Halloween – Goodbye Horror Movie Month

Well I’m as tired as my adorable granddaughter (above). I spent a wonderful three-day weekend in a non-stop orgy of horror movies, Krispy Kreme donuts, and Domino’s pizza – all thanks to my wonderful wife and daughter.

I’ll end horror movie month with another plug for our wonderful local cinema, The Carolina. The new month of  the FREE Thursday Horror Picture Show starts umm on Thursday. If you go try the fresh hot potato chips  piled high with housemade bleu cheese dressing, crumbled bacon, tomatoes, and scallions.

11/3 Boris Karloff double feature – The Man They Could Not Hang (1939) and The Boogeyman will Get You (1942)

11/10 The Stuff (1985) – An amusing film by Larry Cohen

11/17 The Bat Whispers (1930)

11/24 The hysterical The Giant Claw (1957)

Crackle Kill Count – Horror Movie Month

As if I didn’t have enough to watch, I thought I’d mention Crackle. Crackle is a completely FREE movie service. You can watch it on your computer or better still, if you have a Roku box you can watch it on your TV. The movies are uncut and the only downside is that you have to sit through commercials.

Currently Crackle is running a Kill Count promotion through Halloween. Crackle does not have nearly the breadth of content that Netflix has but they work well as a supplement. They have a nice little horror film called Outpost as well as some others that neither Netflix nor Hulu have.

“In war-torn Eastern Europe, a world-weary group of mercenaries discover a long-hidden secret in an abandoned WWII bunker.”

Goodbye DVDs! Hello Huluween!

Today marked the end of an era for me. I sent back my last Netflix disc (Captain America) and am now going disc-less. Between my personal movie collection, instant Netflix, and Hulu Plus, I have more to watch than I can possibly keep up with.

For a whopping $16, I get all of Netflix’s streaming of movies and previous seasons shows PLUS Hulu’s current shows. How much is your cable bill? Ours was more than three times that and we got a lot less use out of it. Does the instant Netflix/Hulu Plus combo get me everything I want to watch? No – I do miss premium content like Dexter, Game of Thrones, and True Blood but as I mentioned I get way more than I can possibly watch.

Which brings us to the cleverly named Huluween. If the massive list of Netflix horror movies doesn’t fit your bill for Halloween, check out some of Hulu’s offerings. Hulu is free and can be watched on the computer. Hulu Plus is $7.99 a month and allows most of its offerings to be watched on the TV via game console or Roku box.

For Halloween, Hulu has Halloween (1978) as well as Halloween 4 and 5 – none of which are currently available on instant Netflix. They also have Silent Hill, one of my favorite guilty pleasures Horror Express and the premiere of the American Horror Story TV show.

Horror TV Redux – Walking Dead and Vampire Diaries

I disappear for a week and a half Disney holiday and come back to find even more horror TV available on Netflix.

The Walking Dead (2010) – Rated TV-14

Sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes awakens from a coma to discover the world plagued by zombies and small bands of human survivors forced into small, fiercely protective groups. Falling back on his old job, Rick sets out to lead mankind out of darkness.

I simply cannot recommend this series enough. The graphic novels by Robert Kirkman are excellent and this series is a wonderful adaptation without being slavishly faithful. The first season is now available on instant Netflix. The effects work by KNB is superb.

As with the best zombie movies, the emphasis here is on the survivors and the interplay between them. The only slight annoyance is the borrowing of the beginning from Day of the Triffids (much like 28 Days Later did).

The Vampire Diaries (2009-10) – Rated TV-14

Trapped in adolescent bodies, feuding vampire brothers Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder) vie for the affection of captivating high schooler Elena (Nina Dobrev), who attempts to unravel the many dark secrets of her hometown of Mystic Falls. Based on the book series by L.J. Smith, this supernatural teen drama grows even more intriguing with the unexpected arrival of Katherine, a treacherous vampire vixen and dead ringer for Elena.

Netflix just inked a nice deal with CW and now the first two seasons of this show are available (as are Nikita and Gossip Girl). Supernatural will be available in January. I haven’t had a chance to watch Vampire Diaries but, based on a recommendation from my sister-in-law, I am looking forward to it.

John Carpenter Thrills Me! – Horror Movie Month

Okay yesterday I covered two disappointing movies from John Carpenter so today I’m going to cover why I love him.

The Thing (1982) – Rated R

Scientists working in Antarctica are forced to abandon their research after a helicopter crashes near their camp, bringing a lone dog into their midst. But the plot thickens when the otherworldly canine changes form in the middle of the night. As it turns out, the dog is a shape-shifting alien that can attack animals — and unsuspecting humans. Kurt Russell stars in this creepy John Carpenter-directed remake of the 1950s classic.

John Carpenter’s The Thing was released in 1982 against Spielberg’s E.T. juggernaut. The Thing bombed at the box office but is now regarded (rightfully) as a modern classic.

Rob Bottin’s effects are simply amazing and may represent the height of physical effects. I’m not looking forward to what I imagine will be lazy CGI in The Thing prequel currently at theaters. Having said that, Bottin’s effects also detract a bit from the tense nature of the story.

Carpenter assembled an excellent ensemble cast with Kurt Russell being the only big name. All of the characters have individual personalities and it is actually a huge boon that the cast is all male. This allows there to be no romantic lead or love story getting in the way (although Ridley Scott was able to pull the same trick off with a mixed cast in Alien). None of the cast is glamorous – they all appear to be people on a station doing a job (hmm also done in Ridley Scott’s Alien).

I mentioned that some of Bottin’s work undercuts the tension. This is because The Thing is one of the best film examples of paranoia ever – the characters even go so far as to question whether they would know if they were an alien. The special effects are showy and heighten the weirdness of an alien encounter but detract from the marvelous atmosphere of paranoia.

My other favorite ‘thing’ is the ending. I won’t spoil it of course but in my mind the final scene of The Thing is one of the best movie endings ever.

The Fog (1980) – Rated R

While an old, weather-beaten fisherman tells a ghost story to fascinated children huddled by a campfire, a piece of driftwood in a child’s hands begins to glow, and an eerie fog envelops the seaside community of Antonio Bay. From its midst emerges demonic victims of a century-old shipwreck seeking revenge on the small town. Director John Carpenter’s follow-up to his breakout film, Halloween, stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh.

The Fog is certainly not the classic that Halloween or The Thing are but is an excellent film. The first half of the film is uneven but the last half, with the town besieged by the fog and the creatures therein is very atmospheric and quite thrilling.

The ensemble cast is great. John Houseman opens the film by telling a spooky story around a campfire. Hal Holbrook is fabulous as a tortured priest. Carpenter’s then wife Adrienne Barbeau plays the lead and Jamie Lee Curtis and her mom Janet Leigh are reunited in film. Carpenter regulars Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, and Nancy Loomis round out the cast and Carpenter himself has a cameo.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – Rated R

When popular horror writer Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) goes missing, his publisher hires investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) to find him. Trent tracks Cane to a small New England town, which is filled with nightmare scenes right out of the author’s books. Encountering one gruesome scene after another, Trent wonders if Cane’s fans have gone psychotic and begun imitating his writings, or his “novels” are really nonfiction. John Carpenter directs.

Okay clearly putting all of these together makes me realize that one of the things the wonderful Carpenter films share is atmosphere. In the Mouth of Madness has that in spades along with a nifty mobius strip of a story. I did find that the movie went on just a smidge too long – the final scene could easily have been cut.

This movie does not fit the standard Hollywood mold or even the standard horror mold. In the Mouth is not a Lovecraft adaptation but it captures the mood of H.P. better than any of the movie adaptations of his work. The slowly creeping madness is palpable here as is the gloom and desperation.

John Carpenter Disappoints Me! – Horror Movie Month

John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors and not just because I was lucky enough to meet him in 2002. During his heyday he created several masterpieces and many unique films. I like that he didn’t revisit stories for the most part. The Fog is not like The Thing is not like Halloween is not like Prince of Darkness…and most of his films were untold stories. The exceptions were Escape From L.A. and Village of the Damned and those were easily his worst two films. I’ve previously covered Prince of Darkness and his two Masters of Horror episodes, Pro-Life and Cigarette Burns so I’ll skip those even though they are still available.

The Ward (2011) – Rated R

Master of horror John Carpenter returns to form — and to the director’s chair — for this chilling thriller in which a young woman, Kristen (Amber Heard), is sent to a mental institution with a past as dark and haunted as her own. Terrorized by a ghost, each of the other patients in Kristen’s ward begin to disappear, and that’s just the beginning of her long nightmare. Jared Harris (“Mad Men”) and Danielle Panabaker (Friday the 13th) also star.

The triumphant return of a master horror director? Sadly no. I was really looking forward to this movie. After stating my love of Carpenter’s originality, I sat down and watched this carbon copy of <>. I’m omitting the film name because it is a major spoiler but if you have seen it, you’ll begin to realize what film this rips off at about the halfway point. Yes the setting is different and it plays out a bit differently but this is for the worse.

It reminds me of how perfect Dangerous Liaisons was in 1988 and then another studio quietly dropped Valmont on us in 1989. Valmont would have been an interesting albeit flawed film had Dangerous Liaisons not landed first. As it is Valmont comes across as quite dull if you have seen Dangerous Liaisons.

That said, The Ward isn’t bad – simply unnecessary.

Village of the Damned (1995) – Rated R

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1960 sci-fi thriller stars Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley as doctors who must try to stop a group of alien children from taking over the world. An alien force impregnates every woman in a small town, and the spawn — who grow at an incredible rate, and can read everyone’s thoughts — attempt to conquer the earthlings. Mark Hamill and Michael Paré co-star.

John Carpenter’s twist in re-imagining The Thing was fabulous. In Village of the Damned, Carpenter does not re-imagine so much as simply update. The film is now in color, a few oddities have been updated to make them more realistic, and there is a little R-rated mayhem tossed in.

The cast works against the film. Christopher Reeve is fine as the hero but George Sanders was much better in the original. It is good to see Mark Hamill post-Star Wars but he is over-the-top here and Kirstie Alley is just awful. Carpenter is a great visual director but he is not an actor’s director. Sometimes he gets great performances and sometimes he gets Village of the Damned.

If you can’t stand cerebral movies or if you hate black & white movies then go ahead and watch Carpenter’s version – otherwise stick with the far superior 1960 version.

Lon Chaney Jr. – Horror Movie Month

Creighton Chaney had a really tough cross to bear. His father Lon Chaney was one of the most famous actors of the silent screen and was a whiz with makeup and prosthetics. Lon Chaney is best remembered for the title roles of The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Although born to show business, Creighton didn’t begin appearing in films until after his father’s death in 1930.

He appeared in bit parts until Of Mice and Men (1939) where he did an excellent job of portraying Lennie. His signature horror role came in 1941 with The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man (1941) – Not rated

After teasing his friends for believing in werewolves, Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.) is promptly bitten by a rabid wolf and faints. Horror superstars share the screen when Larry wakes to find a gypsy (Bela Lugosi) who moonlights as a werewolf. Cursed by the werewolf’s bite, Larry suffers torturous full-moon transformations and tries to escape the townsfolk who hunt him. Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers and Ralph Bellamy also grace this classic B movie.

Lon Chaney Jr. was not a very good actor but he did excel at portraying depressed-types. He is wonderful as the doomed Lawrence Talbot and would reprise this role repeatedly (Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein).

He has a wonderful supporting cast and of course incredible makeup by Jack Pierce. Bela Lugosi has a small but integral role and the delightful Maria Ouspenskaya plays the gypsy fortune teller. Universal stalwarts Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy and Evelyn Ankers round out the cast.

The Mummy’s Curse (1944) – Not rated

When a crew sent by high priest Zandaab (Peter Coe) of Arkam and his servant, Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), unearths the bodies of Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine) in a Southern bayou, the bandaged monsters start destroying everything in their path. Leslie Goodwins directs this chiller; Kay Harding, Kurt Katch, Addison Richards, Holmes Herbert and Dennis Moore co-star.

Universal puts some good atmosphere into their horror movies and the Mummy series is no exception but only the Karloff original is classic. The Mummy’s Curse has Lon Chaney Jr. as the slow-shuffling, easily escapable Kharis the Mummy. Fun but highly forgettable.

 

The Black Sleep (1956) – Not rated

Three titans of the horror genre make appearances in this grisly period piece about a young doctor on the verge of being wrongfully executed for murder. Enter Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone), who gives the condemned man a drug that induces the appearance of death. Once the ruse works, the body is handed over to Cadman, who has his own sick plans for the still-living man. The high-caliber cast includes Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi.

For a Lon Chaney Jr. or Bela Lugosi film this is a big disappointment. Both feature prominently on the poster but neither has much screen time and essentially no dialogue. Still it’s the last film Lugosi completed and it stars Basil Rathbone who has plenty of screen time. John Carradine has a goofy guest spot and Akim Tamiroff is quite humorous as well. Look for noted Ed Wood veteran Tor Johnson as well.

If you are a fan of the above cast then this is a fun watch and a good pick as the film is only available on DVD-R through MGM’s on-demand program.

Bela Lugosi – Horror Movie Month

I’ve previously covered Bela Lugosi’s signature role of Dracula and second most iconic role Ygor in Son of Frankenstein – both of which are currently available on instant Netflix. Here are a few other Lugosi horror movies for your Halloween pleasure.

White Zombie (1932) – Not rated

Made in just 11 days back in 1932, with a $50,000 budget and sets left standing from Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein, this film remains a horror classic. Keeping dialogue to a minimum, cameraman Arthur Martinelli cuts loose on this odd fairy tale about a newlywed couple menaced by zombies. Avoiding the stagy static feel that pervades many other early talkies, White Zombie shows its story, rather than tells it.

Well as with much of Lugosi’s output, this film is not actually good but it is fun. Those eyes menacing you in the poster are Lugosi’s and he has a high old time here. The movie is hokey and corny and the zombies are in no way Romero-esque but it can be a hoot and isn’t nearly as bad as Lugosi’s late stage roles.

Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein (1948) – Not rated

This Abbott and Costello horror-comedy flick features the bumbling buddies as railroad baggage clerks who receive a strange shipment — the last remains of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. Trouble is they’re still alive! When the deadly duo escape to a remote island, Abbott and Costello follow their trail and find not only the two ghouls, but also a mad scientist who wants to switch Costello’s brain with that of Frankenstein’s monster.

When revenues fell off for Universal’s classic monsters, they tried reviving them with mash-ups (Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula). After that, they tried a mash-up of monsters with their extremely popular comedy duo Abbott & Costello. This was so successful that it begat A&C Meet the Killer (Boris Karloff), A&C Meet the Invisible Man, and A&C Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (also Boris).

Lugosi reprises his signature role as does Lon Chaney Jr.. Glenn Strange portrays the monster and look for Vincent Price in an extremely brief cameo. The comedy is corny and the monsters are played strictly for laughs but it is quite fun.

Bride of the Monster (1955) – Not rated

Horror icon Bela Lugosi (Dracula) appears in his last starring role as Dr. Eric Vornoff, who with his crazed man-beast servant is conducting flesh-burning radiation experiments in an attempt to create a legion of atomic supermen. When a newspaperwoman gets too inquisitive for her own good, Vornoff takes steps to protect his research. Produced and directed by cult filmmaker Ed Wood Jr., the film features many of his regular players.

Dare I say it – this movie too is not good but fun. In fact it is truly terrible and would be remembered as one of the worst movies of all time had Ed Wood Jr. not followed it up with Plan 9 from Outer Space. This is however Lugosi’s last real role. He has no speaking role in The Black Sleep and passed away during filming of Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Lugosi is fabulous as Vornoff and thankfully gets plenty of screen time. Watch how the actors have to wrap themselves up in the monster’s arms!

Boris Karloff – Horror Movie Month

William Henry Pratt is not a moniker to conjure monsters with but Boris Karloff is a wonderfully spooky stage name for the British actor. Here are some of his instant Netflix films.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

When Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), son of the infamous madman, returns to the estate to claim his inheritance, he finds the deranged Ygor (Bela Lugosi) hiding in the castle with the comatose monster (Boris Karloff). On Ygor’s pleading, Frankenstein revives his father’s creation. And Ygor takes his revenge on those who condemned him. Lionel Atwill and Josephine Hutchinson also star in this third tale in the classic horror franchise.

The third of Universal’s eight movie Frankenstein series is the last one that can be taken seriously. It is also the last time Karloff would portray the monster. Basil Rathbone is fun as the titular son of Frankenstein but is easily upstaged by Karloff, Lugosi, and even Lionel Atwill. Bela Lugosi is simply wonderful as Ygor and is more riveting than Karloff as the monster. Lionel Atwill steals the show as the suspicious Krogh.

This is the fun Frankenstein – the first two films are better but don’t hold up well to repeated viewings (too many long plot stretches) and the ones that follow this descend into camp. Digression – the same can be said of Alien. Alien is a better movie than Aliens – a whole new world is developed from scratch and explored in a stately manner but Aliens is undoubtedly the more fun movie as the initial concepts do not need to be explained at length.

If you have not seen this but feel a sense of deja vu that is because Mel Brooks drew most of his inspiration for Young Frankenstein specifically from this film with Kenneth Mars doing an uncanny Atwill.

Comedy of Terrors (1963)

A financial crisis forces undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) to start taking extreme measures. Rather than waiting for new clients to show up naturally, Waldo and his assistant (Peter Lorre) attract new business by killing wealthy individuals in their sleep. Now if only Waldo could just do away with his wife, Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson), and annoying father-in-law (Boris Karloff).

This is a Vincent Price and Peter Lorre film and they are wonderful as always but Karloff steals the show as Price’s aged father-in-law. This features much of the same cast as The Raven but is not as funny – or rather the humor in it has not aged as well. Still Price, Lorre, and Karloff have a lot of fun and even Basil Rathbone shows up briefly. It is well crafted if cheaply shot by Jacques Tourneur.

Black Sabbath (1963) – Not rated

In this 1963 trilogy of chilling tales, a beautiful woman’s ex-lover terrorizes her, a father returns home a vampire, and a ghost haunts a nurse. The vampire story — probably the most famous of the three — stars a poignant Boris Karloff, who also plays host for the anthology. Italian horror impresario Mario Bava served as writer, director and cinematographer for the film, and composer Les Baxter serves up the martini-soaked lounge score.

A wonderful film and a great starting point if you haven’t experienced Italian horror. The best Italian horror movies feature incredible atmosphere but are often nonsensical plotwise. This one has both and Mario Bava is a master of mood. The wurdalak segment is easily the best and Karloff gives one of his best performances ever.

 

Wes Craven – Horror Movie Month

I have a love/hate relationship with Wes Craven. On the one hand he is responsible for classics such as Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream as well as really good sequels such as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Scream 2. On the other hand he is responsible for dreck such as Last House on the Left, Hills Have Eyes II, My Soul to Take and Shocker.

The Last House on the Left (1972) – UR – Unrated

In this cult horror favorite from twisted writer-director Wes Craven, a pair of repulsive, sadistic escaped convicts kidnap, rape, torture and murder two teenage girls — but the criminals have picked the wrong teens to victimize. One of the girls’ parents, not content with turning to the law, set out to exact an equally brutal revenge on the vicious murderers, who are hiding out in the family’s home.

Okay I hate to plagiarize but I saw a comment on Netflix that neatly summarized this movie – The Last House on the Left is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Apple Dumpling Gang. The movie plays out somewhat like a Flannery O’Connor story with slapstick and poor musical choices thrown in. Sam Raimi is great at pulling off slapstick horror, Wes Craven is not.

I really don’t consider this a horror movie. It falls more into the revenge/exploitation genre. The violence is quite brutal for the era but much of it occurs offscreen and pales in comparison to the Saw/Hostel era. I do have to mention that rape is a hot button issue for me – it is very unusual for me to like a film that has rape in it. Still this film is terribly amateurish – skip it.

 

People Under the Stairs (1991) – Rated R

Master of horror Wes Craven brings an urban twist to the classic fairy tale in the story of Fool, a 13-year-old lad who succumbs to ghetto pressures to steal from a local house. Fool’s instant karma comes in the gruesome form of the house’s residents — an insane, deformed family of murderers. The perils of latchkey kids and warnings about absentee parents are the subtle social subtext as Fool and other victims try to escape the deadly home.

Well I just wanted to write “meh” here and leave it at that. Craven is trying to say some things about the Reagan era and poor parenting but they come across as muddled. Again he tries to shoehorn some Raimi-esque humor and again it doesn’t work. This film is watchable in a way that Last House is not. Everett McGill is suitably creepy and look for Ving Rhames in an early role.

People is corny and not scary but it is interesting.

Scream (1996) – Rated R

Horror maven Wes Craven — paying homage to teen horror classics such as Halloween and Prom Night — turns the genre on its head with this tale of a murderer who terrorizes hapless high schooler Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) by offing everyone she knows. Not your average slasher flick, Scream distinguishes itself with a self-parodying sense of humor. Courteney Cox and David Arquette co-star as a local news reporter and a small-town deputy.

This film is a modern classic. It continued some of the ironic inroads Craven had made with New Nightmare. What if the teens in a slasher movie realized that they were in a slasher movie? That is the premise here and while there are many laughs, the premise is played straight and the suspense is wonderful. The opening scene with Drew Barrymore is iconic and has been parodied ad infinitum.

The villain reveal is wonderful and was, at the time, a breath of fresh air. Craven and writer Kevin Williamson work in references to dozens of horror movies, including a hysterical cameo by Craven himself.

 

Scream 3 (2000) – Rated R

The last installment of the tongue-in-cheek (but still scary) horror trilogy finds Sidney Prescott again battling a crazed killer — only this time it’s on the set of Stab, a movie-within-a-movie based on the original Woodsboro murders. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and the rest of the Scream gang appear, alongside new characters played by Parker Posey, Jenny McCarthy and more.

Hrrm. Scream 3 is enjoyable but it is terribly misguided. It abandons the suspense of the first two films in favor of upping the humor quotient. For a series that broke so many of the horror rules in its first two films, this installment is rather pedestrian. It certainly is unusual for a horror movie to waste the talents of Lance Henriksen.

My main complaint about Scream 3 is that it is quite disjointed. I blame this on writer Ehren Kruger who did not appear to understand what really worked in Kevin Williamson’s scripts for the first two films. There are wonderful cameos by Carrie Fisher and a certain character one might not expect to make a return appearance.