[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] [THE FINAL GIRLS]

Well, we’ve come to the end of another year of 31 Days of Horror, and it pains me to see another year come to an end, but unfortunately, there are 11 more months in the year, and we just have to move on…

But First! We have a little housekeeping to attend to. This is something I’ve wanted to include for some time as an added bonus, my 5 picks out of the last 31 days, my Top 5 from the pack, my Final Girls for 2021!

5. Wolf
Wolf was a first-time watch for me this month. My wife was on a werewolf kick, and we’ve owned it for years, so getting the chance to see it finally was terrific. Jack Nicholson is such a compelling lead because even though he’s a little too smarmy, Nicholson infuses him with enough charisma to make his plight all the more exciting. James Spader was a solid foil to Nicholson, and Michelle Pfeiffer had such great chemistry with Jack that I found myself wishing his Joker had teamed up with her Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman movies. It’s a horror film that is very 90s, very slow-burn, and very entertaining.

4. Saw III
While James Wan and Leigh Whannell would stay on as producers for the rest of the Saw sequels, this was very much their swan song as storytellers…at least, for now. And what a finale for the story they began two years prior! Saw III very well could have been the end of the franchise, and it completes this cycle of films quite nicely. Saw III has some of the more impressive traps, but its strengths lie in the character and mythology development at play here. The evolution, not only of John Kramer, but especially of Amanda Young, is quite powerful tragedy, and the way it weaves her throughout the Jigsaw legacy works really well in fixing some questions that I had about previous entries. It’s a Saw movie that does everything that Saw movies do but it does them quite well.

3. Godzilla vs. Kong
Godzilla vs. Kong is the first MonsterVerse that I didn’t get to catch in theaters, and I really wanted to go, but I wasn’t vaccinated yet, so I stayed in and caught the film on HBO Max, and even there, this is a movie that excels, finally, in figuring out what made the Toho kaiju films so entertaining: small human character stories that no when to take a back seat, spectacular action, and a focus on monster mythos over petty human drama that the worst of the American attempts have floundered in. I loved that the film promised a winner, and we got one, but then we got so much more. The entertainment value of this film alone makes it wholly rewatchable, as long as you keep the popcorn flowing.

2. New Nightmare
New Nightmare isn’t one of my most-watched Krueger movies, but its quality is without question. It’s a movie that shouldn’t work, but Wes Craven’s singular vision and his moxie as a director led to a fascinating reality-bending little horror movie, one that expands the mythology of Krueger while simultaneously bringing closure to his story in a satisfying way. Its ambition bests the more highly-regarded Scream, as well.

1. The Frighteners
The best film I talked about this entire month ended up being the first movie of the month, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. I make no apologies for continually singing the praises of The Frighteners, and I’m not stopping any time soon. I’ve learned recently that a good number of Horror Films in my Top Ten are horror comedies, and The Frighteners handles both genres in equal form. Michael J. Fox was a great lead, and it’s tragic that his health issues forced him into retiring from leading-man roles. He worked quite well with Jackson, and the rest of the cast understood Jackson’s vision and gave their all to their respective roles, creating a fun, creepy, and exciting fantasy/horror/comedy hybrid that checks all the boxes in style.

So there you have it: my Final Girls, the best of 2021’s 31 Days of Horror! What are your favorite films from this year’s list? Let me know, and what films should I cover next year? Don’t forget that this site exists the rest of the year as well, and as 2021 comes to a close, we’ll be talking about the big films from this year. Come along and join me!

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 31 – Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Director: Rick Rosenthal
Cast: Busta Rhymes, Bianca Kajlich, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Ryan Merriman, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tyra Banks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brad Loree
Screenplay: Larry Brand, Sean Hood
94 mins. Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality and brief drug use.

Well, here we are again. It’s the end of the 31 Days of Horror, and I’m not sure what we can talk about. We finished the Halloween franchise last year with H20, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies, Freaky Friday) cut Michael Myers’s head off, and everything is fine now, so we have nothing to talk about because the story is over…wait, what? It’s not? Oh God…no.

It’s been three years since H20, and Laurie Strode made an awful mistake when she beheaded her brother, Michael Myers (Brad Loree). Turns out, she killed the wrong man, and now, institutionalized, she awaits his return. Meanwhile, Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes, Narc, Breaking Point), a reality television creator, has gathered a bunch of attractive young people for a Halloween tour of Michael’s childhood home. He’s recruited Sara Moyer (Bianca Kajlich, Bring It On, 10 Things I Hate About You) and her two college friends for this internet experiment, but Michael is on the way home, and this welcome party is not ready for his rage.

Every franchise will inevitably have a low point, and Halloween: Resurrection is that low point for Michael Myers. Let’s start off with the opening, the reason for this film’s existence: the retcon of H20. I actually don’t hate this idea (thought I wish there were more foreshadowing in the previous film), but it’s the execution of this reveal that didn’t work that well. I don’t hate Michael’s return here, but if you are going to pull this twist off, you need to have a better movie following this opening or it’ll feel like you should’ve let Michael stay dead. In this case, considering the franchise got rebooted again right after Resurrection, they maybe should’ve not made this movie at all.

Let’s talk about the performance of Brad Loree as Michael Myers. This is Loree’s first and only time as Michael, and I just don’t think he had an understanding of Michael Myers. Part of it is the screenplay as well as the directing of Rick Rosenthal (Bad Boys, Drones) in his second Halloween helming, but Loree’s Myers does not work at all. He’s more in line with a portrayal of Jason Voorhees in this film (Kane Hodder was reportedly the stunt double for Loree, so this may not be too far off base, and Loree had reportedly tried out for Jason Voorhees in Freddy vs Jason). He walks into doors like a confused Roomba, eventually crashing through them at 5mph. He doesn’t seem to react to anything the way that this famous killer would. He gets smack-talk from Busta Rhymes and just takes it! He even gets electrocuted in the dick at one point.

Resurrection seems to set up Sara to be the next main girl of the series, but Kajlich is given very little to do in the movie. Not only is she incapable of screaming (a must if you wish to take over as a scream queen). It’s not that she’s unlikable, but she isn’t captivating.

The rest of the cast is given little of value to do, but the most disappointing of the cast is Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks (Coyote Ugly, Tropic Thunder) as Freddie and Nora, the leaders of this expedition into Myers’s home. Busta Rhymes feels so out of place, he’s unlikable, and his performance is more self-parody than anything serious or exciting. You’d be hard-pressed to even remember that Tyra Banks is in the finished film except that she’s on the poster. These two are just heavy reminders that Rosenthal’s production just isn’t taking Halloween seriously. Nothing is scary, nothing is tense, nothing is tonally acceptable.

Something else I wouldn’t mind is this found-footage angle, ahead of its time but ultimately underutilized in the film. Nothing much happens for the first hour and I didn’t much care by the time the ending came around. I was one of the excited people when the discussion of a found-footage Friday the 13th was hotly discussed, and, had it been done right, I would’ve been all for it here, but again, there’s a lack of care.

I won’t dive too much into it, but the ending is also a loss. If you’re going to have the kickass ending of H20, and you decide to retcon it, you better have a DAMN good ending to follow it up, and this movie, like this timeline of the franchise, goes out with, not a BANG, but a whimper.

Jamie Lee Curtis later admitted that she considered this movie to be a joke, and series creator John Carpenter cringed at the thought of it (but he did get paid), but Halloween: Resurrection exists. Thankfully, those that hate this installment can very easily not watch it, as it doesn’t have much bearing on the previous installments, and H20 is an ultimately better ending for everyone involved. As it stands, this is the worst in the franchise and a very disappointing installment, essentially neutering every character arc and sending the franchise into a death spiral. Diehard fans should try it, but all others need not apply. You can skip Resurrection. I sometimes wish I had.

1.5/5
-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 Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 30 – Night of the Animated Dead (2021)

Director: Jason Axinn
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Dule Hill, Katharine Isabelle, James Roday Rodriguez, Katee Sackhoff, Will Sasso, Jimmi Simpson, Nancy Travis
Screenplay: George A. Romero, John A. Russo
71 mins. Rated R for bloody/gruesome zombie violence.

I’m all for checking out a new interpretation of an old classic. I mean, how many versions of Dracula exist out there, and I like a good chunk of them enough to make the constant re-adaptations worth it. Night of the Living Dead is another classic staple, THE zombie movie, and due to some copyright snafus, it’s pretty easy to adapt or remake however you see fit, and that’s exactly what happened here.

You know the story: when Barbara (Katharine Isabelle, Ginger Snaps, American Mary) and her brother arrive at a faraway cemetery to leave flowers for her late father, they are beset upon by a man who kills her brother and sends her fleeing for her life. She holds up in an old farmhouse with another man experiencing the same thing. They soon come to learn that the dead have risen up all around them, and they are in search of human flesh. Now, they have to survive the night in the farmhouse as they are attacked from all angles by the undead.

I was immensely disappointed in Night of the Animated Dead, and I was so hopeful, too. The front cover looked artful and stylish, and I was really interested to see a very unique visual flair to the film, but what we got looked more like introductory-animation-course and not a feature film being sold at Target. The animation looked very jerky and unrealistic (and I know, animation does not need realism, but this animation lacked detail in its movement and really lost my attention quickly.

There are a few things that help to save the film, however unsuccessful. One of them is the screenplay, pulling heavily from the source material to the point that Romero and Russo have been credited for the story. I also liked that there’s an ever-so-slight expansion to the material where we see what happened to Ben (Dule Hill, Hypnotic, TV’s Psych) at the gas station early on in the film. Not much is done with it, but I appreciated the attempt. I also think the voice work is admirable, but I’d wonder why so much money was spent on getting named talent to voice these characters and then animating them so poorly.

I’ve seen three distinct takes on Night of the Living Dead in my life, and this is by far the worst. I can’t ever see myself choosing this film over the 1968 or even 1990 versions of this classic tale. Had the animated been done with care, perhaps I’d feel differently, but this is an adaptation that is ultimately a loss in almost every way.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 29 – Twilight (2008)

Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli
Screenplay: Melissa Rosenberg
122 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence and a scene of sensuality.

It seems almost too easy to make fun of Twilight as a franchise, and I’m not here to bash. It’s been a good many years since I’ve seen any of these films, and I felt like a revisit. I’ll start by saying something nice about the source material (I’ve read the first 100 pages of the first book, so I’ve earned this). These books by Stephanie Meyer got younger people reading again, and I’ll never fault that (even if the source material is dreck). Okay, I tried my best. Now, let’s get to the vamp-lovin…

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart, Snow White and the Huntsman, Spencer) has just moved to Forks, Washington to stay with her dad, and she’s just trying to fit in. When she’s forced to be lab partners with the strange and reserved Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson, Remember Me, The Devil All the Time), she finds that she is unable to stop thinking about him. Soon, she learns a great secret: Edward and his family are vampires, full of long-life and glittery skin. Now, Bella is forced down a dangerous path, for loving Edward comes with a host of other problems, both living and undead.

As I said above, it’s easy to bash this movie and its sequels, and to be fair, Twilight is not a good movie, but it isn’t the worst thing put to cinema, so let’s talk about what works. First of all, I’m going to be the guy that defends glittery skin. I actually don’t mind this take on vampirism, especially the glittery skin thing that so many people hate. Fun fact: vampires aren’t real, and people have played hard and fast with the rules for decades, so this is not the strangest take on the undead bloodsuckers, so just calm your shit on that one.

Also, there are solid performances in the movie. Not from the two leads, not at all. Both Stewart and Pattinson are really unlikable in this movie. Stewart has these fits throughout the movie where she can’t stop blinking, mumbling and faux smiling, and it’s almost unnerving, and Pattinson’s take on Edward is creepy and dickish, but there are solid performances from members of the supporting cast. I really like Billy Burke (Drive Angry, Batman: The Long Halloween – Part 2) as Bella’s father, Charlie. I believed that he was a bit of a dolt at parenting, that he was trying to do the Friend thing more than the Dad thing, and he couldn’t wrap his head around the parenting of a teenager because he hasn’t had to.

I also really liked Peter Facinelli (The Vanished, 13 Minutes) as Carlisle Cullen, the adopted father of Edward. Facinelli brings a restraint to his characterization of Carlisle that the “teen” Cullens completely fail at. Comparing Facinelli’s take on the vampire to Pattinson’s Edward, Carlisle comes off as a friendly but quiet man, whereas Pattinson is trying so hard not to be noticeable that he’s awkwardly even more noticeable. The same can be said of Elizabeth Reaser as Esme, Carlisle’s wife. Reaser isn’t really in the movie all that much, but she’s great. She has that quality of a mother who is a little over-friendly to her son’s new girlfriend.

The problem with a lot of the performances in the film is that the screenplay, by Melissa Rosenberg (Step Up, TV’s Jessica Jones), is quite messy. The reason for this is she based her screenplay on Stephanie Meyer’s book. I’ve read enough of Meyer’s book to know that the screenplay is actually pretty close to the book, and the book is bad, so the screenplay is bad. That, combined with director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Miss Bala) making some bad calls, like her insistence that the film should have narration, and some of her collaboration with cinematographer Elliot Davis on the color palette, some things that would prove to be just as problematic as the series would unfold.

Twilight has some elements that work, and the finished film is not a total loss, but unfortunately, this is a movie that hinges on the romance, and the romance is bad. Both Stewart and Pattinson do not correctly understand their characters, and they both rely on some poor scriptwriting based on even poorer subject matter. I stand by that fans of the source material will probably like this movie, but it’s bad, just not as bad as most haters would lead you to believe.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 28 – Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzalez, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir
Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein
113 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language.

Well, here we are, at the culmination of everything in the MonsterVerse to this point. Sure, it didn’t take 22 films like Marvel did to get to this point, but this is still a major milestone for the universe thus far. It’s time for Godzilla vs. Kong. Place your bets.

It’s been five years since the epic battle between Godzilla and Ghidorah, and the world has tried to adjust to the world of the Titans. Godzilla hasn’t been seen since that battle, and when he re-emergences to attack an Apex Cybernetics facility in Pensacola, the world turns on the King on the Monsters. Meanwhile, a much-older Kong is living in a domed environment on Skull Island, being overseen by Kong expert Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town). Ilene teams up with former Monarch scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard, The Legend of Tarzan, TV’s True Blood) to get Kong to his homeworld in Hollow Earth, a pocket near the center of the planet, the mystery of Godzilla’s attacks intensify, leading toward a forced confrontation between the two titans and battle over who is the real King has begun.

Godzilla vs. Kong fully realizes what this franchise and these monsters are all about. The humans in this film are the most well-defined and likable of the franchise, and they also take a step back for the creatures and the mythology in a way that previous installments have failed to understand. I’ve spent the last several months discovering old kaiju films from Toho’s past, and I’ve learned that the mythology and style makes the movie along with the big monster bashing battles. These movies need to embrace the fantasy elements of their narrative, no matter how ludicrous. I loved the Hollow Earth journey for Kong, even though I recognize it as complete bullshit. That’s because no one is coming to these movies for their realism, which I think is one of the reasons my enjoyment has lessened over the years concerning the 2014 Godzilla film.

Godzilla vs. Kong makes great use of several exciting set pieces, while also staying on target to bring its two combatants together in an exciting way, and director Adam Wingard (V/H/S, You’re Next) gives us a neon-colored selection of fights that feel reminiscent of Pacific Rim while also exploring the two monsters in more depth than we’ve had before. Again, this is the movie in this world that has ultimately understood that the stars are Godzilla and Kong, not the humans. The role of the humans is to set the story in motion and then be more reactionary to the monsters than much else.

Most of the primary cast works well within the film, even though a few characters feel needlessly silly, most notably Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, If Beale Street Could Talk) as Bernie Hayes, a conspiracy theorist who uncovers a dangerous plot of Apex Cybernetics along with the returning Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, Enola Holmes, TV’s Stranger Things).

I also wasn’t a fan of the characterization of Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri, No Longer Human, Weathering With You), the son of the Ishiro Serizawa from the first two Godzilla films. First of all, I barely registered that this was supposed to be the son of Serizawa, and I wasn’t understanding why they made the connection to play out his character in the way he was written.

The other major flaw of this film kind of sits with the resolution of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. If you’ve forgotten, that film ends with Godzilla as the Alpha surrounded by all his subordinate Titans, and then there’s no mention of any of it in this film. We know that it follows King of the Monsters because of some of the reveals in this film and returning characters, but where did all the Titans go and why aren’t any of them really integral to any of this plot. Looking back at King of the Monsters, it’s easy to see that most of those plot threads are captured in the incredibly lazy way of using news footage in that film’s closing credits, but it just kind of feels like King of the Monsters had a Resident Evil movie’s finale, where all of it is seemingly undone within moments of the next installment, and it frustrated the hell out of me as a viewer.

Through its faults, and the film indeed has them, I was entertained as hell by Godzilla vs. Kong, and I hope this isn’t the last of the MonsterVerse, now that it has accomplished its main goal of getting these two to duke it out (and there is a winner, don’t let anyone fool you), and now I want to see where it goes from here. This was loads of fun even on a second viewing, and I’m already looking forward to a third watch.

4/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Kong: Skull Island, click here.
  • For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.
  • For my review of Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, click here.
  • For my review of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, click here.
  • For my review of Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, click here.
  • For my review of the anthology film The ABCs of Death, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 27 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] Saw III (2006)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Dina Meyer
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
108 mins. Rated R for strong grisly violence and gore, sequences of terror and torture, nudity and language.

Saw III felt like an event in horror back in 2006. It was the end of a trilogy, following two very popular installments. We weren’t sure if the franchise would continue, if it could continue, and if so, in what form? So many questions, and it was a packed theatrical experience in my hometown theater. Now, 15 years on, Saw III ended up not being the last installment (and even the next last installment, Saw: The Final Chapter, ended up not being the last installment either, in typical horror franchise fashion), so how does this third entry in the 9-film series fare amid the larger framework, and is it any good?

It’s been six months since Eric Matthews disappeared, and with each new killing, Detective Kerry (Dina Meyer, Starship Troopers, Johnny Mnemonic) gets more and more desperate for answers. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, Mississippi Burning, The Firm) and Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith, The Blob, Believe) haven’t been seen in that time, but they’ve been busy setting their new game in motion, involving a vengeful father who must save the very people he blames for the death of his son and a surgeon forced to keep Jigsaw alive until the game is complete.

Saw III still feels like a final chapter in many ways. It sort of completes a certain story of the Saw franchise while sowing the seeds for the next 4 installments. I love when a horror series can build upon its established mythology as it furthers the narrative, and Saw III is perhaps the best example of this series excelling at both. It looks back at how Amanda has been integral in Jigsaw’s story as she sets up events from the first two films, and it dives into the deep mentor/protege relationship that the two have cultivated as Jigsaw tries to understand if she is capable of taking on his mantle after his death.

As far as the new game goes, I found this one quite interesting. I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how this game would matter in the grand scheme, and it plays out in a number of surprising ways. This is something some of the later films would struggle with, but I found the twists and turns to be rather interesting in this film. The traps are interesting as well, a good combination of elaborate and disgusting. The Rack is one of the best traps of the entire series.

The cinematography and editing in the film are very similar to previous installments, but Bousman continues to push the visual flair of the series, crafting some interesting transitional shots that keep the action moving even when the narrative pauses to jump into the past.

Charlie Clouser’s score here is the best of the series thus far, as he takes popular theme’s like Hello Zepp and elevates them in new and interesting ways. I’ve always been a fan of the score in this franchise, and Clouser’s work in this film is another way. Between Clouser’s music, the cinematography, and editing, everything feels like a Saw film, and it won’t sway you if you didn’t like them in the first two films.

Saw III isn’t here to bring in new fans, and it doesn’t have to. If you’ve enjoyed the franchise thus far, Saw III should continue the strong streak of this 2000s horror juggernaut. If you weren’t a fan of Saw or its follow-up, this just may not be the franchise for you, but I adored this sequel and nearly everything about it. It’s one flaw is that may spend more time in the past than it does in the present, but it’s all good stuff nonetheless.

4/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 26 – [Happy 20th Birthday!] Bones (2001)

Director: Ernest Dickerson
Cast: Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier, Khalil Kain, Clifton Powell, Bianca Lawson, Michael T. Weiss
Screenplay: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe
96 mins. Rated R for violence/gore, language, sexuality and drugs.

I remember the VHS cover for Bones. I remember seeing it when I’d peruse my local video store. I knew nothing about it, except the guy on the front cover looked like that rapper I didn’t listen to. It was a creepy cover, but I had nothing else drawing me to it. I only recently learned that was directed by Ernest Dickerson (Juice, Blind Faith), someone I’ve been aware of for years. I figured, since the film is celebrating its 20th anniversary today, now would be the right time to check out Bones and see if it was as underrated as I’d heard.

It’s been twenty years since the death of Jimmy Bones (Snoop Dogg, Training Day, Turbo), and the brownstone building that was his home has become a relic and a tomb. Now, four friends, led by Patrick (Khalil Kain, Renaissance Man, Coming to Africa), have purchased the Bones house and update it to open a nightclub inside. This sets off a chain reaction that begins the resurrection of Bones who is out for vengeance against those who betrayed him decades ago.

Dickerson’s biggest strength as a director is his ability to play into the genre and utilize a strong filmic sensibility for practical effects. When he utilizes practical effects in the film, it’s a kickass experience. The practical effects are gorgeous and grim and wholly captivating. The problem is that Bones also uses visual effects which are completely distracting and poorly lit. So many of the visual effects have aged and ineffective.

That’s not the only area of mixed execution in the film. Snoop Dogg is utilized quite well in the film. He hadn’t done much acting as of this time period, and he’s played as more of a presence with a bit of an over-the-top flair. He also plays nicely off of Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, Ghosts of Mars), who plays his romantic interest, Pearl. Snoop and Grier had done music videos in the years leading up to Bones, and that chemistry is here as well, but remember I said that acting was mixed? Well, our group of four friends opening up the nightclub are all pretty lackluster. None of them are written all that well, nor are they performed all that well. Mostly, they are overwritten and overacted to the point of parody, and while Bones isn’t meant to be taken seriously, these four youths are seemingly in a different movie, which is disappointing.

Bones is filled with mixed bits because while certain performances and effects work, others do not. The practical effects work is lit well, but the CG is not. The production design is excellent, but the editing is a bit rough and scattered. It’s a movie of parts that work and parts that do not, though I would still give the film a mild edge because enough of it works to have fun. Bones isn’t a classic by any means, but I had enough fun with the narrative and Dickerson’s direction to enjoy myself.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Ernest Dickerson’s Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 25 – Halloweentown (1998)

Director: Duwayne Dunham
Cast: Debbie Reynolds, Kimberly J. Brown, Judith Hoag, Joey Zimmerman, Emily Roeske
Screenplay: Jon Cooksey, Ali Marie Matheson
84 mins. Rated TV-G.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t watch Halloweentown as a kid. I lived in a part of the country where the Disney Channel was apparently part of some expensive cable package that my family just didn’t have. With that, I just didn’t grow up with Halloweentown. My wife did. Several of my friends did. I didn’t, so when Halloweentown comes up in conversation about best films to watch during this time of year, I don’t really have much to add. Well, I bought the first two films with the intention of watching them with my wife during the Halloween season, so let’s discuss this Disney Channel Original favorite.

Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown, Bringing Down the House, Friendship!) is 13 years old, practically an adult in her own eyes, and yet, she’s never been able to take part in Halloween. Her younger siblings are the same way, and their mother, Gwen (Judith Hoag, Armageddon, Finding You) has never given a reason. It seems this year will be no different, but when Marnie’s grandmother, Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ in the Rain, In & Out), arrives for her yearly Halloween visit, Marnie learns the truth: she and her sister Sophie (Emily Roeske, 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, Fell’s Redeemer) are both witches, and this is Marnie’s last year to begin training or her powers will be gone forever. She follows her grandmother home aboard a mystical bus, and they are whisked off to Halloweentown, a magical locale full of witches, warlocks, and humanoid creatures of all varieties. It seems like a wonderful place to Marnie, but there is danger brewing in Halloweentown, and her family is in grave danger.

Watching this film in my early 30s is perhaps not the right time to see it. Halloweentown feels to me like The Goonies: if you missed it when you were the target audience, it may be lost on you. I don’t want to completely hate on the film because in many ways it is similar to shows I grew up on like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? but without anything actually scary.

Debbie Reynolds is absolute magic as Aggie Cromwell. It seems that, if nothing else, she understood the assignment and infused the role with an enthusiasm rarely given to television movies in the 90s. Her time with bright and shiny Hollywood pictures would have led me to believe her to be “Bigger” than this movie, but she treats it with the same respect she would have given to any role, and that’s part of what makes her so emphatically entertaining in the role.

As for the children in the film, none of these performances are offensive, but all three of the Piper children are played with a We’re-in-a-Disney-Channel-movie-so-we-need-to-enunciate-in-a-way-that-makes-everything-light-and-bubbly-at-all-times-so-the-young-viewers-will-not-get-too-anxious-of-the-danger-we’re-in kind of performance. Perhaps believability was never possible in a film like this, but I was always invested in Harry Potter’s magical world for its characters and the danger they were in was palpable enough to allow me to enter their world.

I liked the aspect of Halloweentown that actually dived into the macabre specifically the flavor of the town and its people. I wish it were portrayed with a semblance of childlike fear, just enough to give a minute amount of spookiness to the finished product, but I liked the town and its various residents, particularly the unnerving skeletal taxi driver, Benny. As I said before, all of these characters within the town would have been even better if the film had any real scares, even as far as mood goes.

And that’s the film’s biggest problem for me. It’s not scary, and I know what you’ll say next. You’ll tell me that this is a kids movie and that it can’t be that scary for children, and you’ll tell me that nothing in it is meant to scare ME, but here’s the thing: this film is fearless. There’s nothing even remotely spooky going on in this movie. Let’s compare it to aforementioned Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, as I still watch both of these shows during the Halloween season for nostalgia and a bit of lighthearted amusement. Both shows cease to scare me, but they scared me quite a bit as a child, even someone like me who watched Halloween at age 4, who has grown up watching the Adult Horror from a young age. The scares in Goosebumps and Are You Afraid are mild, to be sure, but they are there, and they worked just enough on me as a child to get some thrills out of them and then wash myself clean of them after 30 minutes. I’m not asking for Halloweentown to be remade into a film like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (but Disney, if that interests you, call me), but it’s extremely obvious that this film was not intended for even slight fear, which is odd because I figured putting a director like Duwayne Dunham (Now You See It…, Tiger Cruise) at the helm would be akin to a little bit of eerieness at the very least, as he had directed a couple episodes of Twin Peaks, a show that consistently delved into eerieness. Again, not asking for a Twin Peaks Halloweentown (but again, Disney, call me), but I want something, anything, to tell me that this wasn’t just a Christmastown movie reskinned with a Halloween aesthetic.

No, I didn’t hate Halloweentown, but I didn’t love it. I thought it was simply okay, a bit of a letdown for a film with such a fervant following (St. Helen’s, Oregon, where the film was made, has a month-long Spirit of Halloweentown festival every year), but I don’t think I’m the target audience for this anymore. Maybe I just missed the boat, but it’s my goal on this site to educate and give my opinion on any film, and I try to see every film through the intended lens. I ask myself, “What is this movie trying to be and is it successful?” It’s one of the first things I think about when I see a movie, and it’s as important to me as entertainment value. For me, Halloweentown is intended for children, and I feel like it works well enough at what it’s trying to be that I won’t hate on it. It’s just a movie that, even were I a young child, seeing it for the first time, I would’ve been “Meh” on it. It’s fine, it’s inoffensive, but you won’t ever see me choosing Halloweentown over the more solid Hocus Pocus in terms of family Halloween fare. That’s all.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 24 – [Happy 35th Birthday!] Trick or Treat (1986)

Director: Charles Martin Smith
Cast: Marc Price, Tony Fields, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne
Screenplay: Michael S. Murphey, Joel Soisson, Rhet Topham
98 mins. Rated R.

There’s an interesting yet undiscussed part of horror culture, beginning in the 80s, that I would call Rock Horror. It’s a combination of horror elements with a heavy influence on Rock n Roll, and it’s more of a loose sub-genre. Slumber Party Massacre II would likely fall under this umbrella, as would Black Roses or Rocktober Blood, but the one that seems to be earning that cult status more and more recently would be Trick or Treat, the feature directorial debut of actor Charles Martin Smith (Dolphin Tale, A Christmas Gift From Bob). Finding a copy of this film is not easy (musical rights issues have plagued many attempts to get the film on home video), but I was able to hunt one down, so let’s turn up the stereo and get bloody.

Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price, Hell’s Bells, TV’s Family Ties) is an unpopular loner who has only ever felt a connection to his hard-rocking idol, Sammi Curr (Tony Fields, Dance Academy, Across the Moon). When Sammi Curr perishes in a mysterious hotel fire, Eddie is utterly shattered, but when he receives a copy of Curr’s unreleased final album, he becomes enamored with hearing the final new works of the late musician, but somethings not quite right with this record, and Eddie soon discovers that Sammi Curr is speaking to him from beyond the grave, and he’s not quite ready to move onto the afterlife.

Perhaps the greatest asset of this film is the special effects work of Kevin Yagher. Most of what’s on display is pretty cheaply done, and not all of it works, but this being a very early work by Yagher on a more minuscule budget, he stretches a lot of impressive effects work out of his pocketbook.

Sadly, Trick or Treat takes far too long to get going, and I was floundering searching for its magic. The film takes too much time setting up Eddie’s fascination with the musician and then immediately dispatches the rocker. Then, we spend so much time with searching for a plot until he acquires the record. I think the beginning of this film would’ve been better served had we been introduced to Sammi himself as a living, breathing character before his death in order to perhaps better understand his character when he returns from the dead. I’m not really sure what Sammi wants in his return. He lacks character in favor of style. Eddie is the other way, character with no style. Marc Price’s performance is lacking in anything memorable that I struggled to be interested in him as a protagonist. There’s just very little to cling to.

I really wanted to like Trick or Treat, but the finished product left me rather mixed. There’s some really cool stuff here, and I cannot fight anyone for loving this movie. I just found too many detractors, but it’s a film I still feel like revisiting next year, and, had they followed it up with a franchise, I think there’s enough here to enjoy, even if I was left wanting more.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Charles Martin Smith’s A Dog’s Way Home, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 23 – [Happy 40th Birthday!] Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Director: Bruce D. Clark
Cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Taafe O’Connell, Robert Englund
Screenplay: Marc Siegler, Bruce D. Clark
81 mins. Rated R.

Okay, so I didn’t intend to cover two different Alien ripoffs this month, but here we are. Unlike Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination, the film we’re talking about today was actually quite important to the legacy of the Alien franchise. Galaxy of Terror had an up-and-coming filmmaker, James Cameron, as its Art Director. Not only that, Cameron hired his pal, Bill Paxton, to work as set dresser for the film. Cameron saw an opportunity for himself on the film and wiggled his way into being second-unit director, and it was his work on this film that got him his first directing gig on Piranha II: The Spawning. A few years later, Cameron would be directing the sequel to Alien, Aliens, with his pal Bill Paxton performing in it. Sometimes ripoffs can be very important, see?

Galaxy of Terror is the story of the spaceship Quest and its crew as they arrive at the planet Morganthus. Their mission is to discover the whereabouts of another ship that disappeared on the surface of the planet some time ago. They quickly discover that Morganthus is not without life, and something horrible is stalking them as they search for answers, picking them off one-by-one.

Galaxy of Terror is the kind of movie that could work. As I mentioned, for a low-budget endeavor, the art direction from Cameron is quite good. There’s an influence from Alien, for certain, but there’s a more colorful and vibrant feeling to this movie that serves its campy tone quite well. The costume design and set work is admirable, and they stretch that thin budget as far as they can.

A few select performances work quite well here. I liked Edward Albert (Butterflies Are Free, Midway) as our main protagonist Cabren, a veteran of space travel who keeps a cool head amidst the teror of the ission. I’m also a fan of Ray Walston (Popeye, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), especially when he appears in genre work, and he’s great as Kore, who carries a very similar arc to an Alien character but comes at it in a different way. Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightworld: Door of Hell) also outperformed my expectations, as I was expecting him to not have much to do, but he is enthusiastically enjoyably throughout.

The problem with thos performances is that, even with the cast and crew trying hard, this script is flimsy at the best of times and director Bruce D. Clark (Naked Angels, Hammer) doesn’t do much to spice up the narrative with his uninspired direction. Even at 81 minutes, Galaxy of Terror feels overly long because, trying as hard as they are, these performers can’t do much with this weak material. Albert’s Cabren would’ve worked if he had anything to do as a lead. Walston is putting everything into his performance, but it seems that Kore, as one of the most interesting characters, is forgotten for large swaths of the narrative, and Englund’s Ranger could’ve really excelled if given better than a paper-thin character dynamic to work with. There’s a lot of people raising the material, but the script and direction doom this movie.

What’s even more frustrating is how close they come to workable, but then Clark and producer Roger Corman elect to force unneeded schlock back into it. The infamous “worm rape” scene is a prime example of this. There’s a way to have a schlocky bit of excitement terror and still use your tools to create suspense and mood. Instead, Corman directed this scene in a neanderthalic way, choosing “boob boob alien sex make fun fun money.” Perhaps I’m being harsh, but when you compare this sequence to another infamous horror scene, the “tree rape” scene from The Evil Dead, you can see a clear separation in purpose. Raimi’s film uses the scene to build upon the horror and tone and mood and also to disturb. Corman, stepping in to direct the scene in Galaxy of Terror, uses it like a kid who discovered his dad’s porno mags and wants to show them to you. I love Roger Corman but this just didn’t work.

Galaxy of Terror has perhaps more promise than one would expect, but it still comes up short. There are bits and pieces of this film that show a better work beneath the surface, but much like the spaceship Quest at the start of this film, Galaxy of Terror comes in for a crash landing.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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