Yep. It’s time to go back to the classics. The Universal classics, baby. It’s time for Franken-freaking-stein, mother-effers. This is such a damn great movie. You know, we’re so used to these iconic creatures and established tropes, that you sometimes forget that they all started somewhere. Mary Shelley’s book was the inspiration, but so much of what we immediately link with Frankenstein’s monster come from this classic. The bolts in the neck, the sunken stare, and most importantly Boris FREAKIN’ Karloff… all right here. Watching Karloff’s performance is so much of the fun here. He’s childish, yet menacing. His confusion and learning process is soulful. It’s fun to watch a brand-new (unknown at the time) master at work. What’s fun about Frankenstein is that watching with modern eyes it’s still an amazing film, but if you try to put yourself in the eyes of a 1931 viewer, holy hell you can understand why this was so terrifying. A doctor that raids graves for body parts is bad enough. But then you have him sew all those pieces together into his own creation, and THEN put a criminal’s brain into it? That’s just fantastic. The set design on display here is so fun to look at. All the electric components in Dr. Frankenstein’s workshop, while typical by today’s standards, must have been an awe-inspiring sight. I know there really isn’t much more I can say about this movie that most people already know, but this is my yearly reminder to make sure and revisit those Universal classics. They’re much more than simple characters, or pieces of history. They’re full, rich films.
Yes, this is first and foremost a horror movie list. I get that these are usually scary movies for Halloween. But guess what, sometimes you need a comedy thrown in here and there. And one of the kings of horror/comedies is good old Joe Dante. I love The ‘Burbs. I just love it. It makes me laugh. It’s just so damn fun. Yeah, it’s pretty light on the actual “horror”, but the somewhat disturbing subject matter can be pretty horrifying to younger viewers. The story is about a group of suburbanites that live their boring lives in a cul-de-sac, until a new, isolated, and downright creepy family moves in on their block. They immediately think they’re cannibalistic devil worshipers, and set out to prove it. What follows is a hysterical look into the hysteria that can arise from boredom and living the dull suburban lifestyle. For me, this is Tom Hanks at his freakin’ peak. I’m a much bigger fan of zany 80’s comedy Tom Hanks than I am Academy Award winner serious Tom Hanks. They’re all good, don’t get me wrong, but here he’s so lively and just having so much fun with the role. And speaking of fun, that’s what Dante is having here. From the crazy zooming in and out for a punchline (Ray… this is Walter! Ahhh!!!!); to hilarious sight gags (the cute little matching ax in the head of Walter’s little dog kills me every time); to all his nods and homage’s to other horror movies like The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (well, Part 2, specifically). Dante is definitely at his most playful here. You can tell he’s just having a blast and it oozes out to the audience. Filled with genius actors from Bruce Dern to Carrie Fisher to Corey Feldman, this baby is jam packed with amazing one-liners and flat out fun, most of which is all horror tinged. Sure it may not be a super scary horror movie, but after yesterday’s terrifying pick (We Are Still Here), I felt I had to lighten things up a little. Just go have some twisted Dante horror comedy fun.
Those of you looking for a new, truly scary movie, here it is. Simply put, We Are Still Here terrified the hell out of me. Now I should come out and admit that I’m a sucker for solidly placed jump scares. I’m not one of those ho-hum guys that doesn’t move in his seat. Nope, I go airborne. And parts of this film should be called “Jump Scare 101.” There are so many that my heart was beating 1000 miles an hour. But that does not mean that’s all this movie crutches on. Nope. The building suspense in certain scenes is downright perfection. It adds to the whole foreboding feeling in which you never know where one of “them” is going to be. Dark figures are seemingly always in the background, out of focus, fuzzy, silhouetted. The dread builds and builds so that when they do finally pop out for that aforementioned jump, it’s a beautiful peak to an already established dread. We Are Still Here is another in a long line of haunted house movies. The story is simple. Family moves in. Current otherworldly inhabitants are not pleased. Shit happens. But this one has a bit of a twist to it, one maybe I shouldn’t spoil here, but let’s just say it ventures slightly into Lovecraft territory a bit. What I really loved about this movie beyond it’s ability to scare the living shit out of you, is the visceral 70’s vibe to the whole thing. The way it’s filmed, the clothes, the town, the cars, everything; it feels straight 70’s. The entire aesthetic is washed out and feels like an older movie rather than a new one. And then, BAM, the “things” pop out and have an amazingly fresh look to them. Black, burnt, terrifying. The FX are amazing. Yes, some of the acting is a bit dodgy (although Barbara Crampton is fantastic as always), and some viewers may have a problem with the rather slow build (very 70’s), so it may not be a perfect movie to everyone. But dammit all to Hell if isn’t one of the scariest films to come out this year. It gets under your skin, fills you with dread, then SLAMS you upside the face with some shocking Fulci-esque gore. And yes, the director has stated that Fulci was an influence here. And it shows. The practical effects are fantastic. Watch it at night with the lights off, and don’t turn away, because “they” seem to be lurking in every doorway, reflection, and eventually right in your face. Enjoy sleeping after watching it.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 may be the ultimate in “you honestly have to see it to believe it” cinema. It could be the most insane and bonkers horror sequel ever made. Let me say this right up front. At face value, it’s not a good movie. It really isn’t. In fact, some may say it’s a downright horrible and embarrassing movie. Many have said it before, and after viewing, many more will continue to say it. But dammit, I’m here to actually stand up for why this movie is required viewing for all fans of 80’s horror cinema. The main reason is its pure, unbridled, INSANITY. You just can’t believe what you’re watching. You are not going to see filmmaking like this anymore, especially from an anticipated sequel to a prime property. They changed the tone. Instead of the bleak and terrifying tone of the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this one dances into zany comedy territory. Wait, what? They changed the foreboding and terrifying character of Leatherface into a weird love-struck, strangely horny, buffoon at times? Wait, double what? The entire third act takes place underground and almost seems like it was filmed on the set for The Goonies? Okay, seriously what is going on here? Yes, this film is sheer madness. But here’s the thing about Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – it tried something different; and you are never bored. Sure, logic may be completely thrown out the window, but that’s the trademark of the 80’s so swim in it. You have to hand it to Tobe Hooper for attempting to make his “Aliens” instead of another “Alien.” Sure he could have done a straight sequel, but he decided to hit for the fences. For those who have never seen this flick, here’s the recap. Over a decade has passed since the original and we now pick up with the entire cannibal family once again. And now they’re killing people and making them into chili, which wins the cookoff every year. But an ex-Ranger (played by Dennis Hopper!) has been tracking them down for ages because he’s the uncle of a few characters from the original (poor Franklin.) Look, from here it doesn’t make sense to talk about it anymore. Just know that there is more insanity that you even know inside. Leatherface humps his chainsaw. The main girl seems to know how to calm Leatherface simply by saying, “be good” (plus, she screams annoyingly more than anyone on Earth.) The final setpiece underground, albeit insane, is honestly one of the coolest set designs ever, complete with skeleton furniture and walls filled with entrails. There’s an updated dinner sequence from the original. And there’s a final dueling chainsaw battle that even though doesn’t make sense, still kind of kicks ass. Also, hidden amongst the bizarre comedy and insanity are some truly horrific moments. The sequence with the removed face of one of the characters still haunts me to this day. Look, this film is insane. Did I say that? So if you’re a fan of 80’s bonkers cinema, you have to see it to believe it. You have to commend them for not playing it safe. Everyone needs a little bit of insanity every once in a while.
Hot off the presses! Every year I try to pick one or two juicy horror films that are still in theaters. As much as I love my home viewing experiences, I still firmly believe in seeing films the way they were meant to be seen – on the big screen. My favorite place in the world to be is in a darkened theater, surrounded by likeminded fans, watching a great movie. And for gothic horror fans, you’ve got an enjoyable experience waiting for you in Crimson Peak. Take advantage of an R-rated, big budget horror film dammit! If you’re a fan of Guillermo Del Toro, you already know what you’re in for. This is Del Toro’s bread and butter. It’s a gorgeous, sumptuous, set designer’s wet dream. Don’t look for over the top scares, but rather a simple, moody, old school, and very old fashioned, horror flick. Well to be honest, it’s less actual “horror”, and more olde tyme “oogity-boogity”. Which is kind of fun and refreshing. The story is simple. The daughter of a wealthy businessman leaves everything she knows behind and travels from America to the UK with a man in which she fell in love. Upon arriving to the house that he shares with his creepy sister, the young woman starts seeing disturbing things, and must slowly unravel the mystery of Crimson Peak. The story isn’t reinventing anything, but rather in fact, almost on purpose retreading on some of the great haunted house flicks of the 50’s, mostly British ones like Hammer. But to be honest, this movie is less about the in’s and out’s of the story, and more about the visuals, the fantastic acting, the spectacle, the metaphors (which Del Toro LOVES), and the overall sensations and vibe of the film. Watching Del Toro work in his over-the-top deep red palette is like taking a wonderfully warm blood bath. He does with red liquid what Dario Argento does with red lighting. It’s just so luscious and rich. The visuals alone in this movie are worth a watch. The story and film alike are definitely more adult oriented, and something tells me that teenage viewers will be bored to tears. But screw them. This is for fans of old school gothic horror. It takes its time. It pulls you in. Yeah, the ghosts themselves are nothing too amazing (although still kinda cool), but to me it’s all about the setting of the house in which they inhabit. The nice touches of how it breathes, and of course bleeds, are amazing. And speaking of bleeding, the red palette is definitely what you come for. Just sit back and let it wash all over you. And lastly I do have to give credit to Del Toro for a few moments of resonate shocking violence that almost come out of nowhere. Where a lot of filmmakers would have gone the PG-13 route, he takes these few moments and goes right for the throat. It works for the story and makes you realize this isn’t child’s play. Crimson Peak may not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a gorgeous, old-school, haunted house flick, I think it’s definitely worthy of a big screen view.
Starry Eyes is one of those movies that goes down the Jeff Dixon checklist for movies I dig. A few years back there was a movie I looooved called The House of the Devil that was a true stylistic throwback to the movies of the late 70’s/early 80’s. While this movie doesn’t try to emulate the look and feel as much as that film, the story here is very much on that same time period’s wavelength. While I don’t want to give away too many of the twists and turns, let’s just say that the “star” in the title has multiple meanings (no spoilers since many of the posters even give that fact away.) Starry Eyes is a vicious little independent film that does not waver in showing how brutal Hollywood actually is. The story follows the familiar tale of a girl who desperately wants to be a star in Hollywood, and will do (almost) anything in order to make it. But as the old Hollywood adage goes, “how far are you willing to go?” When I say this movie is vicious, I mean it. This movie is seriously vicious. It shows the insane lengths people will go to get what they want. It shows the dehumanizing factors of casting calls (and I really do mean dehumanizing.) It shows the competition involved, and how being “friends” in Hollywood really just means “jealousy targets.” It shows how Hollywood can turn a good human being into a monster. It pulls you down into the gutters along with the souls of so many other wannabe stars and starlets out here. That, to me, is what sets this movie apart. It’s more about the real horrors of Hollywood. It’s not perfect by any means. There are some lags in the 2nd act, and some plot holes here and there. But I didn’t care. This movie is about mood. And I LOVED the mood. The over-the-top disturbing and disgusting Hollywood elite producer is so icky you practically feel him yourself. And there are a few moments of such shocking gore, that this was one of those movies with a very much advertised “someone passed out in the theater” campaign (actually I heard someone threw up at the Screamfest screening, but that could be rumor.) In the end, this movie is all about the main actress, played by Alexandra Essoe. She is amazing. She is so unique, and you really do feel for her character. Her arc may be a bit clichéd in parts, but it all just works perfectly. Starry Eyes is a cheaply made independent film done right. It’s down and dirty. It’s brutal as hell. And it’s a refreshing entry into the horror genre of late. Give it a shot. If you’re like me, you’ll dig it immensely.
I chose this movie for today because Sundays sometimes have a nice family vibe to them. And 1408 feels like an old school haunted house movie that the whole family could watch (maybe older kids only, but still.) I have a soft spot for old school haunted house movies, or in this case a haunted hotel room. Some may call 1408 a softball choice, but I disagree. This movie has some fun scares and a great psychological slant. 1408 is based on a Stephen King story, and I actually think it’s a fantastic adaptation in a ton of different ways. The story revolves around a grizzled and jaded author who now writes about supposedly “real” paranormal and haunted locations, yet mostly now makes a career debunking them. Basically he’s a dick (not hard for John Cusack to convey, but I digress). After being jaded for so long he happens on to the story of room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel, which is responsible for countless deaths, suicides, and self-mutilations. No matter how hard the hotel manager tries to talk him out of it, he still forces his way to stay in it. FYI, the manager is played by Sam Jackson, who I swear was only cast in this small role so he could sternly say, “It’s an evil f***ing room.” Anyway, he checks in, and well, shit goes down. But how it all goes down is what I like about this movie. It starts extremely subtle, and insanely foreboding. A personal favorite is the clock that starts to count down from an hour (after being told that he won’t survive an hour in the room.) But because of this subtlety, he starts to think that the room staff is playing tricks on him, which they actually could be. Then as things progress and he starts seeing things, he thinks he may have been drugged, which he actually could have been. It’s this actual aspect of skepticism that works because we the audience actually aren’t sure either. Now, granted, eventually it get much more aggressive, but the trajectory of it all seems exactly right. And as things start to get extremely personal with Cusack’s character, revealing where his jaded persona comes from, the emotion is real. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker with anything that deals with a young daughter since I have two of them, but still, it’s a solid character touch. Which is good because the entire movie is basically just Cusack in a room, which sounds confining, but it works. Back to the “family” feel I mentioned, the scares are old school; there is practically no gore; it’s not TOO aggressive; it doesn’t insult anyone’s intelligence. It’s great for a family of older kids. It’s a solid, old school, PG-13, horror flick that actually is scary. Give it a shot. It’s just good fun.