Friday, October 28, 2011

It's the most spook-tastic time of the year!

As is my habit in October, I've been gorging myself on horror movies - more than usual, I mean. I'm making a concerted effort to fill in gaps in my genre knowledge, which means I've exposed myself to some real gems.

The Stuff - Oh, how I wish I could describe to you how amazing this little 80s nugget from Larry Cohen is, because a plot summary won't do it. "The Stuff" is an edible substance that becomes a huge craze all over the world, replacing ice cream as the dessert of choice. But the movie's tagline says it all - are you eating it or is it eating you? LOVED this movie. Michael Moriarty is genius. Larry Cohen even more so.

The Howling - I'm not sure why I'd never seen this before. This may be the best werewolf movie ever, and I'm pretty sure I like it more than American Werewolf in London (which I also love, but not as much as The Howling). Most notorious scene is obviously the moonlight wolfsex scene, but the transformations are really spectacular. There's an actor named Dennis Dugan in this, and I couldn't keep myself from remembering him from a trailer for another film - one of those "ain't those gays hilarious" comedies from the 1970s called Norman, Is That You? (starring Red Foxx). Dugan is also the man who's directed most of those horrible Adam Sandler comedies, including the forthcoming Jack and Jill. He's fine in The Howling, but I'm afraid his career prejudiced me against his character. :P Oh, and Dick Miller is in this, which makes this movie 100% cooler than anything not including Dick Miller.

Something Wicked This Way Comes - If you're looking for something not terribly scary and not too gross, this is an EXCELLENT Halloween flick for the family. Reminds me a lot of Stephen King stories, which is inevitable, I guess, as the novel was supposedly a huge influence on King's work. Jason Robards is great in this as the guilt-ridden father. Jonathan Pryce is wonderful, too, as the sinister and aptly named Mr. Dark.

Creepshow - Speaking of Stephen King, this was one I'd never seen in its entirety. It's an anthology film (or portmanteau, if you will), and features five stories, all written by King, with a bookend story featuring TOM ATKINS OMG. The fourth story, "The Crate," is probably my favorite, mostly because it has the awesome Adrienne Barbeau in it ("I know all the best stores."). The one with Leslie Nielson and Ted Danson is great, too. The one starring King himself is a bit weak, and "Father's Day" seems far too short (though it does have the most fantastic, incongruous dancing-around-the-house scene EVER). The standout, though, is the last segment, "They're Creeping Up On You," with E.G. Marshall as the germophobe whose pristine apartment is completely overrun by cockroaches.

[REC] - This is another one of those "found footage" films, a la Cloverfield, and it was remade almost shot for shot a couple years after its release as a movie called Quarantine (directed by the Dowdle brothers, who also made the BNAT9 dud The Poughkeepsie Tapes). This was quite good, and I loved that the sickness was thought to be what people in older times believed was demon possession. (Not that I don't believe demon possession is a real thing, but it was an interesting detail.)

The Fly (1986) - Oh, WHY couldn't Cronenberg have done Breaking Dawn?! I know it's only a dream, but the horrible baby!Brundlefly birth is AMAZING. Jeff Goldblum is so great in this, but the star of the show is the special effects. This movie is a perfect example of why I will wave my flag for actual makeup effects and practical stuff over CGI any day. Also, this movie is SO GROSS EWWWW.

Candyman - Yes, I totally believed in the legend when I was growing up, and NO, I will not ever stare into a mirror and say it five times. Nope. This is a darn good horror movie, with a great "is this real or is the character crazy" dilemma. The ending is your typical horror movie gotcha, but after what happens with the character in question ... it's kind of satisfying, to be honest.

The '81 Slasher Triple Feature - All three of these were released in 1981, kind of the Golden Year for the subgenre. It's interesting to look at these and see how much they have in common, down to specific scenes and shots, in some cases.

The Burning - Classic campsite slasher with some notable "before they were stars" performances - Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens (and Fisher Stevens' ass in the World's Most Unappealing Moon Shot). Half of this movie is Meatballs, but when the horror kicks in, it REALLY does. The most famous (and infamous) scene in the film is the Raft Scene of Death, where the killer abandons the traditional one-by-one stalk-and-slay and lays waste to half a dozen kids AT THE SAME TIME. Also unconventional in that, instead of a final girl, it's a final boy - a boy who is not even a terribly sympathetic character.

The Prowler - This is touted by horror fans as a fairly legendary early installment in the slasher genre. I didn't really see what was so special about it, other than OMG A GAZEBO DEATH in the first ten minutes. This has a lot in common with the original My Bloody Valentine, which also came out in 1981, notably its use of the party/event where something bad happened, leading to the town never having the party/event again (at least for several years), leading to the inevitable reestablishment of the party/event, which also inevitably leads to the something bad returning. The killer even wears a mask that looks a lot like Harry Warden's gas mask from MBV.

Friday the 13th Part 2 - The last F13 movie with any kind of respectability. Ginny (played by the incredible Amy Steel) is one of the great final girls in ... finalgirldom. Right up there with Chainsaw's Sally and Halloween's Laurie, as far as I'm concerned. The way she thinks through and outsmarts Jason - down to putting on the dead Mrs. Voorhees's smelly sweater and pretending to be her - is above and beyond the typical final girl badassery. Oh, and the opening murder of whatsername (the final girl from the first movie) is pretty dang awesome - Jason frikkin' TRACKED HER DOWN!

The "Peter Jackson Is Twisted!" Double Feature

Dead Alive - Possibly the most disgusting movie I've ever seen, but also really funny. You'd never guess, just going from the LOTR movies, that this kind of thing was lurking inside that sweet Kiwi man. There's a sequence where the hero is fighting an evil baby in the park that is one of the most hysterical things I've seen in a movie. The climax, though - where the hero experiences an all-too-literal Freudian rebirth - is seriously disturbing.

Bad Taste - This is one of Jackson's first films, and while Dead Alive (or Braindead, as it was originally called) put Jackson on the map, this film gave him a career. It is low budget genius, and Jackson actually plays a couple of roles in it. It's kind of awesome that this and Braindead were the kind of films he was known for when he got the Lord of the Rings gig.

The "Mannequins are EVIL" Double Feature

Tourist Trap - Classic stranded-in-the-middle-of-nowhere plot, but with CREEPY MANNEQUINS and TELEKINESIS! Normally, my big screen is the best way to see any film, but I should NOT have seen *this* film that way. First ten minutes kind of broke me. If you find mannequins creepy AT ALL, this movie will freak you out. Chuck Connors is awesome in this, though, and oh, that last shot is hilariously disturbing.

Maniac! - I had been so scared of seeing this, but coming right on the heels of Tourist Trap it was a breeze. This is a pretty great flick, though - one that gets slapped with the misogyny label pretty often (and wrongly, in my opinion). The gore is wonderful, Joe Spinell is fantastic, and it's a glimpse at that creepy, grimy, early 80s New York that a lot of grindhouse movies exploited so well. It also, like Creepshow, has a wonderfully incongruous musical moment, when the main character (Frank) goes to a photo shoot and we hear the wonderful "Showdown," which has the following classic lyrics:

Put on something nice
Just in case you die.
You'll leave a pretty corpse behind--
Yippee ... ki yo ... ki yaaaaay!

Asylum (NOTHING is more awesome than this image!)
I *LOVED* this movie! This 1972 anthology movie stars Peter "Van Helsing" Cushing, Herbert "Inspector Dreyfus" Lom, Frank "Clockwork Orange" Magee, Robert "Jesus of Nazareth" Powell, Charlotte Rampling, and Swedish siren Britt Ekland. There are a handful of stories, all told by patients in an insane asylum, and Robert Powell has to guess which one of them is the former head of the hospital - as a test to see if he gets the job as the former head's replacement. "Frozen Fear" is brilliant, especially when the chopped pieces of a dead body reanimate and get with the murdering. But the greatest of the stories is "Mannikins of Horror," in which Herbert Lom's character has built a little robot version of himself (with real human guts (!!!), which you see when the robot gets crushed). There is nothing more magical than the sight of that little robot sneaking around (very slowly) and hiding in shadows to escape detection.

The Sentinel - This is another great "crazy-ass 70s" movie, in which a model rents an unbelievably affordable apartment in New York, only to find out that the building is a portal to hell and that she's been chosen to be the new gatekeeper. There's lots of hilarious things in it, such as Burgess Meredith throwing a birthday party for his cat (which he forces to wear a little party hat). It was fairly controversial when it came out, too, as the director chose to cast deformed people as the demons for the climax (I recognized one of them as an actress from Mutations, which played BNAT 6). This is also another all-star cast - the aforementioned Meredith, Chris Sarandon, Ava Gardner, Beverly D'Angelo, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, a mustachioed Jerry Orbach, Sylvia Miles, and Eli Wallach, among others.

Trick or Treat - Not to be confused with 2007's Trick 'R Treat. This is ... not a great movie, horror or otherwise. It's a slice of 1980s cheese, starring (STARRING!) the kid who played "Skippy" on Family Ties. There are some cool cameos from Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne and some rockin' (if still pretty bad) 80s hair metal music, but it's not great and its relationship to Halloween (as you'd think would be substantial, given the title) is tenuous. The thing that I will remember it for, though, is where I saw it. There's a little theater in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) called The Nitehawk, and until the Alamo Drafthouse decides to open a theater here, this is the closest thing we've got to it. They've got the "dinner and a movie" gimmick, and you can tell that they've got a similar love for movies that the Drafthouse does, but they're just now kind of building their programming cred, which is what makes the Drafthouse stand out. This month was, I think, their first attempt to actually do non-first-run movies, and they're off to a good start, but there's a long way to go. My favorite part of the screening was the series of grindhouse trailers that made up the pre-show - there must have been about twenty, and almost all of them were spectacular and very reminiscent of my fondest memories at the Alamo. The trailers didn't belong to the theater, though, and it makes me sad that that won't be a regular feature of screenings. I understand they do have clips and things playing before all the movies, but ... I'm so spoiled on the Drafthouse that I fear it will pale in comparison.

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