[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.

Crawl (2019)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark

Screenplay: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen

87 mins. Rated R for bloody creature violence, and brief language.

 

I was a big fan of director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The 9th Life of Louis Drax) when he burst onto the filmmaking scene, even if I didn’t love his remake of The Hills Have Eyes (though it is a superior film to the original). I respected his eye for horror, and I think his Piranha is one of the best horror films ever made. He disappeared for a few years, but now he’s resurfaced with another creature-feature, this one inspired by actual events that took place during Hurricane Florence.

Crawl is the story of Haley (Kaya Scodelario, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), a competitive swimmer, searching for her father Dave (Barry Pepper, Saving Private Ryan, Maze Runner: The Death Cure) as a Category 5 hurricane sets in. Haley finds herself trapped in the crawl space beneath the main floor as it quickly floods and having to protect herself from deadly alligators.

Crawl had a great trailer, but one wonders with a film largely set in one location whether the trailer is really showing everything, and I will say this: if you are interested at all in this film, don’t watch the trailer as it does give away some third-act plot points. Overall, though, Crawl is an excellent single-location thriller with two standout performances and a whole lot of shocks and intensity.

The screenplay, from Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (The Ward, The Inhabitants), bolsters a strong storytelling speed that keeps the momentum up for most of the film, save for a good fifteen minutes at the start as the pieces are put in place. It’s an important fifteen minutes but it is a slow start.

Director Aja is known for pulling as much tension and horror from a premise as possible, and he’s knocking it out of the park here, but he is able to pull some emotion from this struggling father-daughter relationship as well, something I’ve not seen him as successful with in the past.

Our two leads in Scodelario and Pepper work very well together. You can feel their strained relationship as they work together to escape this potentially impossible situation. It’s a frustrating movie but only because it always feels unwinnable, and none of their attempts go without risk or pain. There’s a lesson I once learned about creating great characters, and it is that you cannot let your characters win without suffering. These two suffer a lot in this film, and I’ll leave it open-ended whether or not they “win” after all that suffering.

Crawl is an excellent thriller that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. The film races along, creating obstacles one after the other. This is a pull-out-your-hair movie at its finest, and a terrific theatrical experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Alexandre Aja’s Piranha, 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.

[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 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 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: Day 31 – Halloween (1978)

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Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis

Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

91 mins. Rated R.

 

Well, here it is. I promised you would make it to Halloween with me, and you did. Congrats!

 

I think I knew that this would be the movie for today. I didn’t plan for it until I got down to the last couple days. It just so happens that John Carpenter’s Halloween is my favorite horror film, and I am excited to share it with you today. Enjoy and then go have some tricks and treats, whatever they may be, and thank you for a great month.

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Halloween opens with an absolutely amazing shot (okay, it looks like a single shot but is actually three, I think) of Halloween night some years ago. Young Michael Myers is supposed to be watched by his older sister Judith but instead she chooses to have her boyfriend over and she ignores Michael as her and her fella proceed to have sex upstairs before he leaves for the night. Michael, in a seemingly unbelievable act, grabs a kitchen knife and his clown costume, goes upstairs and kills his older sister in a gruesome and merciless way. He then goes downstairs to greet his parents as they come home and discover his grisly act. Flash forward several years to modern day 1978 Haddonfield. Michael Myers has escaped from Smith’s Grove Penitentiary and made his way home, now stalking several teenagers on Halloween night.

The film might seem very simple for younger audiences, but it was one of the very first slasher films of its time, and certainly the odd that created all the elements that would later be overused into mediocrity. The plot, though, isn’t about the normal stalker chasing down woman. This isn’t just Michael Myers we are talking about. The credits perhaps say it best, calling him The Shape. He is being pursued by the incredible versatile Donald Pleasance (The Great Escape, Escape from New York) as Dr. Sam Loomis (see the Psycho reference?). Pleasance is at the top of his game here, and it equally matched by the commanding performance of then-newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies, Veronica Mars) as Laurie Strode, a normal girl who just wants to finish her babysitting gig and get home alone, a task not always as simple as she would assume. Laurie is a girl plagued by real-world big problems like the question of whether or not Ben Tramer like-likes her. Her fellow friends Lynda (P.J. Soles, Carrie, The Devil’s Rejects) and Annie (Nancy Loomis, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13) are also on The Shape’s radar tonight, and both are ably performed characters that do nothing special but also do not deter us from our fears.

It is difficult to talk about the cinematography of a low-budget horror film. Many contain nothing of merit. Halloween is not one of these regulars. John Carpenter (Escape from L.A., The Ward) has always been known for his handling of the camera. His shots are sweeping and focused and always purposeful. When the camera doesn’t move, it haunts. From there, the film is perfectly plotted and edited into a tight package of fear.

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There are times when I try to come up with something bad about this movie as a fun little game, and I usually lose. I find John Carpenter’s Halloween to be a perfect film in every way. There isn’t a single thing I would change about it. I have been watching it since I was four years old and I will keep watching it multiple times throughout the October holiday. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I advise it. Not only is it a working film school of guerilla movie-making, but it is still scary today. Enjoy it. It is Halloween after all, and everyone is entitled to one good scare.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For the rest of the 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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