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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

April Fool's Day

     APRIL FOOL'S DAY is one of my absolute, all-time favorite slashers, kids. Words cannot express my love and devotion to this film. So much to love here, as it's from the producers of the first four FRIDAY THE 13TH films- and it does have that special feel to it. There are some decent scares, some great atmosphere, the acting is above average, and the script is far more clever and amusing than your typical slasher, not to mention it  has Deborah Foreman (VALLEY GIRL, WAXWORK) and Amy Steel (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2), who help make this movie. This film would not work without these two actresses, and that's a testament to their talents.

        Deborah plays heiress Muffy St. John, a known prankster who has invited her college buds up to her summer island home for the weekend. Of course, being on an island, they find themselves isolated and alone until the following Monday, when the ferry makes its return. And being college kids, the obvious pranks and jokes ensue- but soon the weekend takes a dark, scary turn as people actually start to disappear. Kit, played by the marvelous Amy Steel, is our tough and no-nonsense final girl here once again, and she quickly gets her Scooby-Doo on to unravel the mystery of Muffy and her mysterious island house.  All the while desperately trying to stay alive while everyone around her starts to drop dead...

     What sets this one apart from most run-of-the-mill slashers is that it's actually more of a mystery in the same vein as Agatha Christine's "Ten Little Indians"- and not just an excuse to get a bunch of people together to kill them off. Lots of red herrings and clues abound- is there really a homicidal maniac loose on the island, or is it all just an elaborate April Fool's joke? APRIL FOOL'S DAY is not quite a spoof of slashers, but yet it's not quite serious either... And that's what's refreshing about it- it gleefully sends up every slasher cliche in the book, yet still manages to throw in some good, solid scares along the way.  There's soooooo much to love in APRIL FOOL'S DAY!  

     Deborah Foreman's performance, for one.  She's spectacularly chilling and she kills it here. Her character and mannerisms are 100% unnerving- her off kilter speech patterns, her blank stares- you really believe her acting. She comes across as truly insane and in my opinion it's one of the great performances of the 80's. Amy Steel kicked ass in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 and is just as awesome in this- why she never became a full-tilt-boogie scream queen is a cryin' shame. Love her! In my opinion, APRIL FOOL'S DAY could just possibly be one of the coolest and most intelligent of all the 80's slashers. It's extremely well-written, the characters are very likable, the film moves along at a great pace, and never lags for a second. Director Fred Walton makes the most of the material here, and fellow actors Deborah Goodrich, Clayton Rohner, Thomas F. Wilson, Ken Olandt, Leah Pinsent, and Griffin O'Neal are all outstanding in their respective roles and truly round out a remarkable cast.

     APRIL FOOL'S DAY came along at an interesting time in the 80's. This was when scary movies didn't feel the need to bombard us with big-name stars. These days directors feel the need to throw in as many big names as possible, which can be distracting. APRIL FOOL'S DAY wisely avoids that, and instead gives us a handful of talented character actors who make the most of the material they're given. The film sounds great as well, as Charles Bernstein, who also did the score to the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, delivers an eerie and wonderful soundtrack. As the wonderful tagline for the film says, it's certainly a 'cut' above the rest...



      I remember "Phantasm" being very scary as a kid.  I hadn't seen it since about '83 or '84, so I decided to give it a whirl recently.  While not being near as scary as I remembered, there are still some definitely creepy moments waiting in "Phantasm".  It' such a strange scary movie- and actually kinda silly in parts.  But I can see how it's gained it's reputation as a bona fide cult classic.  

     "Phantasm" goes something like this.  Mike, a  young boy who recently lost his parents, suffers from vivid and terrifying nightmares.  Amidst all this, he uncovers a plot at the local Morningside Cemetery and Funeral Home by a mysteriously tall mortuary worker (Angus Scrimm), who steals corpses and turns them into dwarf-like servants for an alien world.  I'm serious here. That's really is the plot of "Phantasm"...  It sounds ludicrous, but director Don Coscarelli makes it all work somehow.  There are some great, eerie scenes in this movie, and Angus Scrimm makes an unforgettable horror icon with the Tall Man.  The mortuary itself is creepy, and so are the scenes involving the little robed creatures that resemble evil Jawas from "Star Wars".  "Phantasm" borders on high camp at times, especially the blond lady in the cemetery and the infamous flying sphere.  But silliness aside, "Phantasm" has gained a tremendous amount of fan support and is considered a legendary horror movie.  The movie does venture into all-out hallucinatory weirdness after a certain point, and it's kind of off-putting for some.  But there's lots to enjoy about this movie.  It's a surprisingly artful and imaginative little thriller with more than enough genuine shocks.

     It's a definite cult classic, very much like "The Evil Dead" cult, with fans taking "Phantasm" very seriously.  It is a fun movie to watch, especially with the right group of people.  Once again, it's a testament to what you can do with a very low budget and lots of imagination.  If only half the movies released today had this much imagination... "Phantasm" came from that last, great rush of classic 70's horror cinema- the likes of which may never be seen again...  The 70's produced some of the greatest horror movies evah, you know....

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Interesting note- "A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge" and "Fright Night" both ooze homo-erotic overtones...

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Stepford Wives

     One of my favorite cult classics of the 70's is "The Stepford Wives"- the infamous shocker based on Ira Levin's delightfully diabolical novel.  It tells the story of Joanna Eberhart, a big city photographer who reluctantly moves with her family to Stepford, Connecticut- a small, picture-card perfect town that seems too good to be true.  She soon discovers a terrifying secret in Stepford, and that's where the fun begins.

      The women, all glowing in beautiful gowns, act very strange- as if they all wandered off the set of a television commercial.  They seem rather spacey, and very fixated on cleaning, cooking, and other "wifely" duties.  Joanna, a die-hard feminist, feels completely out of place amongst the strange Stepford Wives.  She luckily ends up meeting wacky Bobby (perfectly played by Paula Prentiss), who is a proud lazy slob when it comes to housekeeping.  The two end up banding together as they soon discover the sinister plot behind the Stepford Men's Association, which their husbands have recently joined...

      The movie is a razor sharp look at the Women's Lib controversy of the early 70's. It's smart and sly.  But underneath the slyness, there is a definite eerie vibe to the movie.  Director Brian Forbes purposefully chose bright colors and lots of white, cheery scenes to create a "thriller in sunlight"- which counteracts with the dark elements of the story.  And it works perfectly here.  "The Stepford Wives" has atmosphere for days, and has rightfully earned a place in the annals of 70's horror cult classics.

     This is a movie that does require a little something called an attention span, and offers no blood or gore, if that's what gets you off,  But if you're looking for a restrained, eerie little movie, then this is the one for you.  "The Stepford Wives" is a gem to watch, as it slowly and suspensefully builds to its chilling and unforgettable climax.

     The term "Stepford Wife" has became a staple in pop culture,  but sadly many people have never experienced the movie.  It did spawn two sequels and a terrible remake-  and boy, when I say terrible, I mean terrible.  I was appalled...   Like "Rosemary's Baby" (which Ira Levin also wrote), "The Stepford Wives" is quietly haunting and takes its time getting under your skin. And once it does you'll never forget it.  An infamous horror classic!


The Funhouse

     I can't seem to make up my mind about "The Funhouse"- do I like the movie or not?  The plot goes like this.  On a double date, the guys decide it would be like, far out to, to like go to the carnival and spend the night in the funhouse.  So they do and like of course the final girl's little brother sneaks out of the house and follows them to the carnival.  After it closes down for the night, the two couples silently witness the murder of the fortuneteller Madame Zena and soon find themselves stalked by the same bloodthirsty killer wearing a Frankenstein mask.

     Overall it just seems a bit too campy to really be taken seriously- there's almost a "Scooby-Doo" vibe to the movie.  Which is fine.  I totally dig movies like this.  The use of bright colors, on top of the carnival atmosphere, really give it an almost cartoonish feel.  It's an odd movie.  It's not a terrible movie by any means, but one that just never really hits that high mark.  It's kind of frustrating, actually.  There's something overall missing with "The Funhouse".  What Tobe Hopper did with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Salem's Lot" -I mean , this could easily have been just as horrifying.  Yet... it's not.  I don't dislike the movie, I own it actually.  But I don't love the movie, either.  I honestly think it could've been done better.  On the positive side, there is some creepiness going on here and there.  The scene in the air shaft is quite chilling, the monster himself is pretty scary, and there's tons of shots of dummies, mannequins, clowns, and such that perfectly captures that carnival feel. And it really isn't that bad... or is it?  You decide.

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