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Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Burning

      A prank on a sadistic camp caretaker goes horribly wrong, ending in him being hideously burned. Five years later, after many failed operations, he returns to Camp Blackwater for some good old fashioned revenge...

     First of all, let's the get the obvious out of the way.  It's obviously inspired by FRIDAY THE 13TH.  Fine. Whatever. But don't let that fool you. THE BURNING is actually an above average 80's slasher that's just as entertaining as FRIDAY THE 13TH if you ask me, and I LOVE those films.

     You get to see Jason Alexander (with a full head of hair), Holly Hunter, and Fisher Stevens way before they were famous.  You get special effects by Tom Savini that are quite gruesome- this movie was banned for years in the UK. It moves along briskly, and reaches a climax of sorts with the notorious "abandoned canoe" scene- it's truly spectacular.  And I loved the music- Rick Wakeman's electronic score is effective eerie and really helps the mood of the film and I'm on a mad search for the soundtrack as we speak.

      No, it's not the best written or acted.  But it has great, creative cinematography and editing.  And you just can't beat the movie's atmosphere. Far superior than SLEEPAWAY CAMP (which is highly overrated in my book...), THE BURNING is almost as if you're watching MEATBALLS at times- with its camp hijinks and total overall 80's atmosphere.  Until Savini's effects viciously remind you that you're watching a slasher movie.

     THE BURNING is unfairly known as just a Camp Crystal Lake clone, but it deserves a bigger audience.  It uses up just about every slasher cliche in the book, even throwing in the obligatory counselors huddled around a campfire being told the local legend and a fellow counselor jumps out of the bushes with a mask on and scares the shit ouf of everybody at just the right moment. Which is great, because there is something about a bunch of people out in the dark woods, huddled around a campfire telling scary stories that strikes a chord in me.

     There will always be something childlike and wondrous about summer camp- which is why I'm so fond of the "summer camp" movies. Cropsy makes a memorable villain in this little-seen slasher from '81 and  I would go so far as to put this in the Top Ten Slashers of the 80's.  A memorable early production of newly formed Miramax Studios.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Howling

     An anchorwoman goes away to a retreat in the woods after being attacked by a psychopath.  But what she doesn't realize is that the retreat is overrun with werewolves...

     Not only is "The Howling" an awesome werewolf flick in its own right, but the fact that it was released in 1981 only ups its coolness factor.  In my opinion on an equal plane with "An American Werewolf In London"- I think they are simply the two best werewolf movies I've ever seen.  I can't decide which I like better because they're both different and I shouldn't even have to compare them in the first place.  I also love "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" equally as well.

     I love "The Howling" because I love Dee Wallace-Stone and as usual she gives a standout performance.  I love the utmost respect "The Howling" has for 1941's "The Wolf Man" and other classic werewolf mythology- and how this movie has that old-fashioned monster movie feel to it. I love seeing a director (in this case Joe Dante) show so much creativity with so little budget.  I love the many in-jokes and references to other figures in the genre.  I love the great and moody soundtrack by the great and moody Pino Dinaggio(who also did the scores for "Carrie" and "Dressed To Kill"...).  I love the cinematography and art direction.  I love the smart satire running fresh through the entire movie.  And of course the werewolf effects are so good that they still haven't been topped today, even with CGI.

      "The Howling" effortlessly meshes scary tension to tongue-in-cheek humor, all without missing a beat.  It's easily one of the best werewolf movies of all time, and has earned the right to stand proudly beside "An American Werewolf In London".  "The Howling" borders on camp at times, but it's overall a spooky and effective movie.  A bona fide 80's classic.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Initiation Of Sarah

    Shy, repressed, and adopted Sarah (Kay Lenz),  goes to college with her beautiful half sister Patti, played by Morgan Brittany.  Patti is immediately accepted into the snobbiest sorority, ran by a wonderfully bitchy Morgan Fairchild.  Sarah is relegated to the more intellectual, misfit sorority with evil house mother Mrs. Hunter (Shelley Winters at her most divine), who takes Sarah under her wing and encourages her to explore and use her telekinetic powers.   After Sarah is humiliated in a hazing prank, she wreaks vengeance on the snobbish sorority, especially Jennifer.

    Gleefully ripping off "Carrie" every minute of the way, 1978's "The Initiation of Sarah" is a campy, over-the-top TV frightfest that has become one of the most famous of all the classic TV movies- famous enough to warrant a remake in 2006.  It's oh-so-watchable...  Aside from above average directing, acting, and cinematography, there is a great, eerie score and a surprisingly racy subplot about repressed lesbianism.  Kay Lenz is sympathetic as misunderstood Sarah, while Morgan Brittany deliciously camps it up as Patti.  Morgan Fairchild is catty perfection as bitchy Jennifer Lawrence and has a field day with her role, and do I really need to say anything about Shelley Winters?  She gobbles up every bit of scenery surrounding her, then spits it all back up again.  

     And of course, like "Carrie", the tension and abuse all come to a rousing and fiery conclusion as Sarah unleashes her telekinetic fury on everyone around her.  I remember this airing alot around Halloween back in the day, and usually on the late show.  This is cheesy 70's fun all the way.  In my eyes, throwing Morgan Fairchild, telekinesis, and Shelley Winters all together in a blender spells F.U.N.  I love this stuff!

Black Water

      A true tale of 3 people vacationing in Northern Australia who decide to take the Blackwater Barry Tour to fish.  They encounter and are attacked by a huge crocodile.  Ending up stranded in the swamps and tree-bound, they try to find their way out of their secluded location.

      As silly as it may sound, I was pleasantly surprised with "Black Water".  I know what you're thinking.  A killer crocodile?  Seriously?  I thought the same thing.  But I took a chance... and was so glad I watched it.    For such a low budget indie production, the effects are some of the better I've seen in a while.  Almost all of the crocodile footage is of actual crocodiles and makes it much more believable.  And being low budget, the director takes full advantage of the situation- I for one find dark, swampy water the stuff of nightmares- who knows what's swimming around down there?  Much like "JAWS", this movie draws on those same kind of fears.  I found myself biting my nails immediately, completely immersed in this movie.  The characters weren't the least bit obnoxious or unlikable, and in all actuality this scenario is not that farfetched.  This could honestly happen, and it wouldn't be pretty if it did.  It's a simple and brutal tale, building slow suspense all the way.  This movie does not follow any kind of formula, and I always welcome that.  I'm always up for a good monster movie anyway, and this one was way better than any killer croc movie I've seen before... as a matter of fact,  have I ever seen a killer croc movie before?  I don't think so...

     With such a simple story, they've managed to create some real nail-biting suspense and tension, especially the night scenes.  Just about everything in "Black Water" works.  This is real edge-of-your-seat stuff- yet I only know of two other people that have seen it, much less heard of it.  Let's face it- most horror movies suck.  I still watch them, but a true good horror movie only comes along once in a while.  This quiet, un-assuming little chiller will probably never have a huge audience, and it's kinda sad.  It's one of the best creature features I've seen in a long time, but unfortunately more people will go see the latest  Michael Bay remake instead.  Oh well, thanks to Netflix I discovered this gem, and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Crowhaven Farm

     Ben and Maggie Hooper inherit an old farm in rural Massachusetts.  Maggie (Hope Lange) is unable to have children, so they hope a move to the country will spice up their relationship.  Upon arriving, Maggie immediately senses something is wrong.  She starts getting strange feelings, like she's been there before, and hearing strange noises.  She also begins to have chilling dreams about Puritans and witch trials, and as she starts to investigate, she finds that the farm was once a place where they tortured and killed many witches.  Mysteriously, Maggie ends up pregnant...

     Obviously inspired by "Rosemary's Baby", "Crowhaven Farm" is a memorable entry in the supernatural craze of the late 60's/early 70's and offers up some great Thanksgiving atmosphere. However, this one is not on the level of scariness of say, "Trilogy of Terror" or "Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark".  This one is much more campy, much more fun.  "Crowhaven Farm" offers up witchcraft, Puritans, torture, and reincarnation- what more could you ask for in a movie?  If this were made today, it would be nothing but special effects- but "Crowhaven Farm" actually could be redone into something interesting, if it were done right. I would hope they would keep it low budget though- I think the low budgets of these movies worked to their advantage.  It just gives them that certain something that just wouldn't work as well in a big budget production.  I think so at least.

     There's something disturbing about the scenes containing Puritans- I've always found them to be slightly unnerving.  But even more disturbing is a scene where a little girl the couple is thinking about adopting crawls into bed with Ben... and is obviously flirting with him.  It's a strange, awkward moment that would never fly today.  This girl can't be more than 11 or 12 years old, and she's trying to nab a piece of Ben!  And then there's Hope Lange- she might not have been the best choice for the role- she comes off a bit spacey at first, so when the witchery begins, you almost expect her to be hearing voices and seeing things.  But still, "Crowhaven Farm" is just too good to be true.

      There is one scene that stands out and is almost worth watching for this scene alone.  Maggie at one point hears a baby crying in the night and wanders out into the woods to find it- and suddenly the baby's crying turns to evil, mocking laughter...  Great stuff.  The ABC Movie of the Week is a lost art form, cheesy to be sure, and one that we'll sadly never see again.  I keep hearing more and more of a box set containing the most famous of these, so keep your fingers crossed, kids.  I distinctly remember this usually airing around Thanksgiving, usually on the late show.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mr. Voorhees...


      So we know all about Jason's mother and all that jazz...  What I want to know is, why does nobody ever mention Jason's father?  I know it's mentioned briefly in the novelization of "Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives", but I honestly don't remember it being mentioned in any of the movies- although to be fair, I've tried to block all after "Part 5" out of my mind...  So, unless Jason was born of a virgin, then who the hell sired such a crazy seed?  Does anybody have an answer for me?  Surely this has come up before- and if it did, then how did it ever escape my radar?  Am I missing something here?  For some reason, I'm dying to know...

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Birds

    So I hadn't watched "The Birds" in a while.  Now granted, I've seen it way too many times to count, as it's one of my favorite movies.  But the mood struck me so hard recently that I decided to blow the dust off and pop the DVD in the other day.  I don't think I can even begin to explain my love for "The Birds".  Really.  This movie works on so many levels it's hard to know where to start.  First of all, I guess, is the premise.  Thousands of birds inexplicably turn against man.  Sound silly?  In a way, yes it is.  But therein lies the horror of it.  We have co-existed peacefully with birds for millions of years, and the chance of it ever happening is slim.   We take birds for granted in our everyday lives- when they suddenly become malicious towards us, it's quite a shock.  Even more disturbing is the fact that we're never given any sort of reason for the birds attacking- nothing.

     When Melanie Daniels (memorably played by Tippi Hedren), arrives in the small, sleepy town of Bodega Bay, California, the birds just suddenly and without warning attack.  Does it have something to do with her arrival?  Or more chillingly, did the birds just decide to attack?  It's a fascinating theory, and not a very comforting one.  Hitchcock wisely leaves it up to us and our imagination...  As mentioned in the movie, if this were to ever take place, we honestly wouldn't stand a chance.  Earth supposedly contains over 100 billion birds.  I've owned a bird, and trust me, they can inflict damage- just one little bird.  Imagine hundreds of birds attacking you... That's some scary shit.

     "The Birds" starts off almost as if you're watching a Doris Day movie.  Tippi Hedren's banter with Rod Taylor in a pet shop is something straight out of "Pillow Talk". This goes on for about 45 minutes, then Hitchcock suddenly sweeps the rug out from underneath us.  When the first bird attack finally does occur, it's an impressively scary left turn into uncharted territory.  By then, all we can do is sit back and watch in horror as the bird attacks get larger and more terrifying.  What's so chilling about "The Birds" is that from the opening scene, we actually see the birds amassing in the background, getting ready to strike- we just don't know when.  And this goes on for quite a while.

     There's a reason why Alfred Hitchcock is called "The Master of Suspense".  Hitchcock builds almost excruciating suspense because unlike the characters, we know the birds are getting ready to attack.  There are many stand-out scenes of horror in "The Birds"- the "jungle gym" scene pictured above, and the "flashlight" scene with Tippi near the end come to mind. The last 30 minutes of the movie is pure and unparalled terror- Hitchcock really outdoes himself in that last attack on the farmhouse- there's an amazing and terrifying sense of madness unleashed as thousands of birds mercilessly attack the boarded up house.

     It's been said that this movie inspired George A. Romero to create "Night of the Living Dead", and it's easy to see how.  A group of people trapped in a farmhouse against a nightmarish freak of nature...  Perhaps the most disturbing thing about "The Birds" is the score- there is none.  Instead of music, Hitchcock opts for the chilling sound of silence to create atmosphere.  Mixed with the bird noises, it makes for a super creepy effect and actually heightens the suspense.  It's a brilliantly done movie, and actually hard to believe that it was released in 1963.  It holds up remarkably well today.  The special effects are still impressive- today it would be CGI overload.  This is probably the greatest of all "nature run amok" movies- perhaps only "JAWS" equals it for sheer impact.  "The Birds" is a fabulous study in film-making- the directing, editing, sound are all top notch.

     "The Birds" is still as fresh and inventive as some movies today- in fact, I shudder to think of the remake.  It would be challenging to pull off the claustrophobia, the fear of the unknown, the slow and sure building of suspense that Alfred Hitchcock accomplished so well with the original.  "The Birds", along with "Psycho" and "Frenzy", are definitely Hitchcock's darkest hours on celluloid.   They certainly don't make movies like this anymore, which is what makes "The Birds" so enjoyable.  It's one of Alfred Hitchcock's last masterpieces.   Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor make a memorable duo, and we're also treated to three fabulous supporting actors- Susanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy, and Veronica Cartwright in her first role.  This is classic stuff all the way.

Below is a fabulous modernized trailer for this classic film.

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