31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN: CATCHING UP WITH CAPSULE REVIEWS
I decided to go ahead and do smaller reviews to get myself caught up. I plan on doing full reviews the rest of the way out, but it takes me right around enough time to write each full review that I just don't see how I will ever get caught up at the rate I'm going. After this I will be able to do one at the end of the day or the next morning each time as I view a new movie. So here are the highs and low points of the last few movies I watched. Enjoy!
THURSDAY OCTOBER 4TH - BLACK SABBATH (1963)
As much as I love Italian horror films, I've only seen one of Mario Bava's (Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve); I have seen two of his other films but one was a mystery and one was a sex comedy of all things, and not a very good one. So with events like this I'm trying to remedy that lapse in my film viewing history. Black Sabbath is an anthology - which I'm also usually a fan of - and the film has always gotten great word of mouth so I decided to start here. I have to say overall I was a tad disappointed.
The first story, The Telephone is about a call girl getting a string of strange and threatening phone calls; she thinks it's her former pimp who recently escaped from prison and so she calls her lesbian lover over (And why shouldn't she?) to help her feel safe I guess and there are a couple of twists along the way. It's a decent enough story, but it only seems to really get going once it ends. Next is the longest of the three stories, The Wurdalak, and my least favorite. From what I've read this is most people's favorite story, so maybe I'm an idiot. The usually reliable Boris Karloff overacts his ass off as a guy that returns to his castle after being missing for the past five days. The whole affair is a pretty generic vampire story, and it goes on way too long. I wish they had trimmed a little bit off of this story to be able to add a little more to the first one. The third story, The Drop of Water, appears to be most people's least favorite, and I found it to be the most effective. It is flawed for sure and very little happens. However I found the whole affair about a nurse being haunted by the ghost of a lady she stole a ring off of after she was dead to be pretty creepy. Overall I found the film to be pretty mediocre, but I seem to be in the minority with that assessment.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 5TH - THE HOWLING (1981)
1981 gave us what many people consider to be the two greatest werewolf films, An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. The answer to which of those you prefer divides the horror fan community much like the Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate divides sci-fi fans (Trek all the way, baby!). Although you will have the occasional snobbish asshole that will pick Wolfen, which also came out that year, but fuck them!
I've always leaned a little more toward The Howling, but it's very close. I do love me some AAWIL. I decided I wanted to re watch some of my favorites from the past that I hadn't seen in awhile along with watching new horror movies this month, and The Howling qualified. To the best of my knowledge, The Howling is the first werewolf movie to show the creatures as a pack instead of a sad loner that really hated the curse. These werewolves, including a couple that they turn during the film, seem to relish in what they are, and they all even congregate at this spa resort/rehabilitation center to hang out and kill any non-werewolves that choose to visit.
The film is directed with inspiring intensity and a love of the genre by the great Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace, and the Burbs). And it was written by John Sayles (Lone Star, Eight Men Out), so there is a lot of talent involved behind the scenes, and Rob Bottin's creatures are just as impressive as Rick Baker's are in AAWIL. I personally love the bunny ears. The film manages to be very tongue in cheek and scary at the same time (Ala Scream). It's just a very fun werewolf movie, and there aren't that many of them. I can't recommend it enough if you haven't seen it.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 6TH - THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)
I went through a pretty big Edgar Allan Poe faze in high school. I read pretty much everything the guy had written. I know at the time I tried to watch a few of the film adaptations, and I'm sure they could have been the Roger Corman ones, but I was too much of a book snob at the time to get through them. I was so rebellious in my teen years.
I probably should have started with a different one than this. This was the seventh and final of the Roger Corman directed adaptations, and it was only a four year period that these seven films were made. Not to mention Corman directed quite a few other films in this period as well. It really makes me wonder what a Corman film would look like that he actually spent a year or so on. But the film feels pretty tired, and while Vincent Price is fun, he does seem to be going through the paces (he was in I believe, all of these films as well.).
The main problem is that Masque barely has any plot to speak of, so not only do they have to pad a very short story into the length of a film (87 minutes or so) they have very little action to work with on the printed page. They do something semi-clever by incorporating another Poe story, Hop Frog, in as a sub-plot, and they both deal with over privileged royalty being a bunch of dicks so it kind of works. However, the film just doesn't work that well and I hope I find the other Poe adaptations by this group to be a lot better than this.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 7TH - THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933)
This is the original of the wax museum movies; the movie was remade twice under the name House of Wax. Lionel Atwill plays a sculptor whose wax figures might be considered so life like because they are freaking humans covered in wax. A reporter (Florence Dempsey) starts getting suspicious after she is sent to investigate the suicide of a model and finds that a wax figure of Joan of Arc looks suspiciously like her.
The movie is not bad although it is nowhere near as creepy as the premise would suggest, and while I don't have many memories of the 1953 version with Vincent Price, I can tell you this is a hell of a lot better than the 2005 film. The film does get bogged down with a silly subplot about Dempsey and her editor's (Frank McHugh) desire to bang her something fierce; it even ends on the resolution of this storyline and makes the film feel a lot more like a screwball comedy than a horror/mystery. But Atwill is very good as the villain of the piece, and there is enough here to make it well worth watching if you are looking for an older creep fest and you've seen the Universal monster movies enough times already.
MONDAY OCTOBER 8TH - CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984)
I haven't seen Children of the Corn since I was a kid, and all I remember is that there was some dude named Malachi and it freaked the shit out of me. I was an easily persuaded kid I guess, because there is nothing about this movie that is even remotely creepy. I wish I had reread the Stephen King story before watching this (it's only like ten pages), but I'm pretty sure almost nothing in this film was actually in the story. I think the basic set-up is the same but then they just kind of go off on their own after that. Mind you, it's not the in title only adaptation that The Lawnmower Man was (another ten page story), but whatever it is it's stupid.
It's a very simple premise. Kids take over a small town; a couple of adults show up, and they decide to kill them as well. The kids are possessed by the corn hence the title and worship He Who Walks Behind the Rows. The whole thing is as stupid as it sounds, and the film seems to rely on the scenario that if there is religious fervor (Ala The Exorcist) it has to be scary; well, it's not.
Maybe it's not the worst King adaptation - the aforementioned Lawnmower Man is worse - but it's not far off. What's kind of crazy though is all of the sequels (most of them direct to video) and even a remake a couple of years ago made for the Syfy Channel that the film spawned. It was a modest hit, but has never been exactly loved by much of anyone so I'm not really sure how all of the follow-ups happened, but obviously someone is watching them. I will not be.
TUESDAY OCTOBER 9TH - MIDNIGHT MATINEE (1989)
It has been a long time since I've had to resort to the cliche of "I would love my hour and half back," but I'm calling it in for this shitty Canadian import. First off the film isn't much of a horror film - Netflix had it categorized as one so I went with it - and what little I could find written on the film classified it mostly as a mystery, and it's barely that. It's really not much of a film so I don't even know where to go with the genre arguments.
The movie revolves around a horror film festival somewhere in British Columbia. There was a murder in a theater during one of the films a couple of years ago and it paralleled what was happening on the screen. In present day they decide to put on the festival again because the town really needs it or some such nonsense. There seems to only be about forty people that live in the town so I'm not sure how a horror film festival is that important to anyone. They even have a premiere of some huge sequel to a long running series; it would be like if one of the Saw films when they were huge was premiered in some small town in Montana.
The majority of the actors appear to have no emotional investment in anything that is occurring; the one guy who actually shows a little bit of pizazz if you will, is the first one to die in the present day scenario. The story is told so disjointedly and poorly, I didn't even realize toward the end that they were telling us who the murderer was. The movie doesn't even offer up any red herrings; I wasn't really sure if this was supposed to be a surprise. And please understand this isn't a so bad it's funny kind of thing; the movie is just dull. Unfortunately on week nights I'm not getting to watch my movie till around 9 or so and even thought twenty minutes in I knew this film was a bad idea I didn't really have the time to start something else. If this had been a movie I started watching on Friday or Saturday I would have just watched another movie instead.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 10TH - BURN WITCH BURN (1962)
Burn Witch Burn (aka Night of the Eagle) is a pretty cool British thriller that I had zero intention of watching. I had checked out my netflix queue earlier in the day and decided I was going to watch Witchfinder General. I came to the first movie with "Witch" in the title and hit play. I realized about ten minutes in I wasn't watching the right movie, but I decided to go with it. Maybe I'll catch General later in the month.
Peter Wyngarde plays a psychology professor that discovers his wife (Janet Blair) is practicing witchcraft. He decides to put a stop to what he considers a bunch of nonsense, and soon finds out that not only is it not hooey, but his wife might very well be performing the black magic to protect him from something a little more sinister. All of a sudden a student is accusing him of inappropiate behavior, her jealous boyfriend tries to beat the shit out of him, and his wife comes at him with a knife.
It's a twisty little supernatural thriller, that unlike a movie such as Midnight Matinee, actually knows how to tell a convincing mystery. The reasoning behind all of this mess is so simple it works beautifully and while the title doesn't make a whole lot of sense, the original moniker of Night of the Eagle makes even less. A very slight negative though; this movie is a lot of fun and was a nice surprise that I should have never even seen.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 11TH - SILVER BULLET (1985)
Silver Bullet is an underrated Stephen King adaptation; although it has developed a decent cult following over the last decade or so. It's also adapted from an underrated Stephen King novella, Cycle of the Werewolf. And it's a great werewolf movie which as I mentioned in my review of The Howling, there aren't a whole lot of those.
The story revolves around a small town that has experienced a recent string of murders, and a young boy played by Corey Haim discovers that a werewolf is behind the killings but no one believes him. He finally convinces his crazy, drunk Uncle (Gary Busey) that he's not full of shit.
King wrote the screenplay, which is rarely a good thing (The Shining remake, The Stand, etc.), but it works in this case. With the exception of maybe Stand By Me, I don't know if King's love of small town U.S.A. has ever been captured so well visually. And Haim's inspired performance gives the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" tale a lot more intrigue than it would have had in lesser hands. The movie also does a great job of hitting the ground running; after the first twenty minutes of the film four people have already been killed including a little boy; the movie doesn't fuck around.
One strange narrative choice was to have Haim's sister in the movie be the narrator of the film. First off the film doesn't really seem to need a narrator, and secondly, she's not in half of the film and couldn't possibly know about most of the stuff she talks about. But there is way too much to like to let something like that hamper the film down. It's a no nonsense kind of horror picture that knows exactly what it is and while it's not exactly scary (although one scene with Haim trapped on a bridge and the fact that he's stuck in a wheelchair makes for a pretty intense sequence), it's well done and is just a really fun story. It's one of my faves from my childhood and holds up just as well today.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 12TH - SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)
I had every intention of watching a movie that fell better into the horror category after my wife and I watched this, but I decided actually getting some sleep might be fun after my daughter went to bed exceptionally early, so by default Snow White got counted. There is an evil Queen who's basically a witch and a dark forest. It's kind of a cheat but not a horrible one.
However, the movie is not very good and even though I am only a day removed from watching it, I don't remember a ton about it. I usually make some notes, but since I didn't think this would be my movie for the day I didn't in this case. It follows the more traditional tale of Snow White which is much darker. And while I have not read the original fairy tale, things from the Disney version like the seven dwarfs and the "one true love" kiss feel very forced when they happen. I was very impressed with the special F/X involved with the dwarfs. These are actual sized people like Ian McShane and Nick Frost playing them and made to look smaller; I assume it's the same process used in the Lord of the Rings films, but it's impressive nonetheless.
The one consistent rave about the film seemed to be Charlize Theron's performance as the Evil Queen. And while she does fair better than the rest of the cast (especially Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman who is very hard to understand), I found her to be a little overindulgent with her line deliveries. She also speaks in this very hushed tone that played havoc with the audio; I would have to turn it way up to hear her and then whomever she was talking to would just about make you deaf .
I found the whole affair to be pretty blah.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 13TH - STEPHEN KING'S GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990)
This is my third King adaptation in a week and my 2nd based on a story that's only ten or less pages. Much like Children of the Corn this one has to be padded out quite a bit, but from what I remember this is essentially the short story. There is some kind of bat like creature and some rats terrorizing an old mill and killing off a bunch of the workers. They just add quite a few more deaths than the short story had.
Still, the best that can be said for the film is that it's not the worst Stephen King adaptation (see Corn, Lawnmower Man, Maximum Overdrive, or The Mangler). The film is played way too straight for a story involving a giant bat creature killing a bunch of people; the only two actors that seem to get this are Brad Douriff (who plays an exterminator) and Stephen Mact (who plays the owner of the mill) and therefore their performances feel like they are coming from a better movie.
Also, the set designers go way overboard with how disgusting the mill is. There is absolutely no way anyone (no matter how badly they needed money) would work in a place like this. It would be very easy to get the place shut down and at the very least there would be a ton of lawsuits by the employees for the conditions they were stuck in. They even mention that some of the workers are union. What union would allow their workers in a rat infested environment that wasn't say a sewer?
Despite that problem, if you just made the whole thing a little more fun I maybe could have gotten behind it better. But I could never take this film as seriously as the people involved did, so it just kind of fell flat for me.
So there you have it. I am now caught up. Tomorrow I will be venturing to the theater to watch a new horror release and might even sneak a 2nd film in for the day. You never know. And once again any suggestions are welcome in the comment section; I would like to watch more nice suprises like Burn Witch Burn and less crap like Midnight Matinee.