[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 19 – Christine (1983)

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton
Screenplay: Bill Phillips
110 mins. Rated R.

I’m not sure how many times I can say it, but here I go again. I love John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween). He’s my favorite horror director. Also, I love Stephen King. He’s my favorite writer. Naturally, when I realized at a young age that John Carpenter had directed an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, I lost my fragile little mind. Then, I rode my bike to the video store to rent a copy. Let’s talk about this incredibly strange movie about a killer car and its love of a human.

Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon, All That Jazz, Dressed to Kill) is a loser. It’s his senior year, and his best friend, jock Dennis (John Stockwell, Top Gun, Eddie and the Cruisers) is doing his best to protect him from bullies like Buddy Repperton. Arnie needs something to give his life meaning, and when he comes across a 1958 Plymouth Fury that seems to call out to him. Arnie buys the beat-up bucket of bolts and begins fixing it up, seeing it as the first thing in his life that is uglier than he us, but at least he can do something about the car, which he names Christine. With Christine, Arnie finds a newfound confidence, but something isn’t right with the Plymouth, or Arnie. Dennis begins to see his friend change before him, and Arnie’s enemies are being picked off one-by-one. Christine loves her owner, perhaps a little too much.

The film adaptation was being prepped before the book was officially published. Producers had given a copy of the novel to Bill Phillips (Physical Evidence, Fire With Fire), who found himself taken by the “killer car” story and began working on the script. Carpenter had been working on a possible adaptation of another King novel, Firestarter, and when that didn’t work out, he took on Christine. Later in his career, Carpenter admitted that he didn’t really want to make Christine at the time, but it was good for his career, and I think that showcases how great of a filmmaker Carpenter is. If he doesn’t love the idea of making this movie but still churns out a top quality product like Christine, it’s a testament to his abilities.

Christine is amazing. I identified with Arnie’s struggles (I was never really as unpopular as he was, but I think a lot of us deal with confidence issues in high school). He’s obviously suffering with his place in the world. He doesn’t have a particularly strong relationship with his parents, he’s lonely, he needs direction, and Christine offers him some. His transformation is very much like possession or drug addiction in that the power he gains from his interactions with the car make him vengeful against all those that have wronged him in life. In fact, you can see that Arnie’s clothing choices regress to an older time period as his entanglement with Christine intensifies. It’s a great transformative performance that doesn’t get the love it deserves.

Without the chemistry between Gordon’s Arnie and Stockwell’s Dennis, though, the film wouldn’t work. These are two characters who have been lifelong friends now getting to a place where they are going in different directions in life, one a geek and the other a jock. Their commonalities are dwindling, and it’s a tough thing to accurately portray. These two do a tremendous job of reaching across that divide. Stockwell doesn’t get a ton to do early on in the film but watch and take note of Arnie’s changes, but he’s effective when he needs to be, and elements of his strain with Arnie broke my damn heart.

The other important character in the film is, of course, Christine herself. Now, the car doesn’t talk, and it doesn’t send out evil brain waves or mind control or anything that silly, but it’s still a killer car movie, so care needs to be given to make the car seem frightening. I think the screenplay in the very capable hands of an auteur like Carpenter works very well here. Through the use of older music and a very physically restrained performance where the Fury is given screen time to actually exist without just being a mindless murder device is why Christine is probably the best killer car movie, even compared to other King adaptations like Maximum Overdrive or Trucks. The car is convincing and scary. There, I said it.

Lastly, when you get a Carpenter direction, you almost always get a Carpenter score. Now, this time around the director worked with Alan Howarth on crafting the haunting bells of Christine, but I still vividly remember the score staying with me after each viewing (I’ve also seen this score performed live and it is breathtaking). The music has moments of sadness and longing on the part of Arnie, and a haunting synth predatory flavor when Christine is on the prowl. It’s a terrific score, one of Carpenter’s best.

Christine gets overlooked a lot in the oeuvre of Carpenter’s best films, and it’s too bad. It’s an effective horror movie that translates King’s lengthy novel quite well, saving the meat and cutting the fat where needed. Christine is aided by two standout leading performances and a creepy car prop that pops onscreen (seriously, who is Christine’s agent?). It’s tough to pick favorites for Carpenter when he’s done so many single films that many go to Halloween, The Thing, or Escape from New York, but Christine deserves to be in the conversation, if only for the tremendous feat of making a murder car work so damn well, and conveying that murder car’s emotion. Bravo.

4.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter’s The Fog, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 14 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] The Fog (2005)

Director: Rupert Wainwright

Cast: Tom Welling, Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzija, Selma Blair

Screenplay: Cooper Layne

100 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief sexuality.

 

For those of you that have read my opinions and discussions for some time, especially in the realm of horror, you’ll know that John Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. I’m talking Mount Rushmore of filmmakers, and that’s all-time, not just in horror. One of Carpenter’s best films is The Fog. That film was remade in 2005, and has since been called one of the worst films of all time. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen the 2005 film (I believe I came across a copy when Blockbuster shut down, haphazardly putting it in my hands without stopping to realize that it was not the 1980 John Carpenter film. I’m not sure the last time I actually saw it, but I figured now, with 15 years on it, I should give it another go and see for myself if it’s really that bad. Come along and join me.

Antonio Island is about to celebrate a major town anniversary, and the families of the founders are set to unveil a new statue to celebrate the town’s heritage. What the townspeople do not know, though, is that a fog is about to roll in, and with it, the town’s dreaded past, for there is something vengeful in the fog, and no one on Antonio Island is safe.

The one memory I have of ingrained from previous viewings of The Fog 2005 is the confusion I feel every time I watch it. There’s a number of nonsensical plot points deep within the film’s narrative that I’ve never been able to get past. What anniversary are they celebrating, and why is it so important? It doesn’t seem to be an important date. What does the ending mean (I won’t go into spoilers, but the twist or reveal has never quite made any sense whatsoever)? Why, oh why, are we following such unlikable characters?

To go off that, we spend quite a bit of time with Nick Castle (Tom Welling, The Choice, TV’s Smallville) and his will-they-or-won’t-they girlfriend Elizabeth Williams (Maggie Grace, Taken, TV’s Fear the Walking Dead), but I don’t like Nick very much. Did he cheat on Elizabeth with local radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Selma Blair, Cruel Intentions, After) or were they not steady at the time? I just can’t place any of the character relationships together in this film. There seems to be so much “I Don’t Know” going on in this movie, and the characters suffer, as did any of my caring for their safety, with the possible exception of Stevie Wayne.

I really liked Selma Blair’s portrayal of the character, one played to perfection by Adrienne Barbeau in the original film. Blair would not have been the obvious choice in my mind, but she does the best she can with a somewhat poorly written character who makes a few really dumb choices in the narrative. Blair handles it well, but there are moments when the screenplay by Cooper Layne (The Core) push Stevie into making the emotional choices that diminish the strength that she has had before. It’s a narrative risk that makes the character less likable, saved only by a pretty strong performance.

There’s a fundamental lesson in film that is only now being learned by more and more filmmakers and studios, but The Fog is a great case study for it. The argument that CG is better than practical is a foolish one. Looking back at classic films like Jurassic Park, which still looks great, we can see that CG is only really successful when it helps aid the practical effects and is used only when required. The ghosts and creature effects for The Fog 2005 look cheap and fail to create and suspense or fear. Now, look back on The Fog 1980, where the ghosts were created using a strong costume design and makeup aided by…green lights for the eyes. Comparing the two, I would take the green-lit foggy ghost creatures of the 1980 film any time over the really disappointing effects of the 2005 film. I admire the idea of making the fog more of a character, and I think it could’ve worked, but here, this fog and these creatures are wholly forgettable.

The Fog fails in just about every sense as an updating of the mythos and a reimagining of the horrors of Carpenter’s original. Is it one of the worst films ever made? No, it’s just bad. It’s a bad movie. There isn’t anything scary about it, the plot features a lot of things just happening with no real momentum or sense, and the attempt to try new things with the story resulted in a story that has nothing to say. It isn’t one of the worst films of all time, but I see no reason why anyone should choose this film over the original. I know I certainly won’t.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 3 – Village of the Damned (1960)

Director: Wolf Rilla

Cast: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Michael Gwynn

Screenplay: Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla, Ronald Kinnoch

77 mins. Not Rated.

 

As I’ve developed into a somewhat-functioning adult in my 20s, as a man now just peeking into his 30s, I’ve begun to understand the fear of children, the fear of parenting, and the relationship between a person and his or her offspring. The miracle of life is often touted as a beautiful thing, and I do believe that, but a part of me has started to learn of the fears and horrors that can accompany or supersede that beauty. I’m talking about Richard Donner’s The Omen, David Cronenberg’s The Brood, Joseph Ruben’s The Good Son, and of course, the Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned. Some of these films are about the horrors of birth, some are about the idea of children, some are about the children themselves. Village of the Damned seems to encompass the entirety. I’ve never read The Midwich Cuckoos, upon which the film is based, and until recently, I’d only seen the John Carpenter remake, so I felt it necessary to shock my system with the original, and see if it holds up.

On a seemingly normal day, the entire British village of Midwich fell asleep at the exact same time, humans and animals, and any living breathing thing that gets close to the village’s entrance. As the military arrives, they learn that gas masks do not protect, nor do flyovers. Then, a few hours later, everyone awakens, seemingly unharmed. As time goes on, the females of Midwich discover a disturbing truth: they are all pregnant. The villagers soon learn that these are not normal pregnancies, nor are the offspring, by any extent, normal either. They begin to exhibit strange powers and exert their dominance over their “parents.” Professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders, All About Eve, Rebecca), who lives in Midwich with his wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley, Quatermass and the Pit, Maigret) is “father” to one of the special children. Zellaby begins to uncover horrifying details about the children, their powers, and their plans, and it may be up to him to stop them.

Of course, religious groups opposing the film for its bastardization of virgin birth would cause this film to not be made in the USA, as MGM got cold feet. When the film version eventually did come around, it was directed and co-written by Wolf Rilla (Strange Affection, Roadhouse Girl). Rilla tried to give the film a cold, documentary style, never convincing us to feel one way or another, and just letting the drama play out onscreen. This stylistic choice works wonders on a story with this many layers. It’s a preposterous story, a shocking What-If? tale, but it’s given to the audience with less of a forced believability and more of a questioning, thoughtful ethics scenario, at least until the supernatural kicks into overdrive. Once the film finds its climax, there are very few ways to think and more of a perversion of the greater good at play.

There’s something about the performance of Sanders as Zellaby that worked well for me. He plays Zellaby rather coldly, reserved, a man who doesn’t give much of himself away. Perhaps it’s because that’s the way we are introduced to him before this whole mass sleep situation begins that makes his more emotionless character arc work. When you pair it with Christopher Reeve in Carpenter’s remake (and I do not mean to compare the two, but merely to showcase the difference), you see that Reeves played our hero more emotional, more traditionally caring, whereas Sanders tends to give Zellaby a few feet from the situation. Neither is wrong, and each seems to work quite well for what is being attempted on a storytelling level. Zellaby’s is a professor’s mind, a learned one, and for this narrative, that worked for me.

The cinematography and editing never too too fantastical outside of the incredible idea of the mental brick wall, not new to storytelling by this time (writers have been utilizing a mental construction of the symbolic building of the mind for quite some time), but the way it is introduced and used throughout the latter half of the narrative is effective because it surprised me. With the cold, calculating way the film is “realistically” fed to us, this character device works very well, giving way to one of the more unnerving sequences in horror.

Village of the Damned is a damn fine movie, pun very much intended. I enjoyed a lot of elements of this classic sci-fi/horror tale. This is one worth catching at some point in your horror journey, and it’s a great entry point for horror because most of the horror is referenced but not aggressively shown. It’s not flashy, but it stays with you. It’s only true flaw is that it focuses a lot on the men in the room and not the female experience of having your body changed by supernatural forces. There are so many disgusting ethical roads to take from the perspective of the females of Midwich (something that the remake does better). Seriously, this is a situation where both the original film and its remake are worth seeking out.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] The Final Girl: Ranking the Best and Worst of the Month

Hey everyone, we are a few days removed from October, and as we look toward the next holiday and the rest of the year, I thought it would be fun to look back at the 5 worst films of this year’s 31 Days of Horror as well as picking the Top 5 from the month as well. It’s a grab bag of randomness, so don’t take any of this all that seriously, but it’ll be fun nonetheless.

Let’s get started.

 

Worst 5 Films of the Month:

5) Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation

  • This was probably the worst film of the franchise so far (I still haven’t caught part 5), and it’s too bad that it really doesn’t embrace that Christmas flavor. I have no fault if anthology is the direction this franchise took, but this film has virtually nothing to do with the holiday. It doesn’t even really feel like it’s set during the holidays outside of one scene. All that aside, the film is kind of boring and not well-acted or well-written. Outside of a few cool effects sequences, this one is a real dud.

4) Schizoid

  • I really wanted to like Schizoid, and there are moments that feel like the story is about to head somewhere really cool, but it never quite realizes that dream. I genuinely felt interested in the whodunnit of it all because just about every character seemed potentially off-putting enough to be responsible for the killings depicted in the film. It’s just that it’s tonally boring and not enough really happens to keep my interest in this film. Klaus Kinski is a scene-chewer and it was cool to see Christopher Lloyd doing some smarmy work here, but Schizoid‘s just a loss overall.

3) The Field Guide to Evil

  • The Field Guide to Evil looks great, but it’s more like a really pretty shell that’s hollow. I didn’t think any of the shorts had a good ending, the film just feels like wasted talent all around. As the film progressed, I was just hoping it would be done soon. I feel most disappointed by The Field Guide to Evil because it just felt like a winner and ended up being a loser.

2) Father’s Day

  • This month started out with a real dud of a film in Father’s Day, the sendup to grindhouse exploitation films that thought it was better than it was. I liked the aged appeal of the film but the story was obnoxious and just not very enjoyable. Father’s Day just could’ve been so much more, and I’ve seen better work from many involved.

1) Seventh Moon

  • Seventh Moon is the absolute bottom of the barrel here. There’s not a single merit I can give this film, and that’s a real problem. The cast is terrible, the shaky-cam found-footage-that-isn’t-supposed-to-be-found-footage approach to the film is awful, jarring, and unpleasant, and the story, which seems like it could be good initially, is completely wasted here. This is an absolute skip in every way.

 

So there you have it. The worst 5 films of the last month. Let’s move on to the good stuff.

Top 5 Best Films of the Month:

5) The Autopsy of Jane Doe

  • The Autopsy of Jane Doe feels like it could be perfect for quite a good portion of the film. Where is faults itself is that’s overall mystery isn’t all that meaningful and the ending is a bit messy. Outside of that, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is anchored by an excellent tone from its director and two powerhouse performances from Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch as a father and son who are dealing with horror in the workplace.

4) House

  • House is a classic in my home. I watch it every year around Halloween, and I absolutely love it. I think it’s perfect (it’s not) to me, and I just enjoy the hell out of it. Maybe it’s that I saw it when I was a kid and didn’t see the humor, so now as an adult, I’m focused on the creatures and horror of the film. I like Roger Cobb as a character, and I wish we got more appearances from him in a franchise, but this series just did not work as well as its first film. House, though, is damn incredible, and probably my favorite haunted house movie.

3) Zombieland

  • I rediscovered Zombieland this year in anticipation of Double Tap, and this is a tight 80-minute movie that fires on all cylinders and packs so much content into the film. Zombieland is built by four strong lead performers and a lot of cool set pieces. This is the epitome of the “fun apocalypse” film, and it likely led to the craze of people talking about how they would survive a zombie apocalypse (you wouldn’t) situation. Don’t blame Zombieland for that. This is a flavorful action/horror/comedy that works amazing well, even 10 years later.

2) The Fog

  • You all know I love John Carpenter. The Fog is probably in my Top 5 Carpenter films, and I believe he has made several perfect films. The Fog is one of those films. Honestly, I was back and forth about whether this film deserved the top spot of the year of second place, and there was just a more-perfect film that I saw this year. For The Fog, though, it’s impressive to see how Carpenter turned a B-movie into an A-movie. There are giant Jawas going around town killing and haunting, and it should be stupid-looking, but it’s just so incredibly effective.

1) Young Frankenstein

  • Young Frankenstein is the best film I watched this past month. It’s a comedy that embraces the horror elements of the films it is lampooning. It always remembers that it’s making fun of the Frankenstein mythos. Gene Wilder is a perfect Dr. Frankenstein, and Mel Brooks shot enough footage that he was able to be picky as to what scenes he would include in the finished product. Young Frankenstein just works in every way and it’s a benchmark of satire and parody.

So there you have it. These are the best films from 31 Days of Horror this month. I had a lot of fun recounting these things, and I hope you found some new gems to add to your Halloween rotation. See you next year.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 25 – The Fog (1980)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Nancy Loomis

Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

89 mins. Rated R.

 

This one does for fog what Jaws did for the water.

There’s a fog rolling into Antonio Bay on the eve of its 100th anniversary, and as soon as the clock strikes midnight, people start seeing strange things in it. Father Malone (Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild, Blackway) discovers an old journal in his church that tells him a terrible secret from the town’s inception, one that involves an old ship called the Elizabeth Dane and its captain, Blake. Now, the Elizabeth Dane has rolled into town on the fog, and its captain is out for vengeance. Radio DJ and lighthouse keeper Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau, Argo, Creepshow) is the only one who can warn the residents of Antonio Bay that danger is coming; she just hopes they’re listening.

The Fog is proof that director John Carpenter (Escape from New York, The Ward) can just about do anything. He has guys in costumes in a foggy atmosphere with glowing eyes, essentially just tall Jawas, and he makes them scarier than any current CGI could do (and we’re looking at you, 2005 remake to The Fog). It’s because he’s a smart filmmaker who solves problems. He knows that he is making a low-budget, possibly cheesy horror film, and so he chooses to shoot it in anamorphic widescreen Panavision in order to add to the grandeur of the gothically beautiful Antonio Bay layered in fog.

I like how separate Carpenter keeps things in this film. For the most part, Stevie Wayne barely shares the screen with anyone else. She gets her own slice of the story. Then, there’s the story of the hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies, Halloween) and Nick (Tom Atkins, Night of the Creeps, Drive Angry) as they try to uncover the mystery in the fog. Then, there’s the Father Malone sequences and the centennial sequences with Kathy (Janet Leigh, Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate) trying to keep the celebration together amidst the lingering danger. The film is filled with great characters in an insane situation. These individual “pocket stories” on their own would be great, but together they weave an eerie and creepy tapestry.

The Fog is truly brilliant. I can see why this is often called a Carpenter favorite. It’s a truly incredible little horror story that makes the ghosts (guys in costumes with glowing eyes) more terrifying than most other films could do with a bigger budget. John Carpenter is a horror maestro, and The Fog is just another master stroke.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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 and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags, click here.

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

For my review of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 21 – Eaten Alive (1977)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns

Screenplay: Alvin L. Fast, Mohammed Rustam, Kim Henkel

91 mins. Rated R.

 

I remember catching a television cut of Eaten Alive almost a decade ago. I recall thinking, “Oh, it’s a movie about a guy that kills naked people and feeds them to a croc. So Texas Chainsaw with a croc.” Yes, Kyle from a decade back, exactly.

Judd (Neville Brand, Stalag17, Tora! Tora! Tora!) runs the Starlight Hotel in Texas. He caters to the lowest-common-denominator of guests. He’s also a killer. He prefers a scythe and loves to feed his victims to his crocodile. But when Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer, Lili, War and Peace), the father of one of Judd’s victims, comes calling with his other daughter and the assistance of the local police, Judd’s backed into a corner, and he’s forced to protect himself in any way possible.

Golly, Eaten Alive is just downright bad. It really is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a croc standing in for the chainsaw. And also so much worse. The film looks cheap and dated, it hasn’t been kept up in the decades since its release, and it sloppily put together. Director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) does nothing here with the style he is known for. This is video nasty grindhouse at its most cringeworthy.

The screenplay is very repetitive and doesn’t allow for any character development from the potential victims and/or Judd himself, who is insane for the sake of avoiding creating a compelling arc. None of the performances are much, but I do have a respect for Robert Englund’s work here. He isn’t likable nor interesting but he surely is memorable.

I want to explain the magic of this movie and how it could be good, but it just isn’t. For your time and money, stick to TCM, or better yet, check out Hooper’s amazing collaboration with John Carpenter on Body Bags. Eaten Alive is trash.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

For my review of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 19 – Village of the Damned (1995)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Pare

Screenplay: David Himmelstein

99 mins. Rated R for some sci-fi terror and violence.

 

John Carpenter (Escape from New York, The Ward) is pretty well-known for one pretty impressive remake: 1982’s The Thing. But he actually had another crack at remakes with his take on Village of the Damned, both a remake of the 1960 film of the same name as well as the novel The Midwich Cuckoos. Carpenter, never one to shy away from honesty, called his work on the film a “contractual assignment” and says not much more. Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, and I finally got the chance to see this the other night. It’s a chilling albeit somewhat tame experience.

The town of Midwich has just experienced a strange event. Everyone within town limits passed out at the exact same time. When finally awakened, a frightening discovery is made: ten females from town are pregnant, though seemingly not by their husbands. One of the women is a virgin while another has not been seually active for months. When the children are born, they possess traits unlike any of the other children in town. Local physician Dr. Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve, Superman: The Movie, Rear Window) is the father of one of the mysterious children. He is aided by a government scientist, Dr Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Accidental Love), who knows more than she’s letting on, but they do not have much time. People are dying in Midwich under very strange circumstances.

I think it’s easy to see that Carpenter didn’t have his all in this film. Yes, he did some uncredited rewriting on the screenplay and his direction is still strong, but there’s just something missing from the finished product. It doesn’t feel like a John Carpenter horror film. There are elements that showcase his skills. The heavy infusion of science fiction, occult, and horror is classic tone for Carpenter, but it feels like Carpenter-light.

Christopher Reeve is fine as the town physician, and Kirstie Alley is quite capable as a scientist. I’ve always felt that Alley, as a performer, always conveyed intelligence in her roles, and she usually gives off a mystery to her that is apparent here. I wish Mark Hamill, who plays the town’s key religious voice, had more to do here. There are leaps in his character arc that seem to come out of nowhere.

That’s another issue as well with Village of the Damned. There’s a sense of something missing in the narrative. There are seemingly large passages of time that are not well-defined. It becomes a little confusing as the disjointed narrative finds its footing repeatedly.

The tone and visual sense of the film are both fine, and they give some truly unnerving and creepy feelings. The general idea of children who know more than they should is something that is an easy fright to mine. The children actors in the film are pretty creepy to say the least. I recognized a younger Thomas Dekker as David, the more emotional of the emotionless children.

Village of the Damned wasn’t as strong an outing for Carpenter as I would have liked. I still enjoyed many elements of the film but as a whole they didn’t equate to the level of an experience I would expect from John Carpenter. It felt like the famous director looked at his remake in much a similar way as he looks at the remakes of his own films, with indifference. This would be fun for serious fans of Carpenter and perhaps fans of the original film and novel, but it won’t turn more heads than that.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

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

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

Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener

Screenplay: Jordan Peele

104 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.

 

Early in 2017, first-time director Jordan Peele released Get Out, a very well-received horror-thriller about race in present-day America. The film has been hotly discussed since February, and now that we are near the nominations for the Academy Awards, I thought it would be fun to look at one of the more interesting frontrunners for the big award.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario, Kick-Ass 2) is a talented African-American man about to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time at their secluded homestead in the country. On the surface, Dean (Bradley Whitford, Megan Leavey, TV’s The West Wing) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener, Capote, The Croods) seem nice enough, but as the weekend goes on, Chris begins noticing strange behavior surrounding the Armitage parents and their odd houseguests. Soon, Chris uncovers exactly what’s going on, but is it too late to save himself?

Okay, so even if the rest of Get Out was terrible (thankfully that is not the case), the film would still be noted for its incredibly well-written screenplay, also from Peele. The nuances and symbolism that Peele employs almost endlessly are so perfectly-placed into the story’s framework so that none of the film feels forced as you peel back the layers.

Beyond all that, the performances are amazing and Peele proves himself to be an incredible first-time director well-worth the recognition he’s been given. From his pitch-perfect storytelling to the great work, particularly from Kaluuya, Allison Williams (College Musical, TV’s Girls) and Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12, Death Note). From most of the info coming out of the set, Peele created a great atmosphere on set, having a lot of fun with his cast and crew, and it shines through into the finished product.

Peele’s not afraid to take what he loves about a genre and roll with it. The opening of the film is very reminiscent of the single-shot opening of John Carpenter’s Halloween. The film is so packed with detail and content that there is even a class being taught at the University of California about the film’s impact.

Get Out is a film that only gets better with multiple viewings. I’ve now seen it many times and I’ve found something new each and every time. This is a film for fans of horror and newcomers to the genre. It’s made with care and dedication from a surprisingly strong first-time director. I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele comes up with next.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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,

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