Revisiting Halloween II (1981)

Reviewed by Marc Hopspring for TheHumbleHeckler.com

(Editor's note: Film critic Marc Hopspring reviewed this film after watching it via a malfunctioning cable box that, unbeknownst to him, randomly switched back and forth between Halloween II and True Lies. Keep this in mind when reading the following review.) 

It had been at least a decade since I'd seen Halloween II, and boy oh boy is it different from the film I remember. For starters, I had no recollection of James Cameron directing this film. And now that I know, I have to rank this as one of Cameron's worst efforts. And that's just the first of many surprises.

Halloween II is by far one of the strangest sequels ever produced. I'm not really sure how this thing is even related to the first Halloween. Despite the uncountable number of temporal and logical gaps, I have to assume this hodgepodge of narrative spaghetti was created on purpose. After all, Halloween creator John Carpenter wrote the script, which is supposedly based on a French film or something. Anyway, here's the plot: After surviving being shot six times on Halloween night 1978, Michael Myers is now--somehow!--the leader of a terrorist organization called the Crimson Jihad, and it's up to husband-and-wife team Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Dr. Sam Loomis (now played by Arnold Schwarzenegger--that's right, Ahhhh-nold) to stop Myers from sneaking a nuke into Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. This is where the film starts to lose me. I mean, why would any terrorist group want to take out a small town hospital, especially with a weapon that could destroy an entire city? Where's the logic in that? And when the hell did Laurie Strode marry Dr. Loomis?

Even worse than the nonsensical storyline is the film's schizophrenic editing style. In one scene an unmasked Myers (who is now Middle Eastern for some reason) engages in a brilliantly choreographed gun battle in a public restroom, and then in the next scene he's drowning a naked nurse in a hot tub--and the mask is back. In another confusing sequence, Laurie does a sexy striptease for Loomis (again, he's now her husband!), then out of nowhere, she's posing as a hospital patient (in a bad wig) who is forced to fight off the advances of a horny ambulance driver, only to find herself, mere moments later, fighting off the advances of Bill Paxton. And then, for reason I will never EVER understand, Arnold disguises himself as Donald Pleasance and faces off with Myers in the film's climax--a climax in which they are both blown up. Don't get me wrong, it's a find ending, but by the time the film finally got to it I was just too confused to care anymore.

When I say the film is confusing, I have never been more serious in my life. Once scene begins with an intricate chase in which Loomis, on horseback, pursues Myers, on a motorcycle, through a crowded shopping mall. Exciting, right? So then why does the scene end with a horny ambulance driver singing an X-rated version of "Amazing Grace"? The film just leaves me with too many questions. Why, for example, does Jamie Lee Curtis's makeup keep aging and de-aging her? Is this supposed to be an example of spycraft? If so, is this really supposed to confuse Myers? And why the hell is Tom Arnold in a Halloween film? When the hell did Loomis learn to fly a Harrier jet? And for what possible reason did the Crimson Jihad feel it necessary to Kill Ben Tramer? It's all so bizarre. And I haven't even mentioned the ski slope shootout that culminates with a child in a pirate costume getting gashed by a razor blade hidden in an apple. Why are trained spies hunting trick-or-treaters? One minute we're watching a bridge blow up and the next we're watching an idiot knock himself stupid after slipping in a puddle of blood. Aw ... forget it! To hell with this mess of a movie.

Halloween II is a flawed horror sequel for sure. If you're in the mood for something that makes you question your sanity, this flick's for you. Otherwise, stay far, far, away from this celluloid turd. Although, to be fair, Halloween II makes more sense than the movie I watched right after it. In that stinker, a gremlin steals a DeLorean and time-travels back to 1955 to make sure nobody gets wet or eats after midnight. Talk about nonsense.

I give Halloween II one star out of a possible five stars and all the bile my liver can produce.

(Halloween II is rated R for profanity, violence, nudity, aggressive stupidity and the graphic depiction of Tom Arnold.)

 

 

It (2017): A Review or Whatever

It (2017): A Review or Whatever

Reviewed by Janelle Palmer for TheHumbleHeckler.com.

(Editor’s note: Janelle Palmer, a 17-year-old high school senior, is filling in for her mother, Janette, one of our resident film critics, who is currently recovering from a mild case of amoebic dysentery.)

Okay … so … anyway … I got stuck reviewing this movie because my mother’s sick or whatever, so just, ya’ know, bear with me and whatnot, ’cuz I haven’t reviewed a movie since I did The Shallows, like ten million years ago, so try not to be dicks about this, okay?

So, anyway … About five days ago my mother tells me that I have to review this clown movie or something called It. So I say fine, whatevs. But get this: my mother suggests that I read the novel they based the movie on before I see the movie, as, like, preparation or something. But the book is, like, a gazillion pages or something, so I was like, “No, thank you,” and my mom was all, “That’s not very professional” or something, and so I was like, “I’m not a professional, you are,” and then she was all, “I give up” and then she walked off in a huff. So I didn’t read that stupid book, which was written by that old guy who wrote that thing about the ugly chick with spooky powers who totally trashed the prom. I looked him up online. That dude’s written, like, a thousand books or something, including that one where there’s a creepy cemetery where, like, the animals bury their owners and whatnot … and the other one where the hotel makes people hit stuff with axes or something. Anyway, he writes a lot, so … Nerd Alert! Am I right?

So, anyway … It is about this evil clown thingy with gross hair that, like, totally hates kids and is super hungry and decides to, like, kill two birds with one stone and eat the kids that he hates so much. The clown thingy, btdubs, is called Pennywise, and for some reason he digs hangin’ out in the disgusting sewer. It turns out that Pennywise is an alien from some other country or something. I guess that’s really important. I mean, I think the whole “alien” thing is meant to be, like, some kind of metaphor about immigration or something. (See—I can think of cool, critic-y things to write, too, so suck it!)

The rest of the movie is about Pennywise totes screwing with this group of kids who refer to themselves as The Losers Club—which is the perfect name for this collection of kids, btdubs. I mean, they’re not very cool, they have zero—and I mean zero—fashion sense, and they ride around on bikes—bikes! I mean, why not just draw a big nerd target on your back already? I mean, ever hear of Uber or Lyft? How losery are the parents that brought these sad sacks into the world? I saw this movie with my friend Taylor, and she said that these kids are so uncool that she could actually feel herself getting less cool the longer she had to watch them. Preach on, sister. I can’t speak for most people, but I was totes rooting for Pennywise to eat these A-hole kids already so I could get over to Pinkberry for a smoothie before they closed—I know, I know, smoothies have, like, a ton of sugar in them and stuff, but it was my cheat day, so I’m allowed to have a G-D smoothie! Get off my back, already!

I’ve been told not to, like, give away the ending or reveal any spoilers or anything like that, so I won’t. But I will say that everybody dies—just kidding. I honestly don’t even know how the movie ends ’cuz I started talking with this lady who was sitting next to me who was wearing, like, the cutest top I’ve ever seen. Her name is Deandra, so … shout out to Deandra! She’s super cool. Love her. You should see her nails—per-fec-tion.

Okay, back to the movie. All in all, I guess I would say this movie gargles balls. I suppose if you like the idea of an ugly sewer clown terrorizing weird, bike-riding kids in the stupid ’80s, then It is gonna totes light your fire. But, if you don’t completely suck as a human being, you’ll find this movie as turdish as I do. So, in conclusion, clowns suck, kids are A-holes, sewers are gross, bikes are uncool, and Pinkberry rocks.

There … Happy now, Mom?

I give It one star out of a possible of, like, a gazillion stars. And the one star is for Deandra with the cute top, not for the stupid movie. Even the title of this movie blows serious chunks. How lame is It for a movie title? Why not call this movie The or An or To? Here’s the title I would’ve chosen: Why?

(It is rated R for, like, super-gross clown violence and bad language and stuff. The clown drool is gross enough to get an R all by itself. I mean, what’s the deal with the drooling? Ever hear of a bib? Or how about just closing your mouth, moron. You’re supposed to be this all-powerful being from another dimension and you can’t even go, like, five seconds without drooling all over the place. Pa-the-tic.)

Annabelle: Creation is Really … um … Good?

Annabelle: Creation is Really … um … Good?

Reviewed by Adam Trolley Bing for TheHumbleHeckler.com

(Editor’s note: Film critic Adam Trolley Bing has admitted to not actually seeing Annabelle: Creation before posting the following review.)

Annabelle: Creation … Wow. I mean, where do I even begin? This is one of those movies where I really don’t want to say too much and give away anything important. That would be irresponsible criticism.

I will say that this movie is nothing if not professionally made. For example, the cinematography is extraordinary. The film was obviously shot with professional-grade cameras, the kind only true pros would bother to use. And boy does it pay off, because the movie is almost always in focus and every frame makes visual sense. Like, when the camera is pointing at a person or something really scary or a piece of furniture or something, you totally believe what you’re seeing on the screen. You just don’t see that kind of technical wizardry every day in Hollywood films.

And don’t even get me started on the sound design. This film is just jam-packed with all sorts of sounds. I consider myself a bit of a “sound aficionado,” so believe me when I say that the scope, diversity, and quality of sounds in this movie is absolutely mind blowing. Trust me, you’ll be black and blue from pinching yourself in disbelief at how realistic some of these sounds are. I can’t even remember how many times I said to myself “Oh yeah, I recognize that sound.” And if it’s realism you crave, wait until you see the costume design.

The women’s costumes in the film are astounding. They really look like the kind of stuff these particular characters would have in their closets. The same can pretty much be said for all the male characters as well. There is one male character in particular whose choice of pants really speaks volumes about who he is as a person, where he’s been, and where he wants to go. All of his hopes and dreams are right there on display in the face of his belt buckle, and the way in which the fabric fades a little near his pockets suggests an unfulfilled longing that hits me right in my gut even now, long after seeing the film. But let’s not forget that these amazing costumes are just empty vessels without talented actors to inhabit them and allow them to realize their full potential.

Luckily, this movie is defined by great performances. According to Wikipedia—I mean according to the credits, which I sat and watched in their entirety, the movie stars Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte. And, oh, man, does she ever give a whopper of a performance. I’m sure nuns are going to see this and say “She totally nailed us.” And then there’s Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto as a married couple. Let me tell ya’, there isn’t one second of film where you don’t believe that these two are married. They play a married couple so well that I’d be shocked if their real-life spouses didn’t crap their pants out of sheer jealousy. Years from now, people will look back on these performances in history classes to study the way married people used to behave.

So … is Annabelle: Creation scary? I would have to say … uh … yeah, pretty much, sure. I mean, if you like atmospheric ghost stories with great acting, professional camera work, seamless editing, a believable sound design, and character-defining costumes, all set to a score that just really utilizes the perfect number of musical instruments, then Annabelle: Creation is probably for you. But what’s really fun about a movie like this is the debate that I’m sure people will be having in the days and weeks to come over the film’s various uses of all kinds of really interesting themes, motifs, and metaphors and whatnot.

For the record, I hope my analysis hasn’t gone too deep, and that I haven’t ruined the film for anyone. Any spoilers present in this review are completely accidental, I promise.

I give Annabelle: Creation 5 question marks (?????) out of a possible 5.

(Annabelle: Creation is rated R for any number of vague, adult-type things and situations that are not easily described but that people under 17 really shouldn’t see. I mean, the MPAA has a tough job, so who am I to question their criteria for rating a movie like this. Now, I can’t say for sure that I would have given this film an R, but my opinion doesn’t matter. Although, now that I think about it, I probably wouldn’t take my children to see this film. Of course, I don’t have children, but that’s hardly the fault of Annabelle: Creation or the MPAA.)

The Dark Tower is a Real Buzzer Beater

The Dark Tower is a Real Buzzer Beater

Reviewed by Annie Poppler for TheHumbleHeckler.com

(Editor’s note: Film critic Annie Poppler is a sports novice who has recently begun dating a sport’s writer. Keep this in mind when reading the following review, which is for entertainment purposes only.)

The latest Stephen King adaptation to totally body-slam multiplexes around the globe, The Dark Tower, is a stunning achievement, combining the majesty and power of a LaBron James slam dunk, the silky smoothness of a Steph Curry 3-bomb, and the looming terror of Dennis Rodman doing just about anything. The film, which seamlessly combines genre elements of horror, westerns, action, and fantasy, is directed with a sense of confidence and surehandedness of something akin to Bill Belichick leading his New England Patriots onto the field of battle in pursuit of yet another Super Bowl victory.

The film stars Idris Elba as Roland, a gunslinger on a mission to save his world from extinction while being pursued by a ruthless horde of creatures hell-bent on stopping him. These villains are headlined by Matthew McConaughey as Walter o’Dim (a.k.a. The Man in Black, a.k.a a few other names I don’t remember). Both Elba and McConaughey are perfectly cast. Elba’s gunslinger reminds me of Joe Montana, the legendary 49ers QB who earned the nickname “Joe Cool” due to his ability to never be rattled in the face of adversity. (By the way, Montana also boasts a career touchdown to interception ratio that is absolutely ridonkulous. This may not be relevant to my review, but it’s just one of those things that we sports fanatics can’t help but notice whenever we think about Joe Montana—which is, like, a million times every day. Am I right?) And McConaughey plays The Man in Black with the ticking-time-bomb intensity of a young John Daly in the tee box in that critical moment just after one final puff on his cigarette before he totally punishes the poor golf ball with a 5 wood. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if McConaughey were to publicly acknowledge drawing inspiration from Daly’s legendary tee shots—it’s just so obvious in the performance.

So anyway, the Gunslinger and The Man in Black begin this whole Magic Johnson-Larry Bird-style rivalry that can best be described as the cinematic version of a Conor McGregor back kick to the balls. It’s just that powerful. The chase scenes bring to mind the best of the storied history of the Daytona 500. The fight sequences are every bit as harrowing as Ali-Frazier 3. Watching Elba do his thing as the Gunslinger is like watching Mario Lemieux terrorize St. Louis Blues goaltender Rick Wamsley on his way to a hat trick (he actually scored 4 goals; one more than necessary for a hat trick) on New Year’s Eve in 1985. This is one of those movies that is best enjoyed with a Dodger Dog (mustard only) and a cold one … and maybe some nachos. The action is just that awesome. Of course, to be completely honest, I missed a good bit of this film because I was busy checking the day’s baseball scores on my phone. No need to worry; the Dodgers won.

About an hour into the film I settled back in my seat, tore open a pouch of Red Man Chew (I prefer the Golden Blend), and basked in the brilliant glow of men shooting at each other while I occasionally scratched my groin area and spat into a half-empty cup of Diet Dr. Pepper.

Now that’s a great time at the movies!

I give The Dark Tower three gold medals and half a bronze out of a possible 4.

(The Dark Tower is rated PG-13 for some kick-ass stunt work by some amazing athletes who are totally ripped, graphic locker room talk, sporadic taunting, and extended depiction of untended wounds.)

Blair Witch

Blair Witch Casts a Spell of Dazzling Originality

Reviewed by Joshua Champlain for HumbleHeckler.com.

(Editor’s note: Film critic Joshua Champlain has recently awakened from a blair_witch_2016_poster27-year coma. Please keep this in mind when reading the following review.)

It’s easy for film critics to be cynical. So many movies completely lack originality and artistic integrity. So many movies are nothing more than the generic repackaging of well-worn filmic tropes, clichéd storylines, and established pop-culture brands. So many movies are clearly molded by the greedy hooves of capitalist swine in search of a quick buck without having to innovate or bear the burden of any creative risk. So many movies rely solely on storytelling gimmicks and archetypal characters to shamelessly pander to a well-established target demographic in order to put butts in seats on opening weekend. So many movies are so insultingly predictable, so reliant upon this paint-by-numbers philosophy of filmmaking that you just can’t blame critics for the unmistakable air of frustration so prevalent in their reviews.

Which is why I’m so pleased to report that I’ve just seen Blair Witch, a film so startling in its originality that I’m shocked it was allowed to be produced at all, let alone publicly exhibited.

First and foremost, Blair Witch is a horror movie—but not just any horror movie. It will likely be remembered as the single greatest achievement in the hallowed history of horror. The basic story involves a collection of millennials coming face-to-face with unspeakable terrors in the deep, dark woods. And why exactly are these youngsters trudging through the woods? Because the main character, James Donahue, decides it’s time to search for the sister he lost in these very woods 22 years ago, when she led her own expedition of intrepid youngsters on a search for the mysterious Blair Witch, a terrifying apparition with a reputation for disappearing local townsfolk, even children. That alone permits this film to stake its claim as one of the most innovative horror stories of all time. I mean, come on … Good-looking young people killed off in a forest—genius! From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Vertigo Entertainment and Lionsgate for having the balls to tell such an imaginative story. But that’s just the beginning. Check this out: The story is conveyed through a narrative device in which the characters record their own experiences. That footage is then assembled by someone else and presented to the movie-going public as a kind pseudo-documentary. What! Who could have ever imagined such an ingenious method of presenting a story? Only superhuman mega-geniuses, that’s who.

I don’t want to give away any of the surprises (and, trust me, there are just so, so many really startling revelations in this movie), so I won’t say any more about the story or how it is told. However, I would like to say that I am just so proud of you, Hollywood, for respecting ticket-buying audiences (who often have to shell out as much as $20 or more per ticket) for not simply regurgitating the stinking pile of inept, infantile, brain cell-destroying eye cancer you normally fart onto movie screens each weekend. Not this time. No, this time you delivered Blair Witch, rather than insult film fans with yet another half-cocked prequel, sequel, or reboot featuring a gaggle of cardboard characters heedlessly meandering through a mind-numbing cinematic wasteland of cheap set-ups, clunky expositional dialogue, and poorly executed jump scares. So, again, thank you. You had the courage to respect both your craft and the fans by releasing … Blair Witch.

So … I humbly doff my cap to you, mainstream Hollywood. Your integrity and inventiveness know no bounds.

I give Blair Witch a 10 out of 10, and I wait with bated breath to see what glorious creations Hollywood has in store for the future. May God bless this movie and all who see it.

(Blair Witch is rated R for adult language, violence, nudity, and for being such a pioneering, groundbreaking work of art that younger, less-experienced viewers’ minds would implode should their eyes gaze upon its brilliance.)

Lights Out

Lights Out: A Scary Movie for People Who Suck

Reviewed by Shirley Franks for DecimalPointless and HumbleHeckler.com Lights_Out_2016_poster

(Editor’s note: Film critic Shirley Franks is an insanely busy soccer mom who hasn’t had a vacation in more than three years.)

     Lights Out is a sometimes-clever, often-spooky horror film that absolutely drips with atmosphere. It’s the kind of shriek-fest that I would’ve loved 15 years ago, back in those halcyon days before I met my ass-bag husband and started pumping out ungrateful children by the bucket load. However, now that life has crapped on my dreams, blackened my heart, and shriveled my once-beautiful body, I find this movie endlessly annoying and relentlessly un-scary.

The story of Lights Out concerns a mysterious ghost-lady with Medusa hair and terrible posture who appears in the dark and disappears in the light. Oooh, I’m sooooooo scared! Shadowy ghost bitches aren’t scary … Five kids and 1 bathroom—now that’s scary. The appearance of varicose veins at 35—now that’s scary. Working 40 hours a week reviewing idiotic movies aimed at mouth-breathing teenagers, only to come home to a filthy house where I’m greeted by a sea of dirt-smudged faces screaming, “What’s for dinner?”—now that’s scary.

Teresa Palmer stars as the film’s sweet little cutie, who always looks daisy-fresh and is decades from worrying about stretch marks and episiotomies. So, basically … UP YOURS, TERESA! Enjoy that tight body and that silky-smooth skin while you can, sweetheart, because one day—maybe even soon—you’re gonna wake up in a bed filled with potato chip crumbs, next to a snoring, wheezing, ass clown that tricked you into getting married and then effectively stole every ounce of your youth, beauty, and zest for life, leaving you a soulless husk with prematurely gray hair and the disposition of a demon in church.

About 25 minutes into this obnoxious teen spookshow, I realized that I was still wearing my slippers and a pair of sweatpants dotted with scores of oozy, drippy stains whose origins are as mysterious and frightening as the identity of Jack the Ripper. Not to mention the fact that my ass-bag husband (in fact, let’s just refer to him as Ass Bag from here on out) forgot to fill the station wagon with gas, so I basically coasted to my critics’ screening of this film on fumes. Thanks, Ass Bag. Love Ya’. Oh, and I haven’t slept more than two hours straight in about six months. And I’m supposed to find this movie scary? Really? Give me a freakin’ break, Hollywood!

The only truly positive thing I can say about Lights Out is that I fell asleep for about a third of the film and woke up feeling more refreshed than I’ve felt in weeks. Not refreshed enough to recommend this garbage movie, mind you, but refreshed nonetheless. So, in conclusion, if you’re under 40, single, and childless, I’m just certain you’ll love Lights Out. Why the hell wouldn’t you? Life is a parade for you people. Every movie is a celebration. Every breath is a joy. You people make me sick. So, go ahead, see Lights Out and have a ball—and then choke on it.

I give Lights Out one stink-filled diaper out of four and every ounce of bile my liver can produce.

(Lights Out is rated PG-13 for “adult” language and “adult” situations … As if these people have any idea what it means to be an adult. It also contains prancing nubile bodies, the overt flaunting of youth, and the potential to induce rage in anyone with a pulse and half a brain.)

 

The Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year: Absolutely the Greatest Movie Ever

Reviewed by Marcus Wells for DecimalPointless and HumbleHeckler.com.

(Editor’s note: Film critic Marcus Wells is an insufferably sarcastic man whose The_Purge_Election_Yearfather donates a lot of money to DecimalPointless.)

I was soooooo thrilled when I heard there was going to be another Purge film. Who wouldn’t be? After all, how could any cinephile possibly resist the opportunity to sit through another 105 minutes of completely gratuitous violence, infantile dialogue, and shot after ever-loving shot of psychos in stupid masks brandishing weapons as they cock their heads to one side in an attempt to appear more menacing? Not me. That’s for sure. And that brilliant storyline—you know the one. The one where all crime is legal for one full night. Genius!!! A story like this is in no way gimmicky or stupid at all, and it clearly possesses the narrative heft to accommodate multiple sequels. I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that Michael Bay—the creative mastermind behind Transformer and Bad Boys—is one of the producers of this masterpiece. And let’s not forget to give a shout-out to everybody at Platinum Dunes, the production company that just never ever stops innovating and creating original, groundbreaking movies. Let’s see … so far this collection of Rhodes scholars has produced such original classics as the remake of Friday the 13th, the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the remake of Carrie, the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Ouija, a movie based on a board game from the good folks at Hasbro. So, with this group of cinematic/storytelling pioneers in charge, there’s just no way that The Purge: Election Year could be anything other than an all-time champ of a movie. Right?

Well, there’s no need to worry. I’m here to tell ya’ that this movie is—and I say this without hyperbole—the greatest, most important work of art ever rendered by any living organism in any solar system since the Big Bang started this whole crazy mess. This time around, the story turns on a senator whose entire family was killed during a previous Purge. Anyway, the senator is now running for president, and the largest plank in her platform just happens to be doing away with the annual Purge. But guess what? Some people don’t like her. Bet ya’ didn’t see that mind-blowing twist coming.

From that point onward, we are treated (and, man do I mean treated) to a dystopian nightmare of extreme violence that just doesn’t ever seem to end. And when the credits do finally roll, we walk out of the theater feeling refreshed and alive, secure in the belief that all people are psychopaths who relish every opportunity to inflict violence upon those who can’t protect themselves, and for nothing more than shits and giggles and financial gain. And isn’t that the perfect message to convey to audiences in these times of political divisiveness, overt bigotry, and fear. You bet it is! Nice job, Platinum Dunes. You’re a real class act!

I give The Purge: Election Year an A+++, and I can’t wait to see who’ll be senselessly slaughtered during next year’s Purge. Just terrific!

(The Purge: Election Year is rated R, but, for the life of me, I can’t understand why. This film should be seen—and celebrated—by people of all ages. It should be shown in grade schools and taught in film schools. Simply put, we are a better species for this film’s existence. So take the whole family and have a ball. I’m sure you won’t regret it.)

Day 22: Deathdream

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

Day 22: Deathdream (1972).      DeathdreamPoster

George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) is rightly credited for forever redefining the zombie movie; but, perhaps more importantly, it is also the first independently produced low-budget horror gore-a-thon to subvert and attack establishment thinking. The film overtly criticizes media power run amok, speaks directly to the state of race relations in the country, and suggests the possibility of a coming revolution (e.g. masses of the Dead rising up to overthrow the status quo)—and all of this is accomplished while maintaining a pulse-pounding suspense narrative that never forgets its horror roots or skimps-out on moments of pure unadulterated terror. NotLD would go on to be become a midnight-movie phenomenon that would ultimately be accepted as an indispensable genre classic. It would also make a decade’s worth of exploitation horror cinema seem superfluous by comparison.

With the exception of one fatal flaw, director Bob Clark’s Deathdream (1972) could be seen as a worthy successor to the legacy created by NotLD. With its tale of a dead American soldier returning to his hometown to visit the horrors of Vietnam upon the sleepy denizens of suburbia, Deathdream, like NotLD, is most certainly a movie of and for its time. It can be seen as an obvious criticism of the Vietnam War itself, as a criticism of the way soldiers were treated upon returning home, or as a portrait of the naiveté of the average citizen who will never endure the physical and emotional burden of combat. And now, with the benefit of historical hindsight, the film could even be interpreted as an ex post facto PTSD allegory. (It wasn’t until 1980 that post-traumatic stress disorder was finally added to the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.) The film’s intention to be much more than just another drive-in zombie splatter-fest is perhaps most evident in a scene in which Andy the zombie soldier visits his family’s doctor. After making the doctor listen to his complete lack of a heartbeat, Andy addresses the doctor’s stunned countenance by saying: “I died for you, Doc. Why shouldn’t you return the favor?”

For all its good intentions, Deathdream, like so many well-intentioned horror films, eventually devolves into little more than a series of gruesome (and seemingly random) bloodlettings. People start dying in horrific ways because … well … it’s a horror movie and people are supposed to die in horrific ways, right? Deathdream ultimately feels like a wasted opportunity, albeit a well-crafted wasted opportunity. Strangely, the movie reminds me of Damien: Omen II. Don’t worry, I’ll explain. Damien tells the story of a pre-teen boy coming to the overwhelming realization that he is the son of Satan. This could have been an interesting subject for a horror film. We could have been treated to a fascinating exploration of a boy on the cusp of becoming both a man and a monster, knowing that he is helpless to do anything about either. Instead, once Damien learns of his satanic lineage, he immediately starts killing people in particularly awful ways, and the film becomes just another body count movie.

While Deathdream ultimately betrays the lofty expectations it creates, it is still well worth seeing. The acting, filmmaking, and cinematography combine to create a Currier and Ives-style atmosphere of warmth and hominess (lots of picket fences and fluffy dogs—hell, you can almost smell the apple pie cooling in an open window), which perfectly contrasts the violence about to ensue, like red paint on a white canvas. Kudos to director Bob Clark (whose next horror film, Black Christmas, would become a slasher classic) for attempting to say something significant with a zombie film. Yeah, he couldn’t quite sustain the power of the metaphor for the entire running length of the film, but at least he gave it a hell of shot, which is more than I can say for Damien and so many others of its creatively bankrupt ilk.

Day 23: Korkarlen (The Phantom Carriage)

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

Day 23: Korkarlen (The Phantom Carriage) (1921).       PhantomCarriage

It’s high time that this project include a movie from the silent era. Though I am an extravagant admirer of many of the now-infamous German Expressionist films, such as Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, I decided to use this platform to write about one of my favorite silent films of all time, the Swedish horror/drama Korkarlen (or The Phantom Carriage).

It’s easy to say that any decent silent film was ahead of its time; in fact, it’s kind of a cheap observation, since it’s ultimately a matter of opinion and therefore nearly impossible to disprove. That being said, The Phantom Carriage is a silent film that was way ahead of its time. For starters, the way in which the movie manipulates time is impressive, even by today’s standards. The story (which some interpret as a metaphor for the ravages of tuberculosis) unfolds through a series of flashbacks and flashbacks inside of flashbacks. There are even moments in which one character will begin telling a story in which a character within the story tells another story, setting up not only flashbacks within flashbacks but stories within stories inside of flashbacks (or something along those lines). All of this may prove confusing to modern film viewers who have little or no practice with active film viewing, since so much of modern cinema is dialogue driven and virtually everything is spelled out for you. Furthermore, modern cinema is routinely engineered to accommodate short attention spans. Consider how often characters in modern movies actually say what they’re thinking when what they’re thinking is readily evident: “You’re breaking my heart!” The Phantom Carriage is a different kind of viewing experience. The movie jumps around in time so often that even a quick trip to the fridge could leave you utterly confounded and confused.

Here’s the story in broad strokes: Each year on New Year’s Eve, the last person to die before the clock strikes midnight must spend the next full year driving Death’s carriage and collecting souls. Pretty cool, right? Regrettably, the film too often detours away from this timelessly eerie horror premise to effectuate a series of oversimplified moral judgments; it’s is one of those movies that deals in absolutes a little too completely. People are either good or bad, period. It’s a movie that suggests a few sips of alcohol will lead to your ruin. Its sexual politics are composed entirely of old-world thinking, e.g.: every woman needs a man; women fall instantly in love upon meeting a decent man, etc … This philosophical naiveté ends up freighting most of the relationships in the film with a preponderant dearth of authenticity.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, the basic idea of a recently deceased person being forced to work for Death is actualized with a wonderfully creepy atmosphere and surprisingly effective special effects. There is a scene in which a man dies in the ocean. To collect his soul, the ghostly carriage methodically rolls out onto the water, unstoppable as it pushes through the churning waves. Then, while the carriage sits atop the water, a cloaked-and-hooded figure descends the depths and, scythe in hand, trolls along the murky seafloor, amid swaths of hypnotically undulating seaweeds, in pursuit of the fresh soul in need of reaping. It’s a great scene in a film filled with outstanding imagery. Again, the story doesn’t live up to the potential presented by the core concept, but for serious fans of cinema The Phantom Carriage stands as an example of innovative film craft in a time when filmmakers had very limited technology at their disposal. It is also a towering achievement in set design, mise-en-scene, and visual storytelling that has made a lasting impact on the world of filmmaking; in fact, the film’s influence can clearly be seen in numerous landmark films, most notably Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

Day 24: April Fool’s Day

Halloween Every Day (for a Month)

By Andrew Neil Cole

Day 24: April Fool’s Day (1986).       AprilFool'sDay

(The following contains SPOILERS. You might not want to read beyond this point if you haven’t seen Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, and April Fool’s Day.)

There are arguably three ’80s-era horror films that have stoked the ire of hordes of horror fans more than any others. In 1982, Halloween III: Season of the Witch incurred the wrath of film audiences everywhere for one simple reason: Michael Myers, the escaped lunatic/butcher knife enthusiast/worst nightmare of teen babysitters and hospital employees/rampage killer from the first two Halloween films, was nowhere to be seen. Then, released to cacophonous hisses and boos in 1985, came Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, which is often referred to as the worst F13 of them all, due primarily to the fact that iconic, goalie-masked slaughter-hound Jason Voorhees is ultimately revealed not to be the killer. Finally, in 1986, April Fool’s Day was summarily dismissed by countless horror buffs because the film lived up to its title and revealed, in its final moments, that all the blood and guts and murderous goings-on were an elaborate hoax perpetrated by the plucky, endlessly resourceful hostess of a get-together attended by an assortment college friends/acquaintances.

It’s fair to hypothesize that the lack of audience appreciation for the above-mentioned films speaks more to audiences’ growing appetite for blood and extreme violence in mainstream horror than it does to the actual quality of the filmmaking. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of F13: ANB; it is clearly a money-grab, no more than a cheap excuse to keep a broken franchise limping along. But I have to admit that I have a soft spot for both Halloween III and April Fool’s Day. While neither film has earned the right to be considered an unquestioned classic, both films at least attempted to take mainstream horror in fresh new directions. Consider the idea at the core of Halloween III. Producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill intended to make an original Halloween-themed film each year, starting with Halloween III—a concept meant to infuse the franchise with new and innovative ideas and move it away from the well-worn hack-and-slash construct of the first two films. (Don’t interpret this as a criticism of the first two Halloween films. The second film is certainly superior to most slasher sequels and the original is an all-time classic.) It’s disappointing that HIII: SotW was so reviled by fans. Even if the film itself failed to meet expectations, the effort should have been applauded. After all, how many times do you need to see a voiceless man in a mask stalk and kill people? The producers of the Halloween films had already given fans two feature-length movies of stalk-and-slash action—that’s approximately three hours of knife-wielding and bloodletting! Really, how much is enough? Why would people be so averse to a little narrative innovation? The answer is simple and a little disheartening: the slasher films of the ’80s created a new breed of horror fan, one that preferred extreme violence and ghastly F/X over storytelling and atmosphere. These fans were (and are) actually disappointed if a horror film didn’t provide the same tired story in which stereotypical characters are presented as potential victims … and then eventually served up as actual victims. In this terribly contrived cinematic scenario the body count is the story, the potential for blood is the attraction, and fans of creative storytelling need not apply.

This new audience-shift toward gory over story is exactly why a film like April Fool’s Day remains so despised by so many people decades after its release. Unlike HIII: SotW, which tells the very un-slashery tale of an insidious megacorporation’s plot to use cursed Halloween masks to kill millions of people, April Fool’s Day makes the unforgivable mistake of actually setting up a traditional slasher narrative before unceremoniously yanking the rug out from under the feet of horror fans who just wanted to see a group of college friends get picked off one at a time in increasingly distasteful ways. But I would argue that any horror fan who dismisses AFD because the horrors presented by the film are in fact not “real” (by the way, we shouldn’t forget that all horror films are not “real”) is missing out on a surprisingly good movie that works as a dark comedy and as a hearty lampooning of suspense/slasher cinema. It takes guts to make a movie that pokes fun at slasher films and then markets that film directly at slasher fans. Remember, this movie was released in 1986, right in the crucible of slashermania, when thousands of movie screens were being stained by a fresh crop of decapitations, throat cuttings, and disembowelments virtually every weekend.

I don’t want to overplay my hand, so I’ll now reiterate that April Fool’s Day, while competent and ultimately entertaining, is by no means a classic. But that doesn’t mean that the movie is to be avoided. Quite the contrary: AFD boasts a cast of believable and even likable characters played by a cast of solid professional actors, all of whom deliver their dialogue so believably that much of the film feels improvised … and well improvised, at that. Improvised or not, the dialogue in AFD is much better and much smarter than expected. In fact, the whole movie is much better and much smarter than expected. But then again, maybe my expectations have been lowered by so many uninspired, imagination-challenged, intellectually insulting slasher films that, by comparison, even a decent film can seem kind of great.