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...:::General Horror:::...

Re-Watch Review:: Magic (1978)

August 8th, 2016 · 2 Comments

Take heart kiddies, for every movie that is not quite as good as you recall there is another film that is way better than you remember. Take RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH’S 1978 deadly dummy opus MAGIC for example; once you adjust to the idea that there’s nothing supernatural going on, it’s really a fantastic, character-driven, psychological horror movie. My history with the flick goes like this: the notoriously kindertraumatic TV commercial creeped the crap out of me as a critter and then when I mustered the bravery to watch the movie as a teen (in the height of the gore boom), I found it to be as threatening as a splinter. Maybe my bloodthirsty expectations were too high but sorry, the bludgeoning of BURGESS MEREDITH wasn’t going to cut it. Flash forward to today-ville and I’ve changed my plea to semi-obsessed. I’d say the changing of my tune is due to my need for on screen violence lessening and my getting older and relating to the characters more. Plus, I recently very much enjoyed the book that it’s based on by William Goldman.

Call me crazy but I think one of life’s great pleasures is reading a book that a movie was based on (or one of those tie-in novels based on a script). It’s so fun to contrast and compare and every added or altered tidbit is a prize. Goldman’s novel MAGIC solidified the film for me and although he certainly did a marvelous job on his adapted screenplay, I now have a better grasp of what was missing in the movie (for me) all these years. Unsurprisingly, my qualms are kindertrauma inclined. The book does a far better job filling us in on the main character’s troubled childhood and abandonment by his mother, which goes a long way in explaining his mindset. Additionally, the central love story makes more sense when we are privy to the characters’ full history together. Finally MAGIC’s sly shell game finale works fine in the book but not at all on screen. Too little effort was made to adjust to the changed medium and I think it would have been better to drop the misdirection and go full on cat & mouse mode. Anything would be better than the film’s bizarre last scene that stomps all over what should have been a bittersweet final note.

So there’s a couple things I’d rather were done differently but that doesn’t mean I can’t still love it. At its core, MAGIC is pretty straightforward morality tale about the horror of loosing one’s sense of self in an effort to achieve acceptance. ANTHONY HOPKINS portrays Corky Withers, a down on his luck magician who ads an obnoxious ventriloquist dummy to his act in a last ditch effort to save his career. The dummy “Fatts” is basically Corky’s dark side, a wooden manifestation of his id. He’s sort of like a precursor to an internet troll who “speaks his mind” and becomes popular with those who are cathartically thrilled by hostility but unwilling to pay the consequences themselves.

At first Fatt’s cutting aggressiveness is a watershed for socially stumbling Corky and he becomes a magnet for success but his alter ego becomes harder to keep in line and soon there’s a question of which persona will dominate. Like many an addict, Corky is left choosing between a mutant-self that promises plenty but threatens to eclipse him and an authentic self whose track record is marred by seclusion and little joy.

Seeing MAGIC all cleaned up on DVD in its proper ratio reveals it’s certainly a lot more atmospheric than I remembered. The run-down lake house property that much of the film’s later action takes place in, is deliciously dank, gloomy and downright ill-boding. The real stars of the show however are its two (or should I say three?) lead performances. I think we all know what ANTHONY HOPKINS is capable of. Truth told, our guy’s weird accent in this movie is so all over the place that it’s nearly kaleidoscopic but it matters zero because he’s impossible to be bored by. Creepily, his very last line in the film “Kiss the girl goodbye” I swear, is full on, 100% Hannibal Lecter, to the point of giving me chills. It’s almost like you can hear Hannibal being born in this movie…I kid you not. The way HOPKINS is able to bring both Fatts and Corky to life is impressive indeed and God bless ATTENBOROUGH for leaving in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment with Fatts clearly moving on his own accord, just to keep us on our toes. And then there’s ANN-MARGRET who’ve I’ve been in love with ever since she sang a lullaby to Pebbles on THE FLINTSTONES as Ann- Margrock. She’s every shade of charming and effortlessly pushes the point that MAGIC is as much a tragic love story as it is a horror/thriller.

Geez, I feel like I haven’t said enough about Fatts! I totally get my younger self’s desire to see him leaping around like a mad monkey slashing folks (as Chucky would soon do) but there’s no denying how creepy Fatts is just chilling out, sitting still. The fact that he is designed to vaguely resemble HOPKINS certainly adds much to his unsettling quality and rarely has a non-human been such a scene-stealer. And that voice! That voice, I’m sure has launched countless nightmares. Um, where is the remake of MAGIC? That’s what I’d like to know. Talk about your sleeping giants! All you’d need to do is cram some action into the final act, add a dream sequence in which Fatts massacres a busload of children and then cast SAM ROCKWELL and NAOMI WATTS as leads. Throw out a trailer that perfectly mimics the original trailer and then sit back and watch the money roll in! Who could resist it? Not me. Anyway, if you haven’t seen MAGIC in a while, watch it again and just prepare to forgive it for not ramping up the thrills in the climax. And do read the book, I highly recommend it! And don’t forget to listen to the theme song “Magic” by Olivia Newton John (Don’t correct me, my fantasy world is an improvement on reality)!

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Tags: General Horror · Then & Now

Unk’s Favorite Stranger Things

August 3rd, 2016 · 3 Comments

Howdy, I’m taking a cue from my old pal Mickster and sharing some of my own STRANGER THINGS favorite things. If you’re sick of hearing about STRANGER THINGS, write a letter to your local Congressman and demand better TV shows so that this one doesn’t stand out like a beautiful neon sore thumb anymore!

Winona Ryder
I admit that I fell out of love with WINONA somewhere along the line (the day I saw ALIEN RESURRECTION) but we made up eventually (the day I saw BLACK SWAN). Most tend to think of her excellent turns in HEATHERS and BEETLEJUICE when they fawn over her but seeing her hanging around a makeshift fort in STRANGER THINGS reminded me how much territory WELCOME HOME ROXY CARMICHAEAL owns in my heart. Well let it be known that WINONA tops all of her previous gigs and then some in STRANGER THINGS, she brings it full throttle in every scene. She’s so exemplary at expressing rage and profound pain at the same time and I think this series makes it obvious that she’s just getting started. If I were JOHNNY DEPP, I’d change my tattoo back to “Winona Forever” as soon as possible.

The Score
Thanks to flicks like DRIVE and IT FOLLOWS, synth scores are all the rage but rarely has a latter day synth score fit so perfectly within the context of a story as the chilling beats that pulsate in STRANGER THINGS. You can thank Austin band “Survive” for STRANGER‘s hypnotic CARPENTER crashing into MORODER awesomeness. Hey, the hairs on my arms are standing up just thinking about it!

The Songs
I know THE BANGLES’ cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter” didn’t come out until 1985 but it plays over the closing credits and credits don’t take place in any specific time so that’s OK right? I think so. Anyway life is more enjoyable when you don’t sweat anachronisms too much. For the most part ST’s selection of songs is pretty spot on and my ears just can’t say no to THE CLASH, MODERN ENGLISH and ECHO AND THE BUNNYMAN. Oh and TOTO’s “Africa“, only a slobbering goon would not dig that tune. There’s an official STRANGER THINGS playlist on SPOTIFTY, so check it out!

The Font
Oh geez, for years I’ve been searching for the STRANGER THINGS title font which I used to find on just about every horror paperback I read back in my youth. I was even thinking of going on Facebook and asking if anyone knew it but I chickened out because I was too scared of being left hanging. Thanks to STRANGER THINGS all I had to do was Google to find out I was one of many wondering the same thing! Turns out it’s called ITC BENGUIAT and yes, I’ve downloaded it for future use.

Ben and Nicole
I, like many, fell head over heals in fascination with Barb and how could you not? But there are two other characters that also lodged themselves in my brain that I found myself wanting more of. Let’s hear it for Ben the bearded bear who worked at the diner and gave Eleven french fries and is therefore a true unsung hero! I feel like if he was cast on FARGO he would have hung around much longer. And what about Nicole, the tattling ginger photographer? She didn’t have many lines but she made sure to make every facial expression count while glaring and smirking from the background. We need so much more of her in Season Two!

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Tags: General Horror · Kinder Loves Mickster!

Review:: Lake Nowhere (2016)

July 25th, 2016 · 1 Comment

It’s my duty as a citizen to inform you all about a lil’ horror movie that impressed the heck out of me called LAKE NOWHERE. Honestly, I’m not always the best audience for ultra low budget cinema because I can only hold back the bitter critical voice in my head for so long and I’ve been burned by vapid horror scenester vanity projects way too many times before. Turns out that any trepidation I might have had checking out a recent local screening (shout out to PUFF and Philly’s greatest video rental/coffee spot CINEMUG) were completely unwarranted because LAKE NOWHERE is not only the best slasher salute I’ve seen in a long time but it’s also surprisingly effective at delivering genuine chills. There’s something incredibly appealing about the entire aesthetic of the flick. It’s beautifully shot and almost painterly in its composition and I kept finding myself fantasizing about blowing up certain frames of the film and maybe hanging them over my couch.

Here’s a complaint though; it’s too short! That’s a bit of a compliment too because I just wanted it to go on and on. Thankfully it’s padded in the begging in a rather clever way with old school faux trailers for other flicks, each of which I would be very excited to see in the future. As cool as those retro trailers are, they’re sneakily misleading. They are presented caked in scratchy VHS damage and noise and they’re almost built to sway the viewer to let down their guard thinking they are in for the standard eighties homage. NOWHERE delivers on that level for sure but it also delivers on a bizarrely uncanny and unnerving tone you might not be ready for. Instead of focusing on the usual flippant references and heavy handed nudging towards outdated attire, directors CHRISTOPHER PHELPS and MAXIM VAN SCOY (yes, I’m jealous of that name), set their sights on a morose LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH kind of atmosphere. As long as I’m title dropping, NOWHERE also triggered freaky/fond memories of two of my favorite cabin in the woods movies, SCREAMS OF A WINTER NIGHT and the original, less funny EVIL DEAD.

I’m not sure if it’s an appropriate comparison but for my tastes I enjoyed LAKE NOWHERE a lot more than either segment of the similarly drive-in inclined GRINDHOUSE(2007). I stand so impressed that these young filmmakers were able to capture the authentic tone that so many others have swung and missed at. Furthermore, this baby reeks of having serious re-watch value. Actually, now that I think of it, its short length might be an asset if you view it between two other flicks during a late night marathon. Oh man, I didn’t even mention that it’s wonderfully blood-soaked and gory in the old school FRIDAY THE 13TH tradition! Is it spoiler-y to say there is a scene involving a head and a neck parting ways thanks to a sharp weapon that made the whole room erupt in cheers and gasps? Oh and the killer! You know I love that THE FINAL GIRLS (2015) flick but I truly did not dig the look of that killer, particularly his dopey mask. The unnervingly amorphous yet consistently striking threat in LAKE NOWHERE has got something so dark, dank and primordial going on, that it really gets under your skin.

Slasher movie homages are a dime a dozen but truly good ones are practically unicorns. LAKE NOWHERE happens to be right up my alley and besides touching all the bases I require in a slasher flick it goes one better by summoning that difficult to describe eeriness something like THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972) is so drenched in. I sure hope that it’ll show up in everybody’s neck of the woods but in the meantime why not follow LAKE NOWHERE on Facebook HERE to keep up to date. Word has it that it will be available on VOD and DVD August 16th and that’s fine by me because I’m surely going to want to watch this gem again come Halloween.

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Tags: General Horror

Review:: Ghostbusters (2016)

July 22nd, 2016 · 5 Comments

I’ve got a bone to pick with this new GHOSTBUSTERS! Now that I’ve seen it I can’t seem to get the theme song by living legend RAY PARKER JR. out of my head! This has been going on for days. Help! Besides that valid gripe, I’d say this newfangled GHOSTBUSTERS is my favorite GHOSTBUSTERS movie of the three. In fact, I think new GHOSTBUSTERS makes the original GHOSTBUSTERS look like GHOSTBUSTERS 2. It’s like some guardian angel knew my secret assessment of the first movie was, “Needs more ANNIE POTTS!’ and totally ran with that concept. I’ve heard it through the whine-vine that some folks were upset about this movie being made before they even saw it but as it turns out, those people are exactly the same people whose opinions I care nothing about! That really worked out for me. While all the mouth-breathing (STRANGER THINGS shout-out!!) fan boys were busy throwing fits, I was reserving my energy so that I could fight with Aunt John over who got to be BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD in PS3’s LEGO JURRASIC WORLD.

I’m not even trying to be contrary here or raddle anyone’s cage. I think all four of the women in GHOSTBUSTERS are hilarious. I can’t believe anyone would ever even present a spurious debate about whether women are funny. That is an insult to all the times I had to set my VCR to record SCTV as a kid. Sure, I loved every SCTV cast member but CATHERINE O’HARA and ANDREA MARTIN absolutely killed me and they still do. I can say the same thing for RADNER, CURTAINand NEWMAN on SNL and don’t even get me started on the cast of MADTV because we’ll be here all day (but special shout out to MO COLLINS). I know haters have other complaints involving the purity of the franchise and their oh so noble remake fatigue but I feel like I already heard all that noise when that THE THING prequel came out in 2011. I’m so glad I didn’t let that nonsense curdle my experience with that flick because warts and all, I love it oh so much. If anyone should be mad it’s me cuz these bellyachers are always jeopardizing my chances for sequels. Damn, I could be watching THE THING 2 or THE THING: GLOBAL CONTAGION right now!

Just so you don’t think I’m overcompensating with praise, I’ll throw a couple nitpicks onto the fire. I did find fault in the fact that there are not one but two scenes involving the heroes trying out new gadgets. The second one is superfluous and feels like an out of place toy commercial. Also my Jessica Fletcher detection skills are telling me that a spellbinding dance number featuring CHRIS HEMSWORTH was deemed not worthy to be included in its entirety and that hurts me, that hurts me deeply. But outside those quibbles this flick is borderline intoxicating. There’s a scene in the climax in which the ladies throw down some impressively elaborate and electrifying ghost-busting as the music swells and it feels about ten times more rousing than anything in the original two. Whenever the flick stresses the value of loyalty in friendship it feels genuine and earned but its most powerful (and supremely fitting) message involves the importance of standing by what you believe in and not allowing the snide opinions of others to sway you from accomplishing your goals.

Feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt. It’s not like I ‘m a huge GHOSTBUSTERS mega fan in the first place. I certainly liked the first films well enough and I have zero problem spending as much time with BILL MURRAY as humanly possible (SCROOGED & WHAT ABOUT BOB? forever!) but there were a lot more interesting movies vying for my attention back in 1984 (like STREETS OF FIRE and HEAVENLY BODIES for example). Maybe I was a little too old to get the full fan frenzy? I have never in my life tasted a Hi-C Ecto cooler and I have zero plans to change that. Plus truth told, I enjoy the Filmation GHOSTBUSTERS cartoon way better than the “real” GHOSTBUSTERS version (OMG Tina’s mom, SUSAN BLU from FRIDAY THE 13TH part VII is the voice of Belfry the bat! I love that guy and all his cousins!). In any case, if being a “real” fan means being a “real” stick in the mud you can count me out. This new GHOSTBUSTERS is a good time. It’s fun. It made me laugh. It yanked me right out of the now nightmarish world we live in and set me down in a place where I could not wait to see what happened next. It’s a cinematic snow cone and it does exactly what you want a summer movie to do. I can’t help it! Busting makes me feel good! Oh no, that song is back…

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Tags: General Horror · Kinder-Spotlight · Laser eyes!

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (Plus Friday Funhouse)

July 15th, 2016 · 5 Comments

If you want me to go to church, build a church in honor of Ray Harryhausen; that is a church I will have no qualms going to. I’ll even put coins instead of buttons in the collection basket when it comes my way. Besides being a true artistic genius (geez, the guy’s drawings are as jaw-dropping as his miniatures), he has inspired so many people to dream bigger than they would have without his shining example. In the documentary RAY HARRYHAUSEN: SPECIAL EFFECTS TITAN (now available on Blu-ray from the fine folks at ARROW), you’ll get to see the likes of STEVEN SPIELBERG, PETER JACKSON, TIM BURTON, JOHN LANDIS, JOE DANTE, JAMES CAMERON, GUILLERMO del TORO, TERRY GILLIAM and lifelong pal RAY BRADBURY sing his praises and thank him for his inspiration. I don’t have to tell ya, that’s quite the fan squad to have in one’s corner and although I’m not one to glorify financial success over artistry, it’s pretty amazing to see how the ripple effect of HARRYHAUSEN’s brilliance went on to spur the most successful filmmakers of all time. Recently a beautiful gold statue was made to honor HARRYHAUSEN and that makes me happy but is life-size big enough? I think it should be a couple miles taller.

My first run in with HARRYHAUSEN came thanks to a Sunday afternoon showing of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and it immediately stopped me in my channel switching tracks. The scene featured a dude in a skirt fending off a gang of animated skeletons and it witch-zapped me into a state of mesmerized awe. The only thing I ever saw that was more astonishing was that one time when I was a kid and I woke up in the middle of the night to see a bottle of Elmer’s glue dancing a mad jig on my dresser and that was probably (I hope and pray) a half-awake hallucination.

Not long after that I would get to witness HARRYHAUSEN’s sorcery on the big screen via his swan song before retirement, 1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS. I’ll never forget that we got to the theater early and the show before us had not ended yet so every time the theater door would open to let out an usher or unruly kid, I’d get to see a momentary glimpse of CLASH’s giant Kraken-coated climax. As filled with anticipation as that left me, nothing could have prepared me for the signature scene involving the slithery showdown with a glowing–eyed, rattlesnake-tailed, Medusa. That sequence takes the cake because it’s as thrilling as it is chilling and it’s got kindertrauma written all over it. Also, can I add that I’m sorta team Medusa? She was just hanging out in her pad and wasn’t asking for any trouble. Then again, I’m also team Calibos and he definitely was up to no good and I forgive him because he had an awesome bone throne, a stylish swamp lair and chummed around with a giant vulture. It’s possible I’m not the best judge of character.

Anyway, this is exactly where I’m NOT going to trash CGI and cry about how computers ruined everything while writing on a computer. I mean what’s the point? I have a feeling people and their eyeballs have changed more than movie effects have. Wasn’t there a time when the viewer met the filmmakers half way and used their own imagination a little? These days folks seem to be much better at pointing out holes than patching them up and yep, that extends to just about everything. All I know is that checking out HARRYHAUSEN’s glorious work always brings me back to a less persnickety mindset and a sweet space where I’m so stunned I can be knocked over with a Pegasus feather. It’s like you’re looking at the exact spot where diligent skill, virtuoso talent and uncanny alchemy meet. HARRYHAUSEN himself hits the nail on the head within the documentary when he points out the dream-like quality his artistry achieves. I don’t think it’s anything that can ever be duplicated but if you want to be inspired by it, well then, the sky is truly the limit.

NOTE: Folks, check out more ARROW FILMS awesomeness HERE, share your own HARRYHAUSEN memories in the comments and since it’s Funhouse Friday let’s say we do a CLASH OF THE TITANS puzzle below! There are ten differences between these two images; can you pretend those differences are Pokemon creatures of some sort and find them all?!!

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · General Horror

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

June 17th, 2016 · 7 Comments

I was walking on air after seeing JAMES WANS’ THE CONJURING 2. It’s pretty much every thing I want in a horror movie. My persnickety brain tried to come up with a valid grievance but it was doused a couple scenes later and had more to do with my trying to jump ahead of the story than any flaw of the film. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a masterwork that proves without a doubt that horror movies can be meaningful and emotionally rewarding without losing any of their power to scare and thrill. I think it’s a giant step forward out of the genre’s typical arrested development swamp but even those who are ONLY interested in chalking up frights will be hard pressed to find something to grouse about. Furthermore, it’s a sterling defense for the value of sequels because the viewer’s relationship with the characters is all that much deeper having withstood such a rewarding (albeit dubiously accurate to the nth degree) ordeal with them once before.

Speaking of, I have to say, the chemistry between PATRICK WILSON and VERA FARMIGA as Ed and Lorraine Warren, the married paranormal investigating team that anchors the series is all kinds of phenomenal. Seriously, somebody should be casting them in a remake of BRINGING UP BABY because they spark like CARY GRANT and KATHERINE HEPBURN in this. It makes me sad I no longer work in a video store because I would have so loved to have answered the question “Can you recommend an epic romance?’ with “Sure, THE CONJURING 2”. There’s a scene where WILSON picks up a guitar and sings “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” to FARMIGA and it’s like watching cinematic gold being spun- and let’s just say it’s a good thing I don’t mind blowing my nose in the sleeve of my Pac Man t-shirt. It’s transcendent, plain and simple and I wonder if many horror fans even know they deserve such a beautiful thing every once in a while. Geez, they really need to put out a music video of it so that I could watch it over and over again.

Anyway, there I was getting all ready to break through my writer’s apathy and gush about this monument to everything the genre should aspire to when news about the Orlando gay club shooting massacre hit and knocked the wind right out of me. There was no way I could think about a movie. In fact, every time I went online and saw that people were still hen squawking about summer sales and recent acquisitions, I pretty much had to self-eject myself out of fear of having to return Aunt John’s computer with a vomit soaked keyboard. Actually, the less said about the mental zone I found myself in, the better. I’m not proud of the thoughts in my head and the things that were going through my mind. It’s one thing to be rightfully angry and it’s another thing to dissect every word spoken or not spoken until you’re no longer capable of distinguishing friend from foe. I may have even responded to a friend who greeted me with a smile in a guttural possession voice worthy of the film we’re speaking of. “Don’t you know what’s going on??!!” Not proud of that.

Hey, we all grieve and process things differently and you never know what extra hurdles are in another person’s path. Once you start condemning other people’s responses more than the original tragedy though, you can be pretty sure you’re running in the wrong direction. I feel guilty for not voicing my outrage louder and yet I never want to become the type of person whose first reaction to something so heinous is to view it as grist for the social media mill. Plus I’m pretty sure I would have said something I would have regretted. I know that because I’ve already deleted about ten paragraphs here for too clearly revealing my tenuous mental state and I usually only have to delete about two. Anyway, kudos to all of those who determinately focused on the 49 lives lost rather than themselves or the selfie-prone sewer sludge that committed the atrocity.

Needless to say I’m still stunned and reassembling but the more I think about THE CONJURING 2 the more I find it both fortifying and apropos. Not for nothing, the film opens at the Amityville house; a joint world renown for being the location of multiple murders of unarmed innocents by a weak minded lunatic happy to blame anyone other than the douchebag in the mirror holding the gun. It’s a marvel how the opening’s ferociousness (not to mention jaw dropping attention to detail) surpasses every film in the AMITYVILLE franchise (with possible exception of my beloved PART 2: THE POSSESSION) put together and in such a brief amount of time. If you want me to buy WHEATIES, I’d advise you to put JAMES WAN on the box. The guy is unstoppable.

Fittingly in the basement there is indeed an ancient instigating presence viciously fanning the flames and hiding its malicious intent behind the cloaking costume of religion. Personally I’m weary of any and all religions but I find the way THE CONJURING 2 presents its faith surprisingly palatable. While the dark threat uses religion as a mask to hide its manipulations our stalwart heroes arm themselves with their love for each other and utilize religion as a sort of magnifying amplifier of that love. Ed even tells the beast, “I don’t care what you believe.” It’s not a matter of theology; it’s not a matter of debate or willpower, Ed need only look at his wife to verify an undeniable powerful force. In case you didn’t know, this is how many gay (LGBTQ) people feel towards their loved ones. Against wrathful voices, they have no choice but to walk toward that energy. It’s inarguable and yes, it’s very different than the feeling that guides you towards hate. Trust me, I’m familiar with both.

One of many reverberating scenes takes place on a swing set between Lorraine and Janet (MADISON WOLFE), the child who the bullying darkness has singled out and gravitated towards (by the way, VERA FARMIGA is impeccable and between this and her soulful performance on the last season of BATES MOTEL, all I want to do is fan her in awe with a palm leaf). Lorraine shares with Janet that she knows exactly what it feels to have her threatening experiences disbelieved and to be ostracized for being different. I can’t quote it verbatim but she also includes a mentoring reminder that the depressive, self-hating feelings the incidents left her with are exactly the feelings that the demon feeds and thrives upon and that she must fight against them. A similar sentiment is later echoed when Ed advises her siblings how to best respond to the beast that wishes to divide and destroy them. He compares the attacks to the schoolyard bullying they are all too familiar with and advises them to react in exactly the same way; that it is their duty to stand up for each other as a family and that they have a greater strength as a galvanized whole. Truth.

So if you ever catch yourself thinking it’s a bad idea to see a horror movie after your soul has been through the wringer, don’t be so sure. In some cases a horror flick can provide you with just the rallying inspiration you need. That’s the power of art and that’s the value of creating rather than destroying. I’ll have to exclude myself from the list of people who did not succumb to the darkness after America’s latest mass shooting. It’s very possible I myself may have been possessed for a while. To fully escape my personal tar pit I had to return to the lessons of the film one last time. The slithering, misleading demon in THE CONJURING 2 had one chink in its armor, one scale missing in its dragon skin. Knowing its correct, true name and speaking it aloud was its one vulnerability. I happen to know exactly the name of the demon that snuffed out 49 lives at an Orlando Florida gay bar on Latino night. That monster has one name and that name is Hate. Don’t let it fool you and don’t let it win.

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Tags: Caution: I break for geniuses! · General Horror · My own personal Jesus

For The Love of:: Eyes of Fire (1983)

March 24th, 2016 · 6 Comments

It’s getting dark around here so I’m going to light a candle by gushing about a flick that fascinates the heck out of me, 1983’s EYES OF FIRE. This one has come up a bunch of times on these pages over the years and every time it does, I declare I’m going to watch it again immediately and then I usually don’t. That is because the thought of it stirs up some freaky unease in me and I mean that as a compliment towards its effectiveness. It’s been feathering the inside of my mind more than usual lately after seeing THE WITCH so the other night I returned to it again only to find that its spell on me has lessened exactly zero percent over the years. There’s something so elemental and mystical about EYES OF FIRE that even on the occasion that it sports garishly dated video effects, it somehow makes them work. And there’s something so primal going on that the entire experience of watching it feels like a forgotten memory from another life being unearthed. One thing that I think EYES OF FIRE excels past THE WITCH in, is convincing the viewer of the endless depth and open, uncharted nature of the forest its story nests in. Whereas THE WITCH has a definite (and comparatively comfortable) sense of a home base, EYES OF FIRE makes you feel dazed and lost and scrambling in the middle of nowhere.

When I was a critter nothing scared me more than anything concerning big bad Satan. That slippery dude was lurking behind every corner back in the spook-aholic seventies. As I’ve grown older those fears have become less potent. Sadly, a lifetime of witnessing holy rollers spewing more venom than any invisible demon has weakened my trepidations concerning ol’ Scratch (if only I could sue the Bible thumpers for diluting my DVD collection with their relentless overplay). Luckily EYES OF FIRE is a movie that knows exactly how to leap frog over my skeptic (read exhausted) view of religion by presenting evil as a force that is a fundamental part of nature itself (for example, a fox isn’t evil but if you are a bunny he might as well be). More importantly (and this moral concept can be found in many a horror flick), evil actions leave a residue that breeds more evil in the future and places that have tasted an excess of misery turn bad. That’s not superstition, that’s science!

IN EYES OF FIRE a group of pioneers are cast out of their village (sound familiar?) and must fend for themselves in an unwelcoming frontier world. It’s a large group (that’s sure to dwindle) and two of the main players include an adulterous priest bent on spreading the good word (that he fails to follow) and a talented witch working overtime to clean up his mess. In other words, the person who puts on false airs of piety causes all the destruction and reaps all the rewards and the truly spiritual one quietly saves the day and gets shafted. My how things haven’t changed. To escape a tribe of marauding Indians they venture into a cursed valley that they know the superstitious (respectful) Indians won’t follow them into and as you might expect, learn that maybe they don’t know everything. The disgraced priest even has the brass-ball hubris to suggest he can “save” a young Native American orphan through baptism but a bark-faced witch and a gaggle of naked tree spirits let him know that the local beliefs are about to become way more pertinent.

EYES OF FIRE is a unique movie though I’m sure much of what makes it special to some will be seen as drawbacks to others. It’s a low budget affair but that helps to keep it both grounded and undomesticated. You don’t sense a Holllywood vibe anywhere and the un-caged atmosphere feels both freeing and dangerous. It has always seemed to me sort of like an educational historical film you’d see in junior high school that goes horribly wrong. Which is not to say that there are not more than a few moments of incredible beauty, some documentary natural, some arthouse surreal. As I said above, there are a few wonky moments of dated effects but they come off as mostly charming and may even help the viewer jump backwards to an earlier, more wide-eyed and accepting mind-set. The acting is good enough that you’re hardly aware of it and, more often than not it leaves you feeling like a present but invisible observer. And may I please give a shout out to character actress FRAN RYAN who used to pop up as a battle-axe in just about everything from PRIVATE SCHOOL to STEWERDESS SCHOOL back in the day? She rules.

Sometimes when a movie is not available on DVD its reputation is exaggerated simply due to its obscurity but let me tell you, EYES OF FIRE really is an outstanding and poetic horror film. It may be too patient and quirky to garner unanimous approval but those who dig subtle supernatural horror (see again: THE WITCH) should be all over this like mold on corn. In fact, I’m thinking if it had enjoyed a proper release back in the DVD gold rush days its reputation would be comparable to LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH by now (and yep, it would be cherished by a similar crowd). I for one am a devout fan. It hits me in a way that few films do and why shouldn’t it when it’s basically a ginger-led backyard rendition of DAYS OF HEAVEN meets CATHY’S CURSE (only half kidding). The truth is, EYES OF FIRE comes from a place where it seems to be authentically mesmerized by the world that it depicts and that way of seeing things has a knack of swaying the viewer to do the same.

EYES OF FIRE is currently available on YouTube and you should watch it while you can. There’s no guaranteeing it will ever be available any other way and the crime of watching a movie for free is far less than the crime of allowing a piece of art to die. Hey, look (below)! EYES OF FIRE features Black Phillip’s ornery great grand pappy and he’s eating all the books! There’s your true Devil! The true Devil separates man from art and ideas!

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Tags: General Horror · My own personal Jesus

The Visit (2015)

March 22nd, 2016 · 2 Comments

I hate to write negative reviews because I usually feel guilty for hours afterwards and I’m so worried that I’ll have a “Eureka” moment later that will alter my opinion. It may even seem like I wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to horror because I tend to skip over writing about movies that don’t impress me and wait until the next flick that floats my boat comes along. Plus because I’m not getting paid for my reviews I can simply ignore crap that I know for a fact I will not enjoy like THE GREEN INFERNO. That’s not very open-minded I know, but I figure as an adult it’s my prerogative to decide what I’d like to digest and which filmmaker’s output I’m legitimately interested in. All of this is building up to me informing you that I sincerely disliked and felt nearly insulted by THE VISIT. I know that’s harsh but it’s true. I wanted to like it! I still think the premise is solid but it simply irked the living daylights out of me. In fact, I watched THE VISIT for free thanks to Aunt John winning a ticket in the ACME supermarket Monopoly game and I currently sit here feeling like I’ve been ripped off because I have to walk back to the store’s Redbox to return it!

Dang, I hate it when people say, “I want my time back!’ because I feel like you can always get something of value out of a movie. Maybe I should just use this experience to reaffirm that I don’t like everything? But I already learned that lesson recently with the mediocrity machine that was GOOSEBUMPS (I might as well throw that one on the pyre too)! I have been on a “believable, relatable characters are essential” kick lately, did that mar my experience? I know for sure I didn’t buy the people in this movie. I don’t believe a mother would send her kids to the parents she’s been estranged from for 15 years, I don’t believe the kids would want to go, I don’t believe the kids wouldn’t simply walk out the front door when the horror becomes clear and I sure as hell don’t believe a SEPTA employee would indulge a child by providing beatbox accompaniment for his free style rap. There are some interesting nuggets here and there involving familial loss and abandonment but they sadly come off as phony and manipulative. Plus something about the film’s attitude towards the elderly and the mentally ill rubbed me the wrong way and there was a scene involving a diaper that should have never left the writer’s head. Oh and you can see the twist from miles away and there’s a ridiculous plot point involving a person incapable of wiping pancake batter off their computer. Essentially, a world of ugh.

So now I’m off to return the darn thing and not only did THE VISIT rile me but now it’s also making me feel terrible about hating it. Please, if you liked this movie don’t feel bad. I’m not trying to insult you. I’m glad that somebody liked it. I love, love, love that M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN loyally films in my neck of the woods and I will always adore THE SIXTH SENSE because it’s boss. This VISIT movie however, was not my cup of tea. Hmmm, maybe that’s my big take away from THE VISIT; that I’m allowed to dislike something simply as a matter of taste. It doesn’t mean the movie is garbage, it doesn’t mean I think I could do better and I’m in no way dismissing the hard work by many that obviously went into it. It’s just not for me and if I can’t give a hearty thumbs down to a movie that literally ends with a child free-style rapping about the psychological aftermath of having human excrement smeared on his face, what can I give a thumbs down to? C’mon, Ebert hated DAVID LYNCH’s obvious masterpiece BLUE VELVET, certainly I can loathe this bland excursion.

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Tags: General Horror

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

March 12th, 2016 · 11 Comments

I promise I’m not going to give anything away. I was almost going to skip reviewing 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE altogether until I realized I was suffering from some kind of Stockholm Syndrome and that the clever marketing of this flick had hypnotized me into thinking that mum’s the word…or else. I have to admit though that there was something so luxurious about seeing a movie cold and knowing next to zero about it. I for one try to make a point of NOT following the horror news sites. I feel like they are constantly ruining things for me and I miss the old days before the Internet when movies held more mystique. Still, I’d be lying if I said my assumptions about this movie were that far off the mark. It followed the psychic map in my head pretty closely but don’t worry there’s still a treasure trove of worthwhile surprises.

JOHN GOODMAN, JOHN GOODMAN, JOHN GOODMAN. The man is a marvel. I just want to thank this flick right off the bat for fully utilizing this incredible actor’s talent. This could very well be his best role. He’s like this giant spinning disco ball reflecting every possible color in the emotional spectrum. Ya love him, you hate him, he’s endearing, he’s terrifying; the only thing constant is his brilliance. And there’s probably not many young actresses who could hold their own and not disappear in GOODMAN’s presence but MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD is up to the task and then some. I like her, she’s got an earthy tomboy next door thing going on that reminds me of some of my favorite seventies actresses (and I hope this role leads folks to give 2011’s THE THING a more open-minded chance). The third major player is JOHN GALLAGHER, JR. and he’s remarkably real and engaging too. Geez, I was just saying in that PIN post the other day that I was hungry for some satisfying genre characters and here they are! These are people I do not mind being trapped with. There’s a kind of clubhouse vibe going on for much of the movie that made me wish it would never end. Why does the song “I Think We’re Alone Now?” have to be so short? If you are a montage fetishist like myself, get ready for ambrosia.

And now for the not so good news. In the near future, you’re probably going to hear a dissenting minority bitching about the film’s ending. Count me among those sad crabapples. The ending in no way nullifies the precision nail-biting suspense and noble character building that came before it but it still feels like gilding a lily to me. It’s slightly off and somehow wrong like MERYL STREEP eating a McRibb. Without ruining anything, lets just say hypothetically that the ending involves a jar of pickles, for some reason this movie goes out of its way to feature a generic, store brand jar of pickles. I don’t get it when they could have lost zero face and just handed over the name brand jar of pickles the audience is clearly craving. Even I, whose motto is usually “screw the audience” feels the poor saps should be thrown a bone (or at least something above a bobo brand of pickles) once in a while. I get that no means no when it comes to a movie delivering on the goods that it alluded to even in its title but something about this withholding feels vaguely stingy to me.

It’s no biggie, the flick is still better than anyone has the right to expect in most departments; it’s just that these days when all one has to do is wait a couple months to see something at home at literally a 90 % discount they might want to know what they’re getting into. My theater was even offering this movie in IMAX for a few extra bucks which is kind of nuts considering it’s as fish-tank constrained as LIFEBOAT (1944) , ROPE (1988) or COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN (1982) for nine tenths of its runtime. Oh well, its still a nail-biting hoot and a half and the acting is indeed worth the price of admission alone but…is it really so difficult to hand over the pickles? I know my opinion holds zero value in the world but I feel its my duty to share with anyone else who might have moths flying out of their wallet that my favorite scene in the whole flick involves the assembly of a jigsaw puzzle. Do with that information what you will. Anyway this movie is super great until it slips slightly and becomes only super good.

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Tags: General Horror

Happy Anniversary:: The Hills Have Eyes (2006)!

March 10th, 2016 · 1 Comment

Would you believe that this very March 10th marks the tenth, as in one decade, anniversary of that THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) remake? What in the world? Usually I don’t remember such details but this flick holds a special place in my heart because my very first movie date with your Aunt John was to a matinee of this bad boy. How romantic! Of course, I already knew we were compatible because I spied a VHS copy of THE BABY (1973) on his TV set, he dug the 4AD chumminess of THE PIXIES and THROWING MUSES and was unabashedly in awe of the then somewhat recent airing of RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER (2005) but spending a fine weather day indoors watching an unsuspecting family being randomly terrorized sort of sealed the deal. Wow, the world was a very different place ten years ago, now that I think about it. The PUSSYCAT DOLLS were climbing the charts, LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT was still good because CHRIS MELONI hadn’t left yet and your Aunt John and I were not yet able to get married but we were still able to rent movies from the local video store …so… it’s difficult to say if society has gone in the right direction or not. One step forward, two steps back.

Some people don’t like remakes and they can cry me a river because I’m not in the mood to list the super obvious titles that more than justify their existence. THE HILLS HAVE EYES is actually a perfect movie to get a modern update because the original, perpetually entertaining though it may be, does suffer from some dated hokeyness. The lone person who might have had a legitimate gripe about this remake is our late great pal WES CRAVEN and he happily produced it! Like many, CRAVEN was super impressed with the work of director ALEXANDRE AJA and his writing partner GREGORY LEVASSEUR after taking in HIGH TENSION (2003). Even with its slick new (I’m going to call it uggo-licious) paint job, THE HILLS HAVE EYES remains all kinds of signature guilt-trippy CRAVEN. You don’t have to dig far in the dirt to find him stoking the (distinctly American) fear that building your dreams on someone else’s nightmares may come back to haunt you ten fold. Indeed hardly a minute passes without a wound being salted and pointedly dad’s guns and mom’s prayers are little help in keeping the ugliness swept under the rug.

And yikes this is some fierce, wicked, unpleasant nerve-wracking business. If you don’t think this movie is scary, what is wrong with you? Go to a doctor. No, don’t be proud of yourself, there’s something MISSING in you. You need help. Maybe I’m biased because this movie doesn’t touch on, but stomps on, my biggest bugaboos. Here’s a perfect recipe for Make-Me-Squirm Salad: A far from home road trip, local yokels with questionable dental hygiene, an environmentally unfriendly styrofoam container (containing a severed ear), outhouses, unclear showering facilities, excessive sunlight, excessive time spent with family, people being burned alive, dogs in danger, a gun pointed at a baby, smiling mannequins, daytime television, people with gigantic bulbous heads singing patriotic songs while asthmatically wheezing and the foreboding prospect of inevitable rape hanging in the air like a forgotten piñata on a rainy day…and that’s just for starters. Just about the only thing in this flick that doesn’t bite me like a bedbug is the found object, multi-colored bottle folk art that appears at the gas station. Thumbs up. I want to make one.

Let me shelve the anguish inducers for a moment and tell ya what I think is absolutely awesome in this movie (even though it will so clearly out me as having the brain of a 14-year-old action figure collector). It actually happens directly after my LEAST favorite part of the movie. Our hero is looking for his kidnapped baby and he comes across a rogue’s gallery of mutants who culminate in the figure of a disturbing dude immobilized by his droopy gargantuan head. Then said mutant, who is listed as “Big Brain” but should be called “Mr. Exposition,” starts yapping about why the mutants are peeved as if simply being a mutant isn’t enough to ruin one’s day. I hate this part. If you think “mansplaining” is annoying try “mutantsplainng” on for size. But…just when you start getting twitchy…in charges trademark super-mutant “Pluto” and he’s resplendent. At this point HILLS becomes a full on monster/slasher flick and if there’s any mini-subgenre that makes me gleeful, monster/slasher is it! You know like, HELL NIGHT, THE FUNHOUSE, multiple FRIDAY THE 13th movies (but mostly PART 2 and 3 and certainly not 1 or 5) and your WRONG TURN(s). I love it. It’s a harsh as hell, surprisingly suspenseful showdown that finishes with a clever tip of the hat to STRAW DOGS. It’s so good it makes me wish this flick were less draining so I could watch it more often.

So anyway, Happy Anniversary THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake! You can be difficult to digest at times (I didn’t need to see THAT) but what is horror if you are not getting your boundaries threatened every once in a while? Safe horror is for the birds (and now I just remembered the part where you showed a bird’s head being bitten off). On the positive side, what wonderful performances you feature from the fantastic TED (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, JOY RIDE) LEVINE as in way over his stubborn head pop and lovable genre legend KATHLEEN (TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, EVENT HORIZON, BREAKDOWN and WARNING SIGN) QUINLAN as committed-to-denial ma. Plus, kudos on landing duo TOMANDANDY (THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES) to craft your riveting score! Who knows, if Aunt John and I had gone to another movie that was playing that same week ten years ago like say, FAILURE TO LAUNCH, MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, maybe we would not have had such a squeamishly agreeable time. Maybe we might have gotten into a huge fight over one of those controversial titles and never spoken again! If that happened there would be no KINDERTRAUMA! Can you imagine anything worse? No need to answer that, THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake, I know for a fact you can.

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Tags: General Horror · Holidays