Friday, March 30, 2018

Never Pick Up a Stranger

The Hitcher (1986)

Dir- Robert Harmon
We all have heard that picking up hitchhikers can be dangerous and despite our better judgment people often throw caution to the wind and stop to aid a soul in need. A young man named Jim is driving a luxury car from Chicago to San Diego, and while traveling through Texas, he decides to pick up a stranger in the midst of a storm. The man who is named John Ryder does not speak much but gives Jim the ultimate creep vibes compelling him to throw him out of the car after he fears John will kill him. This encounter sets a series of events in motion as Jim witnesses John being picked up by other travelers and later finding the aftermath of Johns bloody deeds. Jim then finds he is the target of a police manhunt as all of John's murders all seem to point to him. The Hitcher is one of the terrifying movies of the eighties worth checking out, mixing the violence of John's crimes with enough car chases to make this film a compelling chase thriller. The real star is, of course, the Dutch-born Rutger Hauer who has appeared in many classic sci-fi and horror roles. John Ryder is mysterious, relentless, and cunning enough to consider him one of the most underrated horror movie villains. There is no explanation for his crimes besides his desire to see carnage and inflict enough psychological harm to make Jim fear for his life despite his pleas for help from the authorities. The movie does not show John committing his crimes, but we do see the results of his work as Jim seemingly finds himself the target of John's attention. Even after 30 years, The Hitcher is intense and scary enough to remind us all that picking up strangers is always a bad idea. A sequel was made in 2003 as well as a remake in 2007, but both are nowhere as intense or original as the 1986 film.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Her little friends will make your skin crawl

Phenomena (1985)

Dir- Dario Argento
Dario Argento presents yet another of his unique and stylish horror movies. Jennifer Connelly plays an American student, who is attending a prestigious Swiss boarding school and discovers that a vicious killer is preying on her classmates. We find out that she has a unique gift, a psychic link to insects that she uses to help track the killer down. "Phenomena" was released in Italy in 1985 with a version that is almost 2 hours long. It is important to note as the version released in the United States was drastically different as over 30 minutes was cut out of the film that would be released as "Creepers." Most home video versions present the film uncut under its original name as "Phenomena," but the movie is also sold as "Creepers" by some distributors. Keep this in mind as the film listed as "Creepers" is the edited version released in the US. As with most of Dario Argento's films, the music is provided by the rock group Goblin as well as Simon Boswell. Iron Maiden and Motorhead also provide songs for a supercharged soundtrack that is a hallmark of Argento's films. One of the more mainstream of Argento's many films yet like most of them, you won't be disappointed with Ms. Connelly's performance along with horror staple Donald Pleasence in this mid-eighties slasher.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Bad things happen when you get lost in the woods

Blair Witch (2016)

Dir- Adam Wingard
In 1999 the Blair Witch Project had one of the most significant impacts in film history making nearly $250 million on a budget of $60,000. It helped to usher in the new genre known as found footage and to this day remains one of the most successful horror movies ever made. Despite the success of the first film a direct sequel would not be released until nearly 17 years after the original. Blair Witch follows James Donahue, the younger brother of Heather Donahue who after watching a mysterious video leads a group of friends into the Black Hills Forest to seek answers to the disappearance of his sister and her team. Despite warnings from his friends, James invites a pair of locals who act as guides but once in the woods the very mysterious events that plagued his sister begin again as they try to find clues to the location of the mysterious house his sister was last seen alive. Ignoring the 2000 follow-up movie Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Director Adam Wingard chose to make a film similar to the first but with a bigger cast to include more scares. The movie was made under the fake name "The Woods" to keep its production secret so they could make use of the viral marketing that was so critical to the success of the first movie. Blair Witch tries to follow the success of the first film but after hundreds of found footage films over the past two decades its difficult to stand out with an original idea and the main fault of Blair Witch is that it just follows the same plot lines of the first film but with less subtlety. The larger budget of Blair Witch does make the movie look more professional, but the success of the original played off its low budget feel and made the first movie seem more genuine. Critical reaction to Blair Witch was negative, and the film performed poorly compared to the first film. Despite this, the movie is far better than the Book of Shadows and is scary enough to entertain a newer generation of fans who may not have been around for the release of the first movie or to have experienced its impact.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Whatever you do.. Don't Go Into the Attic

The Changeling (1980)

Dir- Peter Medak
George C Scott stars in this very scary movie that involves ghosts and personal demons. John (Scott) is a New York musician who witnesses the death of his wife and daughter in an auto accident. Afterward, he moves to Seattle to continue with his life but is haunted by their tragic deaths. He rents an old mansion from the historical society and soon discovers that a ghost is present. With the aid of a local historian, he discovers a seventy-year-old murder mystery that may involve a prominent senator. The events of the film were inspired by real-life ghostly occurrences in the Denver mansion of Henry Treat Rogers. The Changeling was set in Seattle but filmed in Vancouver and Victoria, Canada. Despite filming in Canada, many prominent landmarks were filmed to showcase Seattle's beautiful cityscape. A well made ghost story the features plenty of frights and a creepy wheelchair that adds to the thrill. There are many terrifying moments to keep up the suspense as we learn the real truth behind the ghost.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Three lost people, a couple of cameras and one hell of a scary event

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Dir- Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez
A trio of young college filmmakers treks through the town of Burkittsville, Maryland documenting the legend of a banished woman and her awful deed. Armed with a 16mm camera, Hi8 Video and Digital Audio they record every moment in the hopes of producing a thesis for school. Their adventure starts off with plenty of enthusiasm, they shop for supplies, interview townies and have a lack of respect for the legend that has drawn them together. What follows is a journey into madness as the director, and her crew finds themselves lost and at the mercy of an unforeseen entity that seems to follow them through the night. The cameras capture their every emotion as the trio fight amongst themselves and the elements, often with the knowledge that someone or something is out there screwing with them.

To say that the Blair Witch Project is unique goes without saying, the film was entirely improvised by the 3 actors who showcase their genuine fears and frustrations as they wander through the forest that has already claimed numerous victims. First-time directors Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez make excellent use of the actor's genuine emotions, the use of their real names adds to the realism in the film. The film's script was written after the footage was shot, giving the filmmakers as much freedom as possible in determining the fate of their hapless actors. The carefully crafted legend and the eerie settings are so compelling that viewers will be left wondering if indeed these events occurred.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Before Halloween.... Before Friday The 13th.... Before Scream.... There Was The Saw.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Dir- Tobe Hooper
In the history of movies, we have yet to see another film that so shocked and horrified audiences since the days of Hitchcock. Today this movie would rate about as well as any slasher film, but in its day it was not what you call a family film. A group of hippies picks up a weird guy who babbles on about his family; he is soon kicked out when he slashes one of the hippies. They then make a few turns, run out of gas and end up at a house occupied by the weirdest family on record. The family has a knack for furniture made of bones and a taste for human flesh. They soon make hamburger meat out of the group one at a time. Although many critics overplayed the movie's gore, it was indeed a graphic movie, but the chilling atmosphere and the constant whir of the chainsaw make it more appetizing. Followed by a couple of ridiculous sequels and an untold number of crappy copycats. Surprisingly this movie was based on the same story that Hitchcock used in his classic Psycho a generation before.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

It's weird and pissed off, whatever it is

The Thing (1982)

Dir- John Carpenter
Many recall the classic movie The Thing From Another World, a great Sci-Fi film of the cold war era. John Carpenter does it better this time, following the original story of William Campbell, "Who Goes There" more closely. We have what may be the goriest and most FX ridden film of the early 1980's. An Antarctic Expedition finds a frozen package in the burned out remains of a Norwegian Station. Thawing it out, they discover a creepy looking body that looks kind of human. The creature is still alive and pissed off, taking the form of first the dogs and then members of the crew. In the classic friend or foe scenario, we find these men fighting each other trying to determine who is or is not human. The creature is the real star, an indescribable mass that is closer to an HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu monster than anything ever attempted. The ending is somewhat confusing as we may or may not have seen the last of the creepy crawly. The film is an homage to the classic movie and contains some somewhat funny scenes involving the creature.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Luck of the Irish..Just Ran Out!

Leprechaun (1993)

Dir- Mark Davis
Warwick Davis has had a great career playing in such epic films as Return of the Jedi, Willow, and Harry Potter, yet he displays a real lack of taste in this dated slasher flick. Davis plays the little Irish Fairy who is after a group of people he thinks stole his pot-of-gold. Borrowing from the likes of Freddy Krueger and Chuckie, we get a rather sad attempt to recreate an amusing bad guy the likes of Freddy. After years of derivative slasher films, you would think that a gimmicky horror character would seem out of place after such fantastic horror fright films like Silence of the Lambs and Candyman. Not so, we get the same retread of sick jokes, gory deaths, and silly overage teens including Jennifer Aniston. The special effects are the only real saving grace, but FX alone cannot carry a film. Like a bad habit, the producers have decided to curse us with seven sequels to include a trip into space and a pair in the hood. Mr. Davis appears in 6 of the films yet the series did not catch on and the last five movies were released direct to video.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What happens when a violent bloke is conditioned to fear violence

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Dir- Stanley Kubrick
Four hooligans are out for a good time in Britain of the future, a little fast driving and some fun times as the four loot and steal from their hapless victims. Stanley Kubrick weaves a compelling tale of government control and violence against society as we see the fate of the criminal becoming a victim of the society he once terrorized. Alex leads the villainous Droogs, dressed in white with black derbies they drive fast, party hard and mess with anyone who gets in their way. That is until Alex is arrested and conditioned by the government to fear violence, but what happens when one is trained to repulse violent behavior and becomes helpless to those he once terrorized. Kubrick's cautionary tale is every bit as frightening today as it was four decades ago, the fear of violence and government intervention only add to the terror of what we as a society may be confronting. A Clockwork Orange is filled with nightmarish scenes of violence and is even more terrifying in today's world as it once was. Can a society control violence through fear or is the real solution too scary to consider.

Monday, March 12, 2018

You need to tame the beast before unleashing it

Cat People (1982)

Dir- Paul Schrader
Irina travels to the United States to meet with her estranged brother; both are orphans whose parents killed themselves many years before. She has always been comfortable around animals, and displays reflex more animal than human. She is soon told by her brother the dark secret that runs in their family and the dangers of having sexual intercourse with others. German actress Nastassja Kinski portrays Irena Gallier with repressed sexiness that shows her fear of intimacy along with the desire to open up with her potential lover. More erotic than horror, Cat People is a loose remake of the 1942 film that starred French actress Simone Simon. The film has an excellent score by Giorgio Moroder as well as a great theme song by the late David Bowie. The rest of the cast includes John Head, Malcolm McDowell, Annette O'Toole and Ed Begley, Jr. Cat People appealed to me as a teen because of the nudity and eroticism yet after watching again it is still enjoyable due to Ms. Kinki's performance that makes you just want to watch her again and again. The film had mixed reviews when it was released but has a respectable 65% Rotten Tomatoes score that shows it has aged well. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Don't bother locking the doors, animals don't use doors

You're Next (2011)

Dir- Adam Wingard
A family reunion in remote vacation home results in terror as a group of masked assailants stalk the occupants and target them one at a time. They soon find the actions of an unlikely guest turning the tables on them. Home invasion movies are terrifying because the thought of someone coming into your home has always been a fear that is very real and in many instances does not end well. Often compared to The Strangers, You're Next is more similar to the 1971 terror classic A Bay of Blood and is a much better home invasion movie than The Strangers. Adam Wingard directs the film with a wicked sense of humor that plays well with the tension shown by the cast, the constant arguing, and stress by the surviving family members makes the film much more entertaining especially in the final act. Australian newcomer Sharni Vinson joins a cast that includes horror movie directors Joe Swanberg, Ti West and scream queen Barabara Crampton. With so many home invasion movies making the rounds it was great to see a film that shook up the usual formula and delivered a genuinely entertaining and exciting horror film. The film has positive reviews, and special praise is often given to Ms. Vinson for her excellent performance that will make her fan favorite.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Some kids can be real devils

The Omen (1976)

Dir- Richard Donner
We all know that little kids can be real devils, but what if your child was the anti-christ. A woman births a child and then dies mysteriously the same night that the US Ambassador's wife delivers her child. A switch occurs, and the happy couple raises their child without knowing that they have the anti-Christ in their mists. A series of brutal and unique murders follow the child as he ages, and we discover a strange assortment of characters who seem to be interested in young Damien. With the talents of great actors like Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, and David Warner we have what has to be one of the best demon movies since The Exorcist. Little Damien is neither cute nor innocent, the horrible deaths that occur are all leading to something more sinister to come. The Omen featured a great music score and some brutally graphic murders, including a beheading, impalement by a cross and a swan dive into an ambulance. Followed by numerous sequels, the first and second of which are the only ones worth watching. There is also a remake that was ok yet its best to watch the original.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

For God's sake, get out!

The Amityville Horror (1979)

Dir- Stuart Rosenberg
One horrifying night the Defeo's were brutally murdered by a family member who claimed the devil made him do it. Shortly after a newly married couple and their children move into the spacious Long Island house for a what seems like the steal of a deal. The events that follow would make one home the most terrifying place in the country. The best-selling novel by Jay Anson is told in shocking detail as the events of the Lutz family one month stay are portrayed. The house is filled with evil and soon takes control of the father and daughter as the family discovers the shocking secret. Like the book, the movie was a big hit, and the Long Island house crept into the minds of a whole country that shuttered at the words Amityville. Although the events have now been proven to be a big hoax, the movie is still a creepy film and has plenty of scares in it. James Brolin and Margot Kidder highlight the stellar cast, but the real star was the Dutch Colonial home with the "Evil Eye" that just made the home look even more sinister. Followed by an army of sequels and a remake, the Amityville Horror would emerge as one of the dominant horror franchises of the 1980's. Pay close attention to Jody, and no it's not the little girl's name!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Prom Night can be torture

The Loved Ones (2009)

Dir-  Sean Byrne 
A young high school girl named Lola wants to go to a dance with the boy of her dreams, but his rejection won’t do when she decides that she will plan her own dance with him as her special guest. Robin McLeavy stars in this twisted tale of revenge that shows just how far a girl and her father will go to make her special night one that her date will never forget. The Loved Ones is an Australian horror film that mixes a little bit of Misery with Prom Night in this 2009 import. The movie is quite graphic and does qualify as torture porn yet the director does an effective job hiding the most brutal of events while still giving the viewer enough to make you cringe. Despite the violence, the film does offer some humor with the interaction of Lola and her father, they are well cast and play off each other in a most sadistic yet endearing way. The Loved Ones is the directorial debut for Sean Byrne (The Devils Candy) and mixed horror and teen genres to deliver this bloody yet surprisingly tongue in cheek tale.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

In Russia the mountain isn't the only thing to fear

The Devil's Pass (2013)

Dir- Renny Harlin
One of the great mysteries of the 20th Century occurred in 1959 when a group of Russian college students was found dead on a mysterious mountain in the Urals, the event was called the Dyatlov Pass Incident, and to this day experts disagree over what happened to them on that disastrous outing. In this found footage movie five students from the United States decide to recreate the expedition and seek out answers only to face a similar tragedy. Russian authorities suppressed the recovered footage, but hackers have released the videos, and it is these videotapes that make up much of the film. Similar in format to the Blair Witch Project, The Devil's Pass does not stray too far from the formula that has made found footage one of the most often employed formats. Unlike Blair Witch, The Devils Pass uses an actual event and avoids nausea-inducing shaky footage. The conclusion is more sci-fi than horror but does work for the film despite being rather ridiculous. Director Renny Harlin has made some big-budget movies, so this movie does not have the usual amateur touches that are staples of found footage such as excessively shaky camera work. Overall this is a surprisingly entertaining movie that will make you laugh a bit even if it was not supposed to. If you want to learn more about the events of The Dyatlov Pass you can search through the dozens of conspiracy laced videos online but why not just enjoy this bit of sci-fi terror.