Tag Archives: Horror films

It-2017

It-2017

Director-Andres Muschietti

Starring-Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher

Reviewed September 20, 2017

Grade: A-

An enormous amount of hype has gone into the first big-screen adaptation of the epic length 1986 Stephen King novel, It. An above average mini-series based on the book was released in 1990, but the film version is much more effective. Officially entitled It: Chapter One, it divides the story in half, only focusing on the characters as children not as adults decades later. The film is highly effective with fantastic story, visuals, cinematography, and a rocking musical score. Simply put, it is one of the better Stephen King film adaptations.

As rabid Stephen King readers will understand, at over eleven hundred pages in length, and spanning a time period of thirty years, a two hour and fifteen minute film simply wouldn’t do to encompass the author’s artistic vision. To be determined is how chapter two will measure up to the glory of the first chapter.

Derry, Maine is the sleepy little town where the action takes place and the time period is 1988- worth pointing out is that the novel takes place in the late 1950’s. On a stormy afternoon, seven year old Georgie takes a paper boat, constructed by his older brother Bill Denbrough, outside to see if it sails. He meets a clown in the storm drain, who introduces himself as “Pennywise the Dancing Clown”. Pennywise toys with Georgie, turns vicious, and tears the boy’s arm off. Months later, life goes on as Bill and his group of friends known as “The Losers Club” all separately begin to see variations of Pennywise.

The film is really part teenage summer adventure balanced with a terrifying horror film and director Andres Muschietti achieves this mixture seamlessly. In fact, the use of lighting is one example of how the film goes about in this fashion. Most of the outdoor sequences, are bright, sunny, and airy. Conversely, the truly scary scenes, usually involving the entity of Pennywise, are shot using dark lighting, thereby eliciting fear and a perfect mood.

The casting is terrific- I specifically found actor Jaeden Lieberher as Stuttering Bill, Jeremy Ray Taylor, as Ben Hanscom, and actress Sophia Lillis, as Beverly Marsh, wonderful performers, and the clear standouts among the teenage characters. Lillis, bright-eyed and possessing a strong-willed composure, is reminiscent of a young Scarlett Johansson, and could have a bright future ahead of her. Lieberher contains an every-kid innocence and is believable in his earnestness and stuttering ability. Lastly, Taylor fills pudgy new kid in town, Ben, with comedy and a romanticism in his unrequited love for Bev.

Successful is the portrayal and appearance of the demonic entity, Pennywise. Since the fictional clown has over thirty years of interpretation and imagination, bringing him to cinematic life was surely a challenge. A risk would have been to make him either too horrific or too cartoon-like- the end result is a perfect hybrid. Bill Skarsgard exudes crazy in his brilliant performance, teetering between goofy and playful with Georgie, and evil personified as he taunts and terrorizes the kids in his dusty hideaway.

Interesting, and to be noted, is the fact that none of the adult characters are written in a sympathetic fashion. From the creepy Alvin Marsh, to the nerdy pharmacist, even the stern librarian, and the overbearing Mrs. Kaspbrak, they are each laden with an unlikable quality. The closest adult to being “nice”, Bill’s father, finally screams at his son to accept the fact that Georgie is dead.

Two small complaints include the two secondary bullies- king bully Henry Bowers cohorts are not given their comeuppance and simply vanish from the screen never to be mentioned again. Secondly, the sound exterior shots of Derry, Maine exude a New England freshness and a small town mystique. Too bad that the scenes were not filmed in Maine at all, but somewhere outside of Toronto, Canada- more realism would have been nice.

Due to the huge success of the adapted film, legions of fans will undoubtedly hold their breaths waiting for the resurrection of Pennywise and “It” to be unleashed on film fans everywhere- probably in 2019. I will be one of those fans.

Clown-2016

Clown-2016

Director-Jon Watts

Starring-Laura Allen, Christian Distefano

Reviewed September 16, 2017

Grade: B-

As a fan of all things horror, and with a robust appreciation for the horror film genre, the inclusion of clowns in said genre films is always a stroke of genius, and the 2016 film aptly titled, Clown, establishes a creepy premise right off the bat. After seeing the film, it was not until a few days later that the story began to marinate more with me and I gained a bit more appreciation than I had once the film originally ended.

Clown reminds me quite a bit of the mid-2000’s Showtime horror anthology series, Masters of Horror, though, in fact, the film is a full running length of one hour and forty minutes. The film has a unique, creepy vibe that was also a highlight of the cherished series of yesteryear and this film oddly also plays out like a vignette.

The premise is laden in the creep factor as the action kicks off. When Kent McCoy, a likable young father, who works far too much maintaining his real estate business, is notified by his wife, Meg, that the clown they had hired to entertain at their son Jack’s birthday party, has canceled. Determined to save the day, Kent discovers a very old clown suit in the attic of one of his abandoned houses and dons the costume. The next day, Kent and Meg are startled when Kent is unable to remove the costume even when pliers, a hacksaw, and other horrid machinery is used on him.

The story then introduces a strange character named Herbert Karlsson, who informs Kent that the clown costume is not a costume at all, but rather the hair and skin of an ancient demon from Northern Europe. The demon needs to feast on and devour children in order to survive, Kent realizes, as he begins to become ravenous with hunger. Karlsson attempts to kill Kent, revealing that the only way to destroy the beast is via beheading.

The clever and compelling part of the story is the mixture of clowns and children in peril- a recipe for success in most horror films- and at the risk of being daring. The fact that Kent and Meg slowly begin the temptation to harm children is both shocking and effective. The McCoys are average, everyday folks, Meg even working as a nurse, so the likelihood of the pair harming kids on any other day is remote, but tested by a vicious demon and their own son Jack in peril makes Clown work well.

My favorite sequence of the film occurs during a birthday party at a Chuck E. Cheese. While the kids play in a lavish and dark tunnel, the demon (Kent) is on the loose, causing havoc and eating two children. When Meg drives an unwitting young girl home, she is conflicted and tempted to offer the girl to the demon as a sacrifice in order to hopefully save Kent. The girls pleading is palpable.

The film is gruesome from a violence perspective and hesitates not in going where many horror films dare not to go- with the death and slaughter of young children. One kid in particular is basically shown disemboweled, granted the kid is written as a bully and therefore gets his comeuppance in grisly form. Sad is the death of a lonely trailer park type kid, only looking for just a friend in Kent- little does he know his short days are numbered.

As strong and measured as the story idea is, Clown does have some negatives. The film has an overall amateurish quality to it, and certainly not because it is an independent film. Rather, the style almost comes across as a student film project. Some of the acting is not great, specifically actress Laura Allen as Meg. In fact, the filmmakers might have been wiser to make this project more of an episodic venture instead of a full length release.

Clowns, kids, and demons make a fun combination for horror and the aptly named Clown is a solid B-movie effort in the glorious chambers of the cinematic horror genre. With a few tweaks and zip-ups, Clown might have been an even more memorable film. It will not go down in history as a masterpiece, but does have the necessary elements for a good watch.

Bride of Chucky-1998

Bride of Chucky-1998

Director-Ronny Yu

Starring-Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif

Reviewed September 11, 2017

Grade: D+

Bride of Chucky is the fourth installment in the famed late 1980’s Child’s Play hit franchise. The late 1980’s was not the best time for the horror genre in general, but the film was quite the highlight in a slew of duds. By this time in the series, (1998), the child/victim of the doll premise is dropped in favor of dark humor, thus the series immerses itself more into the horror-comedy arena. A treat is the inclusion of a fantastic hard rock soundtrack led by the Rob Zombie classic, Living Dead Girl, adding some points to the films final grade, otherwise having been more dismal.

The film is certainly not a great film and I find perverse pleasure in reviewing poor films. However, Bride of Chucky does have its place- as a late Saturday night viewing choice amid strong cocktails it contains a certain charm. Not to be taken seriously, the placement of a love interest for Chucky gives the film macabre romantic humor. Still, the film suffers from lackluster acting and quickly turns into drivel by the time the credits finally roll.

The action picks up from where Child’s Play 3 leaves off and the appearance of Chucky is now a weathered, stitched appearance that gives the doll a more gruesome and maniacal look- this works given the elimination of a child lead character. Left for evidence in a police compound, Chucky is stolen by Tiffany Valentine, played by Jennifer Tilly. The girlfriend of a deceased serial-killer, Tiffany is convinced that the spirit of her boyfriend exists within Chucky and she is determined to bring him back to life using a voodoo ritual. When the act finally works, Chucky and Tiffany reunite, but shortly afterwards, Tiffany is also turned into a doll and the duo set out on a killing spree.

The best aspect to the film is the camaraderie between Tilly and actor Brad Dourif, who voices Chucky. The duo have a light, comic banter that is fun to watch, as well as fantastic chemistry. Granted the actors only voice the dolls for a large part of the film, but their back and forth works well. This is what makes Bride of Chucky tongue in cheek- let’s face it, with talking dolls as your main characters, director Ronny Yu wisely avoids making the killings too grisly or heavy-handed, but rather, frequently uses quips and one-liners throughout the film.

As Chucky and Tiffany slice and dice their way to Hackensack, New Jersey, their motivations are to embody a neighborhood boy, Jesse, and his girlfriend Jade, played by a young Katherine Heigl. Along the trek, the foursome are faced with ludicrous obstacles, such as the brief introduction of a con artist couple who meet their doom by flying shards of glass after stealing Jesse’s money. The side story of Jade’s overprotective police chief Uncle, played by a miscast John Ritter, does not work at all. His schemes to plant marijuana in Jesse’s van are little more than plot driven machinations to advance the thin plot.

The characters of Jesse and Jade are trivial and secondary and Heigl’s acting is particularly garish to say nothing of the lack of any chemistry between Heigl and actor Nick Stabile. In fact, Heigl seems to wear a pout throughout the entire film. But, not to worry, these characters are as meaningless as all the others.

The gimmick ending, surely meant to “spawn” yet another sequel is as interesting as it is grotesque and a small highlight in a poor film. Bride of Chucky provides a nice lineage to the history of the franchise, a killer musical score, and decent chemistry among the leads, but also suffers a similar fate of many horror films, especially sequels- poor acting, a silly tone, and no character development.

XX-2017

XX-2017

Director-Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama

Starring-Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey

Reviewed September 1, 2017

Grade: B

XX is a 2017 American anthology film consisting of four unique horror vignette’s all directed by female directors- a brazen feat in itself as this gender is too often under-represented in the genre. The chapters do not always make complete sense, but what they do achieve is a creative, unpredictable edge and a feeling of having watched something of substance. Surely, another anomaly is that each features a female lead, giving the film as a whole a measure of female empowerment.

Immediately we are treated to an odd tale named The Box, based on a short story written by an author notable for composing tales of the gruesome, Jack Ketchum. In this story a young boy named Danny, cheerfully riding a train with his mother and sister during the holidays, innocently asks an odd-looking man if he can peek inside a shiny, red, gift-wrapped box. When the man agrees, Danny initially goes about his day, but proceeds to stop eating, much to his parents horror. This installment is my favorite of the four as it is the only holiday themed chapter, and contains a morbid quality amid the cheeriness of the season. The perspective soon switches from Danny to his mother, Susan, and the conclusion is a surprising one.

Next up, The Birthday Party features middle-aged Mary, intent on holding a birthday party for her young daughter, Lucy. When Mary finds her husband dead, she dresses him up in a panda costume and attempts to conceal him from the group of anxious young party-goers. The conclusion is a mix of the hilarious and the disturbing. This vignette features a nanny and a neighbor, both odd and mysterious characters. I admire the black comedy in this one most of all.

Third in the series is Don’t Fall, which transports the viewer to the middle of the desert, where four friends are on an expedition, seeking adventure. The main character, Gretchen, is deathly afraid of heights. When the group discovers a cave with ancient, evil writings on it, one of the group becomes possessed and embarks on a killing spree against the others. Very short in length, Don’t Fall suffers a bit from absurdity and the least character development of the four- it is also the one I found to be the weakest.

Finally, Her Only Living Son is the strangest in the quartet. Working class single mom, Cora, has only one son, Andy. About to turn eighteen, he is rebellious and known to be cruel to classmates- even gleefully tearing off one poor girls fingernails. Ironically, the high school faculty seems to worship Andy, deeming him remarkable and seeming somewhat entranced by him. As Cora becomes influenced by her mailman, Chet, it is revealed that Andy’s father is a Hollywood star, wanting nothing to do with Cora nor Andy. When Andy develops claws on his fingernails and toenails, Cora fears that he is not her ex-husband’s son at all, but rather the spawn of Satan. Clearly, this tale is a miniature of the classic 1968 horror film, Rosemary’s Baby, both haunting and devious in tone.

Enticing is how each chapter runs the gamut in theme and each is unique and different enough from the others so that they are distinguishable and do not suffer from a blended or all too similar feel. Certainly, each situation is implausible in “real life” and some head scratching plot points abound. For instance, how is is possible for a emaciated child, under doctor’s care, not to be force fed? Also, a teenager growing claws and hooves? Really? But, it is horror, and sometimes supernatural, or even silly, elements can be fun.

XX, new for 2017, is reminiscent of the successful horror anthology that the Showtime cable network was daring enough to air from 2005-2007- this series ran the gamut in stylized and edgy horror escapades, using various directors to achieve this result. Here’s to hoping that XX opens some new doors and prompts a new horror series. XX has a few flaws, but is successful in undoubtedly pleasing the legions of horror fans.

Annabelle: Creation-2017

Annabelle: Creation-2017

Director-David F. Sandberg

Starring-Talitha Bateman, Lulu Wilson

Reviewed August 17, 2017

Grade: B+

Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to the successful 2014 horror film, entitled Annabelle, and the fourth installment in total of the popular The Conjuring series.  Over just a few years these films have become well-crafted, intertwined stories in the modern supernatural horror genre. As a comparison to another latter day horror franchise, Saw, Annabelle/The Conjuring elicits more of the classic spook factor rather than the gore associated with the Saw franchise.

Set somewhere in the desert and mountainous region of California, the time is 1943. Doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and wife Esther (Miranda Otto) live a cheerful existence with their young daughter, Annabelle, who they nickname Bee. The family attend church services regularly and engage in cute games of hide and seek in their vast farmhouse and land. When one sunny day Bee is struck and killed by a passing car, the couple is devastated beyond repair.

Twelve years later, a group of orphans led by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), are invited by Mr. Mullins (Mrs. Mullins now bed-ridden due to a mysterious accident) to spend some time at the farmhouse when their orphanage shuts down. The six orphans, led by best friends Janice (Talitha Bateman), and Linda (LuLu Wilson) embark on the quiet farmhouse and immediately are met by strange goings on, most notably a life-sized doll living inside a forbidden room, which Janice inevitably stumbles upon out of curiosity. Stricken with polio, Janice is left a cripple, unable to move around very well.

As Janice discovers the creepy doll, or shall we say, Janice awakens the doll from a strange closet covered with bible verses, the doll begins to terrorize the girls and wreaks havoc on Janice and Linda in particular. Apparently, the doll is inhabited by an evil entity and the peculiar circumstances following Annabelle’s death years earlier rise to the surface as secrets are revealed and demons seek refuge in the farmhouse.

Annabelle: Creation is quite well made and inundated with scary elements of surprise. The farmhouse, in particular, is a fantastic setting for a horror film- the remote locale, the eerie quiet, the dark, unfamiliar layout of the house, all come to fruition throughout the film. Specifically, a scarecrow, a stairwell chair-lift, and the years between 1943 and 1955 are of special importance.

Besides the common horror elements that the film uses to its advantage, the film is just downright scary and tense. On plenty of occasions the cameras are positioned as such so that a figure or object could easily be lurking behind a particular character, but out of sight from the audience. Sometimes nothing will appear and the scene goes on, but other times a scare occurs that makes us jump out of our seats- this is good, classic, horror at its finest- one knows not what is, or could, be coming next. I did not find Annabelle: Creation predictable in the slightest, which makes the film succeed.

As if I was not entertained enough throughout the duration of the film, the final set of scenes, now some twelve years after 1955, brings us to the very beginning of 2014’s Annabelle, as we witness the very first scenes of that picture, now making perfect sense and weaving the two films together in compelling fashion. Apt viewers will remember that Annabelle begins with a horrific home invasion scene, brilliantly crafted and shot. Now, the story line will make more sense and an “oh wow” moment will be experienced.

Certainly, I was left with a couple of slight gripes about Annabelle: Creation. The characters appearances are quite modern day, not the clothes per se, but the hairstyles, mannerisms and figures of speech- I never, for a second, believed the time period of the mid-1950’s. To build on this point, and at the risk of an honest historical inaccuracy critique , a black orphan would never have resided with white orphans, let alone be one of the “popular girls”, nor would the orphans ever have been led by a sexy, Indian nun wearing heavy mascara.

I get that the film makers deemed inclusiveness a higher priority over historical accuracy, but these details are noticed and readily apparent to me as not having  existed if the film were “real life”. Furthermore, the point was repeatedly hammered home that the film was a huge supporter of Christianity and went out of their way to promote the goodness of religion over evil.

Annabelle: Creation reaffirms my belief that good, old fashioned horror films can still be successfully made in the modern era, using elements firmly etched in the genre, but used in a  modern, scary and sinister way. Here’s to hoping the creators think of another good idea and make another segment in this thrilling dual franchise.

Homicidal-1961

Homicidal-1961

Director-William Castle

Starring- Jean Arless, Patricia Bresling

Reviewed July 8, 2017

Grade: A-

Homicidal is a 1961 horror film, shot in black and white, that is a direct homage to the successful Psycho, made only a year earlier. In fact, while some would argue Homicidal is a direct rip off of Psycho, I see the film as containing elements of Psycho, but twisted around so that its own unique story is created.  Regardless, Homicidal is a fantastic, edge of your seat film, that never drags or slows down, and the film deserves recognition. The surprise ending is terrific.

The story gets off to an intriguing start as a tall, leggy, blonde woman confidently walks into a local California hotel to request a room-there is something mysterious about the woman. She appears to be a woman of some wealth and convinces a young bellboy to marry her for $2,000.  Hesitant, but also enamored by the woman, he accompanies her to the local justice of the peace, who marries them in the middle of the night. The woman (Emily) then savagely bludgeons the justice of the peace and flees the scene. Later, she brags about the murder to a mute and sickly old woman named Helga, who Emily is caring for.

From this point, other characters in the small town are introduced and we slowly learn more and more about the intriguing Emily (Jean Arless). Flower shop owner, Miriam (Patricia Bresling) and her brother Warren are central to the story as Warren will inherit a fortune on his twenty-first birthday, which is the next day. Miriam’s boyfriend, Karl, is the local pharmacist, who Emily appears to fancy. All of these characters come into play as the intriguing plot develops. Is Warren’s inheritance a motivating factor? Will he be killed? Why isn’t his sister, Miriam receiving any money? Could she be secretly plotting something?

The comparisons to Psycho are endless. The gender bending twist during the final act is the most obvious one- Arless deserves kudos for tackling both roles in wonderful, compelling fashion. The fact that Arless resembles Psycho actress Janet Leigh is another similarity. Otherwise, Miriam and Karl resemble characters from Psycho and Helga could be a dead ringer for Mother Bates. Even some of the sets, specifically a staircase, resembles the one in Psycho.

Director, William Castle, brilliantly adds a gimmick to Homicidal that works very well- as the film is about to reach its shocking climax, the action suddenly stops and the introduction of a “fright break” ensues. At this point, Castle gives the audience forty-five seconds to leave the room to avoid what is to come next-we see the clock countdown in real time. What a fantastic idea!

Throughout the film, I noticed some of the actors, most notably Jean Arless, playing their roles in a slight melodramatic way. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door, or a car drives up, and the character quickly turns their head in a fast movement, to look in an almost cartoonish way. Rather than see this as a negative, this style of acting works for me and adds a bit of humor to the film.

Another positive for me is the way the film is gruesome in several parts. As a character descends the staircase from a stairlift, the image of the body is shrouded in dark shadows. When the dismembered head topples down the staircase, it is macabre and effective. The justice of the peace death scene is also well done and will please horror fans in its hefty bloodletting. Surprisingly, only two murders occur.

Certainly not as crafty, and containing a smaller budget (though Psycho was also small), Homicidal is quite the solid effort in a B-movie way. Success is largely thanks to the fantastic direction of William Castle, who carves a similar story to Psycho, but in a  different way so that his film does not feel like a carbon copy. Homicidal is a film for fans of classic, solid, horror films.

Strait-Jacket-1964

Strait-Jacket-1964

Director-William Castle

Starring-Joan Crawford, Diane Baker

Reviewed June 7, 2017

Grade: B

Strait-Jacket (1964) stars legendary Hollywood film star, Joan Crawford, on the heels of her successful “comeback” role in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, circa 1962. Following this film, older actresses achieved some semblance of success in camp-leaning B- horror films and Crawford led the pack. Strait-Jacket is a perfect example of this sub-genre and glamorous Crawford sinks her teeth into this film with gusto, playing an axe wielding former mental patient, now released to the outside world after a lengthy stay in an insane asylum.

William Castle, a popular director of the time, had the ability to churn out films quickly and for very little money, a talent marveled at by studios. Certainly in the cult vein, Castle created Strait-Jacket on a dime and with one of the biggest stars in the world- now slowly in decline. Clearly, in “real life”, Crawford felt the role was beneath her, yet one would never know it by the brilliant performance she gives, a performance that makes Strait-Jacket better than it ordinarily would be.

We first meet Crawford’s Lucy Harbin (twenty years prior to present times) as she returns home very late one night, to a remote area, , having spent the weekend out of town. Her husband is a philanderer and has picked up a cheap girl at a bar, making love to her while his young daughter, Carol, pretends to sleep. In a fit of rage, Lucy decapitates them both while a horrified Carol watches. Years later, Carol (Diane Baker), now a grown woman,  prepares to introduce a recently released Lucy to her intended, Michael, and his affluent parents.

Living on a remote farm with Lucy’s brother and his wife, strange occurrences begin to happen to both Lucy and Carol- a dastardly child’s song, cut out faces from a photo album, and “imagined” decapitated heads. Castle wisely gives Lucy a makeover, from her graying, matronly appearance, to a sexy, youthful appearance reminiscent of her days when the murders occurred. Soon, the film, short at one hour and thirty two minutes, reaches a climax when Lucy appears to begin chopping new victims to bits. But is all as it seems?

The appeal of Strait-Jacket, as a viewer, is watching Joan Crawford tackle the role. Talented beyond belief, and with expressive eyes and facial features, she owns the role and subsequently the entire film, though Diane Baker is no slouch either. Crawford, never one to phone in a performance, at this time in career was happy with any role she received. She gives Lucy both grit and vulnerability, so that the audience roots for her. As the film goes along, we slowly begin to wonder if Lucy is hallucinating, still unstable, or perhaps being set-up by someone else.

Strait-Jacket is laced with several good scares- as both a grizzled farm hand and a vacationing doctor meet their fates in grisly fashion, the build-up to the kills is quite well done. A slamming door, a figure in the shadows, these elements are all used to wonderful effect to elicit suspense. To Castle’s credit, he uses elements of fright to make the film better than the writing is.

The plot itself is fine, but certainly not high art, nor anything rather inventive. The “big reveal” at the end of the film is rather hokey and seemingly a play on the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho, but lacking the high intensity- the ending of the film is also a tad abrupt.

Strait-Jacket is a cool little horror film featuring one of the legendary actresses of Hollywood film history- and that is more than enough for me to recommend this film to both Crawford fans or horror film fans, or ideally both.

The Faculty-1998

The Faculty-1998

Director-Robert Rodriguez

Starring-Josh Hartnett, Piper Laurie, Salma Hayek

Reviewed June 4, 2017

Grade: B

Having watched The Faculty, a  teenage horror/science fiction flick,  at the time of release in 1998 (now almost twenty years ago!), I fondly remember sitting in the movie theater watching this soon to be cult classic take hold of its audience. Despite some now dated (in 2017) special effects, the story holds up well, and what a treat to see some “stars of tomorrow” mixed in with some venerable veterans, take center stage. The Faculty stirs up a strange hybrid of classic films (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, and The Breakfast Club) to create a fun, and gory, horror film.

The action takes place in a small town said to be somewhere in Ohio, though the film is actually shot in Texas. A football town, and home of the Hornets, sports are central to Herrington High school- both to students and faculty. It becomes immediately evident that some of the staff is not “right” after two of the teachers stab Principal Valerie Drake (Bebe Neuwirth) with a pencil and scissors and flee with no emotions late one night after a faculty meeting.

Later, student Casey Connors (Elijah Wood) confesses to his group of friends that he believes the teachers are being controlled by aliens. Naturally, they are skeptical until strange events among the staff begin to take shape once the students watch the staff’s activities closely. The film then turns into a clever whodunit as one student after another is revealed to be infected and therefore an alien.

A highlight of The Faculty is its stellar casting- there is the younger set of actors, who share great chemistry together- Josh Hartnett (Zeke), Wood (Casey), Jordana Brewster (Delilah), Clea Duvall (Stokes), Laura Harris (Marybeth), and Shawn Hatosy (Stan) all make up the troupe of characters thrown together due to unlikely circumstances to figure out the big mystery- who amongst the staff is an alien and where they come from? All of the students are from different social classes, which make their antics unique- Zeke, the rebel, Stan, the jock, Stokes, the “weirdo”, and Casey, the nerd. In this way the film reminds me of The Breakfast Club, a mid-1980’s “coming of age” high school film.

Additionally, the staff comprise some of the best in the business- stalwart Piper Laurie appears as the drama teacher, luscious Salma Hayek as the sexy school nurse, comic Jon Stewart as the science teacher, and rugged Robert Patrick as Coach Willis. What a treat for film fans to watch a film such as The Faculty to see a bevy of popular film and television stars amongst the cast.

Director, Robert Rodriguez, most notably known for creative left of center works such as Machete and Sin City and for being a frequent collaborator of Quentin Tarantino in his edgy collection of films, helms a rather mainstream piece of work in The Faculty. Clearly, the film is targeted for your typical, mainstream audience, but with the right blend of clever quirks added in.

Delicious is the ode to the classic science-fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only set in a suburban high school. Clever still is the revelation of the teachers as the robotic “pod people” or aliens from outer space. This cute reference, in 1998, and still today, is an innocent knock on authority figures as the high school kids slowly get their comeuppance against some of the staff.

There comes a point in the film where nearly everyone is an alien and the film runs out of gas. However, the final scene is wonderfully constructed as the film ends as just another day in the life of a small town high school- life goes on and all is well. The Faculty is a treat to watch in present times as a “trip down memory” lane experience.

The Innocents-1961

The Innocents-1961

Director-Jack Clayton

Starring-Deborah Kerr

Top 100 Films-#98        Top 20 Horror Films- #19

Reviewed April 29, 2017

Grade: A

The Innocents is a 1961 British, psychological horror film, that is a ghost story, of sorts, and based on the novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. The film, though clearly horror, contains few of the traditional horror elements, such as contrived frights, jumps, and blood. Rather, the film succeeds by using lighting and magnificent cinematography by Freddie Francis. And, of course, wonderful story-telling and direction from Jack Clayton.

Deborah Kerr gives a wonderful turn as a beleaguered governess hired by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) to tend to his young niece and nephew- Flora and Miles. The setting is a lavish, yet creepy, mansion somewhere outside of London. As the Uncle goes away to India on business, Miss Giddens, with no previous experience, is left to tend to Flora and Miles, who both begin acting strangely. To complicate matters, Miss Giddens begins to see sinister ghosts lurking around the property. The ghosts are former servants of the household, who have died, in which Miss Giddens has never met before. Miss Giddens is assisted only by the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who fills her in on the servants tragic deaths.

The Innocents, shot in black and white, a very wise decision in my book, uses sound to its advantage and combined with the interesting camera angles and focus shots- mostly of the ghosts Miss Giddens sees, makes the film unique and downright scary. As she begins by hearing strange voices, she becomes convinced that Miles and Flora are playing tricks on her, engaging in mischievous games. The sounds of the whispers are quite haunting and do wonders for the affects and chills it will undoubtedly give the viewer as the film moves along.

The question all throughout the film is whether Miss Giddens is imagining the voices and visions, or if this is true reality. Could the children be sinister and be playing a vicious prank on her? Could Mrs. Grose be evil? Certainly, nobody else within the household sees or hears anything amiss- or admits to it.

Kerr, a treasured actress, plays the part with emotional facial expressions and true fear, so much so that she will win the audience over, as we side and empathize with her character. Still, is she a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown? Does she have past mental problems? Like the uncle, we know nothing of her past, only that she claims to be a minister’s daughter. How then does she have stylish, expensive clothes? Could she only be pretending to be a governess? Has she run away from her past?

The Turn of the Screw is a true ghost story, but The Innocents is a bit different- it relies, successfully, as more of a character driven story. As Miss Giddens becomes convinced that both children have become possessed by the spirits of the servants, she makes it her mission to rescue the children from the spirits. We have an ominous feeling that events will not end well and they most certainly do not.

Several scenes will frighten the viewer- as Miss Giddens sees a haggard ghost (the female servant) quietly standing in the distance near a lake as Flora dances chirpily, the image of the faraway ghost figure is eerie and well-shot. In this way, the film draws comparisons to the classic Hitchcock film, Rebecca, as each are British, taking place in large mansions, and feature dead characters as complex villains. Also, in each film, the main characters sanity is in question.

With a compelling story and the nuts and bolts surrounding the story to add clever effects and a chilling conclusion to the film, the film succeeds as a wonderful and smart horror film. With great acting all around, including great performances by the child actors, The Innocents scares the daylights out of any horror fan, and uses exterior and interior scenes to make the film an all around marvel.

Get Out-2017

Get Out-2017

Director-Jordan Peele

Starring-Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams

Reviewed March 27, 2017

Grade: B+

Get Out, a modern day horror film, is a unique film, mixing classic horror elements (especially great camera angles to elicit jumps) with bits of slapstick humor, not done very often in horror. In the case of Get Out, all of these tidbits come together in a marvelous experience, and the subject matter is rather risqué (see below), a plus for me as I like films that push the envelope a bit.

Certainly, as with most horror films, liberties must be taken in the way of plot points and continuity issues, but this film is an impressive work. Kudos, given the film is director Jordan Peele’s directorial film debut.

Chris Washington is a young photographer, handsome, educated, and enjoying life. He is black, and his girlfriend, Rose, is a pretty white girl from an affluent upbringing- it is implied that they are opposites on the social scale. One weekend, they traverse out of the city (presumably New York City) to visit Rose’s parents in the country. Her parents, Dean and Missy, own a sprawling estate with acres of land. Nervous to meet Rose’s parents and make a good first impression, Chris notices that Dean and Missy’s servants are all black and act in quite a peculiar fashion. Soon, it is revealed that Chris’s mother died when he was a little boy and when Chris is hypnotized by Missy, things begin to go from strange to downright scary.

I adore how the film immediately feels ominous- there is simply something not “right” with the situation-even before Chris and Rose arrive at her parent’s estate, something seems off. They hit and kill a deer with their car, the policeman who aids them seems racist, and despite Rose seeming fresh-faced, she also seems not to be trusted. There are so many ominous warnings not to approach her parents house, that when they finally  do arrive the audience is compelled to nervously watch for more, perhaps while biting fingernails.

Jordan Peele’s decision to have everything cheery and bright during most of the film only makes the audience wonder what secrets are lurking about in the grand estate- the setting where most of the action takes place. When the pair finally arrive at her parent’s house everything is out of whack. The film undoubtedly borrows from The Stepford Wives in the pleasant, almost robotic cheerfulness of some of the characters.

The big reveal and the rather objectification of all of the black characters- specifically black males- can certainly be cause for debate. The racial motives of the characters are also only skimmed over and never discussed or rationalized in detail. The physical strength and resilience of the black male is mentioned a few times and Rose’s parents being a psychologist and a neurosurgeon are major points in the story, but the intentions are somewhat wishy- washy and hardly plausible.

In a wise move, Peele mixes a hilarious scene amid the doom and gloom. Clearly the comic relief of the film, Rod, Chris’s best friend and proud TSA agent, calls the police and describes in detail his fears of a sex slave operation, which results in the police having a good guffaw- at Rod’s expense. Rod serving as an instrumental part of the film’s conclusion is a fantastic decision- mixing dark humor with more grotesque horror moments. This succeeds in setting Get Out well above the traditional genre.

The acting by all parties is believable and deserving of acclaim, but newcomer (to me) Daniel Kaluuya carries the film very well, even offering more than one heartfelt dramatic scene, mostly when remembering his mother. Allison Williams (a dead ringer for a young Jennifer Connelly) is also a marvel, especially as the character changes direction mid-stream and essentially becomes a different character.

Fantastic is the throwback elements of The Stepford Wives, complete with a similar setting. The film does not reveal whether “in the country” is Connecticut or upstate New York-Stepford Wives was Connecticut.

Get Out is a fresh, novel approach to the standard elements of horror, mixing comedy and aspects of race into a story brimming with suspense, good frights, and especially, interesting camera angles. This film, a great success at the box office, does not seem like the sequel type, but if so, I am intrigued by what more can be done with it.

Chained-2012

Chained-2012

Director-Jennifer Lynch

Starring-Vincent D’Onofrio

Reviewed March 24, 2017

Grade: B-

Chained is a 2012 independent horror film directed by Jennifer Lynch, who just happens to be the daughter of the brilliant film and television director, David Lynch, and his influence is readily felt throughout. The film is an exercise in cerebral, psychological horror, and is quite mesmerizing for most of the experience. The ending, however, is the pits, and takes away from the enjoyment of the rest of the film in its asinine, quickly wrapped-up, conclusion.

The film is set in an unknown area- all the audience really knows is a  decrepit, isolated, cabin in the middle of nowhere and that the shack exists in somewhat close proximity to a college town. Since the film is shot in Canada that is a good enough locale for me to accept. One day a seemingly happy husband drops off his wife and nine year old son at the movies, but implores them to take a taxi home as the bus is too dangerous. When they heed his advice, they are accosted by a deranged serial killer, Bob (D’Onofrio), who drives a cab and whisks them away to his remote home. After he kills the mother, he makes the son, whom he re-names Rabbit, his slave, reducing him to household chores and a somewhat accomplice to the subsequent victims he brings home. As the years pass and Bob continues to kill, he is determined to have, a now mature,  Rabbit follow in his footsteps.

A large chunk of Chained (and the film is aptly named because Bob commonly keeps Rabbit chained) takes place in Bob’s lonely home and Bob and Rabbit are all each other really have for support. Bob presumably earns a living by stealing the cash his victims carry. Many scenes of a bonding nature, albeit perverse, are featured as the two dole away the time between Bob’s kills, almost like a father and son. Jennifer Lynch wisely moves the film at a slow pace for appropriate build up.

Bob’s psychologically troubled childhood is told through flashbacks as he is victimized by his abusive father and forced to have sex with his own mother, who blames him rather than her husband. As a result, Bob hates women, and lures victim after victim into his cab and then slices and dices them back at his home. In a way, Bob is sympathetic, like a wounded bird, and whether he rapes the victims before killing them is unclear, as much happens off screen.

The cabin is purposely suffocating and when Bob teaches Rabbit intellectual facts and encourages him to read and study to become smart, it is a bonding experience. Slowly, Bob trusts Rabbit more and more. When Bob makes Rabbit pick out a young girl in a school yearbook to kill, the film kicks into high gear. Suddenly, it becomes vague whether Rabbit is loyal to Bob or still determined to escape. Will he help his intended victim instead of killing her?

David Lynch’s imprint is blatant in both the pacing of the film and more specifically in the low hum musical score, common in his own films. Daughter Jennifer clearly knows her father’s techniques as they continually come into play. A nice homage to Mulholland Dr. appears when a sweet older couple rides in the back of Bob’s cab, reminiscent of the older couple featured in Mulholland Dr. The gloomy ambiance is highly effective in Chained and the relationship between Bob and Rabbit, not sexual or overly violent, becomes actually rather sweet in some moments-almost like a typical father and son.

The rushed conclusion of the film is disastrous and Lynch’s attempt at a twist goes haywire in the “makes sense” department. After a compelling fight scene with Bob, Rabbit finally kills him, escapes his clutches, and returns to his fathers open arms (now newly re-married with another son) only to reveal to his father that he knows he orchestrated Rabbit and his mom’s abduction years ago and that Bob is really Rabbit’s uncle! To matters even more confusing, after a dramatic event, Rabbit is sent away yet again and returns to the cabin as his only safe place. This final act is a real dog, makes little sense, and is tough to digest.

I will give some liberties to 2012’s Chained since the director is spawned from the great David Lynch and the mood and several characteristics mirror his own work, but still with her own unique vision an obvious characteristic. Most of the film is a solid effort, but due to the ending of the film being such a let down, the body of work seems incomplete.

King Kong-1933

King Kong-1933

Director-Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring-Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong

Reviewed March 11, 2017

Grade: A

The original, black and white, 1933 version of King Kong (a few other remakes or reboots followed) is a masterful achievement in special effects never before done in film and is also a great horror/adventure film that is timeless in its look and feel, capturing 1930’s New York City, especially, in majestic fashion. Some of the dialogue and scenes now dated or slightly racist, it still holds up well as an overall lesson in film exploration and is a treasure to watch time and time again. The film is a take on the classic tale, Beauty and the Beast, sans the happy ending.

In the watery harbors of New York City, film maker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) prepares to embark, via ship, on a journey to film his latest picture. Known for films about exotic wildlife, he has a film to end all films in mind, and reluctantly, is talked into casting a female lead in the part. He scours the streets of New York City, finding broke and hungry Ann (Fay Wray)- a struggling actress unable to find work. She agrees to the role and off they go headed towards destination unknown. Weeks later, he reveals to the crew that they are headed for Skull Island, a secret island known for pre-historic creatures and a beast only known as “Kong”.

Amid the voyage to the island, Ann and First Mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) fall madly in love with each other giving the film a nice romantic slant along with the male driven adventure story. The adventure really begins when the crew arrive at Skull Island to find a weird, ancient ritual marriage occurring by the tribal people and all hell breaks loose when the dangerous “King Kong” escapes from captivity and falls in love with Ann. Mixed in with the story are enormous dinosaurs who destroy everything in their paths including many of the men from the island and the film crew.

As I watched the film in 2017, not too far out from 100 years past the films incarnation, I oftentimes sat in wonderment, amazed at how the film makers were able to achieve the luminous special effects throughout the second half of the film. Given the film is in black and white, the contrast of the dark, enormous ape (Kong) and the bright New York City, and the majestic Empire State Building, prominently featured in the final, climactic, act.

Scenes of a struggling Ann in the hand of King Kong seem flawless and believable and I marvel at how these scenes were shot and the enormous amount of effort to make them dramatic and not hokey looking. Since the film was made “pre code”, several shocking scenes exist- when Kong rips off Ann’s clothes as she struggles in his palm and Kong’s stepping on and squashing men are featured sparing no graphic details.

In addition to the great adventure story that is King Kong, also lies a tender love story and a bit of melancholy too. King Kong is not so much a dangerous creature, rather, has fallen in love with Ann and serves as her protector. He is a scared animal, chained and confined and subsequently shown to a stuffy Broadway crowd as entertainment- he becomes angry. I find Kong to be a sympathetic, misunderstood character, and because the human beings in the story are frightened, he becomes their enemy. He adores Ann and would not harm her in any way, but he is perceived as vicious, which he is not.

It can be argued who the real villain of the story is. Would it not be film maker Carl, intent on exploiting King Kong and gaining profit from it? Is it the tribe people who keep Kong locked up or is it for their own protection?

My favorite scene is the climax of the film. After taking Ann from a hotel room, he scales the Empire State building and is pursued by four military airplanes. When he sets Ann down on the rooftop ledge, he battles the planes, only to sadly topple down to the ground- dead. As he swipes at the planes and succumbs to gunshot wounds, it is a sad and powerful scene.

King Kong is a legendary film.  A film where audiences will empathize with the “villain” of the story and be impressed by the nuances on the technical side as well as enjoy the conventional and the unconventional love stories presented. One thing is for sure, King Kong is one of the most influential films ever made.

Happy Birthday to Me-1981

Happy Birthday to Me-1981

Director-J. Lee Thompson

Starring-Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford

Reviewed March 4, 2017

Grade: A-

Happy Birthday to Me is a 1981 slasher film that I fondly remember scaring the living daylights out of me as a little kid-clearly too young to be watching a film of this nature, but sneaking into my parents bedroom with my brother to catch this film. Certain that the film helped shape my passion for the horror film genre, I hold a fondness for it- critics be damned. My opinion is that the film is a small treasure in the land of 1980’s slasher films, containing a neat whodunit and a grotesque ending.

Melissa Sue Anderson, clearly desiring to break out of her nice television persona thanks to the wholesome Little House on the Prairie, is cast in the lead role. Happy Birthday to Me also achieves some merit since the film is directed by acclaimed British director, J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear). Anderson carries the film quite well in a challenging part. Glenn Ford co-stars as a Doctor.

Virginia Wainwright is a pretty and popular senior at exclusive Crawford Academy- a school for elite, rich kids. In fact, she is part of the “Top Ten”, the most popular and richest kids in the school. The ten friends meet nightly at the local pub. One night, Bernadette, one of the top ten, is murdered by an assailant on her way to meet her friends. This murder sets the tone as, one by one, the others are subsequently killed off, sending the school and local townspeople into a frenzy of panic. To thicken the plot, Virginia was involved in a horrible car accident four years earlier, which killed her mother, and caused Virginia to only have sparse memories of the accident. This piece is key to the film’s mystery.

There are many comparisons I can make to slasher classics that heavily influenced Happy Birthday to Me, but the most prominent must be 1978’s Halloween. The character of Virginia is very similar to Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), in their somewhat virginal, good girl characters, and both have an almost identical hairstyle! Also, Happy Birthday to Me successfully uses the killers point of view as the camera frequently serves as the perspective of either the killer or somebody lurking around spying on someone else. The film also just “looks” similar to Halloween.

The whodunit aspect is the most effective of all the qualities of the film. There are a multitude of likely suspects and the film does not shy away from this, purposely casting doubt on several characters- could it be the creepy Alfred, who carries around a pet mouse and creates a fake head of the murdered Bernadette? Or the suave French student, Etienne, who snoops in Virginia’s bedroom and steals a pair of her panties? Finally, could it be Head Mistress, Mrs. Patterson, a harsh, no-nonsense woman harboring resentment for the snobbish, elitism that exists at her school?

When the killer is finally revealed a measure of pure shock and confusion will undoubtedly transpire- how can this be? But by the time the ultimate finale is played out all will make sense. The conclusion does disappoint slightly in the implausibility factor, and the original ending is much more logical and compelling than what was actually in the final cut- rumors have run rampant that the screenplay of the film was rewritten numerous times well into the production- never a good thing. So, the motivations of the actual killer are quite weak, but the buildup is amazing.

Not to be outdone by the whodunit, the kills themselves are superlative: a shish kabob to the throat, falling gym weights, a scarf caught in the spokes of a bike, and the traditional fireplace poker are done in macabre and fantastic fashion. We always see the killers gloved hands and we are aware that the victim is friendly with the killer, so we continually try and deduce who it could possibly be.

The gruesome “Birthday party” finale is gruesome and gleeful at the same time. Each murder victim is propped up around a dining room table, each with a party hat on and all in various forms of dismemberment or blood soaked from their murder wounds. It is a grim and hilarious reveal. The murderer parades out of the kitchen wielding an enormous birthday cake, cheerily singing “Happy Birthday to Me”. This is one great finale.

Happy Birthday to Me is a wonderful trip down memory lane and the film still holds up as a key, perhaps overlooked part of the slasher genre that should be rediscovered by fans and followers everywhere.

My Bloody Valentine-2009

My Bloody Valentine-2009

Director-Patrick Lussier

Starring-Jensen Ackles, Jaime King

Reviewed January 20, 2009

Grade: B

What can I say? The remake of the classic slasher film from 1981 is a very slick version of the perfect Valentine’s day treat- My Bloody Valentine. To compare the 2009 offering to the original is unfair since I consider that one top notch. This version is what I expected it to be. Though several aspects of it were changed from the original, it was entertaining all the same.

The sleepy mining town that the film is set in becomes immersed in scandal as a string of grisly murders occurs in one of the town mines. It is revealed that a tragic accident occurred at one time causing several deaths. The one remaining victim awakens from a coma and goes on a killing spree. At the same time, youths throw a party near the mine and a series of deaths begin again.

The 3-D effects are necessary to a film like this, for without them, this movie would have been generic as anything else in the same style. The story is lame, implausible, and the characters are dumb, but looking past all that, as I usually do in the horror genre, this was a fun ride. Lots of gore nudity, violence, and a few genuine scares.

Zombie Strippers-2008

Zombie Strippers-2008

Director-Jay Lee

Starring-Jenna Jameson, Robert Englund

Reviewed January 25, 2009

Grade: C-

Zombie Strippers is so filled with campy moments and so over-the-top, that it is a film that is impossible to remotely take seriously. As they say, there is a time and a place for everything, and this includes films. It is completely a cheesy, campy B minus horror film.

The story, if one can call it that, involves a small strip club, in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere. The star stripper is played by former adult film star, Jenna Jameson, who, I am pretty certain, was not hired for her acting talents. One day, a government controlled virus is released by the government, causing Jameson’s character to be transformed into a flesh-eating zombie. The motivation is not really there, and, who cares anyway? This is not the film to watch for compelling plot.

The acting all around in the film is poor, and the story is completely unrealistic- laced with stereotypes galore. However, how nice to see horror legend, Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street) in a prominent role, even in a bad film. Also deserving of credit are the makeup and prop department, clearly having a small budget, for making the film look better than it might have.

If you are looking for a cheesy, after midnight, and after a few drinks fun film, this is it. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.

Friday the 13th-2009

Friday the 13th-2009

Director-Marcus Nispel

Starring-Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker

Reviewed February 17, 2009

Grade: C-

As a devoted and faithful fan of the Friday the 13th film franchise and having many wonderful memories of Friday the 13th’s of the past, I was expecting better than this version. There was no reason for the producers to start from scratch with a brand new beginning- that makes no sense to me.

There is really nothing to distinguish this, 2009 Friday the 13th,  from other sequels. They would have been better suited making a “Friday The 13th Part 11” since that’s really what it was. In essence, an entire new story-line was created- only keeping to the original Jason and Mrs. Voorhees characters, and Camp Crystal Lake location.

This movie is not scary, nor are any of the characters particularly likable. In fact, several were quite unlikable- way too many horror films do that. The film also contains very distinct stereotypes, which in this day and age seem ridiculous. Also, Jason has now graduated to “taking prisoners” instead of simply hacking his victims. There is also a “flashback” scene from 1980, which, inexplicably is a newly filmed scene. A wiser choice, and treat for loyalists, would have been to show this scene from the original Friday The 13th from 1980 instead of foolishly recreating one.

The story is completely implausible in countless ways. I am giving this film a very liberal C- grade for at least giving us a new film and for being somewhat entertaining, even though there are many negatives. This film will be forgotten before too long.

Drag Me To Hell-2009

Drag Me To Hell-2009

Director-Sam Raimi

Starring-Alison Lohman, Justin Long

Reviewed June 16, 2009

Grade: B

Drag Me To Hell is a fairly predictable, modern day horror film, with some supernatural elements and special effects that make it slightly above average. Directed by Sam Raimi (of Spiderman fame) one can definitely see his stamp on it, as he has a way of horror-camp. 1983’s cult classic, Evil Dead, directed by Raimi is evidence of this.

Young Loan Officer, Christine Brown, played by Alison Lohman, is bucking for a promotion and intent on impressing her boss by being a stickler for the rules. She chooses the wrong day to do this as an elderly woman, desperately needing a loan, is denied one by Christine. The angry woman places a curse on Christine, causing her life to spin out of control. She has a mere three days to remove the curse before her soul is “dragged to hell”.

As with most horror films involving a curse, the plot is completely unrealistic and filled with holes. The film also tries to be both serious and comical at times- sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. In a few scenes I was not sure if the intention was to be comical or if it was unintended, but periodically the acting was over the top.

With all that said, if one is interested in a fun horror film that has a few scares and is not too gory (it is rated PG-13 after all), one will enjoy Drag Me To Hell.

The Final Destination-2009

The Final Destination-2009

Director-David R. Ellis

Starring-Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten

Reviewed September 6, 2009

Grade: B

The Final Destination is a fun, entertaining film, and exactly what one might expect from a film of this nature, of the horror genre, and by this time the fourth in the series. The 3-D effects were a nice (and needed) addition at this in the franchise as a way of keeping it modern and fresh.

The film has the expected additives- an attractive cast, mediocre acting, and the ridiculous situations, which inevitably lead to the fated kills- in typical grisly fashion. As audiences of the Final Destination films know, characters cannot tempt fate, and there is a specific order to the deaths. In fact, the only aspect that sets The Final Destination apart from its predecessors is the 3-D effects.

The story is reminiscent of the original version of Final Destination, made in 2000, only instead of an airport, the action begins at a raceway, where the main character of the film, Nick O’Bannon, has a premonition of a grisly accident at the racetrack. After he saves some folks from their deaths, they believe they have cheated “death”, but before long, fate has other plans for them.

Some fun kills include- decapitation by flying tire, a sharp rock emitted from a lawn mower, a crushing tub, and a speeding ambulance.

The novel concept of the film, originally fresh and unique, has become to be expected and rather redundant- the fun part is the creative kills. The film is the perfect movie to sit back, relax, have fun, see some interesting deaths, and be entertained.

The Crazies-2010

The Crazies-2010

Director-Breck Eisner

Starring-Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell

Reviewed March 9, 2010

Grade: B+

The Crazies is an example of a very rare instance of a remake (especially in the horror genre) actually being better than the original (Cape Fear also comes to mind). Despite the original film being made in 1973, a wonderful time for creative film-making, I was not such a fan. The remake is more slick and stylized, but I actually think it works well and makes the film an above average effort.

There are many thrills during The Crazies and jump out of your seat scares (car wash scene), and I may never look through a keyhole again, ha! I actually felt tense watching several scenes and I genuinely did not know what was going to come next, which is quite an achievement for the modern horror genre.

I love the heartland, small town, middle of nowhere elements. A feeling of isolation and vulnerability is apparent and a must for successful horror.

The acting is above average for a horror flick, though, let’s not kid ourselves- who watches horror films for the Shakespearean acting? This film was sort of a cross between 28 Days Later and Night of the Living Dead, but set in mid-western surroundings. A must for fans of modern horror.

Repulsion-1965

Repulsion-1965

Director-Roman Polanski

Starring-Catherine Deneuve

Reviewed November 25, 2010

Grade: A

Repulsion is an excellent British film, and an early film of great director, Roman Polanski- made in 1965. The film was shot on a low budget, and the action mainly takes place inside a small London apartment. Repulsion is part of Polanski’s “Apartment trio”, along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant- all set inside apartments.

The film tells the story of Carol (Catherine Deneuve), a beautiful, young, woman who slowly goes insane over the course of a weekend, while left alone by her vacationing sister. Carol is a beauty parlor worker who seemingly is sweet and shy, but gradually becomes violent, volatile, and unbalanced. Carol experiences hallucinations and it is alluded to that she may have been sexually abused as a child. She loathes men.

The film is shot in black and white with eerie camera shots and background noises and very little music. This film has a claustrophobic entity that makes it all the more disturbing. All of these characteristics make the film a difficult experience to watch, but that is to its credit.

We see Carol unravel and are mystified by the aspects that make her this way. The bathtub scene and the scene with Carol’s landlord are highlights in their brutality.

Repulsion is difficult to watch, but a wonderful piece of cinema. An in-depth character study of an already unhinged woman reaching her psychological breaking point.

Friday the 13th: Part VII: The New Blood-1988

Friday the 13th: Part VII: The New Blood-1988

Director-John Carl Buechler

Starring-Lar Park Lincoln, Terry Kiser

Reviewed December 8, 2010

Grade: B-

The seventh installment of the legendary Friday the 13th franchise is enjoyable, yet clearly predictable. However, props must be awarded to the creators for at least making an attempt  at a novel idea- this time the “final girl” is not the damsel in distress type, but rather, gives as good as she gets. Friday the 13th: Part VII: The New Blood is a decent offering in the horror genre and certainly better than some of its companion films.

The main heroine is a telekinetic girl named  Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln). Via flashbacks, we learn that Tina’s father was an alcoholic and abused her mother. When Tina’s telekinesis was unlocked ten years earlier, Tina caused her father’s drowning death, conveniently at Camp Crystal Lake. Tina has harbored deep regret ever since and is now treated by Doctor Crews (Terry Kiser). The duo- along with her mother- decide to stay at the lake where a group of partying kids take up residence next door. Apparently none of them have any idea who Jason Voorhees is.

The beginning and end are ridiculous even by horror standards as the action is way over the top and too convoluted to go into, but everything else is fine. The cast seems a bit larger than in other chapters, which is great because that means more kills. Unfortunately, many of the kills have been edited to make an R rating. (I try to watch NR horror films- no edits). My favorite kill by far is the “sleeping bag” kill. Awesome!! Unfortunately, the DVD version of this kill is severely edited from the theatrical version.

Also, Jason looks like a true monster in this one and that is to be applauded. Stuntman Kane Hodder would begin a successful stint at the killer and he looks the part. Friday the 13th: Part VII: The New Blood is a fun popcorn horror flick.

Eraserhead-1977

Eraserhead-1977

Director-David Lynch

Starring-Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart

Reviewed January 5, 2011

Grade: B+

Eraserhead is one of the oddest films that I have ever seen. The film is an early (1977) David Lynch film and is shot entirely in black and white. It is a surrealist horror film.

Entrancing is the locale of the film- a bleak wasteland, of sorts, in an even bleaker town-the name is unknown. Factory worker Henry Spencer (Nance) is garish in appearance-poofy/spiky hair, wild eyes, he is peculiar to say the least. He trods day after day, to and from his job, meeting interesting, yet grotesque characters. He has a child, who is inhuman with a snakelike face. Henry meets an odd woman, while carrying groceries home, and his apartment is filled with rotting vegetation.

While not one of Lynch’s best works, since the “plot” is incomprehensible to follow or make very much sense of, still, Eraserhead is a blueprint for his later works, with odd visuals, and even odder characters, and is to be revered for its imagination alone.

The film is definitely fascinating in its weirdness, but I probably never need to see it again. It’s a must see for any David Lynch fan for the warped experience.

Saw V-2008

Saw V-2008

Director-David Hackl

Starring-Tobin Bell, Donnie Wahlberg

70098905

Reviewed January 9, 2011

Grade: B

The Saw movies are fun, bloody, late night flicks. It is quite helpful if you see them close together, and in sequence, as they either continue or backtrack to previous films- past knowledge is helpful. Saw V is no exception, as we learn the how’s and the why’s of serial killer Jigsaws, apprentice,  detective Mark Hoffman.  What would possess this man to follow in the footsteps of Jigsaw?

In their heyday, the Saw films were intriguing and more cerebral than the standard slice and dice ’em offerings. I like these films because there is usually a plot twist or some other surprise connection to an earlier entry in store. Also, the victims are not merely innocent’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, nor are they killed for the sake of killing. They typically have embezzled someone, maimed an innocent party, or caused someone pain in some fashion, so the audience does not feel sorry for them, making their various tortures tolerable to watch, if not satisfying.

In Saw V, as far as the kills go, we are treated to somebody being sliced in half, a decapitation, another blown to bits by a detonating bomb, bloodletting, a crushing to death, and various other forms of mutilation.

This is all well and good, but by Part V in a franchise, even the most clever of stories runs out of gas, and by this point the series is feeling a little tired, although still enjoyable for the puzzle of story connections. Saw V is a very bloody film, so not intended for the squeamish.

Piranha-2010

Piranha-2010

Director-Alexandre Aja

Starring-Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames

70108986

Reviewed January 24, 2011

Grade: C-

2010’s Piranha is a tongue-in-cheek (I hope!) horror comedy that saves itself from being complete drivel by having some sense of humor. Remarkably, it stars some decent talents- Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, and Elisabeth Shue. The film is pure fluff- not high art in the least, with nary a message or a purpose to be found.

The film is basically terrible, but kind of fun at the same time. It’s complete camp and not to be taken at all seriously. The plot is simplistic and standard horror fare- a school of piranhas are unleashed after an underwater earthquake, kill a fisherman, and ravage a college vacation party on a lake. The college kids come to Lake Victoria to party and lounge on the beach, and typically, are dressed precariously. They are unceremoniously ripped to shred by the angry and hungry killer fish.

Shue and Rhanes must have hit rough times, and have been in need of a paycheck to star in this. They play a Sheriff and Deputy- laughably unbelievable- as they try to protect the beach-goers from a grisly fate. Dreyfuss plays a ridiculous and unnecessary role as the aforementioned fisherman.

On a serious (and sour) note, the objectifying of women is shocking in this day and age. Haven’t we seen enough stereotypes for one lifetime? A few cool kills and humor, but basically a dumb, popcorn horror film.

The Last Exorcism-2010

The Last Exorcism-2010

Director-Daniel Stamm

Starring-Ashley Bell, Patrick Fabian

70136074

Reviewed January 24, 2011

Grade: B+

The Last Exorcism is a really enjoyable independent horror film. I found it unique and creative, and is shot documentary style, so there is a level of watching something new and different in the horror world, that I appreciated. Certainly the usage of either hand-held or documentary footage has been done before, this film feels fresh and not cliche driven. Horror master Eli Roth produced the film.

A doubtful preacher (Reverend Cotton Marcus) who lives in Louisiana, sets out to perform his final exorcism with a documentary crew in tow, only to find a girl who really is possessed by the devil. Cotton is assumed a con-artist, so we doubt he actually can help the girl, which is what makes the film so interesting and unpredictable. What will happen next? Could the girl or her family be frauds?

The film is really scary and contains dark, creepy, ambiance. It reminds me a bit of The Blair Witch Project with the shaky camera and dark, raw tones, and independent nature. Recommended for fans of horror.