[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 1 – The Amityville Horror (1979)

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Cast: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Murray Hamilton

Screenplay: Sandor Stern

117 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Another year, another set of horror movies. Welcome back to the 31 Days of Horror. Let’s get started with what is considered a classic of the horror film world, the start to what is likely the longest running horror film franchises in history (in terms of actual quantity of releases): The Amityville Horror. The franchise ended up spawning 12 more official installments with numerous other films which utilized the Amityville name for brand recognition, but all of it starts back in 1979 with the first film, directed by Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, Question 7), based on the novel by Jay Anson, which in turn is supposedly based on the true story of the Lutzes. Now, I’m not here to discuss the validity of this “true” story. That’s not my area. I’m here to talk about the film. I’ve said it before, but in the grand scheme of things, nobody cares about the book and nobody cares about the true story when they see a movie (yes, some people do, but we are dealing with the outliers and not the trend here). When people see a movie, they are there for entertainment through story and character. Now, let’s decide if The Amityville Horror is able to provide that.

In 1975, George (James Brolin, Traffic, TV’s Life in Pieces) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder, Superman, Black Christmas) have purchased a home in Amityville, New York. As they settle in with Kathy’s three kids from her previous marriage, strange incidents begin occurring around the new home. Father Delaney (Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night, On the Waterfront), brought in to bless the home, becomes violent ill and experiences an ill will in the house. Kathy notices George’s frequent waking up at 3:15 every morning, and his slow mental deterioration from the man she married. As they learn about the house’s horrible past, it becomes clear that a malevolent force wishes death upon them.

My primary criticism of The Amityville Horror is that I just don’t find it scary, even in the tonal sense. The idea of someone going crazy in their own home, as George finds himself, is gripping, but I don’t get the sense of anything really causing it other than a feeling. I would contrast his character arc with that of Jack Torrance in both the novel, The Shining, and the Stanley Kubrick film. In Stephen King’s novel, Jack is seen as a man struggling with himself and his vices. His slow descent into madness feels believable because we see what is driving him mad and how it ties to his background. In Kubrick’s film (which is very different in its characterization of Jack), we see a man already on the tipping point of insanity who really pushes himself over the edge. Both interesting takes on this type of character arc, but in Amityville, we are presented with George Lutz, a seemingly normal man who goes a little wacko because of…something. Sure, I can understand a feeling, a stress over trying to father three kids who aren’t his by blood, the financial strain of new homeownership, but I never felt like the connection between these elements is made. George just gets a little crazy.

The only characters in the film that gave me a sense of the house’s evil were Father Delaney and Kathy’s aunt, a nun. Both of them related the unusual events in ways that made me feel like this was an evil home. Delaney’s reaction is shown, while the nun’s is merely told to us, and I felt that both worked. In fact, I would say that Delaney’s blessing scene, which occurs very early in the film, is the most frightening sequence. A man of God is trapped within the house’s walls, and he has been caught off guard by a sense of evil he’s never felt before. A similar idea is played with as the nun later relates how sick she became just be being in proximity with the home.

I would have like the film to focus more on the financial instability of the Lutzes through all this. This is not an uncommon critique. In fact, much of the dialogue of the film is connected, in one way or another, to finances, but I don’t think Rosenberg, as a director, marries this with the paranormal activity taking place. Financial strain is a very scary, very real pain that many, including this writer, have experienced. It’s just as scary as a haunted house, and the idea that the mental state that money problems bring being used as a supernatural target is very unnerving. I just never felt like we got there in the narrative.

Beyond all that, the film is simply too long. The climactic finale is quite thrilling, but getting there is kind of a slog. There are great scenes that build the tension, and then there are moments where all of that tension is lost in a bungled narrative that focuses on the wrong elements.

Thankfully, we are treated to Lalo Schifrin’s powerful score which keeps the story somewhat blanketed in an eerie and unhappy layer. Where the story fails, the score succeeds, at times being the only consistently strong element. Without the score, the film could collapse in on itself.

As I mentioned, this is not to say the film doesn’t have merit beyond the score. There are things to like, but there are also a fair amount that doesn’t work. The Amityville Horror lies in the middle of things, never being as great as its reputation, but never being immemorable among the hundreds of spooky house movies littering the past several decades. It’s merely okay, good for an initial viewing but little more than that.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Zac Efron Joins Blumhouse’s Firestarter

Zac Efron has reboot fever. In addition to joining Disney’s new take on Three Men and a Baby, Efron has also just joined Blumhouse’s new take on Firestarter, based on the novel by Stephen King.

Deadline is reporting that the new film, written by Scott Teems (Halloween Kills, TV’s Rectify) and directed by Keith Thomas, will be produced by Akiva Goldsman and Jason Blum, who teamed up previously for the Paranormal Activity franchise. There’s no notice in the report about the role that Efron would play, but it seems likely that the role will be that of Andrew McGee.

King’s novel features a pyrokinetic little girl and her father on the run from a secret government agency who wish to use her abilities for military and other bizarre purposes. It was previously adapted in 1984 starring Drew Barrymore as Charlie McGee and David Keith as her father, Andrew McGee. That film received a sequel miniseries, Firestarter: Rekindled, in 2002.

It’s been some years since I last read King’s novel, and as I’ve said before, no studios care if you’ve read the book, but I have, so I’ll try to give it the thought. When I think back on Firestarter, I know that Andrew McGee was always cast on the younger side in the book as well, and I could conceivably see Efron as a young father protecting his nine-year-old daughter. I think it’s just that Efron has seemingly always played younger than his age that gives the notion that he’s still a High School Musical-type. I could definitely see him adding the warmth of a father who has no idea what to do in the scope of protecting his dangerous daughter from the clutches of an insidious government organization.

It all comes down to the casting of Charlie, and the chemistry between the two. There’s also a number of meaty roles from the antagonist side of things, but knowing only the initial casting of Efron (and the presumed role of Andrew), things are looking very good so far.

Now, what do you think? Do you like Zac Efron for Firestarter? Are you a fan of his previous work? Let me know/Drop a comment down below.

Firestarter does not currently have a release date.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Stephen King Day] Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Director: Stephen King

Cast: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Christopher Murney

Screenplay: Stephen King

98 mins. Rated R.

 

The trailer for Maximum Overdrive, perhaps the single greatest trailer in cinema history, features Stephen King, the writer/director of the film and writer of the short story Trucks, which the film is based on, claims that if you want Stephen King done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. He also claims that he’s going to Scare the Hell out of you! Neither of these claims ever comes true in Maximum Overdrive, but is the film without merit? I don’t think so. Let’s break down the horror novelist’s lone directing credit today, and we’ll find out just what the hell happened.

The date is June 19, 1987, and the Earth has passed in the tail of a comet that creates a supernatural force, bringing all machines on Earth to life. The machines begin a hostile and homicidal takeover, and a group of survivors hold up in the Dixie Boy truck stop gas station, hoping to fend off the mechanical menace.

Let’s start off with King’s second claim. There’s nothing in Maximum Overdrive even remotely terrifying outside of its central concept. It just doesn’t offer chills. Perhaps it’s because we don’t care about our core group of characters, perhaps it’s because we aren’t presented with enough tension once the initial plot comes into play and the survivors are trapped at the Dixie Boy. It isn’t exactly clear where the film falls apart because it is only tenuously held together to begin with. King’s a hell of a novelist, but directing just doesn’t seem his forte. He can direct on the page, but not all that well with a camera. That’s not entirely on him, as he was quoted as saying that he was “coked out of my mind” for the entirety of the filmmaking process, and it shows (perhaps nowhere more obviously than that trailer). If there’s ever been a solid case for quitting drugs, show someone the great modern horror writer and his film only directing film, Maximum Overdrive.

None of the performances are particularly dazzling. I like the Emilio Estevez (The Way, D3: The Mighty Ducks), specifically in Repo Man, but he capture the audience well. Pat Hingle (Batman, Hang ‘Em High) is flatly asshole-like in his work as Hendershot, a secondary antagonist to the survivor group, and everyone else in the film falls into the stock character work, with most of the secondary cast disappearing from memory with hours of seeing the film.

AC/DC provided the music for the film, and their song choices kind of worked with the high-octane motor vehicle villains that circulate around the Dixie Boy looking to pick off our blood-pumping heroes. I’m not big on their ratchety score outside of the song choices though. Again, AC/DC are not writers of musical scores, and while some musicians can do both, perhaps they were not ready at that time to move into the realm of films.

So the film is bad, there’s no denying that (King himself called it his worst adaptation back in 2013, and those 2 Golden Raspberry noms didn’t give it much credibility), but is it a so-bad-it’s-good kind of film? In some ways, it really is. It has such a simple plot that you don’t have to follow it with detailed notes, the inconsistencies (why do some of the working vehicles never come to life when others do?) are almost endearing, and the murder and mayhem are enjoyably silly and entertaining (King’s cameo as a man at an ATM is particularly dumb and fun). Sure, I showed it at a movie night a few years back, and it earned the enjoyment factor raised.

Maximum Overdrive is not a good movie, but like all auto wrecks, there’s some salvaging to do with this one. There are parts that work well enough to get it moving, and you can get some mileage out of it in the right circumstances, as long as you know what movie you are watching. The statements in the trailer may not be truthful, but it does sell exactly what this movie is, if you can handle it. It’s not good, and I won’t claim that it is, but you can still have a hoot with it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Josh Boone Doesn’t Care About Negative Reviews for New Mutants

I think, at this point, Josh Boone just wants the movie to come out.

Boone, who directed New Mutants, which has just been postponed for the 100th time, and is currently working on his adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand, was recently interviewed by Empire, and he said that Dark Phoenix actually helped make things less stressful for him. He said:

“Look, you can only go up after Dark Phoenix.”

He also said that New Mutants has has tested for several audiences who actually enjoyed it.

To me, I just want to see the movie. It’s been two years since the initial release date for New Mutants, and I have a lot of faith in Boone as a filmmaker. I’m not sure why the film has had so many release pushes, but I feel pretty confident about the film, but in order to really know, I have to actually FUCKING see it!

I also agree with Boone’s statement that the fan community sees Dark Phoenix as one of the worst X-Men films. I personally didn’t think the film was that damn bad but it wasn’t competently made, but I think its reviews were bad enough to consider the film a failure. That, and the incredibly dismal box office take.

So what do you think about these comments? Are you still excited to see New Mutants whenever it actually comes out? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 26 – In the Tall Grass (2019)

Director: Vincenzo Natali

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Harrison Gilbertson, Rachel Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted

Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali

101 mins. Rated TV-MA.

 

Stephen King is having a hell of a year. Between It: Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep, Pet Sematary, Castle Rock, Mr. Mercedes, and the upcoming Lisey’s Story, The Stand, The Outsider, and probably more than that, he’s having a damn good year, and now, the novella he cro-wrote with son Joe Hill has been adapted into the new Netflix Original Film In the Tall Grass.

Becky (Laysla De Oliveira, Acquainted, One by One) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted, The Vanishing of Sidney Hall) are on their way to San Diego when they, upon stopping to rest near an old church, hear the voice of a child coming from the tall grass near them. The voice claims to be lost and scared, and Becky and Cal go in to find the young boy, but upon entering the grass, they discover that it is far more difficult to find an exit, and there is something sinister buried deep within the grass.

Writer/director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, ABCs of Death 2) does the most that he can possibly do to make a boring background like standing in grass. Seriously, there are so many impressive shots in the film that elevate a simple setting into an elaborate one. The difficult in a film like In the Tall Grass is that you have limited characters and limited settings and you have to create a dynamic film where it actually feels like the characters are going somewhere. It doesn’t always work in the film, but when it does, it works very well.

The cast is fine, but Patrick Wilson (The Phantom of the Opera, Annabelle Comes Home) steals every scene he’s in as Ross Humboldt, a man who went into the tall grass with his wife and son and thinks he knows a way out. There are sequences in the film that feel like they will just be sequences of people yelling for help and yet Patrick Wilson’s Ross is such a unique and interesting fella to throw into the mix.

In the Tall Grass gets really weird and wild as he film goes on, and it becomes a lot more crazy near the end, but I was all in for it. There’s a lot more happening in this film than just a bunch of people lost in a field, but I won’t get into it here. This is a Netflix Original well worth your time. It’s fun and eerie and weird and confusing. I had a lot of fun even though the film is about 10 minutes too long. Still, In the Tall Grass is a lot of fun this Halloween season.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of the anthology film ABCs of Death 2, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 24 – Diary of the Dead (2007)

Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Michelle Morgan, Josh Close, Shawn Roberts, Amy Lalonde, Joe Diicol, Scott Wentworth, Philip Riccio, Chris Violette, Tatiana Maslany

Screenplay: George A. Romero

95 mins. Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, and pervasive language.

 

I got into the Living Dead series when around the time that Land of the Dead was released, and I was fairly certain it would be the last time George A. Romero (Monkey Shines, Bruiser) returned to his world of zombies. It just felt like Land of the Dead ended in the right place, but only a few short years later, Romero decided to pick up his camera and make a movie about the first night when the dead rose, this time present in found-footage.

A team of film students making a horror film in the woods are shocked to hear the news reports claiming that the dead are rising and feeding on the flesh of the living. Director Jason (Josh Close, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Anthem of a Teenage Prophet) and several of the others go looking for Debra (Michelle Morgan, Deep Space, TV’s Heartland), Jason’s girlfriend, and then, the group heads out in search of safe refuge, along the way learning the hardness of life in the apocalypse, while Jason follows along, camera in hand, ready to capture as much of the carnage as possible.

I was extremely excited for Diary of the Dead, and I brought a copy of it home to host a watch party, and while the film is overall fine enough, it was clearly the least-impressive film of the five release at that point. I get the feeling Romero was disconnected from both the youth of 2007 but also the medium of found-footage filmmaking, and there’s several breaks in logic that become noticeable. The film works still but his writing kind of creates flat archetypal characters that are not easy to connect with. It’s more the journey of the film that’s so interesting. So much of Romero’s Living Dead series is confined to a single location. It’s fun to revisit the beginning of the zombie apocalypse in this way.

The performance Michelle Morgan is fine as the lead, but I connected more to Shawn Roberts (Resident Evil: Afterlife, Undercover Angel) as Tony, the brutish foil to Jason, and Tatiana Maslany (Stronger, Destroyer) as Mary, a member of the film crew clearly struggling to understand the situation.

None of the Living Dead films are truly connected, and their timeline is always murky. For example, in Day of the Dead, we see a Stephen King book onscreen, but if the apocalypse started in 1968, Stephen King would probably not be writing. Each film can be placed on a zombie progression timeline but exists on its own. So yes, this film is intended to be set during the events of Night of the Living Dead, but also during 2007, so don’t take it too intentionally, as this has always been the case.

Diary of the Dead is fine overall, but upon release it never was able to reach the level of Night, Dawn, Day, or even Land. It’s okay for fans and creates some interesting narrative around technology and social media sharing, and the cameos are really fun to try and catch (just try to guess the major voices behind the many news recordings), but it isn’t for new fans of Romero.

 

2.5/5

-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 Land of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

[Stephen King Day] The Mangler (1995)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: Robert Englund, Ted Levine, Daniel Matmor

Screenplay: Tobe Hooper, Stephen David Brooks, Harry Alan Towers

106 mins. Rated R for gory horror violence and language.

 

I always had a fondness for the adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mangler, a strange film about a possessed laundry-folding machine, so I took a chance to revisit the film this year in honor of Stephen King’s birthday. In hindsight, I wish I had kept this one buried in my memory.

The laundry press at Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry service has been acting funky. First of all, a woman named Sherry, niece to owner Bill Gartley (Robert Englund, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightworld: Door of Hell), cuts her finger on a lever, and later that same day, the machine goes haywire and traps Mrs. Frawley, an older worker, in its safety shield, dragging her through the machine, crushing her body in the process. John Hunton (Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and his brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor, Hit It, A Dark Truth) are on the case, investigating the accident, but what they discover is more horrifying than any normal work-related problem. The laundry press is possessed by a demon, and it’s out for more blood.

The Mangler is not a good movie, and at 106 minutes, it’s quite a slog of a movie. This was one difficult sit-through that I did not remember or expect. I recall more recently reading the short story from King, and the added mythology and plot in this adaptation don’t add much of merit to the film. In fact, having really liked King’s story, which, like so many, offered an EC comics or Twilight Zone-style to them, would have made a great movie in the right hands, but it seems now that Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) was not the right person for this job. There’s so many strange changes made to the story that benefit neither the adaptation nor the overall feeling and tone of the movie.

Robert Englund is horribly miscast, appearing almost like a version of Freddy Krueger that had survived to old age. He brings a nose-twisting grossness and annoyance to Gartley, but then you have Levine, who struggles with some of the more cringe-worthy dialogue here (he starts swearing at a possessed ice box as one point in an absurdly laughable moment taking itself too seriously).

There are several times in the film that something interesting comes up, and it almost seems that Hooper is righting the ship, only for it to devolve into a wholly unlikable mess. I really liked the setting mostly being placed at the Blue Ribbon Laundry, and I think the setting is hyper-unclean in a way that I would have been able to believe. I really like the production design and the overall look of the laundry press. I even kind of the dug the finale, though it has aged very poorly, but even after all that, the film sort of limbers on past the point of my minor enjoyment.

The Mangler was advertised as the product of King, Hooper, and Englund, three horror geniuses, but I doubt anyone involved in this film would have been happy to have their name associated in such a way, especially King, who wrote a solid if somewhat absurd short story but had no hand in the film. This is one of those adaptations I would caution even King fans to shy away from. You have better things to be doing…like the laundry, for example.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

More Casting Announcements for The Stand

As the closing chapter of the It series is currently in theaters, and the release of Stephen King’s new book The Institute hitting shelves yesterday, it seems only fitting that we keep talking about King’s upcoming adaptations. Collider is reporting several new casting announcements for The Stand, the upcoming CBS All Access Series, including Alexander Skarsgård as the villainous Randall Flagg.

The report also revealed Whoopi Goldberg, Jovan Adepo, Owen Teague, Brad William Henke, and Daniel Sujata joining the cast. Previously announced cast members included James Marsden, Amber Heard, Odessa Young, and Henry Zaga.

The big reveal here of course is Skarsgård as Flagg, the villain of the book and one of King’s most important characters across his multiverse. Flagg enters the story as the world is ravaged by a plague called Captain Tripps which wipes out a significant portion of the population. So it would seem that the Skarsgård brothers will be sharing the villain spotlight in King’s work, with Alexander’s brother Bill playing Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the It films.

It was previously reported that Whoopi Goldberg would be playing Mother Abigail, the light to Flagg’s darkness, and it would seem that has now been confirmed. Not much else is known of the other additions to The Stand’s mammoth cast, but I’m excited to see some more good names joining the production, which is set to release in 2020.

Making some guesses here, I would assume perhaps Owen Teague (known for Patrick Hockstetter in the It films as well) could be playing Harold Lauder, a nerdy youth who is in love with Odessa Young’s Frannie Goldsmith. I would like to see Brad William Henke playing Lloyd Henreid, a criminal poised at Flagg’s right-hand man. I could potentially see Sunjata placed in a Larry Underwood role as a musician who just hit it big with his new single, but I’m not sure how I would place Adepo except for perhaps a role as Tom Cullen, although this is a complete out-of-nowhere guess.

What do you think about these casting choices, and who do you think they will play? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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