[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 13 – Scream (1996)

Director: Wes Craven
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore
Screenplay: Kevin Williamson
111 mins. Rated R for strong graphic horror violence and gore, and for language.

As a horror fan, I vividly remember the year that Scream came out. I was pretty young, but the Ghostface killer was everywhere in late 1996 and early 1997 (the film was released during the holiday season as counter-programming to the heartwarming family fare that December usually brings). It permeated the world of pop culture, something that horror hadn’t done as successfully since probably Freddy Krueger a decade prior. There was just something new and fresh with this take on the slasher and it compelled audiences to be a part of it. It’s been over twenty years since the Scream franchise began, and now, with a fifth film entering production, there’s no better time to revisit this first installment and try to pull apart what made it so damn popular.

There’s a killer in Woodsboro. Students at the high school have been getting calls from a mysterious voice, quizzing them on scary movies and offering death for wrong answers. The killer seems focused on Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell, The Craft, Skyscraper), a young woman whose mother was killed just one year earlier, but who can she trust when the killer knows so much about her? Could it be best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan, Grindhouse, Jawbreakers), bumbling Deputy Dewey (David Arquette, Bone Tomahawk, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl), or perhaps even her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich, As Good as it Gets, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)? Everybody’s a suspect!

Scream is a horror movie for horror movie fans. Its screenplay, from the meta mind of Kevin Williamson (I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty), is packed with references and popular horror tropes as well as subversions of those tropes that kept me guessing. Director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes) slipped in some solid and notable cameos, and he was willing to poke fun at himself and the genre that made his career, appearing himself a janitor dressed in red and green as well as keeping a line from Tatum about them being in a Wes Carpenter film. What I particularly love about Craven’s direction here is the way he understands Williamson’s script and the way they work so well together in making a film that is equal parts a horror film and a satire on horror films. I’m often critical of Craven’s writing (I find that, with a few exceptions, his best work as a director is working with someone else’s material), and this film alone proves it. His directing style was completely liberated by the strong screenplay and it looks like Craven had fun crafting his narrative. For a whodunnit, there are so many clues and misdirections all across the film that it would be nearly impossible to figure out the killer until the big reveal, and there is a big reveal.

There’s something special about the cast of Scream. It seems like big names and character actors alike are all on board here. This was relatively new for the horror genre, but everyone bought into it. That’s what you get with an interesting concept with a director capable of executing it. I loved Drew Barrymore (Donnie Darko, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) and Neve Campbell as our leading ladies. They play to the tropes and also have moments of subversion that feel believable. It’s David Arquette and Courteney Cox (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Bedtime Stories) who are the most surprising turns in the film, and I’ll tell you why. Arquette has to believably be a bit of a dolt with a level of charm. He also needs to believably be a deputy for a relatively small town, and it, in some way, actually works. Cox as well plays Gale Weathers completely against type, especially for someone on one of the hottest sitcoms at the time with Friends. She had to fight like hell to get the role, and she plays smarmy and slimy better than I would have given her credit for. In fact, she makes Gale Weathers so different than Monica Geller that, even without extensive makeup, they don’t feel like they could be played by the same person.

Scream is a bloody, entertaining, and (most importantly) fun movie that is just so slick, thanks to the stellar casting work, the hot screenplay, and the skills of a veteran horror director who accomplishes a tough tone early on and keeps it running the whole way through. When you realize that the horror/comedy tone of Craven’s previous film Vampire in Brooklyn was much more muddled and rough, you have to commend him in mastering it here. I loved this movie, and it still holds up quite well, even knowing the ending. If you haven’t caught it, now is the time.

5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.
For my review of Wes Craven’s Shocker, click here.
For my review of Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V – A New Beginning] Day 1 – The Dentist (1996)

Director: Brian Yuzna

Cast: Corbin Bernsen, Linda Hoffman, Michael Stadvec

Screenplay: Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon, Charles Finch

92 mins. Rated R for graphic violence including scenes of dental torture, sexuality and some language.

 

Hey there everyone! Happy October, and we are back with another 31 Days of Horror. I know last year I called it The Final Chapter, but c’mon, is it ever? Let’s start things off with a cringer.

Dr. Allan Feinstone (Corbin Bernsen, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Psych: The Movie) seeming has it all. Or at least, until his wedding anniversary when he discovers his wife Brooke (Linda Hoffman, Face/Off, Clifford) is cheating on him with the poolman, Matt (Michael Stadvec, Public Enemies, Chairman of the Board). The knowledge of such treachery sets Dr. Feinstone off, causing him to kill the neighbor’s dog and then turn his sights on work for the day. Dr. Feinstone is a dentist, and cavities don’t take the day off, and he tries to convince himself that he is okay, but Allan’s patients soon realize that he is not alright. In fact, he’s gone insane.

The Dentist, on the surface, seems like it could be an appealing concept. By that, I mean the very surface. I remember being a kid and being terrified of the dentist. Many people are scared by dentists. It only seems natural to make a horror film about one.

That being said, The Dentist is terrible. It has the slimmest possible plot it can, it revolves seemingly around an entirely unlikable and uninteresting cast, and there is no tension in the film. There is some revulsion, but no tension. There’s a feeling like The Dentist can exist in a world of Grindhousian films, but I would pass it up for another flick even based on the gore. There’s nothing particularly over-the-top about the horror, and in that way, it doesn’t even shock the way Grindhouse films should.

Sadly, there isn’t really a redeeming quality, unless you like seeing celebs before they were famous (Hey look, it’s Mark Ruffalo!). Other than that, I found the film, from director Brian Yuzna (Faust, Amphibious Creature of the Deep) to be dreadfully boring and flat-out without merit.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Brian Yuzna’s Bride of Re-Animator, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 28 – Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood (1996)

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Director: Gilbert Adler

Cast: Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Angie Everhart, Chris Sarandon, Corey Feldman, Aubrey Morris, Phil Fondacaro, Juliet Reagh, John Kassir

Screenplay: AL Katz, Gilbert Adler

87 mins. Rated R for horror violence and gore, sexuality, nudity, and strong language.

 

I grew up on Tales from the Crypt, from watching old episodes of the HBO series, cut for content, on Sci-Fi at 3 in the morning to actually reading old issues when I could get my hands on them at the used book store/comic book shop in my hometown. Horror has always been important to me, and Tales from the Crypt holds an important piece of my childhood. Tonight, we look at the second in a series of Tales from the Crypt films: Bordello of Blood.

Katherine Verdoux (Erika Eleniak, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dracula 3000) is concerned for the safety of her brother Caleb (Corey Feldman, Stand By Men, Lost Boys: The Thirst), who went missing a few days ago. But the local law enforcement has numerous other missing persons to find, and out of desperation, she hires private detective Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller, Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser, The Campaign) to help find him. His search leads him to brothel hidden underneath a mortuary inhabited by the undead and led my the mother of all vampires, Lilith (Angie Everhart, Last Action Hero, Take Me Home Tonight), who discovers that Rafe’s blood type is incredibly rare and seeks him out. As the blood and body party start to fly, it is clear that Rafe is in for the fright of his life in a story presented to us by the one and only Crypt Keeper (John Kassir, Pete’s Dragon, The Secret Life of Pets).

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First of all, I’m going to drop a truth bomb: I know that this film isn’t great, but I love it anyway, and I think if you switch off for a bit, you’ll like it too. Each time I view it, I see plot-holes and dialogue that doesn’t really work and moments of sheer stupidity, but it’s the very nature of Tales from the Crypt to be goofy, and in that sense, it comes off no different than the tone and style of much of the HBO series.

Now, for the things I don’t like. As I said before, there are plot-holes about the very nature of the brothel and how it works. The dialogue is very slap-stick and silly. But my biggest issue with the film is the opening Crypt Keeper segment. For fans of the series, this opening is practically identical to an episode of the series entitled “The Assassin” in which William Sadler plays the Grim Reaper from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and challenges the Crypt Keeper to a friendly little game. It is recreated, I’m assuming for rights issues, here, for no apparent reason. Could they not have conjured up a more interesting and new opening? It bothers me to no end, and I actually really like the recreated version more, but I wasn’t asking for it.

The things I loved here? First off, let’s talk about the connection to Demon Knight. The key which holds power over Lilith is an actual previous from the previous year’s Demon Knight, the last of seven keys that held the blood of Christ. The idea of this key popping up here again sets up a lot of mythos. For example, is this the same exact key or another of the seven? Does each key have a tale behind it and, if so, what are the stories of the other five? This would’ve been an interesting direction to take this series if this film had done better at the box office. In fact, I’ve always felt that the Tales from the Crypt tales exist in the same world for the most part and should occasionally intersect, and this idea only adds fuel to the fire.

Or, perhaps they just wanted to cut costs.

And I would be angry if I missed the chance to talk about the best use of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” ever. But I won’t spoil it for you.

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Bordello of Blood is just plain fun. I can understand the detractors; trust me, at this point, I’ve seen them. But this is a rollicking and unique take on the vampire mythos and a damn fun time even if it doesn’t necessarily pack the scares in.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

Mission: Impossible (1996)

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Director: Brian DePalma

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave

Screenplay: David Koepp, Robert Towne

110 mins. Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence.

 

Adaptations of popular television series are really tough. How do you condense the best parts of a multi-season run into 90 minutes? How can it be done? Some successful versions, like 21 Jump Street, poke fun at the silliness of the source material. Others, like Mission: Impossible, drastically change the series direction while holding up its most important rules.

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Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) has run into a bit of trouble on his newest mission to recover the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) non-official cover, or NOC, list. His entire team has been attacked and Ethan has become framed for the attack. Without long-time team leader Jim Phelps (Jon Voight, TV’s Ray Donovan, Heat) to help protect him, Ethan is now the target of a manhunt set in motion by Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny, TV’s Revenge, The A-Team), and now, with the help of two disavowed IMF agents, Franz Krieger (Jean Reno, Leon: The Professional, Hector and the Search for Happiness) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction, Jamesy Boy), Ethan is out to discover who wants him dead and who has the NOC list.

Mission: Impossible has a somewhat confusing plotline. There is a lot happening all at once, mostly due to the fact that the film went into production without a finished screenplay. Screenwriters David Koepp and Robert Towne were disappointed in the finished product. The original cast of the TV show (of which the film is a sequel) chose not to reprise their roles because they felt that the film was a bastardizing of their beloved property.

I personally found the finished product to be one of the more enjoyable espionage films of the 1990s. Tom Cruise solidified himself as a bona fide action star in a role where he doesn’t fire a gun the entire film. Jon Voight is a great man to take over the role of Jim Phelps from original television actor Peter Graves, who disliked Phelps’ portrayal in the story. I also really liked Reno, Rhames (who would become a staple of the series much like Cruise himself) and Czerny.

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Mission: Impossible contains some truly iconic moments both for the franchise and the action genre in general. The only part of the film that truly irks me is the opening credits (to be fair, I love the opening credits, but the decision to montage important plot points throughout the now-iconic score and opening bothers the hell out of me, but it continues throughout the entire franchise). This is one Tom Cruise property that I can’t wait to see every time there is new installment (except for the second film, but we’ll get to that later).

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Independence Day (1996)

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Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Maragert Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein

Screenplay: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich

145 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

In the annals of film history, it would be a tough time attempting to find a movie that depicts the destruction of all mankind better than Independence Day from director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down).

On July 2nd, the world discovers that we are not alone in the universe as massive spaceships make their way to every major city. Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith, Men in Black, Focus) has to cancel his 4th of July plans and head back to base. President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman, Lost Highway, The Equalizer) has to deal with the floods of looting and scared citizens while also trying to reunite with the First Lady (Mary McDonnell, TV’s Major Crimes, Donnie Darko). David (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, Mortdecai) has figured out a pattern in the signals of the alien ships, and thinks he is seeing a countdown to something big. As the world is cripple in fear of the alien menace, mankind is about to re-earn their independence.

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Independence Day is one of those movies that seems perfect when at first glance, but after multiple viewings, the plot-holes become more apparent. There are severe issues with this plot, but the film is still a culty pleasure (see what I did there?).

The performances from our stars (Smith, Pullman, Goldblum) are all serviceable to keep the hype up throughout the action set pieces. The only issue with the characters portrayed is that they aren’t written to experience catharsis. Their “catharsis” is only due to the impending death of the human race. Goldblum’s David is my personal favorite as the man who has tremendous potential but chooses to waste it. His character represents an interesting dilemma: should a man use his full potential even if he likes things the way they are? Hmmm. James Rebhorn (Scent of a Woman, The Game) also turns in some fine work as Albert Nimzki, who has specific thoughts and secrets which make President Whitmore’s decisions all the more difficult.

The cinematography focuses a lot on spectacle. It is meant to show us just how screwed we are, and it works well enough.

The score is another important piece of this puzzle, something haunting and rhythmic while empowering the American ideals of freedom and military superiority.

There are some great uses of miniature work in Independence Day. Some of the explosions do seem extremely dated, but the grandiose visual effects were well worth the Oscar win.

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Independence Day is returning to the big screens soon with a sequel (perhaps two). As far as the first film goes, Independence Day is a lot of fun. Not a particularly great film, but a classic nonetheless.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Roland Emmerich’s 2012, click here.

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