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Sunday, October 31, 2010


     A woman steals $40,000 and flees town.  During a bad thunderstorm, she stops at an out-of-the-way motel to spend the night.  What follows is one of the most infamous scenes in horror history.

               "Psycho" is pure movie-making genius.  Hitchcock's masterpiece is a brilliant exercise in music, cinematography, editing, acting, and directing. I can only imagine sitting in an unsuspecting audience in 1960, completely unaware of what was about to happen on the screen. NOTHING had ever been done like this movie before, especially the infamous 'shower scene'.  With the heroine of the film brutally butchered during the first 30 minutes, Hitchcock suddenly and shockingly announced that from now on, all bets were off.  Horror was no longer safe.  Anything could happen. "Psycho" undoubtedly paved the way for the likes of "Night of the Living Dead","The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and "Halloween", and so many others.  It's so engrained into our culture now that you don't even have to have seen the movie to know the story.  (Although I would have to say you have no business watching movies if you don't...)  You can even buy a shower curtain with "Mother" weilding a knife on it, it's so well-known.          

      Anthony Perkins made such an impact as Norman Bates, that he never was able to escape the role.  He was forever known as Norman.  Can you think of any other memorable role of Anthony Perkins?  He is simply too good in the role.  His Bates is truly spooky- and he cast the mold for Michael Myers, Hannibal Lecter, and such.  "Psycho" was the first true slasher, inventing a genre and changing the face of horror movies forever.  It's Hitchcock's scariest moments on celluloid I think, besides "The Birds".  And still holds up magnificently, especially next to some of the pale remakes bombarding us today.  It's still crisp and fresh.  I can't imagine anybody not having seen this classic example of tension and suspense. And if you haven't, what are you waiting for?  This is one of the greatest of many great Hitchcock movies, and the grandfather (or should I say mother?) of all slashers.  Words really can't do the movie justice, though.  Just watch the movie.  You'll see what I'm talking about.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Haunting

 1963's "The Haunting" just might be the best and scariest haunted house movie ever.  Director Robert Wise has crafted a supremely chilling adaption of Shirley Jackson's brilliant novel, "The Haunting of Hill House".  At turns sad, eerie, touching, and downright frightening, it holds up far better than most modern ghost stories, especially that miserable waste of celluloid that was the remake.  No, the original 1963 version is simply superb and it really could not have been brought to the screen any better.

     Julie Harris turns in an unforgettably haunting (pardon the pun) performance as Eleanore, who is trying to regain her life after taking care of her invalid mother for the past few years.  She joins Dr. Markway and two other ghostbusters (the dependable Russ Tamblyn, and Claire Bloom, as a gasp!, lesbian who has her sights on Eleanore...) to find out what is really going on at Hill House, a brooding, downright scary house with a long history of unpleasantness.

     The scares begin almost immediately as we are treated to the first shot of  Hill House- the house itself just looks wrong, with all its odd angles and brooding atmosphere.  The caretakers of Hill House are extremely creepy as well- Mrs. Dudley delivers a simple and terrifying line when Eleanore arrives at Hill House.  "No one can hear you if you scream.  In the the dark...."  Hill House is all wrong angles and distorted hallways.  It just looks wrong.  

     "The Haunting" contains some truly scary scenes- especially the one where Eleanor thinks Theo is holding her hand to tightly in the dark, only to find out it wasn't Theo holding her hand at all...  Truly one of the greatest horror movies to come out of the 60's, "The Haunting" ranked #18 on Bravo's list of 100 Scariest Movie Moments.  Forget the abysmal remake- just pretend it doesn't even exist.   Watch the original alone in the dark one night and tell me you didn't come down with a good, solid case of the creeps.  And the book that this horror classic is based on is simply one of the best written ghost stories of all time.  Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting Of Hill House" is essential reading- and they perfectly brought to life Jackson's novel.  Like "Rosemary's Baby", the book and film go hand in hand.  "The Haunting" is awesome.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

     Sure, 1981's MY BLOODY VALENTINE is a shameless rip-off of HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, but then again, what slasher released from 1980 to 1984 wasn't ripping them off? It's a beloved Canadian slasher that has gained hardcore cult status, and is one of the more beloved slashers of the 1980's.  I have very fond memories of this movie- many a Friday night was spent breathlessly watching Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers and Harry Warden stalk their victims.  Good, scary stuff!

      Yes, there is a plot, and it goes something like this. Seems the townsfolk of Valentine Bluffs have not celebrated Valentine's Day in twenty years due to a horrible mining accident. The only miner found alive afterwards, Harry Warden, mentally snapped and was institutionalized.  He vowed to seek revenge if Valentine's Day was ever celebrated again. Well twenty years later, the townspeople have decided to ignore Harry's warnings and proceed with the dance. Soon, bloody heart-shaped boxes containing eerie valentines and real human hearts start showing up as warnings, while carefree partiers roam the dark mines, unknowing of the danger that lurks with them. It seems Harry Warden is back, pick-axe in hand. And he's pissed.

      Slashers and horror flicks were a dime a dozen in the early 80's, but something about the holiday-themed slashers really seemed to strike a chord with movie goers- (BLACK CHRISTMAS, HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, APRIL FOOL'S DAY, NEW YEAR'S EVIL, etc...) so of course MY BLOODY VALENTINE neatly fits into this group.

      The film dutifully follows the rules of the slasher handbook, and makes a very memorable entry in the slasher genre. It boasts some great effects, great cinematography, and great locations. They perfectly captured a small mining town, as it actually was filmed in a small mining town. That dark, deserted mine is a perfect location for a horror flick, and murderer Harry Warden is a pretty scary dude. With his gas mask, heavy breathing, and pick-axe, he's not a person you would want to meet in a dark mineshaft. And these guys did it right- they never made a sequel followed by a gazillion others.

Wrong Turn

     A group of young adults in the backwoods of  West Virginia have some car trouble.  As they're looking for a phone, they find a cabin that's occupied by a family of inbred, deformed cannibals who just happen to be hungry.  A frightening chase into the mountains follows.

     As cheesy as I thought "Wrong Turn" would be, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how kick-ass it is. This movie was a complete shock to the system in 2003.  Gory, gruesome, and downright harrowing at times, this was a no-holds-barred return to classic horror, and I loved every single minute of it.  Throw "Deliverance", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "The Hills Have Eyes", and "Just Before Dawn" into a blender, and presto! you get "Wrong Turn".  Yes, we've seen the whole "kids stranded in the woods menaced by a psycho" scenario countless times before, but the story line, special effects, taut direction, and shocking tone more than make up for it.

      "Wrong Turn" did everything a horror movie is supposed to do, for me anyway.  There were parts where I cringed and almost covered my eyes- and yes I did scream out loud during one scene.  Disturbing and atmospheric, yet oddly nostalgic, there is never a dull moment in "Wrong Turn", it just keeps pumping right on til the end.  Yet, it's another one that oddly alot of horror fans seem to not like.  There's plenty of gore to satisfy hardcore fans, yet also offers some genuine suspense and dread throughout.  It's a great and nostalgic throwback to earlier horror films of the 70s and 80s.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


      In the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois, on Halloween night, 1963, a young boy brutally stabs and kills his sister . After being institutionalized for fifteen years, he escapes and returns to Haddonfield, armed with one spooky mask and a large knife.  Sam Loomis, his doctor, is on the hunt to find him before he kills again. 

     What is there left to say about John Carpenter's "Halloween" that hasn't already been said?  This was the movie that made me the horror fan I am today, on top of scaring the hell out of my 9 year old self. And it's still one of my all-time favorite movies of any genre.  "Halloween" is one of the most famous and influential horror films in history.  For what little budget they had, John Carpenter and  Debra Hill made an extremely effective, but completely independent and low budget movie that until 1999's "The Blair Witch Project" was the single highest-grossing independent movie of all time- and scared the pants off an entire generation of movie-goers while doing so.  Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter became household names and Michael Myers became an icon of terror.

     Carpenter's original Michael Myers is so scary because he gives us no back story whatsoever.  All we know is some guy in a really creepy mask is stalking babysitters on Halloween night in a midwestern small town. That's it. It's so blatantly simple. And scary. "Halloween" scares us on a psychological level.  John Carpenter never really gives us a full, good look at Michael Myers really until the last 20 minutes or so.  Like the shark in "JAWS", we hardly ever see him. Only fleetingly, here and there.  He's always silently lurking off to the side, or in the shadows.  We are forced to use our imaginations while watching "Halloween".  John Carpenter expertly strings us along- tensing us up one minute, then allowing us to relax the next.  Then taking us off guard, Michael strikes.

     "Halloween" instantly takes us back to childhood, and how scary childhood could be.  What was that noise outside my window?  What was that shadow?  We all know what it's like to be home alone.  Or the boogeyman in our closet.  Just the word "babysitter" alone used to strike terror in the hearts of many children around the world.  Somehow, you were never as safe as you were with your parents home.  Especially on Halloween night.  "Halloween" personifies everything that scares us, then and now, and does exactly what it was meant to do to us- frighten us to death.  It's so frightening because we relate to it- it's every small town we all grew up in.  From that horrifying opening POV shot to that last, blood-freezing frame, we're mercilessly at the hand of the director- and he knows it.  Carpenter's use of light and shadow, color and darkness, plus that unforgettable music combine to make horror history.

     It's a bona-fide classic that inspired a million knock-offs and changed horror forever.  "Halloween" was no product of Hollywood studios.  This was an organic labor of love by a bunch of twenty year olds making a low-budget, independent movie for about $300,000 because they were passionate about it.  It was truly fresh and inventive, and there's a reason why it was so successful.  John Carpenter and Debra Hill joined creative forces, went against the grain, and came up with a classic horror film that will be remembered forever.  And "Halloween" has probably the most famous score ever for a horror film, besides "JAWS".  Kudos to "Black Christmas" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" for laying the groundwork, and for John Carpenter, who, inspired by it, created and unleashed a horror masterpiece.

Paranormal Activity

     I don't go to the movies often.  In fact, the last movie I saw in a theater was "The Mist", if that gives you any idea.  Why, you ask?  Because the current state of movies SUCK.  That's why.  Modern movies are abysmal, to say the least.  But once in a while, I stumble across a diamond in the rough.  Last night, four of us went to a 9:20 showing of "Paranormal Activity 2".  Almost every seat was filled, and I must say the movie did what very few movies do anymore.  It simply scared the bejesus out of the entire audience. Seriously.  Even the males in the audience had no problem letting everybody else know just how scared they were watching.  I loved this movie- so much in fact, that I felt a look back at the original "Paranormal Activity" was in order.  Now a lot of people hated the first, just as they hated "The Blair Witch Project", "Cloverfield", etc.  I'll never understand this.  I love these movies- they are a breath of fresh air among the tired remakes and even more tired teenage thrillers.  You can keep your "SAW" movies- I'll take me some "Paranormal Activity" anyday.

    First of all- I don't scare easily.  Most horror movies are so formulaic that you immediately know how the shit is going to go down.  Sadly, the 70's and 80's are long gone, and I don't think we'll ever see a more rich, creative era when it comes to filmmaking.  Not just horror, either.  Anyway, "Paranormal Activity" is a prime example of a  fresh, creative horror movie that completely blows away the conventional trappings of your standard, audience-pleasing fare.  Watching "Paranormal Activity", you honestly have no idea what is going to happen.  The film is constantly compared to "The Blair Witch Project", but why is that such a bad thing?  Both movies chose to take a different route- scaring us with something we have never been subjected to before, and choosing to slowly build tension, until full-blown terror sets in.  Instead of yet another "I Know What You Did Last Summer" or even worse, a re-gurgitated version of a classic movie, we are treated to a frighteningly tense and spooky ghost story.  Many people have complained of how "boring" these movies are.  I strongly disagree.  If you think these movies are "boring", I think maybe you just have no attention span.  You might respond more to Rob Zombie's dreadful "Halloween" rip-off instead.  

     What I loved about "Paranormal Activity" is that the director opted for minimal special effects, lighting, and sounds.  Yes, it does start off rather slow.  But it's deliberately slow.  The director wisely figures that slowly building tension is far more rewarding than just hitting us over the head first thing.  One of the major complaints about "Paranormal Activity" is that we never actually see the ghost- just like how in "The Blair Witch Project" we never actually see the witch.  Guess what, peeps?  It's called an imagination, and I highly suggest investing in one.  It's a great thing.  It's what we DON'T see that scares us.  What we can conjur up with our imaginations is far more scarier than any CGI effect they can come up with, in my humble opinion.  But unfortunately, many movie-goers can't seem to use that mass inside their heads called a brain, and must 
have everything shown to them because they can't conjure up the images on their own.  Movies like this a "Blair Witch" offer us a few inches, then we're left to leave the movie and use our imagination, filling in the blanks.  We're forced to think about what we've just experienced, and I sadly think that's what turns many people off.  Because they have to think.  Apparently, a lot of movie-goers are like infants, needing a bottle full of schlocky CGI effects and big-name stars. Sucks for them, I say. The director wisely does not rely on gore, sex, and effects to get his point across.  Suspense and imagination are what makes these movies work. 

      And then there's the hype.  Also just like "Blair Witch", "Paranormal Activity" was so hyped up, and so successful, that a backlash inevitably followed.  For some reason, when something makes a huge impact on pop culture and society, people want to turn around and knock it off its pedestal.  Maybe it's just me, but I would much rather watch a low-budget, independent film with no money but lots of creativity, instead of the opposite.  A huge budget, big stars, and no creativity whatsoever- which applies unfortunately to most scary movies released these days.  Less is always more, I think.  

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hell Night

     Aahhh... the 80's. As many fantastic horror movies came out of that decade, there's something about the year 1981.  It was a magical, mythical year in horror, and "Hell Night" is one of my favorites.  I love it just as much as "Halloween", "Friday the 13th", or "Prom Night"- and that's a lot of love.  It's a total guilty pleasure of mine, a perfect little b-movie.  This is exactly the kind of movie we would rent on Friday nights.  This, or "Happy Birthday To Me", or "Silent Scream".  Plus, Linda Blair is the final girl- I mean- Linda BLAIR in a slasher flick from 1981?  YES PLEASE.  That was all the information I needed to know instantly that I had to see this movie.  I've had a sweet spot for this slasher since I stumbled across it on HBO late one night around 1984. I loved it then, and I just recently watched it, and I'm quite pleased to say I love it just as much today as I did when I first saw it.  Most awesome.

     Starring Linda Blair, Peter Barton, and a half-naked Vincent Van Patton (son of Dick),  "Hell Night" tells the story of  four young pledges who of course must pass an initiation.  To gain entrance into the Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity, they must spend a full night in Garth Manor.  Garth Manor was the sight where 12 years prior to the night, patriarch Raymond Garth murdered his entire family of deaf mute and mentally retarded children.  But legend has it that one of the children survived the madness, and now resides in the crumbling mansion. As if all this wasn't disturbing enough, the upperclassmen have rigged the entire mansion up with enough scary sounds and pranks to send Linda and gang screaming into the night... only they're locked into the estate- with no escape until the next morning.

       Strictly adhering to the now fully-established slasher formula, this one's a hoot from start to finish.  The entire film has a festive and fun tone, which meshes well with the spooky scenes.  Cheesy in parts?  You betcha.  Not only is this an 80's horror classic, but it's a camp classic as well. It's got a great story, great direction, and great atmosphere.

     "Hell Night" is just so darn fun to watch, I absolutely love every minute of it.  This is one of those fun scary movies to watch with that certain group of people, even though I was pretty scared watching this on HBO back in 1984.  It's definitely one of the more interesting stalk-and-slash films to come out of the 80's.   "Hell Night" is certainly no masterpiece, but I can think of hundreds of horror films that are far worse.  It's schlocky and silly and doesn't take itself seriously at all, and that's a big part of why I am so fond of it

     .  Like "Prom Night"- it doesn't have the greatest reputation among horror fans, but I love both of them tremendously.  Of course "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" were going to inspire a gazillion knockoffs, some great, some terrible, and "Hell Night" was one of many released in the early 80's.  A rollicking good time to be had, and Vincent Van Patton is some serious eye-candy.  A half-naked blond surfer running around a dark, deserted mansion?  Sign me up, please.

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