release wouldn’t do well. The film also stars Merritt Butrick (Kirk’s son in Wrath Of Khan and Search For Spock) in one of his last film appearances before his AIDS related death in 1989.

3 fangs.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990)

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STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990)

Based on Stephen King’s book, this TV mini-series was first aired back in November of 1990 and it’s taken me quite a long time but, I have finally caught up with it. To be clear, I haven’t read the book so, I am viewing the movie as a movie and not comparing it to the original source material for which I am not familiar.

Book based horror tells the story of 7 childhood friends in the small Maine town of Derry, where, at this time, there have been a rash of murders and disappearances of small children including the little brother of one of the group. And soon after, the group themselves become terrorized by something evil in the form of a horrifying clown who calls himself Pennywise (Tim Curry). The creature preys on their fears and weaknesses until the seven friend’s finally gather the courage to enter the abandoned sewer plant where they believe this creature lives and after a terrifying confrontation, appear to have defeated it. But, they make a promise that if “It” ever returns they would come together and fight the creature once more… But, after 30 years their worst nightmares come true and children start to disappear or are found murdered again in Derry and the call is raised for the “Loser’s Club” to rejoin and keep their promise. But, the horrors of what happened in 1960 are hard to overcome and worse yet, the mysterious and sinister Pennywise knows they are coming and is more than ready. Can the group defeat their own fears and reunite to put this fiend to rest once and for all… or will they all finally fall victim to the monstrous clown… or whatever it is that has haunted this town for generations?

TV movie directed by John Carpenter alumni Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III, the original Fright Night II), who also adapted King’s book with Lawrence D. Cohen, is a well made and entertaining film though a bit long-winded when watched all at once instead of broken up into two parts as when it was originally aired. The film starts off in 1990 as we are first treated to the murder of a poor child by the fleetingly glimpsed Pennywise and then slowly over the course of the first 90 minutes we are introduced to the main characters both as children and adults and then shown the horrifying events that take place in 1960 that lead up to the being’s temporary defeat and the pact made to return if need be. The narrative is a little choppy but, it smoothes out after about 3/4 of an hour and since King likes to add extensive detail and backgroud to his many characters, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers weren’t 100% successful in relaying that to screen even with 3 hours to work with. The narrative is much smoother in it’s second half as it builds to the reunion of friends and then it’s climactic confrontation. Even with the uneven narrative in the first act, the film is effective and creepy fun, especially when Curry is onscreen as Pennywise. He really nails the whole scary clown thing and seems to be having a blast as the sinister villain. It’s in the final battle when sadly It let’s us down as the film turns into another movie altogether once the creature, in it’s true form, is revealed. Not only does the climax become a routine monster movie complete with a generic creature, but, it robs us of what we have been wanting to see all along, Pennywise getting what’s coming to him. The creature in true form is basically a monstrous spider and while I liked the charming stop-motion animation from Terminator FX man Gene Warren Jr. and his Fantasy II Film Effects, it simply doesn’t resonate and is devoid of what made the film work for the last 2 and 1/2 hours, Curry’s creepy clown. Overall, I think Wallace did a good job and he certainly learned from Carpenter as evidence by his camera angles and Richard Leiterman’s Dean Cundey-esque cinematography but, the film’s cheesy monster movie (and I love cheesy monster movies) ending doesn’t give his film the horrifying and powerful climax the story needs. Whether it was the script or the book itself that disappoints… though friends assure me the book does not… we need this to end with an intense bang and not a whimper. And despite all it gets right, the film does end on a whimper and that is really sad because otherwise, this was a very engaging and fun horror flick with talented people involved on all fronts from behind the camera to a fine cast.

And as for the cast, Wallace get’s good work out of them all, but, obviously Curry takes the creepy ball and runs with it and makes this his show. Pennywise is a true cinema villain with Curry under the grease paint and it’s sad he is replaced by Boris the spider at the climax. The rest of the cast both young and adult actors are good. We have… Richard Thomas as adult Bill Denbrough with Johathan Brandis as young Bill, Annette O’Toole as adult Beverly Marsh with Ginger Snaps‘ Emily Perkins as young Beverly, John Ritter as adult Ben Hanscom and Brandon Crane as young Ben, Harry Anderson as adult Richie Tozier and Buffy’s Seth Green as young Richie, Fade To Black’s Dennis Christopher as adult Eddie Kaspbrak and Adam Faraizi as young Eddie, Tim Reid as adult Mike Hanlon and Marlon Taylor as young Mike with last, but not least, Richard Mazur as adult Stanley Uris with Ben Heller as young Stan. They all do a good job giving some personality to their characters, both in young and adult incarnations and are an endearing bunch. A solid cast who perform their roles well though, all upstaged by Curry and, as he is to haunt their nightmares, rightfully so!

So, I will say I enjoyed It and am now curious to read the book. The ending did let me down, although it was the type of ending I would have enjoyed if it were attached to a low budget monster movie and not the finale that we were building three hours up to. Overall, I would still recommend it as a creepy good time and one of the better TV made movies around, it’s just a shame that it falls short of classic status due to a final act which doesn’t live up to the rest of the film’s promise.

3 creepy clowns.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: HALLOWEEN II and HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH

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The Halloween season may be over, but I couldn’t let it pass without giving this fun double feature a mention…

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HALLOWEEN II (1981)

With John Carpenter’s Halloween a big hit, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel. And while he had no intention of directing it, Carpenter along with Debra Hill wrote Halloween II which takes place on the same night of the original, basically picking up right where the first film leaves off. The flick continues the story 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). But 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 and once there he begins to decimate the hospital staff in search of his prey. It is in this film we find Laurie is actually Michael’s other sister and he has come home to finish the job he started 15 years ago.

While Halloween II is far from the masterpiece that Halloween is, it is a classic in it’s own right and in retrospect is definitely among one of the better slasher flicks of the 80s. Carpenter chose unknown Rick Rosenthal to direct and it’s hard to tell just how much of the film’s effectiveness is his, as it is said that producer Carpenter was unhappy with the film and did some re-editing and reshooting himself upping the gore and nudity quotas…which, in turn, made Rosenthal unhappy with the film. Photographed by Dean Cundey, the look of the film certainly matches the first and with Carpenter again handling the music, the atmosphere is there. The two flicks fit together quite nicely, but it’s hard to tell just how well Rosenthal did as director when Carpenter basically took over post production and added new material and rearranged sequences. The result is a solid slasher with some decent kills and gore and some nice suspense sequences as Myers stalks Laurie and the hospital staff in the dark hallways of the nearly abandoned hospital night shift. It has it’s intense moments and it certainly is a bit more brutal than the first with a much larger body count. Though, obviously it doesn’t have the first film’s finesse.

The cast all perform well with Curtis once again strong as Laurie and Donald Pleasence seamlessly reprising his role as Loomis. Dick Warlock gives Michael a powerful presence and newcomers Jeff East, Leo Rossi, Ana Alicia and Pamela Susan Shoop are all suitable as hospital staff and potential victims.

Who actually deserves more credit for making this sequel a solid slasher and a decent follow-up to Carpenter’s classic is not clear, but what is clear is that despite the large shoes it had to fill, Halloween II is an entertaining and effective slasher sequel that over time has come to stand on it’s own and has earned it’s own reputation as a classic.

3 and 1/2 skull pumpkins!

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HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) 

Basically having concluded…or so he thought…Michael Myers’ story in Halloween II, producer John Carpenter intended to turn the Halloween series into an anthology, with each year a new Halloween themed film being released under the Halloween banner, but each one a separate and unrelated story.

The first of this proposed series is a bizarre, twisted and in my opinion, very underrated little horror thriller that mixes the supernatural with a bit of hi-tech (for the time). The film opens with an atmospheric and spooky sequence of a lone frantic man (Al Berry) clutching a Halloween mask while being pursued by ominous suited figures and finding his way to a gas station where he proclaims that someone is going to ‘kill us’ before collapsing. He’s brought to a hospital and put under the care of alcoholic Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), but later that night one of the suited figures arrives and gruesomely murders the man and then sets fire to himself. Challis soon learns the man was Harry Grimbridge, a local shop owner who was recently reported missing by his daughter Ellie (a smoking hot Stacy Nelkin). Now Ellie and Dan team up to find out what happened to Harry and why someone would want him dead. The only clues being the Silver Shamrock mask he was holding and that picking up a shipment of those masks from the factory in the remote little town of Santa Mira, was the last thing he was known to have been doing. But when the two get to Santa Mira they find something very sinister is afoot and that factory owner Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) may have a horrible plan in store for the innocents wearing his masks on Halloween using modern technology to resurrect an ancient evil.

A lot of fans of the Halloween series were very disappointed with this entry for abandoning Michael Myers and his storyline, but I really liked the idea of an anthology series and I have a lot of fun with this gruesome little horror thriller with a twisted sense of humor. Carpenter pal Tommy Lee Wallace directs…and wrote the script from a story by Nigel Kneale…and he does a good job of replicating the master’s style and having Dean Cundey doing the cinematography and Carpenter and Alan Howarth on musical chores, the film fits right in with the Halloween series despite sharing none of the story elements. There are also some nice gore effects and other make-up to portray the various effects of Cochran’s Druid black magic and the after-effects of his suited thugs’ handiwork. The film has some nice atmosphere from the score…one of Carpenter’s best, actually…and the fact that Wallace has learned a lot about setting up shots from his director friend.

We get a flawed hero in the alcoholic divorcee Challis, who is brought to life with a really good performance by Tom Atkins. Dan is a very down to earth and real guy who comes up against a horrifying plan to murder thousands of children and faces the challenge with nobility and guts. Nelkin is a pretty and spunky heroine as Ellie and while it may be a stretch that she would fall so quickly for a borderline wreck like Challis, they do work well together as both characters and actors. And it would be remiss to not give Dan O’Herlihy a nod for a strong and creepy villain who has the charm of an angel, but the soul of a devil. The movie has it’s share of flaws. It can be silly at times, though sometimes it works in it’s favor, such as a last act that turns into a sort of supernaturally themed James Bond movie complete with a hidden lair, evil world effecting plot and arrogant boastful villain. And some characters are obviously just there for exposition and to be victims. But I think overall, you can forgive some of it’s flaws because it is such a well intentioned and fun horror thriller that has it’s heart in the right place and, in retrospect, is actually one of the more original horrors to come out of the franchise heavy 80s despite it’s farfetched story.

A very underrated horror thriller and a spooky, fun and twisted Halloween flick that gets watched every year during the spooky season at MonsterZero NJ’s lair. A favorite that I find is finally getting the respect it deserves. Listen for vocal cameo’s by none other then Jaime Lee Curtis during the scenes in Santa Mira.

Michael Myers returned to the series in Halloween 4 a few years later and the anthology series idea faded with Halloween III‘s weak box office returns. Too bad, I would have liked to have seen what Carpenter and co. would have come up with for future installments.

3 sinister Silver Shamrock masks!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE FOG (1980)

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JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

Since The Fog has just been released on blu-ray from the awesome folks at Scream Factory, I thought I’d roll out another Tomb Of Nostalgia and take a look back at this classic ghost tale…

One of my all time favorite horrors and one of my favorite John Carpenter flicks, in fact, since I was too young to see Halloween when it came out, this was the first Carpenter film I saw in a theater and the flick that started me on my love of his movies.

The Fog tells the story of the 100 year anniversary of the small coastal California town of Antonio Bay and as the town prepares for it’s centennial celebration, a dark secret is revealed. Legend has it a leper colony paid the founders of Antonio Bay a lot of gold to let them settle nearby but, they were betrayed and murdered, as their ship was lured onto the rocks to crash and sink on a fog laden night. All were lost but, now a horde of vengeful spirits returns from the sea, wrapped in a surreal fog, to make the descendants of those who wronged them, pay with their lives.

The Fog focuses not on a main character but, a group of central characters whose individual experiences during this supernatural crisis bring them slowly all together for it’s tense and creepy final act set in the town church. A good cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis as hitchhiker Elizabeth, Tom Atkins as local fisherman Nick, Janet Leigh as centennial chairwoman Kathy Williams and Adrienne Barbeau as single mom and radio DJ Stevie Wayne, give life to this ensemble and make them characters we like and care about so, we fear for them when they are placed in harm’s way. Add to that Hal Holbrook as the town’s alcoholic priest and a host of Carpenter regulars…with even a cameo by Carpenter himself…and you have a film wonderfully filled with a variety of characters who are all potential victims for the marauding phantoms. As for those phantoms, lets not forget to mention the ghostly Captain Blake (FX man Rob Bottin) and his vengeful crew who are portrayed with in-camera practical FX. This makes them quite spooky and gives them a heavy dose of menace and a lot of effectiveness when they are on the attack. There is loads of atmosphere and some very solid scares and suspense created by Carpenter, along with some great cinematography from frequent Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey, which makes this a good, solid, old-fashioned ghost story and a fun Halloween season treat. Carpenter again delivers a score which adds chills and foreboding to his tale of ghostly revenge, much like he did for Halloween and he starts the film off perfectly with a chillingly fun opening sequence featuring veteran John Houseman as a crusty sailor who likes to tell kids scary stories. It sets the mood for the thrills and chills yet to come. This classic was made back when there was no phoney CGI, just solid make-up effects from master Rob Bottin (who went on to do The Thing’s FX for Carpenter) and some very basic down to earth smoke and mirrors style visuals, that are as beautiful as they are scary. A great flick the likes of which they rarely make anymore and one of MonsterZero NJ’s must-watch flicks during the Halloween season!

As stated, the film was just released for the first time on blu-ray from Scream Factory with all the extras from previous releases plus an added new commentary track with Barbeau, Atkins and Tommy Lee Wallace and two really fun and informative interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis and Cinematographer Dean Cundey who also supervised the absolutely gorgeous new transfer!

4 spectral sailors!

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