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Monday, July 25, 2011

When A Stranger Calls Back

      Fred Walton (who also helmed the original) returned to direct this sequel to the terror classic that scared millions of babysitters around the world with WHEN A STRANGER CALLS.  Titled WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK, this made-for-tv sequel that originally aired on Showtime back in 1993 is in my opinion, extremely underrated and scary, as many die-hard fans proclaiming it's far more frightening than the original. This film has one goal- to scare the hell out of the audience, and with relentlessly mounting tension and harrowing suspense, for the most part it succeeds. It opens with another babysitter, Julie, played by 80's icon Jill Schoelen. (What the hell ever happened to her, anyway?) This time, a man knocks on the door claiming car trouble and asks to use the phone to call the auto club. Things get scary pretty quickly as Julie soons realizes that he's got more on his mind than just the auto club.

     Just like the original, the sequel boasts an extremely terrifying opening.  Every bit as nerve-wrenching as the original, the film starts off strong and unlike the first, actually stays a bit more interesting in the rest of the movie.  And there are quite a few chilling moments sprinkled throughout the film. Carol Kane returns (in a bit of a stretch) as a counselor who just happens to work at the same college where Julie attends.  Charles Durning also returns as the retired detective who reluctantly goes back to work at the insistence of Kane to find the killer.  It's fun to see the two gang up to help Julie and track down the elusive killer.  Plus, it's got Jill Schoelen, kids.

     WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK has many things going for it.  First, the aforementioned return of Kane and Durning, who actually work well as a cinematic pairing. They click, they have a vibe, and one can almost see the two characters in their own series, tracking down mysterious psychopaths. The movie also uses a great building of suspense- many close-ups of doorknobs and doorlocks for one, and slow, deliberate camera work that achieve an almost excruciating exercise in suspense.  I saw this on Showtime when it first aired, and the three of us watching it late one night were paralyzed with fear.  Fred Walton manages to squeeze every drop of tension out of the material, and it's almost hard to believe that this is just a made-for-tv production. The great thing about the STRANGER CALLS movies are that unlike other splatter and special effects productions, these movies use the opposite approach. The terror here builds inside your head,  where it lingers... Your imagination kicks into overdrive... and suddenly every little noise, every little movement,  become much more scary.  That's the beauty of tension and suspense.  So much more rewarding than intestines.  These are sadly underrated films, and both are very much worth watching.  "Have you checked the children?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Paranormal Activity 2

     Now I have sat through scary movies in theaters before where you almost can't even tell if the audience is awake.  No screaming, no nervous giggling, nothing.  For "Paranormal Activity 2", the audience was completely immersed in this movie- jumping, hiding eyes, screaming, and laughing the entire time.  It was awesome.  I almost expected applause when the lights came up at the end.  People left breathless, excited, and laughing.  "Paranormal Acticity 2" did exactly what a scary movie is supposed to.  I personally found the sequel to be even more scary and disturbing than the original.  And I find it frustrating that so many people out there rip these movies to shreds, yet go on and on about the wonders of the latest "SAW" or Michael Bay remake.  

     I am pleased to say that I found "Paranormal Activity 2" to be the scariest, most disturbing horror film I have seen in years since, well, "The Descent".  I was truly on the edge of my seat, and found myself 100% creeped out by this movie.  It brilliantly knows how to induce real tension and dread.  No, it's not "The Amityville Horror" or "Poltergeist" with over-the-top effects.  It's not supposed to be.  That's the whole point.  It's not often that I'm truly frightened by a movie, especially these days.  Long gone are the day of "Halloween", "Friday the 13th", and "The Exorcist".  Most movies today are just over-the-top gore and effects, because that's all that most filmmakers today know how to create.  Rob Zombie or Eli Roth, anybody?  But once in a while, certain little movies with absolutely no budget but tons of imagination come along and frighten us.  "Paranormal Activity" and its sequel certainly fall into that group.    


     Go and read all the reviews of "Paranormal Activity" on IMDB or Netflix and you'll see that they all pretty much say the same things- terrible special effects, terrible acting, and cheaply made.  Like I said before, if it doesn't have Jessica Biel running around screaming or in-your-face gore, then apparently it doesn't qualify as a horror movie.  All kinds of things can scare us.  Some prefer a more subdued, quiet scare.  Others like to be hit over the head.  I'm not saying that everybody should like "The Blair Witch Project" or "Paranormal Activity".  But I am saying that there are many movie-watchers out there that cry foul anytime something dares to stray away from "formula".  I honestly didn't think I would like this movie near as much as I do, and I'm so glad I saw the first one.  And you'd better believe I'll be there opening night for "Paranormal Activity 3"...

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I can't believe for one minute that this movie has somehow escaped me all my life.  I honestly have no recollection of even hearing about this movie, until a few years ago.  Then, suddenly I was hearing about it everywhere.  So I finally stumbled across a copy of CURTAINS and finally got to experience what all the fuss was about. Wow...

     Full of twists and turns and shocks, it managed to be terribly entertaining and scary.  Finally, a mask that rivals the sheer terror of the original Michael in HALLOWEEN! This killer is absolutely terrifying, and I see now why the infamous "ice skating" scene is so talked about. 

      CURTAINS follows the standard slasher handbook- a secluded location with a bunch of victims just waiting to be knocked off by a masked killer, but there's an actual reason for these ladies to be there in the first place. It's not just a bunch of horny teens placed in the woods to be slaughtered.

     Six actresses are vying for the role of Audra, a play that filmmaker Jonathan Stryker has bought the rights to and is determined to bring to life. It seems that his regular female lead actress, Samantha Sherwood, (wonderfully played by Samantha Eggar, by the way...) has just assumed the role was hers.  However, Jonathan has another vision for the role, and unbeknownst to Samantha, is plotting against her. She checks herself into a mental institution to prepare for the role, and while she's getting her method on Jonathan has secretly invited 6 actresses to his remote estate in the country to audition for the sacred role of Audra. A severe snowstorm leaves the party stranded at the estate, and Samantha, finding out about Jonathan's shenanigans, proceeds to crash the proceedings uninvited. On top of all this, a killer in a very scary hag mask starts killing off the actresses one by one in classic slasher fashion. Who is the killer? Is it Samantha's rage and anger at being rejected as an actress, or is something even more sinister going on here?

     CURTAINS contains some of the creepiest doll scenes of any movie I've seen. Although the spooky doll is used to great advantage for some truly nightmarish scenes, I must admit I'm not really sure how the doll is related to the plot. Nor does my not understanding the purpose detract whatsoever from the terror of the scenes. That damn doll is just as scary as the hag mask on the killer. 

     Shot on location in Toronto, CURTAINS has a great, moody atmosphere that makes one think of that creepy, desolate feeling of the snow covered grounds and dark nights in Bob Clark's masterpiece BLACK CHRISTMAS. Some of the acting is actually quite good, and the whole production seems very well put together. It's a classy slasher, if there is such a thing. Besides the delicious Samantha Eggar and John Vernon of NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE, Lynne Griffin of BLACK CHRISTMAS and the fantastic Lesleh Donaldson of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME both make appearances as well. I would most definitely put this one in the Top Ten Slashers of the 80's- I really liked it that much. It was a spooky good time and iI overall loved it!

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