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!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

V (1984, TV Mini-series)

V is proof that a TV miniseries can be well-made and stand the test of cinematic time. Yes, it's got a number of 1980's giggle-worthy moments but, by and large, it's well made and well acted. The main thing that makes V work is it's intelligent screenplay. It starts with visiting aliens that appear as menacing as your grandma. Then, slowly, details are added which make you realize they are visiting earth with evil intent. The build-up is near perfect and makes for enjoyable TV watching.

I remember watching this when it first came out.  I was a fan of Marc Singer who had a hit a year earlier with The Beastmaster. He plays a TV cameraman in V and nails it perfectly. However, the best surprise is the appearance of Robert England who would become Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street the same year. His role as the lovable alien Willie is quite a contrast from the menacing Freddy, which goes to show his underrated range as an actor.

One of my favorite scenes is when Singer boards one of the alien ships and ends up tussling with one of them when his hiding place is discovered. As the human mask of the alien is pealed away, it reveals a reptilian creature whose face is well done and effective.

V would spawn another miniseries, V: The Final Battle (1984), and two TV series which ran from 1984-85 and 2009-11. I am especially fond of the latter version that is one of the finest remakes out there. If you're a Sci-Fi fan and haven't seen the original, what are you waiting for?

RATING: Excellent.

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


Monday, October 19, 2015

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs [TPUTS] is still one of the weirdest and most original horror films I have ever seen.  While it could have easily ventured into pure torture porn, Craven packs the script with lots of intelligence and just enough humor to make the gore bearable.  There are more squirm-worthy moments than I can possibly list here.  That's a tribute to Craven's skill as a filmmaker because it takes a lot to make me squirm!

In addition to excellent directing and writing TPUTS benefits from a strong cast including the delightfully demented slum landlord and his wife, played respectively by Everett McGill [Twin Peaks, Silver Bullet] and Wendy Robie [Twin Peaks, The Glimmer Man].  I would much rather spend a night with Freddy Krueger than with these two sadistic cannibals!  Even though their actions are way over the top, both of these actors make their characters seem very real.  Deep in the bottom of your gut you know there are people in our world who are equally as crazy and sadistic as these two which is what makes the film so horrifying.

The kids in the cast are also pretty good as well. Brandon Quintin Adams plays Fool who is the hero who saves the day.  He goes from being an average kid from the hood to bad mamma-jaima who utters the line "I'm tired of fucking around so you either put the gun down now or kiss your ass goodbye, boy!"  A.J. Longer is great as Alice, the daughter they've kept locked up in the house for as long as she can remember and Sean Whalen [Men in Black,Twister] brings a lot of heart and warmth to the story as Roach, one of the kids who lives under the stairs.

The final piece that makes TPUTS work is the incredible set and special effects.  The design of the house is flawless and seems to have an endless number of creepy rooms with secret passageways and tunnels that lead to one horrific room after another. The blood and gore effects also hold up well and definitely made me wince a time or two.

I have always been a Wes Craven fan and admire his visionary spirit and demented imagination.  TPUTS stands the test of time as one of his best and should not be missed.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

A zombie classic is born!  The Return of the Living Dead begins with a direct reference to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.  Apparently some of the zombies from that plague were packed in barrels that were filled with a mysterious liquid.  [Zombie pickles?  Fantastic!]  When two bumbling employees discover them in a medical supply warehouse they not only bring one back to life but unknowingly launch a new zombie apocalypse.  The new zombies are a little bit different from the original models.  Unlike their shambling elders, these zombies move quickly like those in 28 Days Later and also have a specific craving for brains instead of flesh.  The result is a thrill ride that is both gory and funny.
ROTLD sports a somewhat cheesy 80's soundtrack but it does have a few good songs along the way.  The mix of comedy and gore is near perfect and the special effects are solid for 80's standards.  The cast of teens is a bit over the top in terms of typecasting but it suits this film just fine.  The main actors, especially James Karen [Poltergeist, Joyride] and Clu Gulager [Feast series] are great and understand how to make the comedic aspects of this film work.  The rest of the cast is solid as well, even though many are simply hors d'oeuvres for the zombie buffet.
ROTLD launched many sequels and solidified the reputation for zombies to be brain munchers.  It also provided some of the inspiration for making Shaun of the Dead (2004) which is definitely my all-time favorite zombie horror comedy.  Definitely watch ROTLD if you have any love for zombies at all.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

After the Americans artfully slashed their way through Black Christmas (1974), Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), it was time for the Canadians to answer the call and cash in on the slasher craze.  The result is My Bloody Valentine [MBV] which is beloved by many and even labeled as a “cult classic” by some.  I don’t fall into either of these categories.  Like Little Nell in Rocky Horror Picture Show, I found myself saying “He’s OK” at the end of the film.  Nothing more, nothing less.

MBV has a few things going for it: 1) The scenes in the mine are creepy and atmospheric, 2) The look of the killer is original and interesting, and 3) the premise of the story is solid.  What it lacks are 1) characters we care about, 2) actors who can convey genuine terror instead of just screaming hysterically and, 3) a “twist” ending that’s actually a twist.

I know there will be many in cyberspace who will disagree with me with regard to MBV, but I’ve seen more than my fair share of slasher flicks and I found it to be fairly uninteresting, standard fare.  Yes, there are a few good kills that made me wince a bit but the rest of the movie is a yawner.  The young miners and their girlfriends who inhabit the opening scenes of the film are just not that interesting. I really could not have cared less who survived and who got impaled by the pick axe!  There is no character, like Laurie Strode from Halloween, who drew me in and stole my heart with her vulnerability and perseverance against a terrorizing psychopath.  Every character in MBV felt formulaic and poorly acted.

Yeah, I know, some of you out there LOVE this film!  What can I say?  I’m just not one of them.  I never saw the 2009 remake because I didn’t care for the original. If you’re a fan, tell me why you like it.  I’m still open to hearing what you have to say.

RATING: Fair.

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


Monday, September 14, 2015

Pet Sematary 2 (1992)

I don't know what's wrong with the critics on IMDB. My suspicion is that many of them don't like horror, especially when blood and guts are involved. Therefore, they rate many of these films much lower than they should be rated. Thus is the case with Pet Sematary 2. Director Mary Lambert gives us a second helping that goes beyond the Stephen King novel. This time out Richard Outten provides the screenplay, upping the violence and gore in place of Stephen King's more subtle approach. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it's just different. Personally, I think it's harder to do what the first film delivers, but the sequel is a powerful film to watch nonetheless.

In addition to Mary Lambert's direction, the film's other strong point is the cast. Edward Furlong [Terminator 2, Detroit Rock City] is dynamite as Jeff Matthews, a young man who experienced the horrific death of his mother. Anthony Edwards [E.R.] also does a great job as his father. But the real force of nature in this film is Clancy Brown [Highlander, The Shawshank Redemption] who plays Sheriff Gus Gilbert. His manic energy in Pet Sematary 2 is a joy to watch. He definitely provides most of the squirm-worthy moments in the film.

If you haven't seen this one, PLEASE give it a chance. It is a worthy successor to the original.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pet Sematary (1989)

Pet Sematary is one of my all-time favorite horror films for many reasons.  First of all both the novel and the screenplay were written by Stephen King.  He is simply the master of setting an ominous mood and cranking it up to full force by the end of the story.  If someone else had adapted his novel, Pet Sematary would have definitely been a lesser film.

Secondly, director Mary Lambert, who did a number of award winning music videos for Madonna, has an impeccable visual style and each scene is lovingly composed.  There aren't too many women with an interest in doing horror and Pet Sematary is all the proof we need that there should be more of them.

Thirdly, the special effects are mostly subtle but really good.  I especially LOVE the work they did on Brad Greenquist who plays the ghost who keeps reappearing all throughout the movie. The other outstanding creation is Selda, the sister of the main characters who was actually played by a man, Andrew Hubatsek.  If that doesn't creep you out, I don't know what will.

Finally, we have a dream cast anyone would love to work with.  Both Dale Midkiff [The Crow: Salvation] and Denise Crosby [Star Trek: The Next Generation] are perfect together as Louis and Rachel Creed.  They help to create a family we really care about and that's essential for this film to work.  The other standout is my beloved Fred Gwynne [The Munsters, My Cousin Vinny] who plays the next door neighbor, Jud Crandall.  I think he is perfect in this role and shows he was just as great at drama as he was at comedy.

What more needs to be said?  If you've never seem this film, what are you waiting for?  I count Pet Seminary as one of the best Stephen King adaptations out there.  I never get tired of watching this film.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Pumpkinhead (1988)

An iconic and original horror movie monster is born! Pumpkinhead is the tragic tale of Ed Harley, a father who seeks revenge for the accidental death of his son. With the help of a mountain witch named Hessie, Harley summons up a kick-ass revenge demon named Pumpkinhead. The demon then begins to unleash his reign of terror on those who did Harley wrong.

There are a number of things I love about this movie. The biggest one is Pumpkinhead himself. Stan Winston Studios created a magnificent monster that feels fresh and original. Tom Woodruff Jr [Aliens, Terminator] is credited with playing the creature as well as make-up effects. The look of Pumpkinhead is also enhanced by the subtle blue lighting and fog effects that are used for the night scenes. It's a visual feast for the eyes.

Another plus are the performances of Lance Henriksen [Aliens, Terminator] and Devon Odessa [Uncle Buck, My So-Called Life]. Henriksen's Ed Harley is the heart and soul of this movie. It would be in serious trouble without him since much of the acting is a little weak. I also loved Odessa's portrayal of Hessie who is a crusty old hag is there ever was one. Her scenes greatly add to the film as well.

Stan Winston also does a fine job as director. Although he is known more for his special effects, he paces Pumpkinhead nicely and creates lots of tension and suspense once the monster is unleashed. 

On the negative side, there are plot elements that are a little weak. The set up where Harley's son is killed comes as no surprise and you can see the death coming way before it happens. The other thing I object to is their portrayal of mountain folk. I live in the mountains of Southern Appalachia and found this very insulting. We have soap here and we wash our clothes! We even speak proper English! Rant over!

With a few tweaks I could have given this film an Excellent rating but it just doesn't quite reach that high. However, I love the monster and feel like Pumpkinhead is an underrated film by many critics. Give it a chance!

RATING: Very Good.

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


Friday, September 11, 2015

The Monster Squad (1987)

Yay, The Monster Squad is now streaming on Netflix!  I don't know a young teenager in the late 80's who didn't simply adore The Monster Squad.  It's the film that got many teens of this vintage hooked on horror.  It's a salute to all the classic horror archetypes, mostly from the 30's, with the exception of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  We have Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Mummy, and the Wolfman.  While they are different in appearance from the originals, I assume this is due to copyright restrictions.

The basic plot is that Dracula and his cohorts were vanquished by Van Helsing many years ago when they tried to rule the world.  Now they're back and giving it a second shot.  Standing in their way are a group of teen boys who are members of the Monster Squad.  They, along with a tag-along younger sister, combat the forces of darkness and, of course, save the world for a second time.

This is a classic piece of 1980's PG horror.  Very little blood is shed…but it sure is a lot of fun!  Fred Dekker's [House, Night of the Creeps] direction is spot on.  It has the feel of a Spielberg adventure with lots of action and a few "steal your heart moments" for good measure.  The effects are good for the time and nothing stands out as terrible.  It all works quite nicely.

In terms of acting, the cast is mostly unknown but this does not stop them from giving fine performances.  They are the kind of kids all of us grew up with and their characters ring true.  There is a brief scene with Jason Hervey [Back to the Future, The Wonder Years] who plays bully E.J. Justice is served on him quite quickly in a scene that will make nerds cheer everywhere!

There is not much more to say about The Monster Squad.  It's the perfect film for a lazy Sunday afternoon and will be a trip down memory lane for quite a few horror fans out there.  Classic stuff!

RATING: Excellent.

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


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Trick or Treat (1986)

Growing up in the 70's I was warned repeatedly about the horrors of rock and roll. Backwards masking on LP's contained hidden messages about the devil and many bands such as AC/DC (AnitChrist Devil's Cult) and KISS (Kings in Satan's Service) were accused of attending Black Masses and swore their allegiance to the Dark Lord.  I knew it was bull$*@ then and it's bull$*@ now.  Long live rock and roll!  Trick or Treat is a comedic horror send-up of all things metal.  It brilliantly casts Gene Simons as a deejay and Ozzie Osbourne as a conservative Christian preacher.  If that's not enough to entice you to watch it, I don't know what will!

While Trick or Treat is hardly a horror masterpiece, it's got a lot of things going for it.  The soundtrack from metal band Fastaway shreds it's way through a tale of teenage angst, bullying and, oh yeah, resurrecting a dead rock star.  Marc Price, who played next door neighbor Skippy on Family Ties, has an opportunity to shed his squeaky clean image as Eddie who is the dead rock star's greatest fan.  The other well known actor in this film is Doug Savant [Melrose Place] who plays the bully quite effectively.  It's all class 80's stuff and both actors give it all they've got.

The real standout for me is Tony Fields who plays the dead rock star in question, Sammi Curr.  His performance is quirky and fascinating to watch, especially the concert scene where he owns the stage like the demon-possessed soul Sammi Curr claimed to be.  After watching the film I learned that Fields was a trained dancer and it definitely shows. Fields appeared in numerous music videos including Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and "Thriller."  He was also a Solid Gold dancer and appeared in the film version of "A Chorus Line as well."

If you're looking for serious horror, Trick or Treat will likely disappoint.  If, however, you're looking for a fun ride then it will fit the bill quite nicely.  It's everything some people either love or hate about 80's horror.  I happen to love it!

RATING: Very Good.

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


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master (1988)

The kids from the looney bin that survived Freddy in Nightmare 3 are back in school and have a legion of new friends ready for Freddy's slash fest.  That's about as exciting as this one gets.  Once again, the franchise suffers from Wes Craven's absence.  The screenplay is weak and the direction and cinematography are lacking as well.  Heather Langenkamp is MIA which is always a bad thing.  All this smells like New Line trying to make a fast buck with as little investment in the franchise as possible.  They succeed admirably.

In Nightmare 4, Patricia Arquette, who played our hero Kristen in the last film, has been replaced by Tuesday Knight.  [Seriously?  Sounds like a porn star name to me.]  Her stage name alone gives you a hint what you're in store for: a lackluster performance that doesn't even come close to Arquette.  Two of the other surviving teens are played by the same actors but both are dispatched of early on in the film.  What is left are caricatures of teen archetypes who are bitched at by completely clueless parents and teachers.  

Robert Englud is back, of course, as Freddy but they even give him less to do in 4 than he did in 3.  I hate this because I'm a big Englund fan.  He's capable of so much more than the pablum they give him in Nightmare 4.  In this flick he's reduced to a series of clever retorts that really aren't that clever.

To add insult to injury, the soundtrack suffers with lots of marginal 80's tunes and bland, atmospheric synths.  Further the special effects don't light a candle to earlier films.  It all feels like it's been done before and done better.  And that's the truth!

Not until Craven completely took over the reigns of the franchise with New Nightmare [Nightmare 6 if you're counting] did Freddy rise again to greatness.  This one is adequate at best and I feel sorry for the actors who are trapped in this marginal film.

RATING: Fair.

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Nightmare on Gay Street?

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is a film that does not score well on IMDB with its most recent rating of 5.1 out of 10.  However, I think it's a much better film than many critics say it is.  The main reason for this is the gay subtext that runs through it which was pretty brave for 1985.  The themes in Nightmare 2 are quite different from Nightmare 1.  The first deals with Freddy invading people's dreams.  The second deals with Freddy trying to possess the body of Jesse Walsh, a teen who recently moved to Elm Street with his dysfunctional family.

I think that Mark Patton gives a wonderful performance in this film as he spans the emotional gamut from being scared shitless to wondering if he's losing his mind.  In the midst of all this trauma, we also see a young man who is also struggling with his sexual identity.

The short answer for me is that Jesse Walsh is gay but he hasn't quite figured it out yet.  He's a virgin who really likes his girlfriend Lisa Weber but not in the same way she likes him.  He's also attracted to his friend Ron Grady but is afraid to tell Ron how he feels for fear of rejection.  In the film Ron is definitely straight which makes the situation all the more painful.  This is a common experience of many young gay men in the 1980's.  Furthermore, Freddy stands as a symbol for the "love that dare not speak its name."  A love that Jesse struggles with and views as a monster that is trying to possess him.  

Lots of people have speculated about the gay subtext of Nightmare 2 over the years.  As a gay man with a partner of 20 years, who also happens to love horror films, I thought I'd add my perspective to the discussion.

Let's consider the facts:

1. In a February 2010 interview with Attitude magazine, Robert Englund commented on this when asked whether he was aware about the camp, gay appeal of the series. He replied: "... the second Nightmare on Elm Street is obviously intended as a bisexual themed film. It was early 80s, pre-AIDS paranoia. Jesse's wrestling with whether to come out or not and his own sexual desires was manifested by Freddy. His friend is the object of his affection. That's all there in that film. We did it subtly but the casting of Mark Patton was intentional too, because Mark was out and had done Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dead, Jimmy Dean."

2.  During his interview segment for the documentary "Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy," screenwriter David Chaskin admitted that homosexual themes were intentionally written into the script.

3: Mark Patton, the actor who played Jesse, did an online piece of fictional writing entitled "Jesse's Lost Journal."  [staticmass.net/jesses-lost-journals-preface]  It's really fascinating reading.  Consider the following entires…

A. "I hope this does not sound too awful but I know the girl likes me and I like her, just not in the same way but she can help me and I must let her. I have to let her take the lead, so he does not see my plan. I feel bad but I know she has already entered this world and her karma is here too. I need a friend."

B. "I went to Ron because I knew I would be safe there… you see the rule was that there would be no killing of people I love and yes I loved Ron so I thought that was the best course to take. I begged him not to go to sleep, so in my deepest mind I must have known not to trust Fred but I know he needs me, my body, so I made a mistake. Ron was not my lover as many assumed, we had a different bond. I could have crossed a line with him and we would have lost a lifetime… I thought I had forever, we had forever, you see I lead Fred away from my true love."  [NOTE: Mark is speaking the truth here.  I don't believe Jesse & Fred were intimate with each other.  I do believe, however, that Jesse probably wanted to be but held those feelings deep inside.]

4.  Mark Patton did an interview with Dead Central where he talked about the character of Jesse.  One of the bigger controversies surrounding Freddy's Revenge was the idea of casting a "final guy" instead of a "final girl." This is a phenomenon that Patton was keenly aware of. "Essentially, I was playing a woman's part and fans back then didn't understand that," Patton explained. "It's like they switched the rules of the genre on fans and a lot of people couldn't handle that so I think that's why some people have problems with part two. I do think the new generation of fans are more open to that idea now than audiences were back then."

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 (1984)

Critics give it a 3.6 on IMDB.  Only 20% of the audience on Rotten Tomatoes said they liked it.  Director Wes Craven has disowned the film.  So, how bad is it?  Not as bad as you might think!

H2 begins with two characters and one dog who survived from the first film.  Several years have past and “survivor boy” Kevin is sitting in a psychiatrists office, still trying to cope with the horrors he has experienced.  His trusted dog Beast is at his side.  Finally there’s Ruby who has once an inbred cannibal but has changed her wicked ways and is now a suburban kid enjoying life and hanging out with a motocross team.  [Seriously?  SERIOUSLY!]

O.K. so we’re off to a rocky start.  As can be expected the motocross team is headed for a competition and is running late.  [Damn you, daylight savings time!] Naturally, they take a short cut across the desert. [Didn’t Kevin learn something from the last time his family tried to do this?]  Naturally, they run into what’s left of the inbred cannibal family.

The main reason why this film does not work, besides the plot, is that we don’t care what happens to these teenagers.  They show few signs of fear and terror and seem to treat the whole affair as a grand adventure.  Furthermore, the once menacing Pluto, played to perfection in the first film by Michael Barrymore, is reduced in one scene to nothing more than a dog on a chain.

The reason why the first film worked so well is because it features an all-American family who is terrorized beyond belief.  Then we watch them devolve and become as ruthless as the inbred cannibals in order to survive.  It’s a brilliant study in human nature directed flawlessly by Wes Craven.   H2 has none of this and settles for far, far less.

A great deal of fuss is made by critics who complain the film has too many flashbacks.  There are not as many as one would think.   Furthermore the flashback that Beast the dog has is totally awesome.  How often do we get a dog flashback on film?  It’s cheesy but it’s my kind of cheese!
 

So while H2 is not a complete red hot mess, it’s hardly compelling film-making either.  But if you're really bored on a Sunday afternoon, give it a chance.  It might be better than you think!

RATING: Fair.

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


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing is the Wes Craven adaptation of the Len Wein comic books of the same name.  While its tight budget definitely shows, I've always enjoyed this film and have watched it several times over the years.  The basic story is about the botanical experiments of Dr. Alec Holland.  Naturally, they go awry and a lab explosion turns him into the "Swamp Thing."  Rival scientist Anton Arcane then plots to capture Holland and learn his secrets.
Adrienne Barbeau [Creepshow, The Fog, Carnivale] and stuntman Dick Durock are a modern day Beauty and the Beast in Swamp Thing.  They are the heart and soul of this film.  It would be dead in the water without them.  Barbeau plays Alice with charm, warmth and a smidge of toughness.  Durok's "Swamp Thing" is perfect.  His height and the way be embodies the swamp suit are first rate.  Like King Kong before him, Durock also shows a great deal of tenderness that wins over the heart of the audience.
French actor Louis Jourdan plays the evil Dr. Arcane.  Personally, I would have picked a different actor to fill this role but Jourdan is what we've got to work with.  He's fine but not nearly menacing enough for my tastes.
Kudos also to Harry Manfredini [Friday the 13th] who wrote a luscious score for Swamp Thing.  It has a classic feel to it like Psycho or Jaws which greatly enhances the viewer's experience of the film.  
The two negatives of Swamp Thing are the pace of the film and much of the special effects.  There are segments of it that are simply too slow, especially toward the beginning.  Furthermore, with the exception of the Swamp Thing's make-up, the rest of the effects look a bit hokey.  Thankfully, none of my favorite make-up men worked on this project.  Where is Tom Savini when you needed him?  Oh well, I guess he couldn't do every project in the 1980's.
In the end, the goods outweigh the bads.  Swamp Thing is a cult classic that is definitely worth your time.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Deadly Blessing (1981)

Wes Craven takes on the subject of a conservative religious sect in the thriller Deadly Blessing.  The story is about a group of Hittites [similar to the Amish] who believe that a neighboring house is possessed by an incubus.  It also happens to be the house of an ex-communicated Hittite who married a city girl, an outsider.  Naturally strange things start to happen including visions and mysterious murders.  Who is behind these evil deeds?  Well you'll just have to watch the movie to find out!
I am generally a big fan of Wes Craven but was a little underwhelmed by this one.  Craven's previous films included the groundbreaking and utterly terrifying Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes.  Viewers would naturally expect more of the same.  However, Craven takes a bit of a breather with Deadly Blessing but this is not necessarily a bad thing.  It's just unexpected.
Craven's direction is very good in Deadly Blessing and he captures nice performances from the entire cast, which includes Ernest Borgnine as the leader of the sect, Sharon Stone, and Michael Berryman [The Hills Have Eyes].  I'm a big fan of Berryman and he really shines as the "he's not quite right" Hittite, William.  
The big weakness of Deadly Blessing is the ending which is completely unforgivable.  It's cheesy and totally unnecessary.  If it was meant to be frightening, it's a dismal failure.  With a different ending, this film would have been much better.  
So, if you're a Craven fan like me you might feel a little let down by Deadly Blessing.  However, it's still a decent movie that has many more hits than misses.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1986)


The biggest mistake Wes Craven made with the Nightmare franchise was handing many of the films over to other directors.  I would argue that the two best films in the series are the original and New Nightmare, both of which Craven directed and wrote.  The other films simply don't match up with Craven's skill in creating a creepy, unsettling atmosphere where Freddy can unleash his reign of terror.  Furthermore, Craven's screenplays are stronger and scarier which is the way I like it.  Otherwise, Freddy is reduced to playing the role of the class clown instead of the ruthless killer he was destined to be.

That being said, Nightmare 2 is a decent film that has a number of things going for it.  While the presence of Heather Langenkamp [Nancy] is sorely missed, Mark Patton [Freddy vs. Jason, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean]  does a decent job as Jesse, the new kind on the Elm street block.  He's 80's cute and navigates the emotional territory of feeling like he's slowly being possessed by Freddy rather well.  His sidekick and love interest, Lisa, is no Nancy.  Kim Myers [Hellraiser: Bloodline, The Sitter] is good but nothing special.  Robert Englund does what Robert does best with the material he's been given to work with.  However, he was much scarier in the original film thanks to Craven's smart direction and dialogue.

The soundtrack has some bad 80's excesses from time to time and, overall, is a weaker score than Charles Bernstein's 1984 masterpiece.  It's missing the strong musical themes established in the first film that should have been carried over into this one.

As a point of interest, Nightmare 2 also has a subtle gay context to it.  Jesse is probably not gay but the way they handle the character makes it easy for gays to identify with him.  What do you think about this?  Also did you notice there's no T&A in this film but there are lots of guys running around in their undies.  Hmmmm.

So, Nightmare 2 is not the worst of the bunch but it's not the best either.  Still, I found it quite enjoyable and even fun from time to time.  The pool scene in particular is a riot!

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

Although this doesn't quite qualify as vintage [My cut off is 25 years old] Wes Carven's New Nightmare has to be mentioned when talking about the Freddy Krueger franchise.  It is easily my second favorite in the series next to the original.  With New Nightmare Wes Craven, thankfully, took over the reins as both writer and director.  Freddy Krueger is always at his sinister best when Craven is in charge of his every move.  Instead of lots of snarky humor, this Freddy is more sinister and fear-inducing.  I think the character is at his best when portrayed this way.

The premise of New Nightmare is absolutely brilliant as we find ourselves in the "real life" world of Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund.  A mechanical Freddy hand goes away during the making of a film and the cast and crew quickly begin to realize that Freddy is trying to move from the silver screen into reality.  Great stuff!

Heather Langenkamp, who was one of my favorite 80's horror heroines, does a great job playing herself!  She is definitely the emotional center of this film just like she was in the original.  In New Nightmare her son, played by  Miko Hughes [Pet Sematary], also plays an important role.  Hughes is just as creepy here as he was in Pet Seminary and does a great job in the scenes where Freddy tries to possess him.

If you've never seen this film, what are you waiting for?  Wes Craven's New Nightmare gives us an idea of what the series would have looked like if Craven had written and directed every film.  I can dream can't I…or is that a really bad idea?

RATING: Excellent.

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


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Shocker (1989)

Released the same year as The Horror Show, Shocker gives us an eerily similar plot, but with better results.  Much of the credit for this goes to Wes Craven [A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream] who wrote the screenplay and also directed the movie.  Like Horror Show, this movie has a detective who helps to put a maniac behind bars, and a maniac who vows his revenge even after death.  This is where the similarities end.  Craven's script is smarter and a bit darker with a dash of humor. [No surprise there.]  He also focuses the film on the detective's son who becomes the emotional center of the film.  If there is one weakness in the script it is when the killer stops switching bodies and jumps into the T.V. screen.  The son incomprehensibly follows in a move that is too Elm Street for my taste.  I know the audience is supposed to go along with this change of direction but this is when I started asking lots of questions which is never a good sign.

The cast is a bit uneven in Shocker but this can be blamed on budget constraints.  Veteran character actor Michael Murphy [Batman Returns, X-Men: Last Stand] is O.K. as Lt. Dan Parker but is nothing special.  Thankfully Peter Berg [Friday Night Lights, Battleship] is spot on as Parker's son Jonathan.  He makes us care what happens in this film and Shocker's success is mostly due to his performance.  Mitch Pileggi [X-Files] takes on the role of serial killer Horace Pinker.  He does a good job with this but his character feels a bit more like the Road Runner rather than a vicious killer.

Don't get me wrong, I like Shocker very much.  However, my dream movie, combining the best of both films, would be Wes Craven's script and direction as well as Peter Berg as the son.  Mix this with Horror Show's Lance Henriksen as the father, Brion James as the killer along with Harry Manfredini's soundtrack and it would be a total home run.  [Craven opted for late 80's hair metal in Shocker which doesn't work for me to establish the right mood for the film.]

The overall story contained in both of these films is screaming for a remake.  Since Craven has been redoing a lot of his early work, this may happen in the next few years. I'm still convinced that this story has not been told as well as it could be.  Both films leave me wanting more.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

R.I.P. Wes Craven

We lost one of the greats yesterday.  
Thanks for all the scares and unforgettable films!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Simply stated, The Last House on the Left is one of the most brutal, disturbing and realistic horror films ever made.  It's impossible to call it entertaining.  It's a non-flinching look into the psyches of a group of seriously sadistic individuals.  The film asks a similar question that Craven raised in The Hills Have Eyes: "What lengths would you go to in order to defend yourself and your family?  How low can you go in order to survive?
The film starts out warm and sunny and along the way gets darker and darker.  The reason why this film is so powerful is that the camera rarely, if ever, looks away from the horrific violence that is shown in the screen.  It takes the viewer to a very deep and dark place that leaves them feeling a little queasy to say the least.  Some people may consider this film to fall into the "torture porn" category.  However, I would disagree.  The brutality of Last House is never gratuitous.  The viewer cares for the two young girls very deeply.  It is not entertaining to watch them die.  It is painful and sad which is not really the feeling you get when watching modern films like Hostel and Saw.  Craven does something far more creative here.  He gives us a front row seat to watch a side of humanity we really don't want to admit exists...but it does!
Last House was remade in 2009 with Dennis Iliadis directing and Wes Craven as one of the producers.  It is a very good film in its own right and adapts the original story with great care, leaving the basic plot intact.  It is also extremely brutal and graphic at times and has the same effect on the viewer as the original.  
As many of you know, Wes Craven was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home.  Needless to say, Last House on the Left is one hell of way to rebel against your parents!  This movie is NOT for the faint of heart.  It is both shocking and thought-provoking and holds up rather well even after almost 40 years.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

This film should have been the sequel to the original Nightmare film.  Nearly everything about it works.  First of all, Wes Craven was one of the authors of the screenplay and also signed on as executive producer.  His influence is clearly evident with a much stronger story than Freddy's Revenge and a more ominous feel to the movie overall.  This is also helped by director Chuck Russell [The Mask, Scorpion King] who has put together a decidedly darker and more emotionally powerful film than Freddy's Revenge.  

Cinematographer Roy H. Wagner [Nick of Time, Drop Zone] gives us a visual feast while the special effects team delivers many inventive and eye-popping moments that are truly entertaining.  Furthermore, composer Angelo Badalamenti [The Beach, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist] takes the baton from Charles Bernstein, the composer of the first film.  He picks up several of the musical themes from the original score and adds his own touches.  All of these elements work together to create a strong look and feel for the film.

Perhaps the biggest blessing of Dream Warriors is the cast.  Thank God, Heather Langencamp is back as Nancy.  This time out it's six years later.  She's graduated form college and is interning as a psychologist who specializes in dream therapy.  [Nice touch!]  Langenkamp is joined by a great cast, some of whom went on to become big Hollywood stars such as Laurence Fishburne [The Matrix Trilogy] and Patricia Arquette [T.V. Medium].  John Saxon makes a small appearance to reprise his role as Nancy's Father.  Finally, the teens in the psych ward are all very good actors and help to make this Dream Warriors of the strongest casts of the Nightmare Franchise.  Robert Englund is back, of course, as Freddy.  This time out he has less screen time and develops his one liner wise cracking style that would dominate some of the later films.  It's not his strongest Freddy performance but there is no one else who can really fill his shoes.  [I hate the new modern remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Jackie Earle Haley's portrayal is pure brutality with no sense of humor or playfulness about.]

I could go on but I think you get the point.  I love this film.  It's one of my favorites in the franchise and proves that when Wes Craven is involved it's always a better movie than when he's not.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

I absolutely LOVE The Serpent and the Rainbow and never get tired of watching it.  I consider it to be one of Wes Craven’s most underrated films that deserves a wider audience.  The overall look and feel of the film is tense and mysterious.  This is accomplished through the use of color, subtle but effective special effects, and an amazing atmospheric soundtrack.  Kudos to cinematographer John Lindley [Legion, The Good Son] for giving us a feast for the eyes.  The colors in this film really pop and the lighting is near perfect.  His best work is in the voodoo scenes which vibrate with color and manic energy.

Serpent tells the story of Haitian/West Indies zombies that is presented in such classic films as White Zombie (1932) and I Walked With a Zombie (1943).  It’s based on the book by the same title which was written by Wade Davis.  The screenplay adaptation by Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman is brilliant and takes the viewer of an Argento-esque ride where it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.  Serpent never insults the intelligence of the audience and keeps you spellbound throughout the entire film.

Director Wes Craven is the maestro of this crazy ride.  He knows how to make all these elements work together flawlessly.  He also paces this film perfectly with lots of ups and downs that build to a fevered pitch at the end.  Serpent is a great example of his considerable talent when he brings his A-game to the table.

A final word about actor Bill Pullman [Independence Day, The Grudge] whose character is the heart and soul of this film.   He plays the “fish out of water” anthropologist who is trying to understand this mysterious world.  Pullman gets every scene right and gives it all the wonder and terror it deserves.  With a lesser actor in this role, Serpent could have been a miserable failure.  He was the perfect choice for this film.

Make sure you see this one.  There is nothing else quite like it.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Profoundly disturbing and exceptionally well made, The Hills Have Eyes is a masterpiece in terror.  The story begins with your average all-American family who is traveling across the country to California.  They break down in the desert and are quickly attacked by a family of vicious cannibals.  The movie asks a simple question: "What are you willing to do in order to survive?"  What follows is 90 minutes of cinematic perfection by writer/director Wes Craven [Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream].
The Hills Have Eyes stars a young Dee Wallace [She played the mom in E.T.] and the super creepy Michael Berryman [The Devil's Rejects].  Everyone in the cast is great and Craven pulls terrific performances from the entire cast.  The sense of dread and tension in this movie is unrelenting, and that's a good thing.  This movie is so scary because there are no fantasy elements here.  Craven not only makes us believe this could happen, he also makes us believe it could happen to us!  Hills is not escapist fare, it makes us confront human nature at it's most brutal and unimaginable worst.
This movie is definitely not for the faint of heart.  However, it is quite possibly the best of its kind.  Hills cannot be viewed anywhere legally online that I know of but the two disc DVD release that was done by Anchor Bay is the best print of the film I've seen.  It also includes two excellent featurettes "Looking Back on the Hills Have Eyes" and "The Films of Wes Craven."  Don't miss The Hills Have Eyes.  It is a powerful and thought-provoking film, indeed.

A remake of Hills was done in 2006 by horror director Alexandre Aja [High Tension] with Wes Craven producing.  The remake is quite good.  However, Aja ups the gore until it almost crosses over into torture porn which is something I dislike greatly and find insulting.  The script is good as well and is a nice update on the story.  All things considered, I think the original is better. 


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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Salem's Lot (1979)

I was a teenager when this miniseries hit the small screen and it scared the pooh out of me, especially the scene where the teen vampire os scratching on his friend's window.  I think I had nightmares about that for a week afterward!  Salem's Lot is a slow burning suspenseful thriller that is some of the best horror 1970's TV had to offer.  Based on a wonderful story by Stephen King under the masterful direction of Tobe Hooper [Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist], Salem's Lot captures a feeling of dread that doesn't let go from start to finish.  Some people might be surprised that Hooper would be capable of directing such a subtle thriller but a great director is a great director.  He definitely hit this one out of the ballpark.

Salem's Lot has a dynamite cast with some of the best character actors of the 70's popping up all over the place.  David Soul [Starsky & Hutch] plays novelist Ben Mears who has come to Salem's Lot to write his next novel.  His sidekick in fighting the vamps is Lance Kerwin [James at 16] who plays a young horror fan.  Both of them are great.  Also included in the cast are James Mason [North by Northwest, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea], Elisha Cook, Jr. [Rosemary's Baby], Geoffrey Lewis [The Lawnmower Man, The Devil's Rejects] and a dozen more I don;t have time to mention.  They might not be household names but you have seen them in EVERYTHING!  Kudos to the producers and casting director for being able to assemble such an amazing group of actors and actresses.

Salem's Lot was deservedly nominated in 1980 for three Primetime Emmys: Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Title Sequences, Outstanding Achievement in Makeup, and Outstanding Achievement in Musical Composition.  If you're a fan of vampire films, Salem's Lot is classic stuff.  Don't miss it.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The War of the Worlds (1953)

The War of the Worlds is classic 1950's Sci-fi based on the novel by H. G. Wells.  It's a "cast of thousands" end of the world drama with lots of those cheesy 1950's special effects we know and love.  Byron Haskin [Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Treasure Island] directed this film.  He spent his early years in Hollywood designing special effects so he's the perfect director for this movie.  He also had the one and only Cecil B. DeMille (uncredited) as well as George Pal [director of The Time Machine and Atlantis, the Lost Continent] as his producers.  It's hard to go wrong with that. 

The set up is simple: A mysterious asteroid crashes in a remote area outside of town…but it's no ordinary meteor since it holds a Martian spaceship.  You probably know where it goes from there! 

The cast is fine but only Les Tremayne [Bonanza, Perry Mason] stands out as Major General Mann.  He has a commanding presence on screen that is hard to ignore.  The two romantic leads are another story altogether.  Gene Barry is Dr. Layton Forrester.  He's the main scientist who is trying to figure out how to defeat the Martians.  His performance is a little lethargic at times.  This is due to his eyes which are often expressionless.  His main squeeze is 1950's femme fatale Ann Robinson who plays Sylvia Van Burren.  Unfortunately, they give her far too little to do in the movie except scream hysterically and fall into the arms of her man for protection.  She also cooks breakfast in an abandoned farm house like any good 1950's housewife would do!  Sigh.

A little extra treat is the one and only Sir Cedric Hardwicke [The Ghoul, The Invisible Man Returns, The Ghost of Frankenstein] who does the voice-over commentary in the film.  He gives it the gravitas one would expect from such a horror icon.  A really good reboot of The War of the Worlds was done in 2005 starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning.  This modern remake ups the special effects and increases the drama and suspense tenfold.  Don't miss this classic film!

RATING: Excellent.

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