[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 31 – Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Cast: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Michael Pataki

Screenplay: Alan B. McElroy

88 mins. Rated R.

 

Well, here we are again. The end of the month and another installment in the Halloween franchise. As we come to an end of 31 Days of Horror, I just want to thank you all again for another awesome month, and as always I am open to your amazing feedback, so let me know what you want to see for future events here. As sad as I am that this is the last day of The Final Chapter, it is important to note that, in horror, the final chapter is never usually final for very long. Now, let’s look at Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.

It’s been ten years since he came home on Halloween night, and now Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris, See No Evil 2, TV’s The Wild Thornberrys) is living with a foster family after Laurie was killed in an accident. Jamie has been terrified of visions of a man with a white mask standing outside at night, but this is the first year she really wants to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, so she enlists sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell, House of the Dead, Reconciliation) to take her. There’s only one problem: Michael Myers has escaped from his holding and is returning to Haddonfield, and only Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence, The Great Escape, Prince of Darkness), Michael’s old psychiatrist, can stop him.

Halloween 4 is a lot better than most people give it credit for. Sure, Jamie Lee Curtis does not return, but enlisting the young and very talented Danielle Harris to take the lead is an inspired choice. Director Dwight H. Little (Murder at 1600, TV’s Bones) researched Halloween in-depth to give it the full harvest feeling, and it radiates from the film. Halloween 4 feels like the continuation of Halloween II’s Samhain imagery just more fleshed out.

The issues in the film are apparent, though, in the many supporting roles that feel incomplete and poorly acted. At its core, there are fine performances, but there are far too many people that cannot hold their own scenes.

Then there are the issue of the film’s occasional reliance to fall back on its formula. It isn’t surprising at this point in a franchise to be losing the spark or originality, and Halloween 4 does suffer because of it.

Plotting aside, there are things to like in Halloween 4. It’s not a great film, but it is more watchable than other fourth installments. This is strictly for fans of the series, though, as Halloween 4 will be de-canonized next year with an upcoming reboot to the series. We fans have survived this before, and we will survive it again, but sadly, the Halloween franchise will take a hit. Enjoy this one while it’s still kind of canon.

 

3/5

-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 more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 21 – Body Bags (1993)

Director: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper

Cast: John Carpenter, Tom Arnold, Tobe Hooper, Stacy Keach, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Mark Hamill, Twiggy, Robert Carradine

Screenplay: Billy Brown, Dan Angel

91 mins. Rated R for sexuality and horror violence.

 

Body Bags was to be the pilot episode of a series on Showtime to rival Tales from the Crypt. At some point during production, Showtime pulled the plug, leaving us with thoughts of what might have been. So was Body Bags not worth the time? I checked it out.

Body Bags is another anthology film, this one from John Carpenter (Halloween, The Ward) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist). It features three stories with wraparound introductions from a Coroner played by Carpenter in heavy makeup. The Coroner is showing us how the bodies ended up in his morgue. The first story, “The Gas Station,” is a classic small set horror story that you might find in a pulp magazine about a young woman by herself running an overnight gas station and a killer stalking her. The second story, “Hair,” features Stacy Keach (American History X, Cell) as a balding man named Richard who wants more than anything to have thick lustrous locks, and he’s willing to sacrifice anything to get it. The final story, “Eye,” features baseball player Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Bunyan and Babe) who loses an eye in a car accident and gets a transplant, but the eye he gets isn’t the one he wants.

We’ve talked a lot about anthologies this month, and, as before, I’ll say it again: anthologies can be hit or miss. That being said, Body Bags is so much fun, the flaws hide behind the flavor. Having cameos from tons of other horror aficionados like Wes Craven and Roger Corman, Body Bags is a lot like desert for horror fans. It’s sweet and enjoyable and you can never have enough. I personally think the first story is the best one and it’s very simple, and Robert Carradine (Django Unchained, Tooth and Nail) is exemplary in it. The second and third stories are only flawed in that they are rather similar to each other. The framing device, though, is quite fun as John Carpenter just kind of lets loose and has fun in a very Cryptkeeper-esque role.

If anthologies and horror are your thing, then I highly recommend Body Bags. It’s not a film that pops up often and it isn’t always easy to find (I was able to hunt it down on my Roku for free, though), but if you can get a copy, I think you’ll be happy you did. It’s rare to see someone like Mark Hamill get to really flex some insanity, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 31 – Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

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Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy

Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace

98 mins. Rated R.

 

Well, here we are again, at the end of it all. I had another great season, and I hope you did too.

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So today, we will look back on, arguably, the strangest Halloween entry, Halloween III: Season of the Witch. As you may be aware, this is the only film in the series to not feature Michael Myers, and the story behind the film is incredibly interesting and perhaps too ahead of its time.

Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins, Lethal Weapon, Drive Angry) takes an interest in the mystery surrounding his newest patient, Harry Grimbridge, a local shop owner who was attacked and left for dead. After meeting and sexing Harry’s 20-something daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin, Bullets Over Broadway, Everything’s Relative), who joins him on his quest, Dan discovers that the attack is linked to Santa Mira, California and Silver Shamrock Novelties, owned by the very rich and unusual Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy, RoboCop, Fail-Safe). As he digs deeper into the odd happenings of Santa Mira, Dan and Ellie discover that the link between Harry’s attack and the Silver Shamrock Halloween masks that are sweeping the nation.

Now, let’s discuss the story behind the story. So John Carpenter and Debra Hill had just finished Halloween II, and they had no interest in continuing the story. From their point of view, the story was done. But when pressured by Universal Studios, they came up with a rather interesting idea: make Halloween an anthology series with a new installment each year centered around the holiday but telling a different story. They brought in Tommy Lee Wallace and crafted Halloween III: Season of the Witch. When the film was released, it was panned because everyone went to the theater expecting to see Michael Myers. It was upsetting for fans of the slasher, and the film’s poor reception put the Halloween franchise on hold for six years.

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So is Halloween III really that bad? Not terrible, but it has some problems. A convoluted plot, masked in confusion and the occasional scare, but it relies more on the eerie presence that the setting conveys. I enjoy the film a lot more after knowing the intention behind the film, but it is the dark horse of the Halloween franchise, though not its worst installment. Atkins is a fine lead and O’Herlihy a menacing villain. As it stands, there are multiple underdeveloped plot points and an ending which borders on the silly, but fans of horror anthologies will enjoy the possibility of what might have been. Worth a look.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, click here.

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 14 – In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

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Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Sam Neill, Jurgen Prochnow, Julie Carmen, Charlton Heston

Screenplay: Michael DeLuca

95 mins. Rated R for images of horror, and for language.

 

Most people who know me know of my love for Halloween. It’s my all-time favorite horror film, but in general, my all-time favorite horror director is John Carpenter. Barring The Ward, there isn’t a single film of his that I wouldn’t watch, and when he hits it, he knocks it out of the park. In the Mouth of Madness is a great example of John Carpenter knocking it out of the park.

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Acclaimed horror novelist Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow, Das Boot, Hitman: Agent 47) is missing. Arcane Publishing is after Cane’s latest manuscript, and they hire insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to go after Cane. When Trent is almost killed by a crazed maniac wielding an axe, he begins to discover that there is a lot more hiding in Cane’s books than just words. His search brings him to Hobb’s End, the fictional setting for several of Cane’s novels, a place thought not to exist, and Trent sees that Hobb’s End is very real, and it houses an evil that is more powerful than anyone could have known.

Halloween is a perfect slasher, but In the Mouth of Madness is a perfect study of the human psyche and the power of a story. It is a rich, complex tale about Sutter Cane (who bears more than one similarity with horror novelists Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft). It is an examination of popular culture and its crazed obsession with horror. It’s a look at John Trent and the fragility of the mind (another popular element in Lovecraft’s).

The performances from Neill and Prochnow are great. The two actors have terrific chemistry even though they share very few scenes in the film. Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur, Planet of the Apes) even appears as Arcane Publishing director Jackson Harglow to add gravitas to the picture.

There are multiple allusions to Lovecraft and King, starting with the opening framing device, often used by Lovecraft in his storytelling. There is talk of the Old Ones, and in fact passages of Cane’s stories actually come from Lovecraft’s own work. From King, there is the style of his novels, the New England setting, and the undying fandom around his next novel.

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In the Mouth of Madness isn’t an easy film to find, but if you can, do so. You will find yourself on a most interesting journey through the mind. It is topped off with great performances and gorgeously disturbing visuals from master of horror John Carpenter, with a shockingly unusual ending to tie it all together. This movie is a one-of-a-kind experience for horror fans all alike.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 12 – Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

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Director: David Price

Cast: Terrence Knox, Paul Scherrer, Ryan Bollman, Christie Clark, Rosaline Allen, Ned Romero

Screenplay: A.L. Katz, Gilbert Adler

92 mins. Rated R for horror violence and gore, and for language.

 

“What is all this shit about the corn?”

-Actual Quote from the film

There are few franchises that just won’t die. I’m not talking about franchises like Friday the 13th or Halloween, which still maintain popularity with each release. I’m talking about franchises that just won’t die. Ones like The Amityville Horror or one we are going to talk about some today, Children of the Corn. As I watch each new film, I wonder to myself, “Who’s still watching these?” I get no definitive answer. There can’t be enough people that continue to frequent a franchise like this, with quality dwindling as each new installment drops. It’s a mystery, that’s for sure, and the only way to truly solve it is to dive right in.

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Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice follows the events of the previous installment. After the police discover the town of Gatlin and all the parentless children, they move them to the nearby town of Hemingford in hopes of getting the children to new families and better lives. The problem is that the surviving children of Gatlin aren’t prepared to let go of their deity, He Who Walks Behind the Rows. When teenager Micah (Ryan Bollman, The Neverending Story III: Escape from Fantasia, $elfie Shootout) is possessed by He Who Walks Behind the Rows, he begins enacting plans to rid  the town of Hemingford of adults and create a similar society like Gatlin. Reporter John Garrett (Terrence Knox, TV’s Tour of Duty, From a Whisper to a Scream) and his son Danny (Paul Scherrer, Rockets’ Red Glare, Standoff) have just entered town and are thrust into the middle, with Danny himself being courted to join the cult.

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice starts out with a promising yet all too familiar premise of the cult spreading to a new town. It quickly begins to fall though under the weight of its super-low budget. Director David Price (Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, Son of Darkness: To Die For II) used locals in all the roles outside of the principal cast and nobody is showing any signs of acting capabilities. The acting across the board is choppy and disappointing, which many could fault the screenplay from A.L. Katz and Gilbert Adler (Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood). It’s a dual disappointment I’m afraid.

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Price’s film doesn’t showcase any ability for storytelling, be it from the visual or auditory fashion. The film tries to retell the original film and instead only shows its own faults. Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice is just downright terrible. There’s no reason that there should’ve ever been a third film…Ever (to be continued when I review Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest).

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Fritz Kiersch’s Children of the Corn, click here.

[Happy 30th Birthday!] April Fool’s Day (1986)

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Director: Fred Walton

Cast: Deborah Foreman, Griffin O’Neal, Clayton Rohner, Jay Baker, Deborah Goodrich, Ken Olandt, Leah King Pinsent, Amy Steel, Thomas F. Wilson

Screenplay: Danilo Bach

89 mins. Rated R.

 

Of all the interesting holiday-themed horror films to spring up from the success of films like Halloween, April Fool’s Day is probably the most interesting idea. It’s a film idea that, even on the surface, shouldn’t work very well, but this film created its cult following from its smart plotting and playful attitude. It’s only a question of whether or not it holds up after three decades.

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Eight friends of the heiress Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman, Valley Girl, Lobster Men from Mars) gather for a weekend at her secluded island cabin to celebrate the last year of college. When secrets start to be uncovered from each of their pasts, a cold-blooded killer begins to do away with each of them in turn, but as April Fool’s Day is upon them, the gang can’t tell who’s pranking who, and who’s killing who.

April Fool’s Day may not be the most illustrious of horror films, but it is damn fun all the same. The campiness of pranks (though many involve murder strangely) combined with the horror aspects create a silly but altogether enjoyable film.

It helps to have genre favorites like Amy Steel (TV’s All My Children, Friday the 13th Part 2), Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water) and Ken Olandt (Leprechaun, Power Play) involved as well.

Again, I should point out, this movie wasn’t going to win any awards, but as far as enjoyable film experiences, I just can’t really fault this one. Sure, the characters are mostly stiff and flat, but the dialogue keeps the tension and tone regular. Sure, director Fred Walton (When a Stranger Calls, The Stepford Husbands) isn’t a good director, but he nails it on this particular project.

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April Fool’s Day is a great film to show your friends. It is a great movie-night movie. It is a fun experience best shared with others. Having your group take guesses at just what’s going on is the most fun, and I think that’s what it’s all been about, right?

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Cinderella (2015)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter

Screenplay: Chris Weitz

105 mins. Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Disney has always been hit-or-miss on their live-action adaptations of their animated classics. I was less-than-enthused about 2014’s Maleficent, but with Cinderella, and a solid director in Shakespearian artist Kenneth Branagh (Frankenstein, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), it seemed like they had a real chance.

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The new iteration of the classic tale presents more backstory on Ella (Lily James, Wrath of the Titans, Burnt), her wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol), and the Prince (Richard Madden, TV’s Game of Thrones, A Promise) she falls for. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Suffragette), Ella becomes a beautiful princess for a night of magic and dancing with the Prince in his kingdom. When the night ends, the Prince must do anything to find the mysterious beauty he has fallen for.

From a storytelling perspective, the film reminded me a lot of the Halloween remake from some years back (I know, strange comparison), which chose to flesh out backstory to bulk up the characters and story. Both films do succeed in this dangerous endeavor, though Cinderella definitely doesn’t need all the build-up. Screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) elected to grab from other versions of the tale to add new layers to the film, and it works.

Lily James and Cate Blanchett absolutely own their performances here, fitting right into the narrative nicely, and they are aided by Madden and thespians like Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, Anonymous).

Often, Branagh uses his superior storytelling tactics from his time studying the plays of William Shakespeare to influence his filmmaking style. It worked well in Thor, and it continues to elevate his craft here.

I must point out the masterful costume design, though likely not to win the Oscar this year, still looks astounding, especially in the ball sequence. The set design aids it well.

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Cinderella is one of the better Disney live-action adaptations, and while the film’s pacing comes into question more than once (too much exposition boggs down the film quite a bit), it succeeds in a lot of other ways and is worthy of a viewing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, click here.

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 30 – The Thing (1982)

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Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David

Screenplay: Bill Lancaster

109 mins. Rated R for adult situations/language and violence.

IMDb Top 250: #164 (as of 03/04/2016)

 

Last year, I discussed remakes that add something new and become better than the original. The Fly came up, and I was also thinking about The Thing, a 1982 remake from director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Ward).

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At a remote Antarctic research station, a creature has been discovered; an alien creature from another world is terrorizing several Americans with its ability to mimic their look perfectly. As paranoia sets in, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell, Grindhouse, Furious 7) has decided that the Thing needs to be stopped before the rescue party arrives and It gets out of Antarctica.

The Thing is one of my absolute favorite films. John Carpenter’s emphasis on practical effects by using effects master Rob Bottin is shockingly elegant and horrifying.

Kurt Russell leads an all-star cast of individuals, each able to perfectly exemplify frightened man lashing out at an almost unwinnable situation. He is aided by some terrific work from Wilford Brimley (Cocoon, Did You Hear About the Morgans?) as the unhinged Dr. Blair and Keith David (TV’s Community, Platoon) as the anger-filled Childs.

Carpenter understands what needs to be said in his film. His usage of themes like paranoia, isolation, and violence explode in this colorful and scary presentation of people without the proper resources to handle a situation.

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Seriously, there isn’t enough praise for this perfect piece of horror cinema. As far as the prequel goes, I would avoid it if you haven’t seen the original. Check out 1982’s The Thing. I know you’ll love it.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 19 [Happy 25th Birthday!] – Night of the Living Dead (1990)

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Director: Tom Savini

Cast: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles

Screenplay: George A. Romero

92 mins. Rated R for adult situations/language, nudity, and violence.

 

Last year, we covered Night of the Living Dead, an incredible classic of the horror genre. This year, we’ll cover the remake, a less stellar but still interesting reworking of the zombie hit.

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Night of the Living Dead runs in much the same way as its predecessor. Barbara (Patricia Tallman, Army of Darkness, Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike) is out visiting her deceased mother’s grave with her brother Johnny. When Johnny is attacked and killed by a vicious ghoul, Barbara flees for the countryside, stumbling upon a farm house where she meets Ben (Tony Todd, The Man from Earth, Sushi Girl). Together, Ben and Barbara, along with several other survivors, attempt to make it through the night of the living dead.

Tony Todd makes a great Ben. Patricia Tallman makes a better but not great Barbara. Tom Towles (Halloween, Miami Vice) does okay as Harry Cooper, who only has one goal: protect his wife and sick child (a goal that would prove to be less on his mind as our story progresses). Performances all around are passable.

The real divergence from the original is the screenplay from George A. Romero (The Crazies, Bruiser). Many won’t notice the differences between the two stories, and in fact, there are but few. Barbara’s character arc alters, and the film omits several plot points from fellow screenwriter John Russo, who originally wrote the screenplay with Romero. I prefer this script, but I prefer that movie. Just saying.

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There isn’t a whole lot wrong with the film. Tom Savini’s directing is still very novice here, but it works well enough. Night of the Living Dead has the potential to keep you up all night. It does. You just need to get over a few bumps along the road.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[12 Days of Christmas] On the Eleventh Day… Christmas Vacation (1989)

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Director: Jeremiah Chechik

Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid

Screenplay: John Hughes

97 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

So when people ask me what the ultimate Halloween movie is, I tell them it is Halloween. When they ask me what the ultimate Christmas movie, I tell them it is Christmas Vacation, the third film in the Vacation franchise from twenty-five years back.

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It stars Chevy Chase (TV’s Community, Caddyshack) as Clark Griswold, the bumbling no-brained father of two and husband to gorgeous Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo, TV’s Entourage, American History X). Clark just wants one thing: to host the ultimate Christmas weekend for his extended family. He wants the hap-hap-happiest Christmas. Too bad he keeps running into problems, from a tree too big to an unwanted guest in the form of cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid, Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Harvest), from an overcooked turkey to a good ol’ fashioned kidnapping, Clark is in for one long holiday.

It all starts with a proven formula from comedy genius John Hughes (Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Hughes has been behind some of the best comedies of the 1980s. He spearheaded the original short story that started the film series. Hughes has a powerhouse screenplay here that differs in tone drastically from the previous installments. Toss in Chevy Chase, who just knows his character so well, and there is nothing that can stop this film. From the moment Clark appears onscreen, he makes the assertion that it doesn’t matter whether the tree he has picked is too big for his backyard as son Rusty claims, because it isn’t going in the backyard, it’s going in the living room, immediately addressing his inability to see things realistically.

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Christmas Vacation is what the holidays are about, whether we like them or not. It is sendup to what we do for those we love and what we have to go through to survive. I love this film and I suggest it to anyone looking to close out the holiday the right way.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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