[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 31 – Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Director: Steve Miner

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lynn O’Keefe, John Hartnett, L.L. Cool J, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Janet Leigh

Screenplay: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg

86 mins. Rated R for terror violence/gore and language.

 

I grew up on Halloween. To this day, it’s still my favorite horror film of all time. There’s a lot of emotional connection for me, as Halloween is also one of my mother’s favorite scary movies and we would jump in and watch it every time we’d come across it on TV. It was a staple in our home year round, but most specifically during October. We also were fans of the rest of the sequels as well, but there was something special about the 1998 film Halloween H20. We were finally going to see a return to the franchise for Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies, Knives Out) as Laurie Strode, something that we didn’t expect to see every again after the character was unceremoniously killed offscreen between Halloween 2 and Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. All of a sudden, there was an excited fervor for me and my mother as we patiently awaited the new film. I think she deemed me too young to see it in the theater, but we caught it as soon as we could on home video, with our excitement at a fever pitch. The only question at that point would be whether or not the film would be worth the wait.

It’s been 20 years since Laurie Strode (Curtis) faced off against her brother Michael Myers on that fateful Halloween night. In that time, Strode has tried to move on with her life. She’s gone into hiding, adopted a new name and job (Keri Tate, the headmistress of Hillcrest Academy, a private boarding school), and aims to raise her son John (Josh Hartnett, Lucky Number Slevin, TV’s Die Hart) to be ready for the dangers of the world. John sees it a different way. He sees an overbearing mother living in the past unable to cope with the real world. John wants a normal life, and when he sees an opportunity to celebrate Halloween for the first time with his friends, he takes it. What neither Laurie nor John know is that Michael is still out there, and he’s finally found his sister. This Halloween night, he and Laurie are headed for a reunion and a confrontation that will test Strode to her very core.

There was and still is a lot of confusion surrounding the Halloween franchise, starting with the return of Laurie Strode in this film. Within the story of the franchise to this point, Laurie Strode died in a car crash sometime before the The Return of Michael Myers in 1988, and that story surrounded her daughter Jamie Lloyd. When we meet Laurie Strode in this film, there’s no mention of that daughter and we are instead introduced a son. Apparently, the reaction to The Curse of Michael Myers (the sixth film) and the introduction of a supernatural cult as a backstory for Michael Myers didn’t go over so well, and the idea of doing a straight sequel was trashed in favor of ignoring it altogether and refocusing on Laurie’s return to the franchise. An early draft of this film gave a secondary plot to Sarah (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe, She’s All That, TV’s Hit the Floor) who is fascinated by Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, digging into the history, learning of Jamie Lloyd and the previous events of the franchise, unaware that her school headmistress is Strode. This idea was deemed too convoluted and, I feel, also painted Laurie in a bad light considering the events that take place surrounding her daughter in the previous three films. We ended up with a film that neither retcons the previous entries nor references them outright, serving as a direct sequel to Halloween II. This would happen again to a larger degree with Halloween 2018.

H20 was definitely influenced by Scream and Dimension wanted to play off the success of a new franchise with Michael Myers, going so far as to throw out John Ottman’s score for the film and use chunks of Marco Beltrami’s Scream and Scream 2 score in H20. The result does lose a little bit of the tone that the Halloween franchise had cultivated to that point, but the direction from Steve Miner (Warlock, Private Valentine: Blonde & Dangerous), who at that point had already helmed two installments of the Friday the 13th franchise, and the story shepherding by Kevin Williamson help to bring Halloween into the modern realm of horror. The film feels fresh, biting, and dark without losing any steam, and the tight run time (the shortest of any Halloween film in the franchise) keeps the adrenaline pumping while covering a lot of ground. H20 also contains one of the most shocking finales of the franchise.

I also want to make a point of applauding Jamie Lee Curtis on her performance. Curtis created this character back in 1978, made it her own, and yet, she feels right at home slipping back into the role of Laurie. You can say that the character is essentially just Jamie because of how early in her career she first played the teenage babysitter, and you wouldn’t be wrong in that way. I see a lot of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa as well. Jamie Lee Curtis and Laurie Strode are synonymous with each other in the same way that Harrison Ford is with both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Still, there’s something really feral about the way Curtis plays Strode here, a woman who has been living in fear up to this point who elects not to take it anymore. She’s decides to stop running, stop hiding, and face her enemy on her own terms. It’s an excellent performance.

The rest of the cast does quite nicely here as well. I really like Adam Arkin (A Serious Man, TV’s Chicago Hope) as Will Brennan, Laurie’s love interest. Hartnett holds his own here as well in an early role, playing nicely off of Curtis. We also get early work from Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, TV’s Fosse/Verdon) and a nice cameo appearance from Curtis’s mother, Janet Leigh (Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate). Hell, even L.L. Cool J (Deep Blue Sea, TV’s NCIS: Los Angeles) isn’t terrible as Ronny, the school’s security guard with a dream of being a writer.

Yeah, that’s great and everything, but is the film scary? Is it entertaining? Is it fun? I would say absolutely. Not to appear like I’m trying to be macho, I’m not usually scared much in movies anymore, but I find this installment of the Halloween franchise to be thrilling, exciting, unnerving (I specifically remember being terrified as child by something in the first ten minutes of the movie), and entertaining. That’s all this movie is aiming for, and I feel it succeeds.

I wish movies would stop ignoring their mythology. I hate seeing retcons and requels and all that, but when it is done well, I can certainly appreciate it. I don’t like that Halloween H20 decided to ignore several sequels, but hands down the film is entertaining, aided by the triumphant return of Jamie Lee Curtis to the role she made famous 20 years earlier, and directed finely by Steve Miner, who just doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a filmmaker (though he did make Soul Man, so maybe that’s on him). H20 was, simply put, the best film in the franchise since the original, and though I’m not sure it still is, I can commend it on being a thoroughly enjoyable little horror movie. This one is still worth your time.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

  • For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, click here.
  • For my review of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, click here.
  • For my review of Dwight H. Little’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, click here.
  • For my review of Dominique Othenin-Girard’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, click here.
  • For my review of Joe Chappelle’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, click here.
  • For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.
  • For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.
  • For my review of Steve Miner’s House, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 30 – Demons 2 (1986)

Director: Lamberto Bava
Cast: David Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, Bobby Rhodes, Asia Argento, Virginia Bryant
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti
92 mins. Rated R.

I’ve unintentionally picked several movies this month that are set in high-rises. There was Shivers, Poltergeist III, and the film we’ll be talking about tonight, Demons 2. I have nothing against high-rises, nor do I harbor any ill will to their occupants, but the pattern has been noted.

Demons 2 picks up some time after the first film, and we discover that the events of the original film did indeed happen, and the world knows of the existence of demons. The demons were defeated, and life has seemingly returned to normal. On this night, a fictionalized film is being shown on the television depicting young people who returned to the quarantine zone that the demons had been, and just as before, the demons attack, moving through the screen and back into our world, this time targeting an apartment complex and its inhabitants. The odds are against them, but the ones that group together to fight back may just have a shot.

Demons 2 is indeed a sequel tot he original, which I liked. True sequels were still a bit of a rarity for foreign-produced horror films during his time; there was a favorability toward slapping a sequel title on a random similar film and marketing it as a sequel. I just figured this was the same thing, but there’s no way of avoiding it. Demons 2 is very much a sequel. In fact, it’s pretty much the same movie as the first one, just set in a different location.

In that way, Demons 2 is a little too much of the same thing. It reminded me of Evil Dead II, which just spent a lot of time re-enacting the events of the original, effectively remaking it (in fact, it is more similar to Return of the Living Dead II, as it actually has some of the actors from the first film returning to play new characters).

This sequel is truly winning when director Lamberto Bava (Body Puzzle, Devil Fish) tries new things. Even when his attempts don’t work, there is a charm to the effects work, dated as it is. I particularly liked the enhanced creature design, which looks slightly different than the original film’s effects, while still similar enough to fit in this world. I also liked the different demon types explored in the film. Demons 2 feels like an expansion of this story and mythology in a really exciting way.

Demons 2 flounders a bit in its overly-similar plotting, its poor acting, and its unearned finale, but that’s not why I watched this movie. I understood what I was getting, and that’s what I got. The acting is as good as I expected, but the film was a visual and tonal treat. It was just damn fun to watch, even with its flaws (and there are flaws). I still recommend this film to the fans of the original, but it is a step down.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Lamberto Bava’s Demons, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 29 – Creepshow (1982)

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors
Screenplay: Stephen King
120 mins. Rated R.

We talk a lot about anthologies, especially during the month of October because they predominantly lend themselves to the horror genre. The issue, and I’ve said it time and time again, is that anthologies are incredibly difficult to really pull off because you aren’t just making one solid horror movie. In some cases, its as many as six or more (don’t even get me started on the ABCs of Death) individual horror tales, and they each have to be great, or hopefully good at the very least. While one fowl segment doesn’t tank an entire anthology, it definitely sours it a bit. On the flipside, one great segment is not enough to save a poor anthology (we’re looking at you, VHS: Viral). It’s a very tough formula to work out, and even then, the order of the segments can have an effect on the overall strength of the film. The ordering of anthology segments requires a steady hand, much like Alfred Molina’s character in Boogie Nights waxing on the importance of the order of his musical playlists. With all that, anthologies are just plain tricky, so perhaps it was fate that brought together director George A. Romero (Land of the Dead, The Amusement Park) and novelist Stephen King (Maximum Overdrive, Cell) to put their love of EC horror comics on full display with the stylistic Creepshow. A successful film with two sequels and now a television adaptation on Shudder, let’s talk about the unique and dazzling Creepshow and see if it was able to avoid the pitfalls of so many anthologies.

Creepshow is an anthology homage to EC comics like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Our framing wraparound consists of a boy caught reading one of these mind-numbing books full of gore and violence and a darkly comic view of it all. His father throws the comic book out, and then we get a chance to view the many stories within. In “Father’s Day,” a family’s yearly get-together is soured with the memories of their unbeloved patriarch come back to haunt them. In “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” King himself appears as the titular character, a doltish man who comes across a space meteor and fills his head with ideas of fame and fortune, but the meteor may prove to be more menacing than he imagined. In “Something to Tide You Over,” Leslie Neilsen (Airplane!, The Naked Gun) plays a ruthlessly conniving man out for vengeance against his wife and her lover. In “The Crate,” a college professor discovers a storage crate from an arctic expedition with a rather nasty surprise hidden inside. Finally, “They’re Creeping Up on You” is about a mysophobic businessman obsessed with ridding his home of cockroaches and other nasty bugs.

Including its wraparound framing device, Creepshow is an absolute blast from start to finish. This is a rare anthology where all five of the segments work well on their own and together, each one seemingly covering a different area of pulpy gruesome horror fun. What’s so great about this movie is that the wraparound makes the segments actually fit within the film. We see that each of these stories is a comic book tale of horror, and since they have a singular director with a singular vision, each piece fits nicely enough within the framework that this could conceivably be a living comic book, and that bleeds through the tone and style of each of the stories (in fact, as a promotion for this film, there does exist a single book of Creepshow in comic book, or graphic novel, form). Romero used filters and comic book-y borders to create the feeling that we’re peering into a single panel of a page. The words jump out, and there’s almost a freeze-frame moment just on the cusp of the action, reminding us that we’re merely the audience, and nothing can hurt us here.

The benefit of having one director and one writer when the idea is to create a living comic book is that the tone is pretty much the same throughout. That’s not to say that an anthology with a more mixed tone cannot work, but I do believe it helps to have a cohesive tone running through the narratives. That allows for a bit more collaboration with King on the stories (hell, King was the lead of one of them!), and that means hitting all the tonal beats without issue. It’s a more tonally complex movie than most would give it because you would need to understand when you are aiming for horror and when you are aiming for comedy. If you don’t think that the balance between the two is important, then I would direct you to John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man or Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn.

Let’s break down a few of these stories, shall we? First off, we get “Father’s Day.” This one feels like it came directly out of Tales from the Crypt, and it very easily could have fit into the popular HBO series as a standalone episode. We get some strong performances from Viveca Lindfors (The Exorcist III, Stargate) as Aunt Bedelia, a woman with a very curious familial secret, as well as Ed Harris (with Hair-is!) as the new member of the family, Hank. He’s our straight man in this segment, the one asking the questions we all want answers to. This story is pretty straightforward, but its simplicity offers an appetizer to whet our horror appetite.

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” is a pretty enjoyable segment that leans more into the comedy than the horror with a nice tinge at the end, which is fine since we all know Stephen King is not a good actor. That’s not his fault, he just hasn’t been trained nor has he practiced. He actually holds his own enough here to make Jordy Verrill likable and dumb enough to keep to the sillier tone of this one. It’s weird and goofy and a whole lot of fun, probably the funniest of the segments, and it belongs right here.

Definitely vying for the best segment, “Something to Tide You Over” is a terrific little piece that combines a classic horror revenge story with a gross and mucky ending that seemingly aims for the comic codes of the 1950s or The Twilight Zone with its brilliant inversions. Nielsen is wonderfully wicked here as the jealous victim of marital cheating on the part of his wife (Gaylen Ross of Dawn of the Dead fame) and her lover (Ted Danson). The way he pulls all the strings here with his revenge plot is great, and watching his plan either come together or fall apart left me guessing.

The granddaddy of them all (and my personal favorite) is most likely “The Crate,” which utilizes great practical effects from Tom Savini (his first animatronic work is on display here). We get to seeing acting heavyweight Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild, Planes: Fire and Rescue) as the shy and underwhelming Henry Northrup, a man who is embarrassed by his loud and volatile wife Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau, Escape from New York, Exorcism at 60,000 Feet). The practical effects are terrific here, and the performances cater to those more highbrow stories from EC (I never understood the amount of rich socialites featured in their stories, but I guess a great number of them don’t fare too well, and maybe that’s the middle- or lower-class of us getting our rocks off enjoying it all). The horror is bloody and the humor is a bit more restrained here, and its placement as the fourth story is great because it’s a bit of a downer at times, but this is a clear front-runner of the pack.

The final segment, “They’re Creeping Up on You,” is most likely the weakest of the stories, but that’s because it’s just so small compared to the others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but if we’re ranking, it would be fifth best, but I enjoy it still. In fact, it’s kind of like dessert. We pretty much know where the story is going. Our only character, Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall, 12 Angry Men, Christmas Vacation) is very unlikable and we want to see bad things happen to him. Then, there’s the element of horror that is so overdone that even many who do not fear bugs will likely find something unnerving about it. It’s a simple story, but it still works, and it leaves us in a solid place to end the film. Worked for me.

Creepshow is wholly enjoyable from beginning to end, and it’s a perfect movie for me. The Creep is a chilling character (that I wish we got more of), and the stories he gives us are exciting, funny, strange, and just plain entertaining. It’s full of actors who know what movie they are in, and they play to their strengths. George A. Romero and Stephen King crafted a perfect tone for this ghoulish jaunt through a hallowed ground of the horror world, and this movie just works every time I watch it.

5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 28 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] Saw II (2005)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Donnie Wahlberg, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Beverley Mitchell, Dina Meyer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Erik Knudsen, Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman
93 mins. Rated R.

Saw was a horror phenomenon when it released in 2004. It surprised the hell out of me, as I didn’t expect to love it so much, to be rewatching it so regularly, trying to scope out clues and things I had missed before. It wasn’t for everyone, especially those unable to handle gore (even though the first actually didn’t contain as much as the franchise would be known for later on), but for me, there was another element that kept me entranced, and that was the story. I loved the mystery of the film, the clues, the references. I studied that film, and when the sequel came out, it didn’t arrive at my local theater and I was too young to drive to another town to see it, so I waited until the inevitable January DVD release, and I caught it. Now, looking back, let’s see how the first sequel to Saw holds up, and its influence on the direction of the series.

Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg, Ransom, Dreamcatcher) is a bad cop and a worse father. His life isn’t what he thought it was, and now he’s become the target of the villainous Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, Mississippi Burning, The Firm), a killer who likes to play games, set traps, and let his victims kill themselves in their struggle to survive. Eric and his former partner Kerry (Dina Meyer, Starship Troopers, Johnny Mnemonic) have discovered Jigsaw’s hideout, but they soon learn that catching Jigsaw will be tougher than they expected when Eric learns that his son Daniel (Erik Knudsen, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scream 4) is also a part of Jigsaw’s next game. Now, Eric and Daniel are both playing for survival, and Jigsaw has a few surprises in store for both of them.

Saw II actually started as a completely different movie. Writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera, Abattoir) had shopped around his script for a film called The Desperate and kept getting turned down, with most telling him that his movie was too similar to Saw. Eventually, the script found its way into the hands of Saw producers, who were looking to get a follow-up to the 2004 smash hit put together. Leigh Whannell, who scripted the original film, came in and adjusted the script into a Saw sequel, and the rest is horror history. In that way, Saw II is a bit of a unique flavor of the Saw films. It has most of Bousman’s writing stamps on it, and it has a look more in line with Bousman’s non-Saw films while still not straying away from the feel of the original. The screenplay, now adjusted to being a Saw sequel, is full of more of those clues and references to the connection with the original, and the way it ends up connecting is bonkers good. In fact, not even the cast was aware of the film’s ending and how it would play into the first film. Although, there are a few times when Jigsaw flat out lies to Eric, something he isn’t known for doing (he stretches the truth and leaves information out, but he never full-on lies to his victims and pawns), and that disappointed me a little.

Donnie Wahlberg is a standout here. His scenes with Tobin Bell as Jigsaw are amazing. The two have such different energies on display, and watching them collide is exhilarating while also highlighting their differences as characters and gives a lot of development to both. Remember, this film does a lot more heavy lifting of the Jigsaw mythos than the first film, in which [SPOILER ALERT!] Jigsaw spends most of the film lying in a bathroom covered in makeup and fake blood. Jigsaw gets to really flex his creed here and the reaction he gets from Eric works so well. Wahlberg’s work as Eric only highlights his own shortcomings as a cop, husband, and father.

Shawnee Smith (The Blob, Believe) also returns from the first film as Amanda, a character with limited but impactful screen time in the original (in fact, her scenes in the original were basically what the short film that inspired Saw were all about). Seeing her as someone who has survived Jigsaw’s game only to find herself back in it is horrifying, and we feel for her, but we also find a level of trust in her as she understands the game better than the others, and we cling to her for support. She also ends up in a fairly uncomfortable trap fighting for survival with the needle pit.

I also want to discuss the house trap, as it’s where most of the action of the film is. It’s a cool house with a lot of history and character to it, and seeing all these people trapped inside with slow-acting poison, looking for antidotes, it creates a larger set piece than the bathroom but doesn’t feel like it betrays the first film. It just has its own flavor, much like the rest of Saw II, probably carried over from Bousman’s earlier script. What I love about the way Bousman directs is that he tries to create a sense that the story never slows down by creating in-camera tricks in filming and editing that make scenes flow from one to the another without actually cutting. Look at the way Eric leaves his apartment early on and ends up at a crime scene. It’s a fascinating shot that emphasizes the best of Bousman’s ability to work low-budget and still create interesting and compelling cinema.

Saw II is still a step down from the first film, but it continues the story, elevates the characters, and develops the world-building of this franchise quite nicely while feeling like its own contained story. Yes, there are a few screenplay faults, there are more unlikable characters than likable ones, and the film maybe feels a bit too big at times, not allowing us to spend time with the cattle on their way to slaughter, but at least it highlights its most interesting characters like Jigsaw, Eric, Kerry, and Amanda, the ones who are developed enough to interest. I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it, and I still do, even if I’ve seen some of its faults on repeat viewings. I would still encourage fans of the original to see this one, and those who haven’t seen it in a while to consider revisiting it.

4/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of James Wan’s Saw, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.
  • For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 27 – [Happy 20th Birthday!] Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

Director: Joe Berlinger
Cast: Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristine Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner
Screenplay: Dick Beebe, Joe Berlinger
90 mins. Rated R for violence, language, sexuality and drug use.

Following up a cultural phenomenon like The Blair Witch Project would be pretty tough. Just a short time after the found-footage film found an audience, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 came about. The film is a drastically different take on the mythology, taking on a traditional horror movie vibe and losing the found-footage marker, Book of Shadows elected to acknowledge the first film as a film that may or may not be real, and the effect it had on the residents of Burkittsville, Maryland. A lofty goal, one that almost shouldn’t work on principle, and in fact, the film faltered at the box office and critical stage, so let’s visit this sequel as I finally take a stab at Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.

In the short time since the release of the hit “documentary” The Blair Witch Project, the town of Burkittsville has been overrun with tourists and fans of the movie all wanting to be a part of the hype. Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan, Sicario, Hitch), a local fanboy, has started offering “tours” of the locations from the film. Jeff takes four young people on a trip into the woods, but they find that this venture carries some dire consequences, ones with the power to unravel the very fabric of their psyches.

It is ironic that a director who primarily works on documentaries chose to make a straightforward sequel instead of a faux doc, but that’s exactly what Joe Berlinger (Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes) did just that, and his heart is in the right place. He had an ambitious take on the material, choosing to critique the faux documentary style of the original as well as fanaticism concerning death and dread. He’s asking questions about why we follow the darkness, why we find ourselves drawn to real horror, which is interesting considering he’s dealt with real horror as a director in a lot of his projects. The problem is that he wasn’t seemingly on the same page as the studio, and interference from the higher-ups was its downfall, choosing to add more gore, violence, and jump scares to a more thoughtful and mood-based horror film. Whether or not Berlinger’s original cut would be any better remains to be seen, but sure, I’d be all for #ReleaseTheBerlingerCut if the movement so chooses.

That’s not to say that this film is awful like most reviewers upon release. It’s just not very good either. The film is at its strongest when it dives into the mythology of the Blair Witch. I feel like Book of Shadows did a lot of mythology heavy-lifting here, really adding a lot more to the Blair Witch mythos (it’s also very important to point out Thorn Celtic symbol that appears in the film, perhaps as a nod to Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers). The concept works better than it should, and the story has enough meat on it to become interesting if executed properly. That just didn’t really happen.

Even with the studio interference, there’s no excusing some of the choppy and dull dialogue at play here. The characters are pretty stock, not contributing anything of complete value, and the jumping around in the narrative is an interesting frame (one that was done by the studio), but it never really amounts to anything that makes its existence meaningful.

Book of Shadows is actually a pretty admirable effort, but its many problems do outweigh the wins. The movie is not awful, but it is far from good. There are elements of Book of Shadows that work quite well. There are just far more that don’t. In that way, it’s very similar to its predecessor. They both have strengths and flaws, but flaws are stronger. Fans of The Blair Witch Project should really give this one a try, but I’m doubtful that it can sway anyone else.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project, click here.
  • For my review of Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 26 – Hobgoblins 2 (2009)

Director: Rick Sloane
Cast: John Mills, Sabrina Bolin, Jason Buuck, Jordana Berliner, Josh Green, Roland Esquivel, Chanel Ryan
Screenplay: Rick Sloane
92 mins. Not Rated.

I know what some of you are thinking: “There’s a Hobgoblins 2?” The others are probably thinking something similar: “There’s a Hobgoblins 1?” So yes, to settle your fears and questions, there is a Hobgoblins and a Hobgoblins 2. Let’s not waste any more time than that. The creator of the original film, Rick Sloane (Blood Theatre, Vice Academy), returned two decades later to write and direct this sequel to his groan-worthy eye-rolling original film.

We pick up this sequel a little time after the original, and Mr. McCreedy (Roland Esquivel, Anaheim the Film, Safety First: The Rise of Women!) has been committed to a psychiatric hospital after he blew up the studio from the first film in an effort to rid the world of the Hobgoblins. McCreedy warns Kevin (John Mills, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Brother’s Keeper) and his friends about the return of the Hobgoblins, but unfortunately, Kevin and his friends are young and rather stupid, and they fall right for the Hobgoblins and their trickery. Now, unless they can work together with McCreedy to overcome their fears, they are set to be next on the chopping block.

I’ll keep this one relatively quick tonight because there isn’t all that much to say. Hobgoblins 2 is terrible. The acting is atrocious, the writing is dull and boring (and essentially a worse retread of the original), the mythology (what little there is) doesn’t build upon or even reckon with the original, and the film is just a flat-out drag.

The only area where Hobgoblins 2 succeeds is that writer/director Sloane decided to make this a visual sequel to the original in that he shot on 35mm film and utilized effects work of the time, which is pretty cool. That also means no CGI (which, upon viewing it, makes a lot of sense). He was so intensely focused on creating this captivating visual sense that he pretty much ignored the funny elements or the scary elements altogether, but what can you do?

Hobgoblins 2 was supposed to come out in 1990, but the sequel just didn’t happen at the time. Now, looking back on the recast actors and the retread of the first film’s plot, there’s one glaring issue with this movie. It’s trying to be a bad cult horror movie. Much like Birdemic 2: Ressurection, Hobgoblins 2 is aware that the first film is bad, but back when the original was made, the intention was probably to make a good movie. Now, on the “success” of the original, the director has become self-aware of the love and intentionally made a bad movie, but this isn’t so-bad-it’s-good, it’s just so-bad.

1.5/5

For my review of Rick Sloane’s Hobgoblins, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 25 – The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O’Mara, Peter Cushing, Madeline Smith
Screenplay: Tudor Gates
91 mins. Rated R.

I love when I watch a new movie for the first time and then learn that there’s an entire mythology with sequels that I didn’t know about. To be honest, I was pretty sure that The Vampire Lovers was somehow tangentially connected to Hammer’s Dracula series, and then I came to learn of the Karnstein trilogy which began with this film and led to Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil. This was new territory to me, someone who only really learned of this movie when discovering that Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember, Asylum) had also directed Vault of Horror, the sequel to the original Tales from the Crypt film. Tonight, we’re going to break down this Hammer horror romp and see what it really has to offer.

The Vampire Lovers is the story of the Karnstein family, particularly Carmilla (Ingrid Pitt, The Wicker Man, Doctor Zhivago), a beautiful vampire seductress who feeds on the rich and powerful, seemingly preferring female flesh. As she finds a new target in Emma Morton (Madeline Smith, Live and Let Die, Theatre of Blood), daughter of the wealthy and connected patriarch Mr. Roger Morton (George Cole, Cleopatra, Henry V), she also comes across immense danger when her knotted web of lies begins to untangle in front of her. As the bodies pile up, Carmilla has amassed a number of enemies, all now in search of her…with vengeance in tow!

There’s an obvious exploitation feeling to The Vampire Lovers. It’s a sexy and sometimes silly movie that uses more nudity than it needs simply because the censorship for films had relaxed substantially in the time before it was made. The producers of the film supposedly pushed for more nudity and more sexiness throughout the entire production with the notion that its what people want to see. I’ll say that some of the nude scenes seemed to add to the tone and story, and a good chunk of it was entirely unneeded. This film could have been made without any of it, and I think it would have been fine, but some of the nudity added to the film, and some simply didn’t. For example, do we need a sequence in which the two attractive lead females frolic around in the nude giggling and laughing? Probably not. Some of it was eye-rollingly obvious, but that’s the film they wanted to make as well. Director Baker seemed to understand the potential uncomfortable nature of the production, and he aided his cast as much as was able, having a closed set when needed (that even kept the producers out), and ensuring that everyone was as comfortable as possible, receiving high praise from Ingrid Pitt.

The script is nothing too special in terms of the dialogue, but I found the film to have an interesting and captivating amount of mythology. The story itself was rather strong, even if some of the scenes just didn’t move the plot very much. I was very curious to learn more of Carmilla and the Karnstein family, and this is where Hammer does it’s best work. It’s in the mythology, the visuals, the actors who very much understand the material and movie they are in, and the tone. This is where Hammer lives, and it is particularly noticeable in The Vampire Lovers.

As far as the performers, we are treated to some pretty strong work, most notably from Pitt and the always entertaining Peter Cushing (Star Wars: A New Hope, Top Secret!), though no one in the lead cast takes the film down. There’s a certain level of schlock to Hammer, but if it is treated respectfully, it creates a rather powerful piece of cinema. The Vampire Lovers is a mostly successful film in these respects.

The Vampire Lovers is Hammer at its most exploitative, but a rich mythology, a sexy aesthetic, and strong character performances (even if the characters are written a little wooden) seem to aid this first installment of the Karnstein trilogy. I’m very interested to see where this story goes in the follow-ups. I’ve missed out on a lot of Hammer Horror in my years, but this is an unmistakable hidden gem of their catalog.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 24 – Poltergeist III (1988)

Director: Gary Sherman
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein
Screenplay: Gary Sherman, Brian Taggert
98 mins. Rated PG-13.

The Poltergeist franchise is one of the most iconic and recognizable franchises in horror history, which is interesting as it only spanned three films. Most of the heavy-hitters of the horror realm come from lengthy franchises like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, or even Saw and Paranormal Activity. Poltergeist has a lot of history, though, for three films, and the impact it had on cinema cannot be overlooked. Poltergeist is also of a select group of horror franchises that have just as much discussion of what happened behind the camera as they did in front of the camera. The Poltergeist franchise is considered a cursed group of films. We’re going to break down the final film of the Poltergeist franchise, the one that holds the most heartbreak, today as we continue with the 31 Days of Horror, so let’s not waste any time.

Some time after the events of the previous film, Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke, Surviving, Believe You Can…And You Can!) has been sent to live her with Uncle Bruce (Tom Skerritt, Alien, Ted) and Aunt Patricia (Nancy Allen, Carrie, RoboCop) in the big city, where she’s able to go to a special center for gifted children. Tensions are high because Patricia doesn’t want Carol Anne living with them. Carol Anne is being tested by Dr. Seaton, who believes her stories of ghosts and the paranormal are a fabrication, and when he pushes her to her limits, her location is discovered by Reverend Kane, who was trapped on the other side. Now, Kane’s found Carol Anne, and he’s determined to have her by any means necessary.

The screenplay for Poltergeist III bolsters a lot of great ideas and concepts, but it is a little rocky in its execution of those ideas. There’s this amazing Mirror theme running through the film, but it kind of comes out of nowhere and it seems to be the only thing Kane has at his disposal. Did he use mirrors in such a way before, and why does he only use them throughout this attempt? Then, there’s the repeat offense of everyone shouting everyone else’s name constantly. In fact, “Carol Anne” is spoken in dialogue 121 times in the movie, so don’t plan on any drinking games for that one. I also liked the idea of Dr. Seaton, a rare human antagonist in this series, but in no way do I believe that this man should or would have a job at this center for gifted children. He’s quite an asshat, but that’s the way he’s written.

Then, there’s the mixture of the new characters and lack of returning players. As it stands, O’Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein (Sixteen Candles, Southland Tales) are the only returning performers this time around. I guess you could also count Kane, who is returning with a new actor due to the death of the previous performer after the second film, but that’s all we have for our known characters, and we miss the rest of the Freelings. There’s a notable absence for this family, and their replacements are a little hit-and-miss. Skerritt is fine for Uncle Bruce, but Nancy Allen’s Patricia is insufferable for a good amount of screen time. Not the actress’s performance, but again due to the poor screenwriting choices, she is almost too unlikable to root for when the film demands it later on.

As a director, I found Gary Sherman (Dead & Buried, Death Line) to be rather exciting and ambitious. He wanted to shoot in the real John Hancock Center where the film was set, and he was allowed to on the agreement that he not disturb any of the tenants, so he went into full planning mode and took two months to schedule and figure how to accomplish this feat (it was later heard that most tenants never even knew a movie was filming at all in the building). The effect is rather spectacular, as the new set does have a lot to play with, and Sherman’s concepts, however clunkily written, worked pretty well in the new location.

Sherman also elected to focus entirely on in-camera special effects work. Poltergeist III was coming up in the time of great strides for CGI, and Sherman felt it necessary to meticulously plot out his sequences so that they could be done live. There’s an element of magician how-did-they-do-that to the finished product, and I found myself really enticed and drawn in by the set pieces.

As I mentioned earlier, a number of horrible incidents are tied to the cast and crew of the Poltergeist series. The most notable stain on Poltergeist III is the loss of Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne. It was during post-production (just a month after her 12th birthday) that O’Rourke passed due to a misdiagnosis. Her loss was very difficult on the cast and crew, and Sherman had grown rather close to the young actress. He wanted to shelve the project for a little while, but the studio stepped in and forced him to finish work on the film. There were some planned reshoots to heighten a few scenes and aim for a PG-13 (the film had already gone through the MPAA process and received a PG), so Sherman had to work around his franchise star. If you’d like to know more, check out the incredible documentary series Cursed Films (Poltergeist had a Season 1 episode).

The reshoots added a lot of fluff to the ending, which ultimately dragged it on too long and lost me a bit. I’d be more interested to see Sherman’s original plan for the ending, as he was pretty ambitious with his ideas, and I’m sure they would look better. This makes me wonder because it seems that O’Rourke had shot the original ending, so where is it? #releasetheshermancut

Poltergeist III was a tough film, damaged by true life tragedy in a way that forever ties it to these sorrows. As a film itself, it suffers from a rough screenplay with great ideas that just didn’t execute as well as they could. Sherman tried his best, an ambitious undertaking that may have been stronger than his skillset at that time, but overall, this final entry in the saga is still rather intriguing, completely imperfect, and suffering from a lack of warmth that the entire Freeling family of the first two films contained. There are some pieces that work, some that don’t, and the film is a hodgepodge of these elements. I enjoyed it, but it’s probably the weakest entry, I’m sorry to say.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.
For my review of Brian Gibson’s Poltergeist II: The Other Side, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 22 – [Happy 10th Birthday!] Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Director: Tod Williams

Cast: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Screenplay: Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, Tom Pabst

91 mins. Rated R for some language and brief violent material.

 

The gimmick of found footage horror films discovered quite a resurgence in the late 2000s with the original Paranormal Activity, a film made on a shoestring budget sold as real footage, using unknown actors and a simple shooting style that gave the film an interesting visual aesthetic. That film was so incredibly successful (and how could it not, with a miniscule budget; almost any win is a huge win) that of course Paramount would push forward on a sequel. The studio, which hated its association with the Friday the 13th films back in the 80s, found a new franchise to add to its struggling catalogue, and a small time later, Paranormal Activity 2 was released. I liked Paranormal Activity, but I had no interest in a repeat of the events of the original with a new group of unsuspecting characters facing a new haunting. I was finally pushed into it by a friend and colleague who, while not a huge fan of horror, was blown away by it. It’s been ten years since I first saw Paranormal Activity 2, and its about time I shared my thoughts on it.

Paranormal Activity 2 is the story of the Rey family. The mother, Kristi (Sprague Grayden, Samir, TV’s Jericho) is actually the sister of Katie (Katie Featherston, Psychic Experiment, TV’s Solace for the Undead) from the first film, and we also learn that a bulk of the events from this sequel are actually set before the events of Paranormal Activity. After a suspected burglary at the home of Kristi and husband Daniel (Brian Boland, The Unborn, Surprise Me!), security cameras are set up to protect from future issues. What is captured on those cameras over a series of nights showcase a far different problem: strange and unexplained events are occurring at the Rey home. As the family struggles to understand what is happening to them, a localized presence within the home has set its sights on infant Hunter, and it is determined to have him.

Prequels are a tough nut to crack in storytelling. You have to find a way to make events interesting even when the audience knows all or part of what is going to happen. Paranormal Activity 2, being a prequel/sequel hybrid that focused more on the events before the original film, succeeds quite well at expanding the mythology, focusing on areas that we don’t have a lot of understanding, and driving the narrative ever-so-slightly forward (my biggest criticism of the story is that we don’t really learn much more about what happened after the original film ended). In bulking up the original film’s somewhat weak mythology with a lot of detail and interesting revelations, PA2 becomes a much better story in the process.

The acting of the main cast is neither memorable nor is it poor enough to drag one out of the film. The strongest performance comes from Molly Ephraim (The Front Runner, TV’s Last Man Standing) as Daniel’s daughter Ali, a character who I found to be quite annoying at the film’s beginning until she becomes a more accessible conduit for the emotional core of the audience. As the evil presence makes itself more known in the film, we begin to see her putting the pieces together and search for answers and try to save her family. Even the work of Featherston and Micah Sloat are a little less wooden this time around.

There’s also the effects work to consider. While the first film was done on a shoestring budget, this sequel gets a bit of a bump that goes to making the haunting a little bigger without forcing it. The idea that bigger is better in sequels or follow-ups is foolish and leads to a place where spectacle trumps story and character, but in this film I found that it was not overly bigger. There’s some great scares in the film that ride that line of jump scare aided by mood and tone, and it mostly works. I found myself jumping far more often this time around.

Paranormal Activity 2 does not reinvent the found footage wheel in the way that the first film did. It’s a similar film, but its also a better film, with a stronger story, more interesting characters, higher stakes, and a more captivating mythology. If you didn’t at least like the original film, I can’t see this pre-sequel doing much to sway you, but this one is a follow-up that makes the original better, improving on it in every possible way. It certainly won me over.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, click here.

For my review of Christopher Landon’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 20 – [Happy 20th Birthday!] Bedazzled (2000)

Director: Harold Ramis
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O’Connor
Screenplay: Larry Gelbart, Harold Ramis, Peter Tolan
93 mins. Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor, language and some drug content.

Bedazzled was one of the first DVDs I ever owned. I remember getting a DVD player (for the family) for Christmas and, after hearing my dad swearing at the DVD player for an hour when he couldn’t get it plugged in, I was able to start my collection of DVDs, one that has exploded into a dangerously large amount over the last twenty years. I added Bedazzled to my collection because I was regularly checking it out from the video store anyway, so I might as well save the rental money and just own it. Now, it’s been at least a decade since I saw it, and I was very excited to revisit it for the 20th anniversary, but I was very nervous that it could have aged terribly.

Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser, The Mummy, Crash) is a bit of a loser. He’s an unpopular geek who desperately wants to be accepted by his co-workers. At the very least, he’d love to just be noticed by his beautiful colleague Alison Gardner (Frances O’Connor, The Conjuring 2, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), who doesn’t even seem to know he exists. When his latest attempt to speak to Alison fails, he is approached by a beautiful woman in a red dress, who introduces herself to Elliot as The Devil (Elizabeth Hurley, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, EDtv). The Devil offers Elliot a deal: to grant him seven wishes for his soul. Now, Elliot has seven wishes to woo Alison; now if he can only get the wording right.

To be clear: I haven’t seen the original 1967 film. Not that it matters, as we should be able to view a remake on its own ground. All that being said, Bedazzled is a very enjoyable film from director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Caddyshack). I actually really liked Brendan Fraser’s lead performance as Elliot. There’s a level of charisma in the way he related to me as a viewer. I think a lot of us have been in similar places to Elliot, feeling out of place in our day-to-day, wanting something or someone he can’t have, and it’s admirable that he would try to sell his soul to get her. I think Fraser gives a likability to the unlikable Elliot, making him someone to root for even as he bungles each attempt to win Alison’s affection.

I also really enjoyed Hurley’s take on the Devil. It only makes sense that the Devil would appear to a hopeless romantic as a stunningly gorgeous woman who can make him bend to her will. More than that, Hurley has fun with the role. She creates someone that the audience can enjoy, almost making us forget that she’s kind of an antagonist to Elliot’s search. We know the Devil doesn’t really want Elliot to succeed. She wants him to make his mistakes quickly so she can search out the next lost soul on the planet to work on, but Hurley works the expectations well. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance, but she does add to the film with her presence.

Bedazzled isn’t a top-tier film for Harold Ramis. It doesn’t contain the level of zaniness that we’ve seen from him, but it gives another rare glimpse of the heart and thoughtfulness that he was able to get from films like Groundhog Day, a more contemplative work. Bedazzled isn’t as subtle, but it does have a lot of charm that makes it watchable. The film has aged a little rough in terms of the way it portrays certain stereotypes, but outside of that, it’s an enjoyable enough romp. Looking back on it, perhaps it’s because it was a repeat watch of mine as a child, but I do still revere it, and I was so glad to have revisited it.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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