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Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Terror Train

     Yet another early 80's slasher film to come from Canada, "Terror Train" hit theaters on October 3, 1980.  Jamie Lee Curtis had already been established as the "Scream Queen" with earlier roles in "Halloween", "The Fog", and "Prom Night", and she would follow this up with "Halloween 2". I really dig "Terror Train".  It's really grown on me and love it almost as much as I love "Prom Night"- which is a lot.  This is 100% prime slasher here.  Shy and awkward pledge Kenny Hampson becomes the victim of a cruel and twisted prank gone horribly wrong. His mind snapping in the process, he is of course instiutionalized.  We flash forward 3 years later to same group of students who are now graduating and decide to throw a New Years' Eve costume party aboard a train. Little do they know that Kenny has boarded the train as well, murderously lurking in a creepy Groucho Marx costume and brandishing a knife.  And it gets even better- David Friggin' Copperfield performs a magic show on the train.  I'm not making this up!  A train hurtling through a dark winter night with Jamie Lee Curtis, David Copperfield, and a murderous lunatic on board?  Hell yes.

      "Terror Train" is not a bad movie as it's sometimes made out to be.  It's certainly no "Halloween", but I find it extremely watchable.  The opening prank scene is genuinely creepy and the movie delivers quite the climax as our one and only Jamie Lee battles the killer to the death.  It certainly picks up steam in the last 30 minutes or so.  "Terror Train" boasts the novelty of the killer donning the costume of his last victim, which is fun, let's be real.  The movie was filmed in Montreal on an actual reconverted train in about three weeks, for you trivia hounds out there.  It's got some great atmosphere shots of the train barreling through a snowy landscape, and the claustrophobic setting on the train really helps the film.  As of now the only Jamie Lee Curtis horror flick that hasn't been remade- although there are talks for one in the making.  Bleh. Bottom line- if you're into early 80's slashers, book a ticket on the "Terror Train" today!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Ring

     I have fought with certain individuals who seem to think a movie cannot be scary with a PG rating.  I find that ridiculous.  I think those certain people are talking about the absence of gore in a PG movie- which I've already said ad nauseum that gore is not what makes a movie scary.  It's suspense- plain and simple.  "The Ring" is what started this argument.  Public opinion seems to be 50/50 on this one- I personally found it to be very scary sitting in the dark watching it for the first time.  Naomi Watts became a star with this 2002 horror flick about a nightmarish videotape that brings certain death to anybody who views it.  Purists disregard this American version of "Ringu"- call me crazy, but I just cannot get into Asian horror.  I don't know why- but I  just can't.  Yes, "The Ring" ushered in "The Grudge" and other knock-offs, but "The Ring" was refreshing and different.

     Naomi Watts plays an investigative reporter who finds the mysterious videotape and watches it.  After viewing, she discovers she has seven days left to live.  She becomes obsessed with finding the origin of the tape and unraveling the mystery surrounding it.  Good, solid acting combined with great cinematography and music make for a tight, satisfying mystery.  Still not sure why some choose to dog this movie- but hey different strokes, right?  (I think some just try a bit too hard to be cool, you know what I mean?  I mean, it is just a movie after all, there's no need to put on airs...)  Samara made for a chilling new movie villain, and the videotape segments are truly disturbing.  "The Ring" doesn't rely on gore to make an impact, and it did make an impact.  A big one.  It ushered in a slew of American remakes of Japanese horror films, which probably has something to do with it's negative reputation.

     Sure the movie has faults- most do- but "The Ring" is still loads better than most horror movies released today.  It supplies a constant feeling of dread throughout, and boasts a truly scary opening segment.  It does help to watch the movie more than once- yes it requires us to use our brains (maybe another reason why some hated it- they actually had to think?), I actually got more out of it the second viewing.  Whether you love it or hate it, "The Ring" has introduced another memorable villain into pop culture with Samara.  I found it to be one of the best horror movies of the decade, and they are few and far between.  Voted #20 on BRAVO's 100 Scariest Movie Moments of All Time.

Friday, October 16, 2009

An American Werewolf In London

     1981 was a great year for werewolves. Not only did we get "The Howling" and "Wolfen", but we were treated to one of the all-time greats, "An American Werewolf In London"- a film that brilliantly mixes humor and horror to create a great monster movie.

      Dr. Pepper's David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are two American students on vacation in England.  While lost in the foggy Yorkshire moors on a full moon, they are attacked by a vicious unknown animal.  In shock after the death of his friend, David Naughton is wounded and hospitalized.  Plagued by bad dreams, he begins to see his dead friend's corpse urging him to commit suicide before the next full moon.  Dunne informs him that he will soon become a werewolf and kill others.  A nurse, Jenny Agutter, ends up taking Naughton home to nurse him back to good health... which leads us to one of the most astonishing transformation scenes in movie history.

     Featuring legendary, still impressive transormation effects (and male nudity...), "An American Werewolf In London" is an almost perfect werewolf movie.  Rick Baker's special effects were so impressive and astonishing, in fact, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences created a specific category at the Oscars for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.  Hard to believe that before this movie, there was no category for best makeup or special effects in the Oscars.  This was back when special effects people actually earned their paychecks without the help of computers and CGI- and one only need to look at the atrocious sequel, "An American Werewolf In Paris" to see the difference between the two. Michael Jackson was so inspired by "An American Werewolf In London" that he based his iconic "Thriller" video on the movie.

     Blending a wicked sense of humor with the horror, it's an unforgettable creature feature with effects that look more realistic than a lot of CGI used today.  And what other film you can think of that merges gut-wrenching black comedy with gruesome horror so well?  In the hands of a less-talented director, this could have come across as nothing more than a horror spoof ("Scary Movie", anybody?)  or cartoonish like "The Evil Dead", but John Landis handles the material with definite ease.  Ignored by audiences back in 1981, probably because audiences just weren't ready for something like this, it's now widely considered a bona fide classic of 80's horror.


The Mist

     Words can't begin to describe the excitement when I first heard about the movie version of Stephen King's short story, "The Mist".  I have been a huge fan of the story since 1984 when I first read it- I always felt it would make an excellent movie. If you have never experienced "The Mist" in short-story form, I think you should, run, don't walk to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy of SKELETON CREW.  It's a fantastic read... Roughly twenty-five years later I finally got my wish.  And I have to say, they almost perfectly captured the essence of the powerful short story it was based on.  If you've read it you can plainly see that "The Mist" couldn't really be much better than it is- which is pretty good.  A couple of slightly hokey CGI effects beside, it's a slick, scary monster mash.

     A freak thunderstorm has enveloped a small Maine town in an unearthly mist.  A small group of people find themselves trapped in a grocery store and soon realize there are things moving about outside in the mist.  Vicious, blood-thirsty things. Terror ensues.  As tensions grow, it's soon discovered the Arrowhead Project- a mysterious nearby military base, is involved.  Marcia Gay Harden chews up more scenery than the monsters themselves as religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody, who is convinced it's all God's revenge on the sins of humanity.  She's hellbent on human sacrifice to save them from Hell's doom.  Which is really what the movie is about- what ordinary people can and will do and become under extra-ordinary circumstances, and the dark side of human nature lurking inside us all.  Yes, I just made that up.

      The controversial ending put off many viewers, while others (myself included) hailed it as ballsy and refreshing.  The director, Frank Darabont, of "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile" seems to be a huge Stephen King fan, as "The Mist" is his third King adaption.  In my opinion, King's short story is one of his most imaginative and scary creations he's ever conjured up, and the movie adaption is pretty darn close to it.  I'm a sucker for a good monster movie anyway, and this one was right up my alley.  Plus, could Thomas Jane be any hotter?  Woof...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Evil Dead

     Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead" is about 5 college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the woods who uncover the Necromonicon, or the Book of the Dead, in the cellar.  Of course, being a horror movie, they unwittingly unleash flesh-possessing demons which in turn begins all the fun.  Raimi, for such a low budget, brought much originality and ingenuity to the movie, which Stephen King himself has described as "the most ferociously original horror film of the year".

      "The Evil Dead" has achieved tremendous cult status, with fans taking it very seriously.  (There is even a musical based on "The Evil Dead"...)  I admire the first film in the series- Raimi really did show tremendous talent with what little money he had- however I do tend to find the series overall slightly overrated.  "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" is basically the same movie as the first, just re-shot with better lighting and effects, and the third film "Army of Darkness", finds Bruce Campbell transported back to 1300 A.D. battling the undead.  I do find the third entry nothing short of ridiculous (sorry!  just my opinion!) - the novelty having long worn off by now and much more of a silly comedy.

     Bruce Campbell seems to be having a ton of fun in these movies, although I have always been frankly puzzled at all the devotion to Campbell and these movies.  Of course the movies are campy and slightly poking fun at the genre- you can see that a mile away, and I appreciate that aspect- I just think they could've gotten a little more creative in the sequels- instead of re-hashing the first one again in Part 2 and taking Ash out of the woods in the third.  But I suppose that happens in most franchises, yes?  Now having said all of this- the original "Evil Dead" contains some great memorable scenes.  The moving camera shots are tremendously creative.  Raimi's use of sound is also very effective- as in the porch swing pounding against the cabin when they first arrive- and the drips in the cellar as they first find the Book of the Dead.  The three girls seem to be having a blast in this movie, and it shows.  They are great fun and manage to keep up with the manic Campbell.

      I remember actually being scared the first time I saw "The Evil Dead"- oh, I guess it would've been around 1984 or so.  That shot of the swamp or bog or whatever it is at the first of the movie stuck in my mind for years after.  I love the shot when the camera decides to start slowly following the car down the wooded lane to the cabin- this movie's got tremendous atmosphere.  Plenty of gore for you so-called gorehounds- although almost cartoonish at times, the inventive camerawork keeps it fresh and entertaining.  Bottom line- Raimi and Campbell were able to create that magic something which most first time directors only dream about that has captivated fans for almost 30 years now.  If only most movies today could muster up even half of that originality...

Of Unknown Origin

     A little-seen gem from 1983, "Of Unknown Origin" contains one of the most disgusting rats ever to grace the silver screen.  I guess I just never really quite understood the loathing of these creatures- but after this movie I definitely look at rats differently now.  They are truly disgusting and frightening creatures.

     Peter Weller plays a successful businessman living in a New York brownstone.  After he sends the wife and kid away for a week, he begins to suspect he's not alone in his apartment.  He starts finding little clues of an unseen visitor here and there.  Soon, an all-out battle for survival is being waged between him and a giant rat.  Some may find this stuff silly, and maybe it is.  But fear of rats is a genuine phobia, and this is by far the most serious movie to address that fear that I've ever seen.  And it does it extremely well.  Like "Jaws", you only get glimpses of the rat throughout the movie- but they sure are effective.

     Revolting close-ups of real rats were used- beady eyes staring, yellowed teeth knawing, glistening, wet paws and slimy tails. POV camerawork is used to great effect in the movie as the rat silently slinks through the apartment and pipes of the building.  "Of Unknown Origin" is a great little creature feature that will give you a serious case of the heebie-jeebies- especially those of you with rat phobias.  Peter Weller does an inspired acting job as his character Bart slowly unravels into near-insanity..  His speech about rats at a dinner party is a delight, at the same time darkly funny yet disturbing.  Stephen King has cited this as one of his favorite movies.  A forgotten and fun little horror movie from 1983.

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