Welcome, children of the night! This Blog is for fans of vintage horror films as well as those who are just beginning to discover the joy of these classic movies. I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Damien: Omen II (1978)

Little Damien, the anti-Christ, is now an unruly teenager with raging hormones and a taste for unleashing the powers of darkness on anyone who poses a threat to him.  What’s a boy to do?  This sequel to the hugely successful horror classic The Omen (1976) hits more than it misses.  It’s a bit of a slow-burner but it has a few creative and surprising deaths along the way.

I’m not sure why but Richard Donner [Lethal Weapon, The Goonies], who did the original film, was replaced by Don Taylor [Remake of the Island of Dr Moreau, Escape from the Planet of the Apes].  Mike Hodges [Flash Gordon, Morons From Outer Space] is listed as an uncredited director which usually means the film was in trouble and they brought in another director to make things right. 

Damien definitely has a few nice special effects, including the use of the demonic crows, but the rest of the film is rather tepid with lots of brooding and consternating.  Jonathan Scott-Taylor does a nice job as Damien and doesn’t overplay the character.  In this film, he’s in the process of discovering his true identity and the writer handles this subtly and effectively. 

As the story begins, Damien now lives with his Uncle Richard and Aunt Ann in the suburbs of Chicago and attends a military boarding school.  He is surrounded by lots of people who pose a threat to his existence and they are eliminated, one by one.

That’s all you really need to know.  If you love lots of blood and guts, then this film is not for you.  If you enjoy a good thriller then Damien: Omen II might do quite nicely.

RATING: Excellent.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)

Before there was Friday the 13th or Halloween, the same year that Deranged and Black Friday were released, yet another early slasher flick was born: Silent Night, Bloody Night.  What was going on in 1974 that spawned two very dark Christmas stories virtually simultaneously?  Perhaps those Groovy 70's held their dark secrets after all, hidden beneath layers of polyester and bad hair styles!
Silent Night, Bloody Night is a somewhat forgotten gem.  It doesn't have near the production values as Black Christmas.  It's a bit slow paced at times.  However, there is a lot that is good about this film and almost great.  

First we have the serial killer cam, that follows the killer through the house as he stalks his prey.  Second, we have the element of surprise as the slow pace of the film lulls us into a false sense of security which is jarred by a sudden swing of an axe or shovel.  Third, the movie keeps us guessing who the killer is and we don't really learn the whole story until the end of the film.  Fourth, the soundtrack is good with Silent Night devolving into a haunting minor scale that suggests that not all is twinkling lights and holly in this film.  Fifth, the director chooses a "less is more" approach in terms of gore.  There's not a lot of blood on screen but your mind fills in all the messy details perfectly.  Finally, can there really be too many Christmas horror stories?  I think not!  It's a stressful, scary holiday to say the least.

The cast of Silent Night, Bloody Night is mostly unknown to me except for Patrick O'Neal who starred in tons of films including The Stepford Wives and The Way We Were.  [There is also a small cameo by John Carradine as well.]  Yet, in spite of its lack of star power the cast is quite good and gets the job done rather well.  You can download this one for free from Archive.org.  However, the copy is rather grainy.  Still this actually adds to the enjoyment of the film.  I don't think there's a better copy out there.  I searched the internet and one is just as bad as the other.  If anyone else knows of a better print, please let me know.
If you like slasher flicks, then definitely put this one on your list.  Silent Night, Bloody Night is a Christmas present that's the perfect gift any time of the year.
RATING: Very Good.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Black Christmas (1974)

If you love the sight of lights twinkling on an evergreen tree and carols wafting through the air, then this movie is NOT for you.  If the season of Christmas drives you crazy with its endless barrage of over-sentimentality and consumerism, then sit back and enjoy!  Although Friday the 13th (1980) inspired two generations of Dead Teenager Movies, it stole everything that was good about it from Black Christmas.  The setting is a sorority house instead of a summer camp but nearly everything else is the same.
We see significant portions of the film through the perspective of the killer as the "slasher cam" walks us through the house.  The killer is not "unmasked" until very late in the movie.  [In Black Christmas we may see his hand or his eye but never the whole person.]  The movie intentionally leads us down the wrong path so that we think the killer is someone else.  Teenagers are dispatched in creative and violent ways.  I think you get my point.
Black Christmas tackles these elements very well.  It creates a great deal of suspense throughout the film and I found myself squirming in my seat a number of times as these sweet sorority girls are knocked off in horrific ways.  That's a high complement from me because I'm pretty "unsquirmable."  Black Christmas follows the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock who instinctively knew that what we don't see is far more frightening that what we do see.  Therefore, there is actually very little blood spilled on screen but your mind fills in all the gory details [and does a better job in the process].
The cast is great and includes Margot Kidder [The Amityville Horror, Superman], Olivia Hussey [Romeo and Juliet], Andrea Martin [SCTV, My Big Fat Greek Wedding] and John Saxon [A Nightmare on Elm Street, Enter the Dragon].  Everyone is excellent and there's not a weak link in the bunch.  Particularly enjoyable is Marian Waldman who plays Mrs. Mac, the alcoholic house mother who watches over the girls.  She provides some much needed comic relief in the midst of the bloodletting.
Black Christmas was remade in 2006 with Andrea Martin returning to play the house mother instead of a sorority girl.  I consider it to be as enjoyable as the original and, in some ways, it's better.  The remake includes the backstory of Billy the killer and does it rather effectively.  These "nostalgic" moments enhance the film and provide some of the most twisted and disturbing elements in it. [You'll never look at Christmas cookies the same way again!]  The remake is more violent but it's still well done.  My recommendation is to watch both of them.  Start with the original and then view the remake.  Let me know what you think.  I watch Black Christmas every holiday season with my adult kids.  It's our version of A Christmas Story and helps us to cope with the madness that is the holiday season.  [You might find it hard to believe but Bob Clark directed both of these films.  Thanks to him we have both Ralphie and Billy as our holiday mascots.  WOW!]
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Spectacularly bad.  Magnificently god-awful.  That pretty much describes Santa Claus Conquers the Martians which has been given a spot on the 100 worst films of all time. 

Here’s the thing:  First of all, this film was made for children, so let’s cut it some slack.  SCCM is a delicious slice of 1960’s children’s TV fair that has the sentimentality of Lassie and the humor of Dennis the Menace.  Scarface it is not!

Secondly, this film was made for a paltry $200,000 and includes scenes from the North Pole, outer space and the planet Mars.  It also has a sizable cast including Pia Zadora in her first film!  You gotta give them an A for effort!

Yes, the costumes are horrible and amateurish.  Yes, the script and acting are just as bad.  Yes, the sets look like they were made for a Jr High School play.  But, who cares?  Like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), SCCM is exuberant, independent filmmaking that knows exactly what it is and celebrates it with gusto.  This is one of those films that falls into the “so-bad-it’s good” category.  If that’s your kind of thing [and it’s my kind of thing] then don’t miss this one. 

SCCM may be best viewed in December with a group of friends, Christmas cookies and spiked eggnog.  It will definitely be a part of my holiday celebration from tis time forth and forevermore!

RATING: Bad. [as in so-bad-it’s-good]

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Nightbreed (1990) Nightbreed (2014 Director’s Cut)

YES!  YES!  YES!  I saw Nightbreed back in 1990 and was underwhelmed.  I loved some of the visuals that were just as strong as Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) but the plot didn't make a lot of sense to me.  It seemed fragmented as if it were trying to tell two stories and neither of them very effectively.  Apparently Clive Barker felt the same way.  Apparently the studio tried to make it into a slasher film [which it most definitely is not] and cut and edited the film in ways that Barker detested.

Now it’s 2014 and Clive Barker finally has his day!  Thanks to Shout! Factory Barker finally got to put together the film the way he originally intended to to be.  According to Fangoria 20 minutes of the 1990 theatrical edition, including the ending, have been removed and nearly 45 minutes of new material has been added.  The result is a spectacular, highly original story that’s a joy to watch from start to finish.  THIS is the movie they should have allowed Clive Barker to make.  The restoration is beautiful and really makes this film pop.  I saw the HD version of it on Netflix and am hopeful it will gain and audience with younger viewers.

I won’t go into plot details because I think this film is best seen without any expectations going into it.  Like Hellraiser, just enjoy the ride as Barker takes the audience on a wild and crazy journey to a world only he could envision.  The cast is great and includes Craig Sheffer [A River Runs Through It] as anti-hero Boone and horror director David Cronenberg [Videodrome, Scanners] as Boone’s psychiatrist Dr. Decker.

Nightbreed is also enhanced by a beautiful symphonic score by Danny Elfman [The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride] as well as some of the most inventive creatures you will ever see on the screen.  Don’t miss this one!  I imagine Barker is grinning from ear to ear as his film FINALLY gets to be seen the way it was intended to be seen.


For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

In 1967 Fantastic Voyage won two Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects.  It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Sound Effects.  Do how does it measure up to all these accolades?  Very well.  Fantastic Voyage is a visual feast of great beauty, excitement and imagination. The story involves the journey of the Proteus, a miniaturized sub that is injected into the body of a diplomat who was nearly assassinated.  Their mission: to remove a blood clot and get the heck out of there before their sub returns to normal size.

Fantastic Voyage has everything going for it, beginning with a smartly written and believable script which is based on a novel by Isaac Asimov.  Director Richard Fleisher [20,000 Leagues Ubder the Sea, Soylent Green] and Cinematographer Ernest Laszio [Logan’s Run, Attack of the Puppet People] know how to bring this epic story to life with grand sweeping gestures as well as small moments of tension and conflict between individual actors.

However, the star of this show is most definitely the visual effects.  Everything about the way this film looks once the Proteus enters the diplomat’s body is cinematic perfection.  I can’t recall any earlier film that looks this stunning.  The colors, shapes, lighting and textures used to represent this miniature world are a total home run.  The voiceover at the beginning of the film says, “You’re going to see things no one has ever seen before.”    I totally agree.  What a grand adventure this is!

As far as acting goes, the cast is solid through and through.  The two most well-know acts in this ensemble are the radiant Raquel Welch [One Million Years B.C.] and horror legend Donald Pleasence [Halloween, Prince of Darkness].  While his character Dr. Michaels is not Dr. Loomis hunting down Michael Meyers, they same intensity is there.

If you like Sci-Fi then Fantastic Voyage is a must-see.  A wonderful film both then and now.  My only complaint is that they take nearly 40 minutes to enter into the body of the diplomat.  I would have shortened this part of the film a bit because that’s where the action really get going!

RATING: Excellent.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

They Came From Within (1975) a.k.a. Shivers

Shivers is David Cronenberg’s first full feature film and it’s quite a doozy.  The opening credits begin with an eerily calm TV commercial for a suburban high rise complex.  Once the credits are finished rolling we are greeted with a brutal murder/suicide.  The audience knows from the very beginning to expect anything!

Cronenberg [Videodrome, The Brood] wrote and directed this creepy tale about a scientist who ends up infecting residents of the high rise with a parasite that begins spreading like wildfire. Those infected become sex-crazed fiends who attack the nearest warm body. [John Waters would approve!] Cronenberg jumps back and forth between scenes of ordinary life and moments of sheer terror.  It’s quite a roller coaster ride and is quite effective, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat for the duration of the film.

Kudos to special effects creator Joe Blasco [The Addams Family] for bringing the parasites to life.  He does so in a way that is convincing, effective and squirm-worthy.

The acting is solid but no one performance stand out as great.  This is because the parasites are the star of this demented horror show!  There is, however, a wonderful cameo role for Italian scream queen Barbara Steele.  Her infection scene is a delightfully horrifying moment in the film.

Not much more needs to be said.  Cronenberg is not everyone’s cup of tea but no one can deny he is a unique and visionary filmmaker. 

RATING: Very Good.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.