Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Phantasm: A Story of Senior Citizens, Jawas, and Balding Blues Musicians

Sometimes a movie comes along that's just difficult as fuck to explain and understand, something like David Lynch's Eraserhead, or less popularly the awful New Zealand-spawned shitfest The Uglies.
Phantasm is, easily, one of the most entertaining film series that fall into this category.

Our franchise begins way back in the 1970's. A time where apparently it's not that odd for a teeanger and his younger brother to live alone and spend time with a balding 30 year old blues musician, a time where it was alright for a kid to drink alcohol, and a time where someone could see Star Wars IV: A New Hope in theaters and shit themselves in terror at the little robed sand merchants in the film's first act.
Wait, did that last part describe anyone? Well, it must have at least described this film's director, as this movie is -full- of evil Jawas.
The plot is as follows: The lost member of Molly Hatchet is having sex with a beautiful woman and her body double when she turns into an old man and stabs him.
The man's brothers go to his funeral, his youngest brother sees said old man lift a coffin himself, assumes he must be evil, and gets paranoid.
We're treated to some exposition about how both of their parents are dead, and how it's just the two brothers now (I should mention the youngest is played by A. Michael Baldwin, who apparently isn't actually a Baldwin brother. The more you know.) and their blues-playing, middle aged, horny as hell balding friend Reggie Bannister, played by an actor named... Reggie Bannister. ...Also A. Michael Baldwin's character is called Mike. Pretty sneaky, screenwriter.
We're treated to a blatant ripoff of a scene from Dune. Mike visits a fortune teller/psychic chick who asks him to stick his hand in a box, he feels pain, gets scared, takes his hand out, and it turns out it's filled with nothing. To hammer in that the scene is outright stolen from Dune, the psychic's daughter even says "Fear is the mindkiller."
This scene serves almost no purpose beyond to tell us that Mike's brother won't leave him, despite every other scene telling us the exact opposite, meaning this scene makes no sense at all.
Anyway Mike gets attacked by Jawas... again, I'm not joking. They're dwarves in dark brown hooded robes whose faces you never see, they look -exactly- like fucking Jawas.
He survives the ordeal and begins spying on the old guy from the funeral home, only to get attacked by a flying silver ball that stabs people in the head and drains their brain fluid. This is actually kind of awesome. The old guy, hitherto referred to as The Tall Man, chases after him only to have the kid chop off his fingers... which for some reason becomes a flying bug thing that attacks Mike and his brother.
And that's before the film even gets confusing.
What follows is a mess of sequences that either do or don't happen, more Jawa fight scenes, characters dying and then being okay moments later... it's just confusing as hell. It's fun, it's entertaining to mock, but damn is it confusing as hell.
Just as the film starts to end on a "It didn't make sense because it was all a dream" note, it turns out it wasn't, and Mike gets attacked by Jawas.

Amazingly, it was seen fit to give this film a sequel, that mostly starts right after the previous film. It has some flashbacks that retcon some things, make the first film less confusing, and it does a so-so job of that. So at that point you kinda relax in your chair and go "At least this won't rape my mind."
The bulk of this film involves grown up Mike and Reggie going through the US, which has largely been taken abandoned due to the Tall Man's Jawa army.
Anyway Mike and Reggie fall in love. ...err. Not with each other, both magically find women. Only Reggie's turns out to have flying silver balls for tits. Before this, we also get a really, really bad sex scene where it's all too obvious the woman, who is in cowgirl position, is quite obviously wearing bottoms. I mean sure you could probably move them a bit, but they obviously aren't, and even then that'd give you an irritating case of something similar to rugburn.
The film ends in a similar way to the first film. Tall Man out of nowhere, glass breaks, scream, blackness.
Despite its flaws, the movie is at least -much-, much easier to follow than the first film. This is more conventional, apparently due to studio meddling, and would require you drop some acid to make the movie feel more like its predecessor. Maybe the acid would also help you find Jawas terrifying.

Then we get the third film.
Reggie and Mike apparently survived the last film and are now exploring the nearly entirely destroyed US (much more so than the previous film) in search of safety. They split up, and Reggie ends up with a new bunch of adventurers. Mike's older brother, now a sentient silver flying stabby-ball. Hot Black Chick, whose role is Hot Black Chick. Also there's a kid that kills a bunch of people in what I can only describe as an r-rated Savini-assisted Home Alone situation that is easily the most memorable thing in this movie.
Anyway they all regroup, they fight The Tall Man in a giant mansion-mausoleum-funeral home, and all seems okay. Only it turns out somehow, for some reason, that Mike's brain is actually a golden flying stabby ball. He runs away, ...for some reason. Then The Tall Man... come on, you read the last two, you know how this ends. The Tall Man randomly appears, the kid of the group gets pulled through a window, screaming, blackness. Seriously, this fucking ending gets used in three films.
This one's sort of a mix between the previous two. It's more confusing and drug-fueled than 2, but it's also got the random gore and action that 2 had.
Despite how negative I may sound about it, I actually enjoyed this more than the previous film, maybe because it feels way more like a sequel than the other.

Finally we get Phantasm IV: OblIVion, the movie so nice they shoved the roman numeral for four into it twice.
I have no fucking idea how to describe this movie. Seriously.
The films is... just... what.
Basically it's like 3 things going on at once.
First off we've got flashbacks to the previous films. Except almost all of them are from deleted scenes and such, none were actually -in- the previous films. Secondly we have Mike in the realm of The Tall Man, which is some vast desert thing, and his interactions with him. Then thirdly we have Reggie uncovering info about The Tall Man and trying to get to Mike. These all combine into a really weird, confusing, mindfuck of a mess that leaves you feeling like you just dropped some ambien and popped on Twin Peaks.
I seriously can't make heads or tails of this movie, no matter how many times I rewatch it. On top of that it's pretty boring, and the only memorable scene involves The Tall Man, pre being evil, as a civil war era doctor that offers our hero some lemonade. Beyond that, I can't really praise this movie. It's like someone shoved the previous three films in a blender and then drugged you before you watched the finished mess.
The film then has the balls to end on a cliffhanger, like it expects to get a sequel. I'm just fucking glad it didn't end with The Tall Man showing up, someone being pulled through glass, screaming, then blackness.

Thankfully we never got a followup. There's been a remake in development hell for like 20 years now that was going to feature Bruce Campbell, but it's unlikely to ever be made. Instead the director went on to do Bubba Ho-Tep, which features Bruce Campbell as an aging Elvis Presley in a retirement home.
He's also apparently doing the John Dies At The End film. Given how odd and drug-fueled JDATE can be (unlike the dating service for people of the jewish faith) I'm okay with this.

Sorry for the short article. My next one's going to be larger, as I'm reviewing two dinosaur based franchises at the same time. On the big budget Hollywood end there's Jurassic Park, and then on the b-grade end we've got Roger Corman's Carnosaur series.

Monday, May 30, 2011


I'm something of a bookworm, though despite my love of the horror genre I tend to read more sci-fi and fantasy than horror. This isn't so much because horror doesn't translate to literature very well, but more because there really aren't that many good horror novels compared to other genres.
There's Stephen King, there's Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft... I'd strongly recommend House of Leaves to anyone that hasn't before, it's sort of a mindfuck but I love it.
Due to the small amount of good horror novels, it's no surprise that many of them end up with film versions of varying quality.
Today, we're handling Clive Barker's Hellraiser series.

I want to start off praising the author. He's got some issues and quirks, sure, and his odd fear of women shows through a lot (take a shot everytime period blood is referenced in Book of Blood, you'll die of alcohol poisoning during Rawhead Rex.)
However, I'd say that, outside of BoB, he doesn't so much write horror as much as he does dark fantasy. Still, he's considered a horror author, and he's spawned enough horror films that I can't really argue with that label.

Thie first film is simply "Hellraiser", based on Barker's short story The Hellbound Heart. If you've someone never seen this film, you need to as it's something of a classic.
Basically, in a sort of odd summation, a woman cheated on her husband with his brother years back, he opened up a gate to hell, got tortured to death, he comes back when she and her husband move in, she kills people to make him whole, her daughter finds out... y'know, the plot's a bit too hard to really describe without it just sounding odd, so just watch it.
The film is disturbing and unsettling, and not just the supernatural elements. There's so many uncomfortable, non-paranormal scenes that just get under your skin. The hobo, the rape undertones which managed to get turned into an awesome Aphex Twin song (Come to Daddy.)
The special effects are... hrm. Not bad, especially given the low budget the film had. I'm quite fond of the makeup effects in particular, I used to have a large number of articles on the subject, detailing such interesting things as the fact that Pinhead's pins were, in fact, q-tips sans cotton painted grey.
This... is the kind of move that successfully gives you that feeling. It doesn't so much scare you as it does make you feel creeped out. It's grim, it's disgusting, it's unsettling, and it's uncomfortable. I love it.
There's very little music beyond some very uncomfortable ambience that plays every now and then, as well as a very memorable sort of theme tune to the franchise. The actors are mostly unknowns, save for Kirsty's dad who is played by Andrew Robinson (Garak in DS9, Scorpio Killer in Dirty Harry, the creepy barber in Child's Play 3.)
The interesting thing to me? Clive Barker himself directed this. I'm not used to seeing writers direct films based on their works, and even less used to them doing a good job (see: Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive for how it normally turns out.)

The second film is pretty much part two of the first film, to the degree that I strongly recommend just watching the two together as one four hour or so film. It picks up right after the first film leaves off, has the same atmosphere, same cast, same feel, and is every bit just as good. I can't really say anything explicitly about 2 that I didn't say about 1, beyond that I -really- fucking love the design for Hell. It's got this sort of... German expressionistic vibe to it, and it just looks beautiful. The matte paintings are just -amazing-. I'm sort of a sucker for good set design and matte paintings though, so maybe this is just my bias showing through.
I guess really my only complaint in this film is that the ending to it is... odd. It's like the original NoES in that it's just super surreal and confusing. The first film had the same flaw but to a lesser degree.

It's carried over into our third film however, and the start of the series decline. Set some odd years after the first film, our hero is now Jadzia Dax from DS9, a tomboyish reporter that wants to hit it big. She runs across a case where some guy gets ripped up by a pillar that shoots out hooks, which takes her to the biggest fucking dance club I've ever seen in my life.
Seriously, this dance club is larger than some -malls- I've been in. This is a minor gripe, you won't really think much about it, but god -damn- is this one place gigantic for some reason. I refuse to believe any dance club exists that is that large. It's like someone inherited an IKEA warehouse and wanted to host gothic BDSM raves there.
Anyway a girl, the ex of the owner of the club, follows her back to her apartment, tells her about what happend... there seems to be some lesbian undertones in some of the scenes after this point. I don't mean in a sort of highly sexualized "They're gonna fuck" kind of way, they're actually a pretty cute couple.
Anyway Dax starts getting daydreams involving Pinhead's human form, a very english fellow we see briefly in 2, asking for her help in defeating Pinhead. At the same time, we're shown the owner of the club sacrificing a ditzy chick he just nailed (gratuitous sex scene, a warning of things to come) to the pillar that Pinhead is now part of (the same pillar from the confusing as fuck ending to Hellraiser 2.)
Anyway Hell plays a prank on Cute Ex Of Danceclub Dick, she leaves Dax, runs back to the dance club, gets attacked by her ex, but then sacrifices him to Pinhead, freeing him.
We're then treated to the biggest on-screen mass murder I've seen in a horror film, the only thing that comes even second to it is the cord-scene in Ghost Ship. This is... easily the only memorable scene of the film. It lasts several minutes and features many, many people being ripped apart and murdered in various creative ways by chains and crap, some of them turning into cenobites.
Anyway Dax's partner somehow becomes a cenobite too, she goes to investigate, Pinhead chases her, taunts a priest, then we're treated to a really cheesy battle between Human Pinhead and Pinhead, as well as Dax dropping the puzzle box into cement... and end.
The film's pretty mediocre compared to the first two, but I guess is an alright horror film on its own, so I'd still recommend it. The special effects are pretty good, there's a lot of gore for people that are into that, and DS9 fans will of course just be happy to have Dax fighting demons.

Sadly, that wasn't the end of the franchise. Hellraiser decides to go where Critters 4 had gone years before, and where Leprechaun would go the following year, and then Jason a few years later. Hellraiser goes to space.
Hellraiser 4: Bloodlines was the last theatrically released film of the franchise, and it's obvious why. It's a confusing, poorly done, -horifically- edited film that honestly feels like a Sci-Fi Original film for its bulk.
Many of its flaws stem from the studio fucking over the film and infuriating the original director to leave the film unfinished because they were trying to force him to do a more traditional horror than what we'd planned, and god damn does it really show that it was unfinished.
The film follows one family, LeMerchand/Merchant, that is responsible for the Lament Configuration (here called the LeMerchant Configuration.) We see them in the 18th century (it seems like it's France, but nobody sounds french, and the architecture screams Italy and England to me at different times). We get some random gore (seriously, there's a random scene of a medical cadaver having its torso skin removed. It serves no purpose, the camera focuses on it, it just happens nonchalantly during a conversation. like the mortician that LeMerchand is randomly talking to who is never named just... randomly takes the skin off a cadaver.)
Anyway two evil french guys open up a portal to hell using the puzzle box LeMerchand made, and then a demon they summoned kills him.
300 years later, the demon and one of the evil french guys get word that LeMerchand's ancestor in America is doing something with the box, the demon kills the last french guy, goes to America, summons Pinhead... ...we get a random scene where two twin cops are randomly killed by Pinhead and turned into a cenobite... there's a dog cenobite... ...eventually Pinhead kills 21st century LeMerchand.
The third level of the story is also the wraparound: IN SPACE. Future LeMerchand made a big space cube to trap light in that'll destroy the cenobites. A robot makes an adorable "oshit" sound after opening the box (this is the entire reason to see this film, I just want this 4 second scene looped.) Some crappy space marines die in a crappy way... and then the cenobites get killed in a beam of light. Yay.
Seriously, this film is fucking awful. The acting is the worst in the series, the special effects outside of the cenobite makeup is -terrible-, it overuses stocksounds more than the last few Children of the Corn movies, the plot is retarded, the nudity and gore is so gratuitous... whatever happend to the cenobites only going after those that open the box? Why the hell did the cenobites go after the two twin cops, or the space marines?
Seriously, just look up a youtube clip of the sad robot, watch that for two hours, and you've officially watched a superior version of this movie.


Here you go. Just watch that, repeatedly, for two hours. Why was the robot programmed to feel pain and fear? I want a movie based on this robot, surely it'd be better than this shitfest.

Thankfully, the next film, despite being direct to video, is -awesome-. Hellraiser 5: Inferno is easily the best straight-to-dvd horror film I've ever seen.
It's less of a sequel to any of the Hellraiser films and more of an original film inspired by the short story, and a few other Barker tales.
The story centers around a crooked cop that is going through marriage issues, is a cocaine addict, seeks out whores, etc. and is involved in a quite grotesque case chasing a child killer. He starts to slowly lose his sanity as he finds the fingers of kids at various gruesome crime scenes, hears a hooker he'd recently slept with murdered over the phone, watches a video of an informant getting ripped to shreds, and all sorts of creepy as fuck hallucinations/daydreams he keeps having.
Despite how all that sounds? This film isn't actually that gorey at all. Most of it's implied or off screen, and handled exceptionally well. This film, much like the original, seeks more to creep you out and unsettle you than it does to scare you, and it works. This is an -extremely- well done psychological horror film, and it saddens me that many passed this over due to how awful Hellraiser 4 was.
If you're only going to watch 3 Hellraiser films, rent 1, 2, and 5. They're the best of the series, and the only three I'd recommend to people that aren't normally horror fans.

Hellraiser 6 then jumps back into a lump of shit. It tries to use the same setup as the first film, only with more gore, more gratuitous nudity, and lazier writing. Over time we find out our douchebag hero tried to kill his wife, only oh no it turns out his wife killed him. So we get a bunch of shitty "You're in hell" sequences that are handled about as well as the cenobite scenes in Hellraiser 4, only much more unintentionally comedic. Pinhead shows up every now and then, looking quite fat, old, and tired, like the actor didn't want to do the film and only came in because they offered him a lot of money to do it.
Finally we get a retarded twist ending where it turns out his wife was Kirsty from Hellraiser 1-2, played by the same actress who must have -really- needed that money, and now she's becoming evil. Great movie, just great.
Seriously, this film is -rage enducingly- shitty. It's just a god awful ripoff of the previous film with worse acting, worse writing, worse effects, a god awful ending that makes no sense, assloads of plot holes... This movie pisses me off it's so bad.
This is, easily, without a doubt, the second worst film of the franchise. I can't even recommend it for completionist sake, just skip right onto 7 if you must.

Hellraiser: Deaders... hrm. It's not as bad as six at least, despite being a super low budget Sci-Fi channel film that barely features the cenobites.
The main plot is basically a gang/cult of people that are obsessed with resurrection, all of them being dead people that were brought back to life. It's a kind of confusing mess, but it's at least nothing that painful to watch. After many, many boring scenes (again, at least it's not rage enducing), the cenobites appear, do their thing, reveal the leader of the cult is a descendant of LeMerchand (fuck you Hellraiser 4), gore happens, film ends.
I'm sorry for how short that is but... yeah, watch it yourself and you'll see what I mean. It's a very dull film, very immemorable, and not really Hellraisery at all.
I wouldn't recommend watching it, largely because even if you do you'll forget most of it shortly after because it's just that damn immemorable. It's like Psycho 3 (for those that never knew Psycho had sequels, I'm sorry.)

Hellraiser: Hellworld was done by the same crew I believe and also shown on Sci-Fi, but it's at least a better film. It's more of a semi-conventional film in which Lance Henrikssen throws a party for fans of 'Hellraiser' (apparently there's an online game based on the cenobites, so this film rolls around in a big pile of meta), when cenobites start attacking the party guests in mildly creative ways.
Mandatory plot twist reveals that cenobites didn't kill anyone, Lance Henriksen just blanmes the teens for his son's death, drugged them, and started killing them. Then at the end, just to make this a Hellraiser movie, the actual Pinhead shows up to kill Lance.
The movie, as you can tell from that summation is... mediocre. It's not rage enducing like 6, it's not boring as fuck like 7, but it's nowhere near as good as 1, 2, 3, and 5. If you're a fan of the franchise, a completionist, or really love Bishop, watch it. Otherwise, pass.

There's been word of a remake for several years now, with Clive Barker personally directing it, but I sincerely doubt it'll happen at this rate. More like a rumor that just repeatedly gets brought up, and then Clive Barker toys with it in an interview but never actually does it.
I'd much prefer he did a faithful Nightbreed film (not to bash the existing one, it's fine, but I'd love a more faithful adaption) instead, but that's me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Open Letter To Horror Directors & Screenwriters

Dear Horror Directors & Producers of the world,

Please, for the love of god, stop screwing up so often. Seriously, our genre's name has become something of a misnomer. Horror lately has just become a mix of bad slasher films, knock-offs of foreign horror films, remakes of horror films, etc.
Follow my recommendations and hopefully you'll fix this situation.

First off, stop making characters that I want to beat the shit out of. Seriously, it's hard for me to sympathize with or even care about someone in the slightest that is as annoying as the characters we typically get in horror films these days.
If your cast is made up of nothing but bitches, assholes, and two dimensional stereotypes like The Stoner, The Joker, The Horny Guy, The Aggressive Chick Horny Guy Wants To Nail, etc. then all you're gonna make me do is root for the fucking killer.
Make me give a rats ass about the cast, and not just the main character. Make me like her friends and loved ones, so I actually get a reaction beyond joy when they get killed. Make me feel sorry for them, make me feel like I just watched a normal person lose a normal friend rather than a dumb bitch whose too-dumb-to-live best friend just got killed.

Stop with the quick, easy scares. At most they make me jump, -at most-. They're cheap, short lasting, and don't provoke a genuine feeling of fear. They're just screamers.
Real terror lasts longer, it grips you, it makes you feel uncomfortable. Listen to Hitchcock's baseball story sometime about the two men talking about baseball while a bomb is underneath their table. -That- is what we need more of.
Honestly you can even pull this off without doing that, sometimes -nothing- can be scary, and I mean nothing as in nothing actually happens. Our imagination can be far scarier than anything you can do, so try toying with that more, manipulate it. Make us worry over what will happen, make us imagine what's going on, tease us.
Paranoia works great as well. Seriously, The Thing is still one of the greatest horror films ever made for this reason, in my honest opinion. You can't trust anyone, and the film milks that so well that you just feel so uneased throughout it, it's beautiful.

Stop trying to have your cake and eat it too. I'm tired of films that are both meant to be "Genuinely good horror films" and comedies at the same time. Note that I'm fine with comedy-horrors, where it's not actually meant to be a horror but more or less a comedy with horror elements (Jack Frost, Bride of Chucky, Feast, etc.)
Many horror fans will not be happy with this but I -hate- Scream for this reason, especially the sequels. It's one part predictable, cliche slasher, one part "Oh look at all these horror cliches we're talking about." The final product is less a satire of the genre and more like a fat kid complaining about how fat people are.

Gore is not terrifying. Gore can be disgusting. Gore can be unsettling. Neither of those are terrifying. You can't just have a bunch of really gorey scenes and claim you've made a scary movie. No, you've made a gorey film. Hostel and shit like that... fuck them.
Want a good comparison? Texas Chainsaw Massacre original versus remake. The original, despite the title, is pretty bloodless. Much of the killings are done off-screen or at an angle where we don't really see anything, save for the first death. The remake, however? Gore everywhere. The first film played with our fears, made us paranoid... hell the moments leading up to the first actual killing in the movie are still creepy to me, just that slow camera following the guy from behind as he looks around the house... The remake has -nothing- like that. The remake substitutes genunely frightening scenes with... fucking more gore, really gorey deaths.
Also our heroine randomly becomes some Whedonesque super powered chick and kicks Leatherface's ass, despite being pretty frail looking and Leatherface being... fucking huge.

Demonic possessions aren't really that scary, neither are poltergeists. This has been done to death. Unless you have some way to really revolutionize this genre, just avoid it, at least for another decade. The Messengers, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, An American Haunting... seriously, just watch all the god awful ghost/exorcism movies of the past decade, they all just blend together into one god awful film.

Alien, Jaws, etc. did something right. The less we see of the killer the better. This goes back to what I was saying earlier about our imaginations. What we don't see, we assume. We think about. Same goes for the deaths of someone, some of the creepiest deaths I've seen in film history weren't even shown, only implied.
Think of it like the H.P. Lovecraft classic "In The Mountains of Madness." We don't read about the shoggoths attacking anyone, we only read about what's left after it. We're left to imagine -what- happend based on that, and it works. This is why H.P. Lovecraft will continue to be remembered as one of the horror greats, and most of you will fade away the second you quit doing films.

Use some fears you haven't seen manipulated lately. Think about the various things that scare people. Alien? The writer got a lot of inspiration just thinking about the fear of being, well, raped. Jaws and similar films prey on our fear of the deep. The Shining preys on the fear that a loved one could turn against us. The Descent, as a more recent example, preys on everyones inner claustrophobe, who the hell isn't at least slightly unnerved about tight, small, cramped, dark places?
Just take a moment to ask yourself "What scares people?" Come up with something beyond "A guy with a knife," "Someone that tortures people," or "big menacing guys that kill/eat people." Also for everytime you think "pale girl with long black hair that cans stretch her mouth really big and appear out of nowhere", punch yourself in the balls.

Music matters. Rather, soundtrack matters. The Shining has virtually no soundtrack, just the echo of noises inside the giant hotel, it helps us feel what the characters are feeling... this sense of being trapped, isolated from the world. The Thing has this awesome ambience throughout that is -extremely- unnerving at parts, to the point where just having the soundtrack playing can creep me out. Honestly, most John Carpenter films have -amazing- soundtracks, the man's a master of this. John, consider yourself exempt from this letter, you're high above the kinds of directors I'm thinking of while writing this.
Audio alone can provoke certain feelings, remember this. Hell, I've played video games where they've unintentionally made certain places far eerier just by having some extremely creepy music play throughout.

Stop trying to turn us on. I'm only human, I like sex, sure. I like to be turned on. I'm just tired of horror films trying to stimulate me in one way rather than another. Scare me, don't try to get me hot. Stop with the "Let's cast a really sexy leading lady that can't act, and we'll show off her body a lot." Stop casting Megan Fox and the like. Stop with the random gratuitous nudity unless you're leaning more towards a comedy (I'm fine with it in stereotypical slashers, which I'm fine with in small doses.) At the least use it against us: See The Shining.

Dr. Iron

P.S. Keep Sam Raimi away from the Genre. He hasn't done a good film in over a decade, despite how awesome The Evil Dead trilogy was.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just Call Me 3D Realms

Because this post isn't about Friday the 13th. Yeah, I'm pushing that back again, going to work on it more. In my defense, it's a long franchise and it's much more... balanced than Nightmare. Although I prefer Freddy over Jason in terms of concept, and Freddy has a few movies that are far better than any of the Jason films... I prefer Nightmare as a franchise.

So what's my subject of the day this time?
Child's Play.

I will flat out admit beforehand that I have a bias towards these films. I've had two seperate incidents with toys similar to the Good Guy dolls that maybe made it easier for Chucky to scare me as a kid.
One involved a pretty ragged Teddy Ruxpin that had a distorted voice due to wear and tear, the other was a Furby that managed to turn back on without batteries (not magic, apparently that's a common issue, Furbies storing some amount of power.)
After expressing that, let's move along!

You all know the drill with the first film's plot. Vicious serial killer Charles Lee Ray (played by Brad Dourif, who you'll recognize best as Wormtongue from LotR or the evil mentat Piter from Dune) gets gunned down in a department store by the evil prince from A Princess Bride. In order to save himself, he transfers his soul into a Good Guy doll, and... ...Thor blows up the store?
This scene actually bothers me a bit the more I think about it. The department store basically explodes in a ball of lightning when the soul transfer happens, and nobody thinks that's odd at all. For starters: Is Satan Thor? Beyond that, is it normal for a lightning storm to -blow up a large department store-?
Sadly, the fact that the soul transfer is common knowledge kinda ruins a good chunk of the film. You see, despite what you'd think, the revelation that Chucky is alive is actually a plot twist. Towards the later half of the movie. For the rest of that we're lead to believe that the -kid- is responsible and is simply blaming the doll.
Speaking of the kid, holy fuck. I'm not a fan of child actors, normally they're awful, even under good directors ("They mostly come at night, mostly.") However, I can think of a few exceptions. In the horror genre, a few stand out: Child's Play, Children of the Corn 1 & 3, The Shining, and the horrible Resident Evil 1.
Seriously. This kid acts like an actual, normal kid. He doesn't sound like he's line reading at all, to the point where part of me thinks the director might have simply given something to say, rather than explicitly -how- to say/word it.
The music in this film is another thing I don't normally here complimented, but god damn is it awesome. It's like this sort of... chaotic ambience with random bits of what sounds like sampling from an out of tune violin.
The effects aren't too bad. The explosion at the beginning is pretty lame, there's another terrible explosion maybe 15 minutes in, people fire their guns really awkwardly, and as with many 80s horror films blood is apparently just red water.
However, the work on Chucky alone is honestly really damn awesome. Always been a fan of animatronics, and the detail put into Chucky's movements and facial expressions just blows my mind, and I'm glad that that is pretty much the only constant in the franchise.
Anyway, altogether, Child's Play is a pretty awesome film. It's got a few crappy moments, a couple of unintentionally hilarious moments here and there, and it's odd to watch after Princess Bride, but beyond all that it's a really fun movie that I highly recommend.

Next we've got Child's Play 2, which is a direct sequel and has the same kid as the first film.
There's not much time between the two films, although in that time apparently Barkley's mom and Prince Humperdink either got stuck in a mental home or put in jail or... they're actually pretty vague on this, and both are mentioned a few times.
Anyway, the kid gets put in a foster home with the most passive aggressive parents ever and a really stereotypical rebelious female teenager. Meanwhile the company that made the Good Guy dolls has decided to... remake Chucky for some reason, using what was left of him. O...kay.
As you'd expect, Chucky kills a bunch of people and stalks the kid from the first film because for some reason he can only swap souls with the first person that knows he's not actually a doll.
The 2nd film's a pretty good slasher. I mean the plot isn't anywhere near as good and it ends up largely being an excuse for death scenes at times, but it's still pretty good, and has some genuinely creepy moments. The special effects in this film are actually -better- than the first film, and honestly it's missing most of the unintentional humor, though it has replaced that with some one-liners from Chucky. I... actually won't complain about that as I did with Freddy. Chucky kinda works with one liners, and obviously we're going to take him quite a bit less seriously, whereas Freddy has a genuinely frightening concept behind him and him becoming Betelgeus-lite just felt weird.
It's not a bad movie, and if you like slashers or really liked the first film, it's worth watching, and it's not like the series went completely silly with it. ...not this one, at least.

Although the next film, Child's Play 3, starts to show signs of the series' future.
Chucky's back again and this time he's extremely witty, basically full on becoming late-NoES Freddy. Thankfully the writing's pretty good and Brad Dourif is honestly a pretty hilarious guy, so it's not all bad.
The kid from the first two films is now at military school, which is really... troperific, if you don't mind my using that term. Stereotypical drill sergents, several students that are basically just soldier stereotypes, etc. That's part of my big issue with this film: It's extremely unoriginal and predictable. It uses so many damn cliches that in all honesty the only enjoyment you'll get from the film is Chucky killing people in not-exaclty-creative ways, or just mocking it. Basically it's... yeah, like watching one of the later NoES movies.
Also for some reason it has Elim Garak/Scorpio Killer/The Dad From Hellraiser as a barber, so that's nice too.
Honestly this film is just for the slasher/Childs Play fans, anyone that doesn't like slashers, especially less-than-serious ones, will either hate or strongly dislike it.

Here's where the series suddenly changes tone, though. Bride of Chucky is... more comedy than horror. This isn't a bad thing, honestly. It's actually a pretty hilarious movie.
The cast is -great-. We've got Brad Dourif returning as Chucky, we've got the marvelous Chesty La-... Tits Mc-... Jennifer Tilly, -and- we get John Ritter. As a crooked cop. ...That seems so odd to me. But still, it works.
It's also got a great soundtrack, almost right off the bat we're treated to Rob Zombie. This might have actually been the first time I'd heard RZ as a kid, although I'd heard many White Zombie songs before.
Beyond the comedy and casting, the special effects are -much- better, it's a -lot- more creative (especially in its death scenes for you slasher fans), and the work on Chucky is so awesome that even the interviews with him whcih you can see online are entertaining to watch. I'm just so amazed at how well they did his facial expressions.
This is a must-see, to me. It's an awesome dark comedy, even if you haven't liked the rest of the franchise.

Sadly the same cannot be said for its followup, Seed of Chucky.
This one pretty much drops horror entirely save for death scenes, and is more wacky than anything else.
Basically the plot is something like this. Chucky's kid, voiced by one of the hobbits from LotR (the genuinely Scottish one), seeks out his parents. He finds them, resurrects them, and... then the plot gets divided in two. We've got:
1. Chucky wants to possess Redman, Jennifer Tilly wants to possess... Jennifer Tilly.
2. Their kid is confused about his gender, leading to numerous Glen or Glenda references.
However, the plot doesn't matter that much, it's more just an excuse for much hilarity and cameo appearances (including John Waters as a paparazi guy.)
Again though, the hilarity thing... personally I didn't find this film that funny. It feels a lot dumber than the previous film, stooping to a random scene where Chucky runs Britney Spears off the road.
On top of that, the plot also gets really weird to follow, it's confusing at times, two of the only likable characters in the film die really quickly...
It's a mess. I'd honestly call it the worst of the franchise, even below Child's play 3.

That's the end of the franchise for now. MGM was going to do a reboot, but they're too busy doing retarded sounding remakes of Robocop and Red Dawn. ...and MGM wonders why they're always in a financial pit.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Howling: Is It Still Jumping The Shark When It Involves Wolves?

Sorry folks, I know I said I was gonna tackle Friday today, but for some reason I've got this craving for something... worse.
Now, I'm a fan of the classic monsters. I love vampires when done right (monsterous. They don't have to be ugly, they can be beautiful, but I want them to still have a level of... horribleness to them; see the Interview with the Vampire movie.) I love zombies, I even love cheesy mummy movies despite the conflict my inner egyptologist suffers watching them. Of course, this also means I love werewolves.
Werewolves, honestly, tend to fair better than vampires if you ask me. Sure, it's easier to name more awesome vampire films (Nosferatu,1930s Dracula, Hammer Dracula, Coppola Dracula, Interview, to name a few), but it's also easier to name more awful vampire films (Dracula 2000, Forsaken, Queen of the Damned, and a certain inflammatory series that I'll just refer to as 'Dusk.')
Werewolf movies? Much more middleground. You've got a few classics (The Howling, American Werewolf in London, the classic Wolf Man, Curse of the Wolf Man), but not that many, and a few of those aren't even all that mainstream. Also aside from Cursed, I can't think of many big name awful werewolf films.

Well, The Howling, even if many of you haven't seen it, as a franchise, actually crosses from one extreme to the other. And it's not just some downward slope like most franchises do, it's more like an insanely designed rollercoaster.

First, we go back in time. The year is 1981. Maybe you aren't born yet, but let's pretend you are. You're fresh out of the 70s and experiencing a new decade full of cocaine, Ronald Reagan, and keyboard ties. But first you get a year with two of the most important werewolf movies ever.
You see, The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, easily two of the best modern werewolf films in my opinion, came out in the same year, and the latter... largely ended up taking attention away from the former. Due to this, you're far more likely to see references to AWL rather than Howling. In fact, as far as references and parodies are concerned, to date, the only reference to Howling I've ever seen was a bit in Dogma featuring someone quoting "Consider it a gift" and referring to Silent Bob as "Bright boy."
Now, I'm not gonna say which of the two is better. I see them compared all the time, and honestly I see it as sort of an apples and oranges thing. The Howling is a more traditional horror film, whereas London is much more of a really dark comedy-horror hybrid.
The original Howling is honestly pretty good. The special effects are fantastic, it has a few genuinely scary moments (one was even featured on AMC's list of 100 scariest film moments.)
The only real negative points I could name would probably be that the special effects for a late-film transformation looks... not as good as it does elsewhere in the movie, suggesting maybe they went over budget before filming that scene. Beyond that? This is a horror classic to me, albeit a very underrated one.
Seriously, go rent it.

Sadly, as with many great horror films, and as with the previous franchise I wrote about, the series instantly gets one of its worst films with its first sequel.
The Howling 2 is an uncomfortable, half-assed, confusing piece of crap that for some reason stars Christopher Lee, which makes it even more uncomfortable watching. It's like watching your favorite comedian bomb on stage.
The film picks up right where the second film ends, and wastes no time showing us some average werewolf makeup effects intercut with a new wave band playing some song that... sadly we have to hear throughout the movie. Seriously, we keep cutting back to this band at random times. This film then takes us to Romania, where Christopher Lee, his midget sidekick, and two people you won't really care about seek to fight a... werewolf... queen... thing?
To be honest I can't explain it much clearer than that. It's almost like the worst points of a Phantasm film stretched out for the film's final half.
For those that like bad horror films, you'll at least enjoy the gore (it's gorier than the first film, but it's still pretty average by horror standards I'd say) and random nudity.
Also you'll enjoy this.

I can't not laugh a little seeing this. There's just something awesome about Christopher Lee in a pair of snazzy over-the-top 80s sunglasses.

The credits also give us a drinking game of sorts, if you want to quickly drink away the memory of watching this film.
Take a shot each time you see a pair of breasts.
No, that's not to say the film suddenly brings out a horde of topless women. There's a scene earlier in the movie where a werewolf chick rips off her top. The credits reuses this footage at least ten times while we're treated to that same damn new wave song from earlier.

How could that get any worse, you might wonder? Well, The Howling 3's subtitle is THE MARSUPIALS.
You want were-kangaroos? You get were-kangaroos.
This film is a confusing mess. It's not a horror film, it's like a comedy only you won't laugh, at all. The film's set in Australia as our heroine, a weremarsupial, escapes her werewolf colony and teams up with some weird effeminate z-grade horror film director that makes me think of late-era Marlon Brando merged with Andy Warhol.
We're then treated to weremarsupials dressed as nuns, a really not-sexy sex scene, some terrible cartoony weremarsupial effects, a pretty much bloodless fight between hunters and weremarsupials (there's pretty much no gore in this film at all, really)... and then finally an ending that goes on so long it gives Return of the King: Extended Edition a run for its money. At least -that- was clear and gave everyone closure The Howling 3's ending is so awkward and poorly done that I started to get Manos the Hands of Fate flashbacks.

Thankfully, the trend stops there, we aren't treated to a film that somehow is even worse than WEREMARSUPIALS. Instead we get The Howling 4, which is basically just a low budget remake of the original film that seems very, very much like a Lifetime movie with werewolfs thrown in.
A famous author goes to some far out colony-town in the woods with her asshole husband who cheats on her with a local, turns into a werewolf, and she's stuck playing investigator with her newfound female friend to uncover the mystery of this werewolf town.
Is it as bad as 3? No. Is it as bad as 2? Yes, maybe worse. But still, it's not weremarsupials, and at least no celebrity I like had to have this film tarnish their image.

Moving along to Howling 5, which is also a remake, but not of a Howling film. Strangely enough this is basically just a remake of the awesome Peter Cushing werewolf-mystery movie "The Beast Must Die."
A rich man from Foreigncountrystan, located in Eastern Europe and having a weird mix of Romanian, Russian, Hungarian, and Polish culture, invites a bunch of people to is dark, foreboding castle because one of them's a werewolf, and he wants to kill them.
It's kind of like a crappy whodunnit movie filled with gore and one instance of random nudity (extremely random, I'm serious, this scene... why?).
The effects aren't bad (besides the fakest sword in movie history, featured in the opening), the acting's better than the last two films, and it's at least entertaining, also the ending is... actually pretty awesome, in that it wasn't predictable but at the same time didn't require some shocking swerve to make it make sense.

Here's where Howling does the unthinkable. Howling 6 is a pretty damn good movie. You heard me. The sixth film in a franchise actually being pretty good. That's rare, especially by horror standards.
For the second time we're given a werewolf hero, this time he's managed to mostly control his urges, but he's taken in by a weird, creepy travelling carnival run by that bald blue-lipped guy from the Dungeons & Dragons movie.
The story's original, the plot twist is pretty neat, the effects are awesome, the acting is pretty good... this is honestly the 2nd best film in the series. Sadly, the only way to even buy this movie is in a double-sided DVD release with Howling 5. At least it didn't come with Howling 7.

Yea, there's a 7th. No, don't look it up. Don't watch it. Please god don't watch it.
The film has no budget at all, most of the actors are just actual townspeople from the town it was filmed in, the others are friends and family of the director. The effects are awful, the writing is awful, the acting is awful, I literally cannot say -anything good- about this movie beyond that at least we never got an 8th film.
Seriously, this film is bad even by bad horror movie sequels standards. Jason Goes To Hell is a better movie than this. All of the Puppet Master sequels are better than this. All of the -Hellraiser- sequels are better than this.
It's not even a movie that you can save by riffing, it's too boring for that. You will seriously be hardpressed to find -any- entertainment value in this, this is coming from someone that watches bad horror films for fun.

Thankfully, that's it for the franchise. No more sequels, no remake, The Howling is as good as dead.
Join me tommorow when I finally tackle Jason, unless I get bored or something else takes over.

Sequelitis: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Been rewatching through several of my favorite horror film franchises lately, and honestly it amazes me how many of them turned sour so quick, either never to recover or recovering too late for many to care. So, I thought I'd ramble about a few of them here.

A Nightmare On Elm Street

We start off with a horror classic. Wes Craven, a director that normally churns out stuff like Shocker, Last House on the Left, and The Hills Have Eyes, made something that is just pure nightmare fuel.
Excellent casting (featuring a young Johnny Depp), great writing, great music, and has some extremely terrifying sequences that will take most first time viewers off guard. The only downside to this film is the ending. The only thing I can compare it to is maybe Neon Genesis Evangelion's ending in the sense that I have no idea what happend, how I should feel, if what happend happend, and why the hell Wes Craven did that.

My face during the entire thing. Less the girl's and more the quite perplexed driver.

After this you go to pop in two, and maybe 30 minutes in, maybe a bit later, you wonder to yourself: "Did I get the discs switched? Is this some weird, coming of age coming out of the closet film?"
No, it's just Nightmare on Elm Street 2, which is filled with more homoerotic imagery than Top Gun and a Rammstein music video combined. Freddy Kreuger himself Robert Englund even went on to state in an interview, on the subject of Freddy representing the fears of each films hero, represents the suppressed homosexuality of the film's lead.
Sadly, the film is pretty terrible. It's sillier than the previous film, much more dated (the scene where our ~fabulous~ lead dances around his room lipsyncing to a popular 80's track seems more fitting in say a John Hughes film than a Nightmare sequel), and Freddy begins talking more. Much, much more.
Freddy being relatively silent was part of what made him so frightening in the first film. You didn't see much of him, and the few times he spoke were just some really unsettling remarks (my favorite being "I'm your boyfriend now.")

Thankfully after the crapfest that was Nightmare on Castro Street, we get Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. First off: Yay, we get Nancy's back! The lead actress from the first film returns and helps me forget the previous sequel. Also returning is her father, played by character actor John Saxon, who I'm quite a big fan of, often playing drug kingpins and cops throughout the late 70s and 80s (including two seperate A-Team villains.)
Beyond that, the film is awesome in several other reguards. The new cast is great, the nightmares this time around are... honestly more unsettling than the first film, including one scene featuring a human marionette, wherein the man's veins are the strings. Freddy talks even more, but at least his one-liners are memorable and not overly cheesy ("WELCOME TO PRIME TIME, BITCH!")
The only negatives in this film are a really cheap looking stop motion animated skeleton (it's less retarded sounding in context) and the hair metal credits tune. My complaint with the credits tune extends to the music video for said theme, that features an ending wherein the entire music video is revealed to be Freddy's nightmare, and he comments how afraid of the hair metal members he was.

Truly the stuff nightmares are made of.

Now's where we're entering the realm of lousy sequels. The less memorable, the smaller budgeted, the lower quality.
First off in this era we have The Dream Master. An absolutely dreadful film that I'd compare only to Alien 3 in that it quickly and mercilessly kills off the survivors of the previous film to make way for a new cast of killable teens and a new hero. However, at least Alien 3 got better from it's rather range enducing opening, Dream Master just gets worse as it goes along.
This film easily has the highest body count in the series, to the degree that there's no real sense of dread or drama because you -know- they're all going to die. And seriously, everyone but the lead and her overly generic boyfriend dies. I've gotta trail off here to go into detail on that last bit: This movie has the most generic love interest I've seen in a movie with a female lead. The guy's name might as well be Bob Smith. He's average height, blonde, plays football, talks in a really uninterested, vaguely sentient kind of way, dresses like an extra in Grease. I kept getting Futurama flashbacks to that rich doctor Leela falls for.
Moving along, this film also has the most retarded ending in NoES history. I know I called the first one non-sensical, but this manages to honestly beat it. Freddy sees himself in a mirror and dies. ...Yeah. I don't get it either. I've looked online, I've gone from Freddy community forum to Freddy community forum, everyone has their own theory, but overall it's just "What."

Moving right along with the bad sequels is the direct sequel to 4: A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.
Our hero and her generic boyfriend are graduating high school, along with a group of friends with extremely specific personalities that determine everything they do (One's the opressed daughter of a rich snob that constantly tells her how to behave, what to do, etc. One's obsessed with comics. The other's our token skeptic for the movie.)
Well, our hero from the first film starts dreaming while awake and sees her boyfriend die at Freddy's hands. In a really confusing turn of events, it turns out it's because she's pregnant with Bob Smith's generic lovechild, and it's dreaming. Keep in mind that she's not visibly pregnant, but somehow she's far along enough for the fetus to be dreaming complex enough dreams that we can see and understand them. Also the kid version of her fetus is played by that BOY OR GIRL from Jurassic Park, the one Alan Grant torments with a raptor claw.

Sadly he isn't killed by a six-foot turkey.

This film also introduces us to a rather irritating and moronic addition to Freddy lore: Freddy is the son of 1,000 maniacs and a nun. Basically, through a flashback, we see a nun get locked into a room at an asylum that for some reason has been filled with 1,000 maniacs. Yes, the film that gave us the dreaming super-early stage fetus also tells us that 1,000 men can produce a single baby from one woman that is the combination of their evil, insane genes.
Anyway we're treated to some lame deaths (try not singing Take On Me when the comic fan dreams, just try it. You can't, nor can I), Freddy's nun mom helps contain Freddy, and our hero is free to give birth to children of ambiguous gender that famous paleontologists can terrorize.

Thankfully the sixth film, titled Freddy's Dead, doesn't feature either the mother or her freakishly ugly womb-spawn. Instead, it features many unfortunate celebrity cameos, some of the most moronic and hilarious deaths I've ever seen, god awful 3D, and some of the worst acting I've seen in the series.
Johnny Depp, Roseanne Barr, Tom Arnold, Alice Cooper... are in a movie where Freddy Kreuger kills a kid with video game like violence on his "Powerglove." HE CALLS IT A POWERGLOVE. He also imitates the Wicked Witch from Wizard of Oz, complete with music lifted from the film.
Also we find out Freddy never died. In the middle of the fire, he just made a deal with some weird flying snake things that go from nightmare-to-nightmare looking for evil people, and they gave him the ability enter dreams. This is also where the 3D kicks in, the hero puts on "dream glasses" (They're 3D glasses), and we're treated to a short, poorly done 3D sequence that gives me Jaws 3-D flashbacks.
Finally, Freddy gets pulled into the real world (hey, it worked in the first film!), blown up with a pipe bomb, and we're treated to a song about Freddy being dead.
Thankfully, he pretty much is. Save for one film in its own continuity and the arguably canon Freddy vs Jason, as well as a remake... Freddy's done. We never got A Nightmare on Elm Street 7.

It's sad too, because our next film, New Nightmare, is excellent. It's a sort of meta-horror starring Nancy from the original film, as... the actual actress. You see, in this universe, NoES is a movie series directed by Wes Craven. It's -our- world. Basically, the actress gets plagued by dreams of something similar to Freddy going after her, her child, her husband, and friends. This is... so much better than it sounds, and I highly recommend it to anyone that hasn't seen it. It's honestly the 2nd best film of the franchise, 2nd only to the original movie.

After this, we've got a remake of the original. I want to go ahead and say: Fuck movie critics when it comes to horror films. This got some terrible reviews, but judging by the comments the critics made, they went in expecting it to be god awful and didn't even give it a chance.
Normally I hate remakes with a passion, and I had -very- low hope for this film, but I was pleasently surprised. It's genuinely creepy, it offers a great new spin on things, the cast is magnificent (the actor playing Freddy this time around is Walter 'Rorscach' Kovacs from the Watchmen movie, and he's fucking horrifying in this.)
They really play up the darker side of pre-death Freddy in ways they only hinted at before, leading to him honestly maybe even being more terrifying than the original film's Freddy.
Thankfully, despite the terrible reviews, the film did well enough financially that we'll at least get another sequel, here's hoping it'll be as good as this. Also hoping it's the same screenwriter, the guy that wrote this is also responsible for Dionaea House, which was sort of a creepypasta told via Myspace and Livejournal about a Lovecraftian horror that poses as a house, and directed by the same guy that did the weird, trippy "Until It Sleeps" music video for Metallica.

I'll tackle Freddy versus Jason at a later time, probably tommorow or monday when I do the Friday franchise, as it's really more of a Jason film than a Freddy film.