Total Pageviews

Sunday, February 28, 2010


     An awkward, shy high-schooler buys a delapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury and soon finds himself completely and totally under its spell.  The car, born on a Detriot assembly line, is no ordinary car.  Deep within lives an evil, indestructible vengeance that will destroy anybody who gets in her way...

     There's something fascinating about "Christine"-I'm including both novel and film here.   Of all his books, "Christine" is criminally underrated, especially the ones from his golden years, and upon recently revisiting the book, I still find it to be one of his best.  King takes an unlikely and somewhat silly premise and makes it totally chilling and believable.  As for the movie, John Carpenter did a fantastic job translating it to the big screen.  Carpenter's work is always either hit or miss- and when he hits, it's a home run ("Halloween", "The Fog", "The Thing"...).  "Christine" most definitely falls into the 'hit' category.

     Starting the movie with a sharply compelling look at teenage life in the late 70's,  the movie soon takes a much darker turn as Arnie Cunningham stumbles across the rusty dinosaur that is Christine.  He immediately becomes hellbent on fixing the car up, his own personality making a frightening metamorphosis in the process.  Carpenter has assembled a great cast of actors here, and working from a great script, the movie comes off as far more mature than your average teenage horror film.  The acting is pretty damn good, especially Keith Gordon.  His Arnie is completely believable, and his intimate scenes with the car are honestly frightening.  Watching his transformation from lonely nerd to stud is a tense and creepy process.

      John Stockwell, apart from being great eye-candy and a likable hero, also delivers a strong performance as Arnie's best friend Dennis.  Alexandra Paul adds a dose of camp to the mix, and we're treated to a slew of great cameos- including Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Proskey, and Roberts Blossom.  "Christine" made a huge impact on me back in the day, and it hasn't aged one bit- everything still rings true and holds up just fine today..  And you will never forget the scenes with Christine mercilessly going after the bullies who taunt Arnie, especially the haunting shot of Christine silently gliding down a dark highway in flames.  It's an unforgettable scene, and a truly chilling one.

     Shot during a time when graphic and violent death scenes were extremely popular, "Christine" defied the current trend and managed to be scary without throwing a bunch of blood and guts at us.  With slick, polished cinematography, an awesomely spooky Carpenter score, and a jukebox worth of classic 50's oldies (which highly adds to the overall effect and makes the songs themselves spooky...), "Christine" is a great but lost movie from the magical 80's.  Silly?  Sure.  Let's be honest.  But an oh-so-satisfying revenge flick nonetheless!  Hands down the best "killer car" movie of all time- yet it's also a much more deep look at isolation and the agonies of the teenage years.  Like I said, I think this movie is vastly underrated.  

     Carpenter was definitely in "on" mode with this one- his direction mixed with the cinematography of Donald M. Morgan (which makes great use of the widescreen photography) certainly helps the movie. "Christine" is a completely different kind of horror movie- movies like this don't come along very often.  It's not out to gross us out- there's really only a smidge of blood in the whole movie.  It's more of an eerie little movie.  "Christine" is a great story to begin with.  Let's be real.  I don't honestly see how it could have been brought to life any better- besides a couple of scenes here and there that were cut from the story, for whatever reasons.  I think Carpenter and team did a pretty respectable job bringing King's book to life.  This is John Carpenter at his peak- and his last great effort, in my humble opinion, after the magnificent "The Thing".  This movie deserves the deluxe DVD treatment- hopefully one day we'll see one.  And the book it's based on is an amazingly rich read- it was one of the first King books I ever read, and is still one of my favorites.  I highly recommend taking a ride in Stephen King's lean, mean killing machine.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Legend Of Hell House

     I first caught "The Legend Of Hell House" on cable sometime around 1990 or so and absolutely loved it.  It's a perverse, weirdly chilling haunted house movie that left a lasting impression on me.  Sometimes unfairly compared to "The Haunting", "The Legend Of Hell House" is a perfect example of how a haunted house movie should be made.  There's an amazingly dark tone struck in the opening scene, and it continues throughout.  It's almost menacing.  This is truly the darkest haunted house movie I've ever seen. The strange score, the wonderfully scary setting, and the overall weirdness...  and that movie poster!  I would definitely go see this if it were released today.

     Based on the novel by Richard Matheson, "The Legend of Hell House" tells the story of four psychic investigators (Roddy McDowell, Gayle Hunnicutt,  Pamela Franklin, and Clive Revill),  sent to Hell House to spend one week in it.  Seems a dying multi-millionaire has enlisted them for proof of an afterlife.  They soon discover the strange evil that's possessing Hell House...

      This is a severely underrated  haunted house movie from the 70's- and it should most definitely be seen!  It's a very intelligent shocker, one that does not pander to the teenage crowd.  There's no bits of humor sprinkled throughout.  Hell House is seriously out to scare, and for the most part it succeeds. On top of that, it throws in a good, healthy dose of camp just to make things fun.  The house used in the film is one of the darkest and scariest locations in any movie I've ever seen-the exteriors are actually Wykehurst Park House in East Sussex, and it really does have an effect on the viewer.  The house is super scary.  The early 70's vibe is perfect for this movie- I don't think it would've worked quite as well if it were filmed any more recent than it was.  And something about that music... it really gets under your skin.  From the opening scene, it sets a foreboding tone and is quite effective.  Sadly, this is almost a lost movie.  I ask people all the time about it and many have never experienced "The Legend Of Hell House".  I've turned quite a few people on to this unnerving and brilliant bit of British cinema.  True, there are some moments that border on camp (Roddy McDowall in particular- he hams it WAY up, and the scene with the black cat attack, for one), but overall, it's a very well-made supernatural shocker that is just as scary today.

     You just gotta love those  wild, weird 70's- so many awesome scary movies came from that decade. In my opinion this is actually better than "The Amityville Horror", and is probably the greatest haunted house chiller to come out of the 70's, period.  "The Legend Of Hell House" is like a Hammer movie on acid, and makes a great double feature with 1963's "The Haunting" or "The Innocents", which by the way also features a very young Pamela Franklin.  And one of the most chilling scenes in the movie?  When the four investigators first arrive at the house and Roddy McDowell softly informs them that the windows are "bricked up, so that no one can see in"...  I live for that shit.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark

     Airing on ABC the night before Halloween in 1973, a certain little made for tv movie terrified television audiences with its spooky simplicity.  "Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark" is one of those great ABC Movie of the Week frightfests that has earned almost legendary status, and it most certainly deserves it.  This horrified me as a child, and pretty much everybody else that saw it as well.

      It's a doozy of a story. A sinister tone is immediately set with a snarling black cat, an old mansion, and a dark, windy night. A young couple, Sally and Alex Farnham, inherit an old Victorian mansion from Sally's grandmother.  To our delight, they find an old bricked up fireplace in the downstairs study.  Sally discovers that her grandmother ordered it bricked up twenty years prior, which arouses her curiosity.  Sally downright gets a bee in her bonnet about opening this fireplace, and eventually, so do we. The crotchety caretaker knows the secret, but won't dare give Sally the key.  Sally is a practicaly gal though, and of course gets the keys.

     What she discovers is that these small, troll-like creatures are living in there, and they are quite intent of taking over Sally's soul.  Silly as all this may seem, it works.  It works very well, actually. We completely buy what's happening in the basement of Sally's old, spooky house. The whole thing has a great "Twilight Zone" vibe about it, and in the right atmosphere, watching this alone at night can definitely give you a good case of the creeps.

     As a child of the time, (I was born in '72, but remember seeing this on tv sometime around '81 or so...obviously a rerun.) I found this particularly scary.  What child isn't scared of monsters living in your house, or of the dark?  "Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark" has all you need- a big, creepy house, lots of windswept leaves, groping creatures in the night, and evil whispers in the dark.  Great stuff.  Similar to that other chestnut, "Trilogy Of Terror", it's another sad reminder of the forgotten era of those wonderfully weird made for tv movies of the 70's and 80's.  This is an eerie, fun little movie, and has made such an impact that it has been remade as a feature film with Katie Holmes.  Why in the world they stopped making tv movies like this one is beyond me.  This stuff is where it's at.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Salem's Lot

     Tobe Hooper directs the 1979 made-for-TV movie based on Stephen King's grand opus of horror, and for the most part stays true to the nightmarish novel.  King's story of writer Ben Mears, who returns home to his sleepy childhood hometown in New England and finds it overrun with vampires, is already a great story. With the overwhelming success of "Carrie",  adapting this one seemed a no-brainer.  This is one of the most well-known made-for-TV movies ever made- it was even nominated for 3 Emmys. Originally broadcast as a two-part mini-series, the movie was a ratings smash.

      "Salem's Lot" gave me many nightmares as a kid.  Many.  They were (and still are, if you ask me...) the scariest vampires I'd ever seen, especially the lead vampire, Barlow.  The look of Barlow was obviously based on "Nosferatu", and he's very frightening indeed.  "Salem's Lot" offers many terrifying scenes, but one of the all-time creepiest is the one with the boy vampire floating outside Mark's window, scratching and begging to be let in......  absolutely horrifying.

     The movie has such great atmosphere- it's one of the movies strong points, for sure.  It also lays the tension on so thick from the beginning that by the time we actually see the head vampire, we're already scared to death.  The terror in "Salem's Lot" unfolds slowly and deliberately...building gloomy and downright unnerving tension all the way. There's no humor to lighten up the mood whatsoever, it's pretty much straight-forward horror.  Being 1979, and made for television,  there are a few campy moments sprinkled throughout, but "Salem's Lot" is still the stuff of nightmares.  It takes itself very seriously... it's not trying to be hip or snide whatsoever.  It's trying to be nothing more than SCARY- and it pretty much succeeds.

      This isn't Anne Rice- full of melancholy longing and romanticism.  It's not "Blade"- full of vampires spouting sarcastic one-liners and choreographed martial arts.  And it certainly isn't "Twilight"- these vampires only want one thing, and it's definitely not love...  They are SCARY, and I've yet to see a more frightening vampire on film.  "Salem's Lot" has plenty of nicely crafted scare sequences and a great, moody score.  This is classic horror, kids.

     Keep your 'tween vampires- this is still one of the best vampire movies of all time.  As great as the movie is,  I recommend reading the excellent book first.  It's second only to Bram Stoker's "Dracula" as one of the greatest vampire novels of all time, and Tobe Hooper did an excellent job of bringing it to life visually.   If you're going to watch it, and why wouldn't you- make sure you watch it in it's complete uncut form- not the edited version!  Trust me on this!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Damien: Omen 2

     "The Omen" was such a blockbuster success in 1976 that a sequel was inevitable.  Gathering up another stellar cast, along with the great Jerry Goldsmith returning, "Damien: Omen 2" attempts to continue the pace and style of the original.  It mostly succeeds.  Some shortcomings aside, it still manages to entertain and becomes quite shocking. William Holden was the first choice to play Gregory Peck's character in the first "Omen" movie, but turned it down because of its diabolical nature.  After seeing the enormous success of "The Omen", he suddenly changed his mind and signed up to play Peck's brother, who's now taking care of 13-year old Damien.  Lee Remick was a fan of the original and took the role of Holden's wife, Ann.

     Our little Damien is now enrolled in the military, and on the verge of discovering his true identity.  The always welcome Lance Henriksen shows up as Damien's drill sergeant, acting as mentor and watchdog.  The film received mixed reviews upon its release in 1978, and was a modest hit.  Richard Donner, who directed the first "Omen" movie so wonderfully, was busy on "Superman", and his presence is sorely lacking. Still, "Damien: Omen 2" has some memorable scenes, and Jerry Goldsmith's score helps alot.  The menacing dog from the first is now replaced with a crow and some of the "accidents" are quite grisly- probably the most famous being the woman whos eyes are pecked out by the crow.

     The appearance of William Holden and Lee Grant do add a touch of class to the project. "Damien: Omen 2" can be somewhat frustrating- with the right editing, it could have been really good.  And, it does run about 30 minutes too long.  Although Billie Whitelaw's presence is sorely lacking, it's still a fun ride and a pretty decent sequel.  This is the movie where Damien actually learns who he is and what his purpose is.  Jerry Goldsmith once again delivers a deliciously menacing score.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


     One of the best (and most underrated) Stephen King adaptions of all time, "Cujo"is a tense, claustrophobic shocker that contains some truly phenomenal acting by one of the great scream queens of the 80's, Dee Wallace-Stone.  This woman is severely underrated as an actress- and it's a shame.  She's 100% believable in any role she takes on, but this might be her crowning achievement.  And young Danny Pintauro equally holds his own.  It's a true tour de force of acting.

      A woman and her son are trapped in a pinto during a summer heatwave by a hulking, rabid St. Bernard at an isolated farmhouse.  Nobody's home, except the dog.  The movie starts out slow, but once Dee and Danny arrive at the farmhouse, the movie kicks into high gear and the wait pays off.  "Cujo" is jam-packed with sweat-inducing tension that never lets up once it gets going.  The special effects are also superb- no CGI used whatsoever.  "Cujo" did not recieve the marketing or attention that other King adaptions received, but is now finding more and more of an audience.   I for one do not understand the negative criticism heaped on this movie- like I said, the acting and effects are amazing, especially for the time.   You can't deny the film's power to disturb- it really does stress you out, especially with Danny Pintauro screaming at the top of his lungs during the last half of the movie.  "Cujo" is not a cheesy horrorfest whatsoever- it's a realistic and unflinching creature feature.  This could happen, within reason. And "Cujo" dares to include something rarely found in most horror movies- character development.

     Some complain of nothing happening in the first 45 minutes or so, yet I see it as allowing the audience to really get to know these characters.  Dee Wallace is so likable in this role (or any other, for that matter...), that by the time the showdown between Dee and Dog occurs, it only makes us that more scared. Dee and Danny bring depth and resonance to the film.  I love this movie. It is one of my favorite of King's novels and screen adaptions.  A lost classic of the 80's,  "Cujo" ranked #58 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. The 25th Anniversary Edition DVD contains a fascinating 3-part documentary- "DOG DAYS: The Making of Cujo" that explains how they pulled off some of those unforgettable stunts

I in no way claim ownership of any image or video used on this blog.