Thursday, November 28, 2013


Brad F. Grinter, 1972
Starring: Steve Hawkes, Dana Cullivan, Heather Hughes

Herschell, a motorcycle-riding Vietnam vet, picks up Angel, a young woman having car trouble. Angel decides he should stay with her until he gets back on his feet and takes him home to her sister and friends. Many of them are pot smokers, while Angel herself is a devout Christian. Angel’s sexy sister Anne develops a crush on Herschell and tries to convince him to smoke some pot. Though he first refuses, it finally works when Anne challenges Herschell’s manhood. Unfortunately, he quickly becomes addicted.

Meanwhile, the sisters get him a job at a nearby turkey farm. It happens that there are scientists working there, experimenting on turkey meat with strange chemicals. They convince Herschell to become part of their experiment and give him free drugs in exchange for eating the tainted meat. Herschell soon passes out and has a seizure, but there is an even more devastating effect: he turns into a mutant were-turkey with a thirst for the blood of drug addicts. Anne tries to help him, but he can’t stop killing people and drinking their blood, so she convinces some of her friends to capture and behead him. But all is not as it seems...

Between the constant turkey gobbling, the awful turkey mask, the ridiculous happy ending, Christian morals, and the alleged horrors of pot smoking, the fun never ends with this turkey of a film. It’s appallingly cheap, but endearingly unique with a sort of Ed Wood-in-the-‘70s flavor. And speaking of one of Ed Wood’s tactics, director Brad Grinter pops up now and again during the film, drinking and chain smoking, to offer some guidance about what is happening with the plot and provide some moral advice. 

Everything about this is terrible. The acting is mostly made up of awkward scenes of dialogue from non-professional or very inexperienced actors. Angel, the weirdly devout Christian who seems wildly out of place, is played by Heather Hughes (Flesh Feast), while her sister Anne, the drug-addled temptress, is played by Dana Cullivan in her only role. Gee, I wonder why? Steven Hawkes (Herschell, likely named after the Godfather of Gore himself, Herschell Gordon Lewis) made a career starring in Z-grade Tarzan rip offs made in Florida. In another universe, I think he would have become an early Jim Van Bebber-like figure, but instead he only left us with Blood Freak.

As a somewhat extreme atheist, I couldn’t imagine myself watching, let alone enjoying a film with a Christian message, but the religious subplot here just makes the whole thing more incredible. And hilarious. The lengthy, unedited scenes of dialogue are a bit painful, but anything bad about this film is almost immediately transformed into trash gold by the absurd dialogue and Grinter’s silly, awkwardly timed speeches that interrupt the loose narrative. The script is practically non-existent, but is full of amazingly inept writing, such as a scene where Anne and her friends react to Herschell’s transformation with an astonishing, hilarious level of acceptance.

There’s some nudity and, fortunately, plenty of gore. What makes Blood Freak a lot better than other trash films from the period, such as the earlier Manos: The Hands of Fate, are its death scenes. A mutant were-turkey slices and dices his way through the local addicts, going so far as to graphically cut the leg off of a drug dealer. The scene is basically not edited at all (like much of the rest of the movie) and the man screams for two or three minutes straight before meeting his long overdue end. Turkey-Herschell lets the arterial blood spray plentifully when he’s not running around in the dark “stalking” people. 

At points it’s difficult to watch the film because the print is so dark, but it’s really a miracle that it’s survived at all. There’s a great special edition DVD from Something Weird that includes tons of special features. Two of the standouts are a feature about director Brad Grintner, apparently famous for his nudist lifestyle and another funny one, “Narcotics, Pit of Despair!” The film and this DVD release both come highly, highly recommended. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Meir Zarchi, 1978
Starring: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Page

Writer Jennifer Hills travels from New York to the Connecticut countryside to rent a cottage and get some peace and quiet to work on her novel. Her arrival attracts the attention of some local men: Johnny, Stanley, Andy, and their friend Matthew, who is mentally challenged. They begin gradually stalking her and harass her one afternoon when she is out canoeing. This leads to a chase through the woods where the men rape her one at a time, allowing her to escape, but then recapturing her. They decide to kill her, but can’t go through with it and leave her badly injured and traumatized. 

It takes her awhile to recover, but Jennifer makes up her mind to get revenge. She prays for forgiveness at church and then sets out with her plans. Starting with Matthew, Jennifer proceeds to hunt down the men, seduce them if necessary, and then viciously kill them - one is castrated, another is axed to death, etc.

Written, directed, and produced by Meir Zarchi, the film was allegedly Zarchi’s response to finding and helping a young woman who was raped and then treated poorly by the police. Originally known as Day of the Woman, the title was changed to I Spit on Your Grave when Zarchi finally found distribution. It was banned in numerous countries and received mixed critical reception, including a particularly scathing review from Roger Ebert who wrote that it was the most depressing experience of his life. Everyone should be so lucky. Bafflingly, he enjoyed Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left.

One of the most controversial films of all time, I Spit on Your Grave is undeniably flawed, but it’s still an important film worthy of viewing and discussion. I think the film essentially serves two purposes. First and foremost, it is an exploitation film. It borrows certain elements from Last House on the Left or Deliverance, but while those films and others like Straw Dogs are about a man getting revenge for violence against his wife or family, the female protagonist, Jennifer, gets revenge for herself. Her revenge is absolute, but not remotely redemptive, leaving us with a nihilistic, crushing, and almost empty conclusion.

Its second function is that it shows the absolute horror of rape. While there have been plenty of other rape-revenge films since, there is something unique about I Spit On Your Grave (though it is undeniably overshadowed by Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45). Though there is a graphic, lengthy, and horrifying scene in the later Irreversible, not even that comes close to the multiple gang rape scenes that last nearly 45 minutes total. In Irreversible, Monica Bellucci, one of Europe’s most beautiful actresses, is far more eroticized than I Spit on Your Graves’s Camille Keaton. Bellucci is dressed in a skimpy outfit to go dancing at a night club, while Keaton’s character is simply alone in the woods. 

Keaton (What Have You Done to Solange?) gives a powerful performance as Jennifer and manages to rise above the empty script, which is little more than a basic outline. Jennifer is not a developed character, though neither are her attackers. They all become more animalistic as the film draws on. To a certain extent, this is part of the film’s power. It doesn’t seem to side with anyone, it just presents us with a series of horrifying events. Rape is undeniably horrifying. It is one of the world’s most underreported crimes, but 2013 alone has seen rape epidemics in Africa with under age girls being victimized because it is believed that to rape a child will cure a man of HIV or AIDS, a gang rape epidemic in India, and equally horrible situations in the U.S., such as the Steubenville rape, where a teenager was raped by classmates who tweeted pictures of their crime and were later protected by teachers and other adults. The victim was repeatedly blamed and ostracized in the media. Women and children are also currently being raped on a frequent basis in the Sudan as part of civil war tactics. A similar thing is happening in the Congo, which is believed to be the world’s most dangerous country for women. There are also several countries where men can escape rape charges by forcing their victims to marry them; this is particularly bad in Ethiopia where “marriage by abduction” is a serious problem. Last month in Saudi Arabia, a three year old girl was gang raped. I could go on. 

Some camps believe that I Spit on Your Grave is an unsung feminist triumph, while others think it is cruelly exploitative trash. I’m not naive enough to completely agree with either side, but there is evidence for both. Zarchi, for instance, is obviously not an experienced filmmaker. The script, cinematography, and stylistic elements are sometimes weak, sometimes downright embarrassing. But this occasionally works in his favor and gives the film a documentary feel, which is enhanced by the almost complete lack of musical soundtrack. 

Can I recommend I Spit on Your Grave? That all depends. Do you make rape jokes? Do you think violence against women and children is funny? Then you should probably watch the film. It won’t stop you from being a horrible person, but hopefully it will make you uncomfortable enough to induce a reality check. The same is true for people who think that rape is a distant horror that will never happen to them or anyone they know. Chances are someone in your life is a victim of rape, sexual assault, molestation, or aggressive harassment. I Spit on Your Grave is not a film that offers analysis, philosophical views, or answers about how to deal with the problem, but it is a film that captures the visceral brutality of the act and the powerlessness of the victim. While Jennifer does get revenge, she is left victimized, isolated, and permanently damaged. There is no redemption. 

The film is available on Blu-ray. It was unofficially remade as Naked Vengeance (1985) and officially remade in 2010. Though there is no actual sequel, Keaton again appears as Jennifer in Savage Vengeance (1993), an unofficial sequel. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


George A. Romero, 1978
Starring: Ken Foree, David Emge, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross

Famously shot in the Monroeville Mall just outside of Pittsburgh, Dawn of the Dead interestingly doesn’t contain any of the same characters as Romero’s first major film, Night of the Living Dead (1968) and has a completely new plot line. It continues the theme of a zombie apocalypse spreading across the U.S., this time bigger and more devastating in scale. A news station is in the throes of panic as they debate whether or not to stay on air during the ongoing spread of a zombie plague. The cause of zombism is unknown and some refuse to believe that the dead are rising to feast upon the living. Fran, a worker at the station, decides to escape with her helicopter pilot boyfriend Steven. 

They are soon joined by two SWAT team members, Roger and Peter, who will provide some protection. The foursome flees Philadelphia and travels for some time in the helicopter, eventually finding an abandoned mall near Pittsburg. Needing food, shelter, and sleep, they decide to land on the roof and have a look around. The second floor of the mall is relatively secure and they are able to protect themselves from zombies fairly easily. Eventually Roger is bitten during the process of clearing the mall. As his injury develops, they raid the mall and build a life of relative comfort for themselves, but how long can it last?

For a few years growing up, this and Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead were tied as my favorite zombie film, possibly also for my favorite film of all time. That makes Dawn of the Dead a little difficult to write about. Though my tastes have matured and I can recognize some of its flaws, I still think this is one of the best zombie films ever made (and the best film ever set in a mall). It seems strange that this sequel came out ten years after Night of the Living Dead, but it is certainly unique compared to other horror sequels of the ‘70s and ‘80s. While most horror series were made up of repetitive attempts to recycle the same villains and stock characters, Romero’s Night, Dawn, and Day of the Dead are all remarkably different films that just happen to be set in the same universe. 

Dawn of the Dead doesn’t have the same sort of horror or scares as Night. Zombies were already introduced in stark black and white and Dawn’s colorful sets and outlandish gore is a welcome change. The feeling of a long term sense of dread and hopelessness that began at the end of Night is intensified here, as well as boredom and a strange sense of ennui. The characters try to survive, but why? In some ways, Dawn has not aged particularly well. There’s a brief opening commentary about the role of news and media, though the film quickly transitions into a not-so-subtle argument about the negative aspects of capitalist culture. Though his commentary seems a bit obvious after 30+ years, it remains to be powerful. I’ve always thought it was a shame that the section of the film where the characters become lost in a consumer frenzy, gutting the mall for all its worth, is rudely interrupted by some cheesy looking bikers. 

The bike gang simply feels out of place and introduces a shade of Romero’s motorcycle-themed, rebellious oddity Knightriders. The gang in Dawn is actually made up of some real Pagans who ride around causing chaos, plus Tom Savini, whose character was improvised by he and Romero. This was also Savini’s first major job providing special effects and he does a fantastic job with dozens of memorable effects that have not really aged at all. 

In addition to the effects, one of Dawn’s enduring strengths is Romero’s writing. Different and more complex than Night, overall I think the characters are better written and more fleshed out than in the first film. Though the plot moves quickly, Romero gives us plenty of time to get to know the foursome, with the exception of maybe Steven, who has very little personality at all. SWAT agents Roger and Peter are the most likable characters and I think Scott Reiniger (Knightriders) and Ken Foree (From Beyond) also give the best performances. David Emge (Basket Case 2) is downright unlikable as Steven and though Gaylen Ross (Creepshow) is decent as Fran, she is frustratingly subdued for much of the film. 

Dawn is an Italian and U.S. co-production. Romero couldn’t find enough funding to make a sequel to Night as soon as he wanted to, but director Dario Argento was a fan and decided to help with the production of a second film. Apparently the two directors became close friends and Argento’s involvement meant that Romero could make the film he wanted without too much studio interference. It also meant that Romero had complete control over the English-language/American release, while Argento had control of the European cut. Argento’s friends Goblin did the memorable score, which is represented in varying degrees based on which version you watch. There are actually five different cuts of the film: the 119 minute European/Argento cut, the 127 minute US theatrical release, the 128 minute DVD version, a 139 minute extended version, and the 156 minute “Final Cut.” The three most important of these are included in the Ultimate Edition DVD box set, which comes highly recommended and with a number of great special features. 

Dawn of the Dead in general comes with a very high recommendation. While I’ve grown to prefer Day of the Dead, Dawn is fun, fast paced, and entertaining. It remains one of my favorite zombie films and is still a breath of fresh air compared to recent tired zombie films and television shows like the awful Dawn of the Dead remake or The Walking Dead, which I will die happy if I never have to hear about again. Dawn of the Dead was followed by Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), and Survival of the Dead (2009). 

Monday, November 25, 2013


Rick Rosenthal, 2002
Starring: Busta Rhymes, Bianca Kajlich, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tyra Banks

“Trick or treat, motherfucker.”

After the events of Halloween H20, Laurie Strode is in a mental hospital and is badly traumatized. It turns out that she did not decapitate her brother, Michael Myers, but confused him with someone else. (Yes, really.) He shows up at the hospital and kills her before returning to their childhood home in Haddonfield. A reality TV producer, Freddie, has selected six college students to spend the night in the Myers house. Bill, Donna, Jim, Rudy, Jen, and her shy friend Sara all agree to spend the night exploring the house, all outfitted with cameras, and no one will be let out till morning. “Survivors” will be awarded scholarship money. Sara’s friend Myles, who has a crush on her, is watching the show during its live broadcast on Halloween night. 

They split up into three groups of two and begin to look around the house. Donna and Jim go to the basement to make out, but find a wall full of corpses. These turn out to be fake, though Donna finds a hidden tunnel and is killed by Michael Myers, who has already secretly killed one of the cameramen. Myles, watching from a Halloween party, realizes Donna’s murder is real, though the viewers are now convinced that everything happening is fake. Everyone else runs into Freddie dressed up as Myers and they attack him, so he has to explain that it’s a set up to make some good “reality” TV. Myers is now able to prey upon everyone in the house, because most of them believe the danger is fake. 

The eighth and final entry in the Halloween series, not counting Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake and its sequel, is such a shit film, I can’t even begin to describe it. Everything about it is bad: the script, acting, general premise, cinematography, style or lack thereof, etc. The fact that the film re-writes the ending of Halloween H20 is offensive, even more so is that fact that Resurrection opens with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis again) in a mental hospital and Michael arrives and kills her soon after. Basically Resurrection is here to tell us it wants to shit all over anything we remotely liked about Halloween or some of the less offensive sequels.

The director, Rick Rosenthal, was personally chosen by John Carpenter to direct Halloween II, a decent sequel. This previous performance led me to believe that Resurrection would be at least mildly entertaining, but that was clear naiveté on my part. Here Rosenthal borrows from the earlier Halloween films, as well as numerous other horror movies. The general premise of people spending the night in a haunted or dangerous house and making money if they survive is ripped right from Vincent Price vehicle House on Haunted Hill, a fun, whimsical film.

The only person who seems to be having fun with Resurrection is Busta Rhymes, but there’s nothing he can do about the terrible script or truly awful lines of dialogue. He does have a few reasonably entertaining scenes, particularly one funny moment when he dresses up as Michael Myers and runs into the real Michael. He also saves the day with some outrageous martial arts moves, which is hopefully Rosenthal’s way of admitting that he didn’t take any of this seriously. The rest of the actors are totally forgettable. Tyra Banks has five decent minutes of screen time as Busta Rhymes’s assistant, but much of that time is made up of a shot of her ass. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Riddick), who I normally adore, is stuck playing an obnoxious blonde who spends half the film looking in the mirror or talking about her future internet fans. 

Resurrection also uses my least favorite horror trope of all time: the Blair Witch, first person camera, fake documentary bullshit, which is used here because the characters are in the Myers’ home to film a reality TV show. This doesn’t make it any more entertaining, neither does the spectator’s commentary we get from the Halloween party where Myles is watching. 

I can’t recommend Resurrection, though it might be a better movie than Halloween 5 or 6, sheerly because of Busta Rhymes’s involvement. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray, though I don’t know why anyone would want to waste time or money on Resurrection


Steve Miner, 1998
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, LL Cool J, Josh Hartnett, Joseph Gordon Levitt

Exactly twenty years after Michael Myers tried to kill Laurie Strode and slaughtered a number of her high school friends, he manages to track her down by finding her file in the home of Nurse Chambers, Dr. Loomis’s assistant for many years. Laurie has changed her name and moved to California, where she lives with her 17 year old son John and works as the head mistress of an exclusive boarding school. Laurie has been suffering from paranoia, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder; she is also a functioning alcoholic. 

She is terrified that Michael will find her again and, as a result, is very controlling with her son. She has refused to allow him to go on a weekend trip to Yosemite with his classmates, but his girlfriend Molly and friends Charlie and Sarah have also decided to stay behind. At the last minute, Laurie changes her mind, planning a romantic weekend with her boyfriend Will, the school’s counselor and therapist, and John pretends to leave. John, Molly, Charlie, and Sarah set up their secret Halloween party in the school just as Michael arrives. He puts a quick, brutal end to their fun. They meet up with Laurie and Will, as well as the school’s security guard, and try to survive the night. 

This seventh film in the Halloween series marks the 20th anniversary of the original film. Directed by Steve Miner, who also helmed Friday the 13th Part 2 and Lake Placid, it would be reasonable to assume that the seventh movie in a series would be absolutely terrible. Unfortunately, you’d be hard pressed to find worst sequels than Halloween 5 or 6 and H20 succeeds almost solely because it’s better than those two festering turds. H20 also completely ignores the events of 4 through 6, essentially picking up 20 years after Halloween II, which took place the same night as Halloween

It’s amazing that the studio convinced Jamie Lee Curtis to return. Overall this is a clever idea and is certainly far afield from the previous sequels, but she’s given a poorly written role. Laurie is downright unlikable. She survives on pills and not very sneakily hidden bottles of alcohol. She bullies her son, is edgy and paranoid, and isn’t very nice to her boyfriend either. There’s also the implausible idea that she could survive with an advanced case of PTSD for 20 years without completely losing her marbles. It would have been interesting if the script had played with that element, but alas.

If this feels somewhat like Scream, it’s because writer and producer Kevin Williamson was involved in the creation of H20. Much like Scream, it has that slick, late ‘90s feel, which also means the plot is incredibly predictable and the production is almost completely devoid of style or personality. It isn’t a terrible film, just simply not one with any life left in it. Curtis’s mother, Janet Leigh, appears here briefly as a secretary and drives off in the Ford from Psycho. I’m not sure why the writers or producers wanted to make a Psycho reference, but I’m guessing that like Scream, they were hoping to throw a number of horror movie references at the audience to prove how clever and knowledgable they are.

There are also a number of other Hollywood actors that appear here, such as Josh Hartnett (Sin City) as Laurie’s son, Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) as his girlfriend, and LL Cool J (Deep Blue Sea) as the security guard who writes erotica in his spare time. I’m not kidding when I say that I wish he had more screen time. Adam Arkin (West Wing, Sons of Anarchy) plays Laurie’s therapist boyfriend and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick) has a brief role as a hockey playing high school student who meets an amusing end. 

I’m so tired of writing about the Halloween series that it’s difficult to be objective. The film certainly has plenty of flaws. As I said earlier, it’s predictable, devoid of style or personality, and suffers from a pretty lousy script. The iconic mask looks terrible and in certain scenes was allegedly replaced with CGI. Speaking of terrible, Jamie Lee Curtis and Josh Hartnett happen to have exactly the same haircut. 

There are some things to like, such as some nice references to the first film, including the appearance of Dr. Loomis’s assistant (Nancy Stephens) from Halloween and Halloween II, who opens the film. The opening is also stronger because of the appearance of a young Joseph Gordon Levitt. H20 isn’t nearly as bad as 5 or 6, but it is definitely trying to jump on the Scream band wagon. 

I can’t recommend it, but if you have a soft spot for late ‘90s horror, H20 isn’t so bad. However Deep Blue Sea, LL Cool J’s next horror film, is much, much better. H20 is available on both DVD and Blu-ray

Friday, November 22, 2013


Joe Chappelle, 1995
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan

Six years after Halloween 5, where Michael is imprisoned by Dr. Loomis and then rescued by a mysterious man dressed in black, we learn that the man in black also kidnapped Jamie, Michael’s young niece. At some point she was impregnated, though only a teenager, and gives birth to a baby. Michael still attempts to hunt down and kill Jamie, as well as the baby. She calls into a radio station and begs for help. Of course Dr. Loomis happens to be listening in and he sets off along with Dr. Wynn, the head of the sanitarium that once housed Michael. 

Unfortunately, Michael kills Jamie, though he can’t find the baby. The DJ on the radio station that Jamie called in to is Tommy Doyle (the boy Laurie Stode was babysitting in Halloween), now a young man obsessed with Michael Myers and the Strode family. Tommy just happens to find Jamie’s baby and informally adopts him. He and Dr. Loomis team up, convinced that Michael will show up to kill the child and determined to stop him. 

SPOILERS, if you even care: It turns out that Dr. Wynn is the head of a Druidic cult and watches over Michael, as he bears the curse of the Thorn. This means Michael must kill off everyone in his family line - one living member every Halloween when the stars are right - for the good of society as a whole. In the Producer’s Cut, Tommy is randomly knowledgable in runic magic and attempts to stop Michael. With spells. 

One thing I can respect about Halloween 6 is that the film openly acknowledges that it’s impossible to kill Michael Myers and something supernatural must be afoot. Why they chose rune magic and a druidic cult as the explanation is beyond me. Halloween 6 was bizarrely financially successful, even more so than Halloween II, even though the production and release were beset by a number of problems. After production wrapped up, a new ending was filmed, along with other reshoots, and much of the gore was cut out, leaving the theatrical release as disappointing and tame as Halloween 5. In addition, most of the Thorn plot was removed, making this a confusing mess with numerous plot holes. 

Eventually a complete version known as the Producer’s Cut was unearthed. This restored, extended version has developed somewhat of a cult following and is available as a bootleg and has had at least one or two 35mm screenings. Director Joe Chappelle also made Hellraiser: Bloodline, which doesn’t look particularly good on a resume, but he also directed episodes of The Wire and Fringe. Maybe he would have made a solid sequel with less studio meddling, but in my opinion, even the Producer’s Cut is still a crap film, just a slightly better version. There have been rumors of an official DVD release of the Producer’s Cut happening at some point, but that has yet to see the light of day. 

I’m trying to find something good to say about this, but it’s difficult. Donald Pleasence returns as Dr. Loomis, sadly for his final film role. He was in a lot of amazing films, but it’s a little upsetting that Halloween 6 had to be his last. Another actor of note (though not remotely in league with Pleasence) is Paul Rudd (Anchorman) who had his first film role here as the adult Tommy Doyle. The performances are about what you would expect from a bottom of the barrel slasher sequel and there are no other names of note. Danielle Harris (Jamie in Halloween 5) did not return for financial reasons and was replaced by TV actress J.C. Brady, which made this even more nonsensical. 

While the theatrical cut is available on DVD, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. I also wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend the Producer’s Cut (I’ve admittedly only watched the missing scenes, not the whole thing), but if you want to see someone use magic to stop Michael Myers, here’s your chance. Go home, Halloween franchise, you’re drunk. 


Dominique Othenin-Girard, 1989
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Beau Starr

A year after Jamie Lloyd, the niece of Michael Myers was stalked and nearly killed by him, she is left mute and traumatized. Her foster sister Rachel visits her in the hospital and Dr. Loomis supervises her care, but Michael is still alive. Badly injured, a hermit in the woods nurses him back to health. He awakens and kills the hermit; Jamie knows he is coming for her again and Dr. Loomis tries to act quickly. Michael returns to Haddonfield and kills Rachel, and proceeds to kill her friends, who are partying for Halloween. He also kills a number of police officers and sets out to kill Jamie, while Dr. Loomis tries desperately to stop him. A mysterious man dressed all in black also shows up in Haddonfield. 

Really all that Halloween 5 has going for it is that it’s the last of the ‘80s slasher sequels. And that’s not saying much. While I was able to drag myself through II and 4, because of Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis, here Loomis is a sad, washed up version of the earlier character and it’s clear Pleasence wasn’t having a very good time on set. Instead of being the lone, if somewhat panicked, voice of reason, here he rants and raves for much of his screen time. Daniel Harris and Ellie Cornell return from Halloween 4, but the studio stupidly did not follow the plot set up at the end of 4. After Michael is “killed,” Jamie snaps and stabs her foster mother to death. Allegedly, the first script followed this ending and Pleasence argued bitterly with the producers and director about the change. 

What a stupid idea. They had at least an interesting new premise to follow, with young Jamie as the young killer, but no. And that’s probably one of the reasons that this has a reputation as being the worst of all the Halloween sequels. Another reason is director Dominique Othenin-Girard, who is also remembered for helming the equally awful Omen IV: The Awakening. It’s a wonder the studio was surprised that this was the least successful of all the Halloween sequels. 

Unlike Halloween 4, which made every effort to be over the top in terms of violence, here the kills are boring and repetitive. The only likable character (aside from Loomis) dies before the half an hour mark and this descends into a movie about annoying teenagers having sex and getting slaughtered with a variety of farm/gardening equipment. Probably the most annoying thing about the film is the supposed psychic link between Jamie and her uncle Michael. Why does it exist? What’s the point? All she really does is writhe around mutely and go into seizures. 

As with Black Christmas, some of the bodies are hidden in the attic to be discovered later and, as with Halloween 4, Jamie and Michael spend a lot of the film running around a house, essentially playing a fatal game of hide and seek. Loomis shows up and futilely tries to stop Michael, but predictably gets the hell beaten out of him. Here they even have Loomis and Jamie trying to talk some sense into Michael. The producers and script writer should be publicly shamed for such a stupid decision, but I guess the final product is shame enough. Speaking of stupid decisions, this is one of the few times where Loomis actually defeats Michael and gets him sent to prison, but the stupid man in black attacks the police station, so that Michael is able to escape. It never ends. 

I absolutely can’t recommend this movie, but if you’re as masochistic as I am, it is available on DVD. It might be able on Blu-ray as well, but I can’t really say that I care. This was followed by Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, and Halloween Resurrection

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Dwight H. Little, 1988
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Michael Pataki

Despite being in a coma for years after nearly being burned alive in a hospital during Halloween II, Michael Myers awakens during transportation in an ambulance and kills everyone in order to go search for his niece, Jamie, living with foster parents in Haddonfield. Dr. Loomis learns of this and also makes his way to Haddonfield to search for Michael and warn the residents. Loomis and the local Sheriff try to find Jamie, who is out trick or treating with her teenage foster sister Rachel. Rachel discovers her boyfriend Brady at her friend Kelly’s house, obviously there on a date. Rachel and Brady fight and she loses track of Jamie. Michael, meanwhile, has cut the town’s power and phone lines and goes in search of Jamie. 

Rachel and Jamie reunite in the dark just as Michael is closing in on them, but Loomis and the Sheriff drive up and rescue them. They all barricade themselves into the Sheriff’s house, where Brady was just making out with Kelly (the Sheriff’s daughter). Awwwwkward. They wait for reinforcements to show up in the form of the State police, but unfortunately Michael has snuck in the house and begins killing everyone. Will Jamie survive?

After audience frustration with the amazing Halloween III: Season of the Witch, studios wanted everyone to be damned sure that Halloween 4 involved Michael Myers, so they titled it Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Just in case you had doubts. This is essentially take two on the original film and retreads much of the same ground. Michael Myers stalks a girl in Haddonfield on Halloween night, though director Dwight Little was careful not too make it too repetitive. Michael knocks out the town’s entire power supply, blows up a gas station, kills what seems like half the town including much of the local police force, etc. 

Keep in mind that this was made for one reason: profit. It follows the formula of many other ‘80s slasher sequels and though it isn’t a bad film, it isn’t overly original or memorable. Except for the mind-blowing ending, which I’m not going to reveal here, but wow. I can’t believe they got away with that and it’s upsetting that Halloween 5 didn’t follow up with the same plot line. If you’ve seen the original Halloween enough times, you can see it coming, but that just adds to the suspense. 

There are, surprisingly, some entertaining things about Halloween 4, especially if you love dumb ‘80s sequels. There’s a good scene where two innocent Halloweeners happen to be dressed as Michael Myers and Loomis and the Sheriff nearly shoot them. Fortunately, this also discontinues the tired conceit of Halloween and Halloween II that Dr. Loomis is frothing at the mouth about how dangerous Myers is, but everyone, including local law enforcement, ignores him. Here the entire town jumps to the ready, going so far as to form a mob of ridiculous vigilantes armed with shotguns and pickup trucks.

After filming was complete, some additional scenes of gore and violence were added, making this almost on par with Halloween II in the blood department. As with Halloween II, most of it comes across as being amusing. There is an absolutely ridiculous scene where Michael Myers, supposedly in a coma, jumps up and jams his thumb through someone’s forehead. In another scene, he impales someone with shotgun. Hilarity ensues.

Dwight H. Little also directed a 1989 version of Phantom of the Opera and other forgotten films, as well as episodes of television crime dramas like Castle, Bones, and 24. Screenwriter Alan B. McElroy also wrote Spawn and most of the Wrong Turn series, so, well, there’s that. McElroy does loosely acknowledged the ending of Halloween II. Loomis and Michael are burned, but not dead. Laurie and her unnamed husband are dead - I believe from a car crash - but their surviving daughter Jamie has the same last name as Jimmy Lloyd, the EMT who had a crush on Laurie in the hospital during Halloween II.

Donald Pleasence is obviously the most talented actor in the film and he’s really the only reason I signed up to watch Halloween 4 in the first place. Ellie Cornell (Rachel) and Danielle Harris (Jamie) are decent, but are clearly actresses in a horror remake. Which is to say that they’re good at screaming and seeming distressed, but not much else is required of them. 

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I would recommend Halloween 4, particularly to fans of slasher films and ‘80s sequels. The ending alone makes it worth watching, preferably with some alcohol. Definitely go for a rental, and it is available on special edition DVD


Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982
Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O'Herlihy, Michael Currie

“You don’t really know much about Halloween. You’ve thought no further than the strange custom of having your children wear masks and go out begging for candy. It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands and we’d be waiting in our houses of wattles and clay. The boundaries would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal. And the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires. Halloween. The festival of Samhain. The last great one took place three thousand years ago and the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children... It’s time again.
-Conal Cochran, Halloween III: Season of the Witch

A down on his luck doctor (played by the always amazing and offensive Tom Atkins) comes across a mysterious case. A local shop owner is dropped off at the hospital clutching a Halloween mask and ranting maniacally. He is soon murdered by a strange man who immediately kills himself by setting himself on fire. Dr. Dan takes it upon himself to investigate, charming his way through events and eventually into the pants of the shop owner's daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). She becomes his inept girl Friday and they set off for the small town of Santa Mira, California, headquarters of Silver Shamrock Novelties, the company who makes the mask that Ellie’s father died with. They soon figure out that Santa Mira is home to something terrible, centered around the Silver Shamrock factory and its owner, Conal Cochran, but can they stop it before it’s too late?

It’s really a shame that this was called Halloween III: Season of the Witch. John Carpenter was attempting to turn his growing Halloween franchise into a series of unrelated horror films all focused on the festival of Halloween. Season of the Witch is a fantastic film and probably would have been a lot more popular without “Halloween III” to weigh down its title. Audiences were enraged when they realized that this film did not feature Laurie Strode, Michael Myers, or Dr. Loomis. While masks play a major part in Season of the Witch, the film focuses on an entirely different evil than a deranged mad man stalking a woman and killing anyone who gets in his way. 

In the last couple of years, Season of the Witch has had somewhat of a revival and critical and fan opinions have begun to come around. Personally, I think this is a much better film than either Halloween or Halloween II. While John Carpenter didn’t direct, he produced the film and created its annoying, but unforgettable score with his collaborator Alan Howarth (Escape from New York). His regular cinematographer, Dean Cundey, returned from Halloween and Halloween II and is responsible for some very nice scenes here. Carpenter also chose Halloween’s art director and jack of all trades, Tommy Lee Wallace, to direct. Wallace does a solid job and was also partially responsible for the great script, which has one of the best speeches about Halloween/the Celtic festival of Samhain in any film. The script was originally by British sci-fi/horror write Nigel Kneale (the Quatermass series), but when more gore and violence was demanded, Wallace did some re-writes and Kneale requested that his name be taken off the script. It is a bit of a mess, but still very fun. Wallace went on to direct Fright Night II and the It miniseries.

I don't feel bad giving away spoilers, because this movie is so ridiculous that even if you know it's coming, you still won't believe what happens. At its core, Season of the Witch is about Conal Cochran, an Irish business mogul, toy designer, and magician who decides it's time to thin the herd, beginning with the world’s children. He designs and mass produces a series of creepy Halloween masks that, with some magic and crazy space rocks, will activate a worldwide spell on Halloween and wipe out most of the Christian population on Halloween. If this sounds like it’s right out of the League of Assassins, I think he would make a great addition. Cochran is one of the best villains of ‘80s horror. He’s charming, charismatic, lovable, and even charitable, though all of these qualities shield his apocalyptic designs. Cochran was played with aplomb by the wonderful Dan O'Herlihy (Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, RoboCop). 

Though the film isn't particularly violent or sexually graphic, it manages to be incredibly mean-spirited in ways the other Halloween films don't really approach. Such as killing vast amounts of children by crushing their brains and turning them into spiders, worms, and other creepy crawlies. This is actually more in vein with Carpenter’s apocalyptic films like the equally weird Prince of Darkness or the Lovecraftian In the Mouth of Madness. It’s a shame it bombed financially and Carpenter gave up his idea of having a whole series of Halloween-themed horror films. 

One of the things that makes Season of the Witch great is the performance from ‘80s horror staple Tom Atkins, who appeared in The Fog, The Ninth Configuration, Escape from New York, Night of the Creeps, Lethal Weapon, and many more. As a romantic hero, he is totally improbably, but pulls the role off with charm and charisma despite some of his ridiculous dialogue. Stacey Nelkin (Bullets Over Broadway) is a nice foil for Atkins and plays her admittedly ridiculous role with a completely straight face. Nancy Kyes (Annie from Halloween) has a small role as Atkins’ long suffering ex-wife and Jamie Lee Curtis allegedly did some voice work. 

Obviously Season of the Witch comes highly recommended. Aside from its elements of fun, practical jokes, gore, and very real scares, there is an anti-corporate and anti-capitalist strain that is unusual for American horror. (That sort of things abounds in Spanish horror from the ‘70s.) Add in the nihilistic ending and this is far more subversive than most of the other B-grade horror films coming out of the U.S. in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Halloween III finally made it to Blu-ray, which is well worth buying.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Rick Rosenthal, 1981
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance

Picking up immediately where Halloween left off, Laurie Strode was stalked and nearly killed by Michael Myers, who escaped from a mental institution. Dr. Loomis, his psychiatrist, arrived in time to save Laurie and shoot Michael. Unfortunately for Loomis and Laurie, Michael’s body went missing and Loomis assumes he is still on the loose. Laurie is sent to the hospital due to shock and injuries. While there, her friend Jimmy, an EMT, begins to develop feelings for her and watches over her. 

Michael tracks Laurie to the hospital and cuts the phone line. It is somewhat abandoned late at night, but he begins killing nurses, security guards, and doctors - anyone who gets in his way. Loomis is on his trail and eventually figures out that Laurie is Michael’s target and he has tracked her to the hospital. He rushes to rescue her in time. 

The most fascinating thing about Halloween II is that, unlike most other sequels, it actually begins right where the first film ended. It might not be the greatest film, but it has its enjoyable moments and I grew up with fonder memories of it than I did of Halloween itself. Probably the hot tub scene. The actual reason I like Halloween II slightly more than Halloween is that it has a number of fun, inventive kills and it absolutely doesn’t take itself seriously. Someone has their skull bashed with a hammer, a nurse is drowned/scalded to death in a therapeutic hot tub, and there are a number of stabbings, including one with a syringe through the eyeball. 

The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman” during the opening credits pretty much tells you from the beginning that this is going to be a less serious affair and the song is used to great effect. There are a couple of fun scenes through out the film. For example, there is a particularly nice moment where a hospital security guard watches Night of the Living Dead and doesn’t notice when he switches back to the security monitor and sees Michael Myers shuffling across the frame. Carpenter occasionally has characters watch horror movies in his films, including in Halloween where two characters watch The Thing (the original). Michael Myers is also goofier in Halloween II and becomes almost supernatural. He is shot and injured multiple times, but refuses to die. He also somehow magically appears behind every single character in the hospital - and elsewhere - except for Laurie. 

TV director Rick Rosenthal (Law and Order: SVU, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) helmed this first sequel, though Carpenter worked closely with him. Carpenter returned here as a script writer, unofficial director of a few scenes, and producer. He also composed the score with Alan Howarth (Star Trek: The Motion Picture). They would go on to collaborate musically on Escape from New York, Prince of Darkness, and more. For his part, Rosenthal returned several years later to direct Halloween: Resurrection

He did his best at mimicking the atmosphere of Halloween, including the slow pacing. Dean Cundey, Halloween’s cinematographer, returned for the sequel, which also helps. Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, and Charles Cyphers resume their roles from Halloween, though Curtis is unconscious or injured for most of the film. The cast overall is decent, probably a bit better than what you would expect from an early ‘80s horror sequel. Lance Guest (Jaws: The Revenge, The Last Starfighter), TV actress Pamela Shoop, Hunter von Leer (History of the World: Part 1), and Tawny Moyer (House of the Rising Sun) costar.

The sequel was a success, which of course resulted in more sequels. A lot more. This was followed by Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), and Halloween: Resurrection (2002), as well as Rob Zombie’s awful remake and its even worse sequel. There is also an alternate TV version of Halloween II that cut out the gore and most of the violence and offered a happier ending where Jimmy wakes up in the ambulance next to Laurie. Halloween II is now available on Blu-ray


John Carpenter, 1978
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis

On Halloween in 1963, little Michael Myers stabs his teenage sister to death in Haddonfield, Illinois. He is institutionalized, but breaks out fifteen years later while being transported to a court hearing. He finds his way back to Haddonfield with his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, close on his trail. The Haddonfield police refuse to believe that there is any danger and Myers, now in overalls and a white mask, roams around town undetected. He spots high school student Laurie Strode and stalks her, as well as her two friends Nancy and Lynda. 

On Halloween night, Laurie and Nancy are babysitting across the street from one another, but Laurie gets stuck with both children so that Nancy can go meet her boyfriend. Before she can leave the area, Nancy is killed by Myers. Lynda and her boyfriend arrive at the house Nancy was babysitting in and are also killed. Loomis desperately looks for Myers, who now has free range to stalk and kill Laurie.

I’m going to admit here and now that while I’m a huge fan of most of John Carpenter’s other films, I’ve never really cared all that much about Halloween. It’s strange, because Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love Halloween III and have always wished there were more Halloween-themed horror films. I also love other early slashers, such as Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (1971), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Black Christmas (1974). 

My main issue with Halloween is that it is bland. I think part of what made it so popular and iconic is this lack of complexity or subtlety and while I’m not knocking that entirely, it just isn’t my thing. Laurie isn’t a particularly memorable heroine and while I generally enjoy Jamie Lee Curtis, here she is a sort of average, Every Teen. She plays by the rules, has very little personality, etc. Michael Myers wears an almost faceless mask painted white and has no personality whatsoever. He’s sort of a cross between a modern day Universal monster and a serial killer, but has no stand out characteristics. Carpenter’s score music is memorable, but simple and repetitive. 

Halloween was one of the most profitable independent films of the ‘70s and arguably went on to influence an entire genre of ‘80s slasher films. It certainly borrows from Hitchcock’s Psycho in terms of the jump scares but lack of real blood or gore and borrows a number of things from earlier slasher films. As with Black Christmas and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there is a Final Girl, one female character left alive, and the focus is on teenagers and their developing sexual identity. Parents or authority figures are barely present. And somewhat like Black Christmas, Halloween is about the danger of the suburbs, the belief that everyone is safe behind their unlocked doors in communities where they know all of their neighbors. Also like Black Christmas, Halloween uses POV shots through the killer’s eyes. This is a typical giallo technique popularized by Mario Bava in Blood and Black Lace, but it certainly caught on with slasher films.

The film hasn’t aged particularly well. The acting is substandard and some of the dialogue is appalling, namely the ongoing conversations about the boogeyman. This was Jamie Lee Curtis’s film debut and she essentially got the role over other actresses because she’s the daughter of Janet Leigh, star of Psycho. As I said earlier, her acting is pretty suspect here, but everyone has to start somewhere. In my opinion, Donald Pleasance is the best thing about this film, though he does have some dreadful dialogue. Hammer stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were offered the role, but turned it down due to the small budget.

This was John Carpenter’s first mainstream film and he worked with some of his regular collaborators, such as producer and co-scriptwriter Debra Hill, production designer and jack of all trades Tommy Lee Wallace, and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Halloween was Carpenter’s first collaboration with Cundey and he certainly helped give the film its famous, atmospheric visuals. He would go on to work with Carpenter on The Fog, The Thing, Escape from New York, etc. 

If you haven’t seen Halloween, I would recommend it, even though I’m not particularly crazy about it. It’s an important American horror film and deserves to be seen and assessed by all genre fans. With that said, if you grew up watching it and it scared the crap out of you, you might want to reassess. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray, both of which have a number of special features. This was followed by some increasingly bad sequels: Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), and Halloween: Resurrection (2002), as well as Rob Zombie’s awful remake and its even worse sequel. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Philip Kaufman, 1978
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright

Strange pink flowers begin growing in San Francisco and a city Health Department scientist, Elizabeth, brings some home, fascinated because she can’t place the species and believes it is a new hybrid. The new morning, her boyfriend Geoffrey wakes up seemingly a different person. She voices her concerns to another Health Department worker, Matthew, who thinks she is merely tired of the relationship. Over the next few days, Elizabeth becomes more upset and has followed Geoffrey and witnessed him meeting with total strangers. 

Her paranoia becomes more real when Matthew’s friend Jack and his wife Nancy discover a strange body in their health spa. It appears to be alive, but is covered in strange hairs and looks somehow unformed, even though it is the size of an adult human. It disappears before they can get help. Elizabeth doesn’t answer her phone and Matthew breaks in to find her asleep, but with a duplicate body of her in the garden. He rescued her and they team up with Jack and Nancy. They try to reach out a local psychiatrist friend of Matthew’s, as well as police and state agencies, all with no avail. It becomes clear that some sort of alien conspiracy is happening and they must go on the run. They get cornered and Jack and Nancy separate in order to try to find help and make it easier for them all to escape. Will they bring back reinforcements or will they return as something else?

Based on Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers, director Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) remade Don Siegel’s ‘50s horror classic as an updated tale of paranoia and insidious alien invasion. Siegel’s original film was concerned with issues like Communist paranoia and McCarthyism, as well as the kind of social conformity seen in ‘50s TV shows like Leave it to Beaver. Kaufman’s remake was made during a wave of government mistrust after Vietnam and Watergate and the sense of conspiracy and paranoia directed at the government is palpable. It has an early sense of The X-Files about it, a belief that fear and horror can come from alien, as well as governmental forces. Kaufman also addresses the issue of sexual and romantic relationships, which undoubtedly changed during the sexual revolution of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. 

With some very disturbing, creepy special effects from Russ Hessey and Del Rheaumes, a jarring score from Denny Zeitlin, and some disorienting cinematography and set pieces, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not full of jump-out-at-you scares, but quietly disturbs nonetheless. It also quickly enters the territory of body horror. This was the first of a trilogy of body horror-themed sci-fi remakes and was followed by John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). All of these films deal with the horrors of human transformation. While Cronenberg was already making body horror with Rabid and Shivers, it seems fairly obvious that Invasion of the Body Snatchers influenced The Thing

There are a number of great performances, particularly from Donald Sutherland (Don’t Look Now), as Matthew, the film’s rational center. There is something about Sutherland that makes him so perfect for subtle horror. He has an undefinable hypnotic quality that makes him compelling and watchable, despite issues like a bland script or insufficiently talented supporting actors. Fortunately neither of those are the case here.

Brooke Adams (Shock Waves) and Sutherland have good chemistry together and it’s surprising that Adams’ career didn’t take off more. She’s likable here and is somewhat reminiscent of Suspiria’s Jessica Harper. A young Jeff Goldblum (The Fly) and Veronica Cartwright (Alien) round out their small resistance group and Leonard Nimoy makes a welcome appearance as a psychiatrist and self-help guru. Keep an eye out for the weird half glove he wears. Kevin McCarthy of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its director, Don Siegel, make some surreal cameos here. Director Philip Kaufman and actor Robert Duvall also have brief cameos throughout the film. 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes highly recommended. Apocalyptic and nihilistic, the film assumes that we’ve seen the original, which is both a good and bad thing. I’m going to guiltily admit that I have not. It didn’t take away my enjoyment of this film (I’m planning to watch it as soon as possible, I swear), but I’ve read from other reviewers that some things seemed confusing without knowledge of the original. Regardless, it is one of the finest sci-fi horrors of the ‘70s and is available on DVD and recently on Blu-ray, though it seems that the original Collector’s edition DVD has the greatest number of special features.

CARRIE (1976)

Brian De Palma, 1976
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, John Travolta

While showering after gym class, 17 year old Carrie White gets her period. Because her religious extremist mother has kept her ignorant about it, she thinks she is dying and hysterically begs the other girls for help. They make fun of her and pelt her with tampons. The gym teacher, Miss Collins, takes pity on her and punishes the other girls, particularly ringleaders Chris and Sue. At home, Carrie’s abusive mother hits her and locks her in a closet to pray for forgiveness. 

Sue genuinely feels bad about harassing Carrie and convinces her boyfriend, the very popular Tommy, to ask Carrie to the prom. One of the other girls, Chris, is banned from prom because she refuses to serve the detention given to her by Miss Collins for abusing Carrie. Chris plans to get revenge and solicits her boyfriend Billy’s help. Carrie learns that the strange events surrounding her are due to developing telekinetic powers, which allows her to finally stand up to her mother. Tommy invites her to the prom several times and though she thinks it is a trick, she eventually gives in. 

At prom, Carrie has her first dance and first kiss with Tommy and the rest of the students are generally kind to her. Falling in with Chris’s plan, Carrie and Tommy are announced as prom queen and king. Sue checks in on them and realizes, too late, that Chris is about to play a horrible joke on Carrie. Miss Collins kicks Sue out, thinking she is the one planning to ruin Carrie’s night, and Chris dumps a bucket of pig’s blood onto Carrie’s head during the distraction. Driven almost insane with rage, Carrie traps everyone in the gym to get the ultimate revenge. 

Carrie is a film of firsts. It was based on Stephen King’s first published novel (of the same name) and is the first adaptation of his work out of over a hundred other films and made-for-TV movies. This was director Brian De Palma’s first major mainstream film and it also helped start or boost the careers of a number of actors. P.J. Soles (Halloween, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) had her film debut here in a small part as one of the high school girls, as well as William Katt (House), who costarred as Tommy. Both Sissy Spacek and John Travolta had their break out roles. Travolta would go on to star in De Palma’s Blow Out and Spacek was nominated for an Academy Award alongside Piper Laurie, who returned to acting after nearly 15 years for Carrie. 

Though the cast is great overall, Spacek and Laurie give the finest performances. The film benefits from their excellent chemistry and complimentary acting styles. Laurie nearly steals the film out from under Spacek and one of Carrie’s greatest overall benefits is that it revived Laurie’s career, paving the way for her wonderful role in Twin Peaks

Nancy Allen, the vindictive Chris, began dating De Palma during Carrie and the couple eventually married. She would go on to appear in his Dressed to Kill and Blow Out, as well as RoboCop. Amy Irving (Sue Snell) returned for De Palma’s next film, The Fury, as the telekinetic main character, and wound up marrying De Palma’s friend, Steven Spielberg. Her mother, Priscilla Pointer (Looking for Mr. Goodbar), actually appears here as Sue Snell’s mother. On an interesting note, Irving, whose Sue Snell is the grounding character of Carrie, returns as a telekinetic character in The Fury. Gillian, Irving’s character in The Fury, is basically the same as Sue: popular and pretty, but sympathetic.

Telekinesis is at the forefront in The Fury, but in Carrie it is more of an odd plot device. It allows the abused and browbeaten Carrie to stand up to her mother and get revenge on her classmates. While all of these acts of violence could have been accomplished with less supernatural weapons, telekinesis allows a more explosive, unpredictable degree of fury to unleash from Carrie. 

Carrie marks some of De Palma’s finest set pieces, which is saying a lot considering the director’s diverse career (The Untouchables, Phantom of the Paradise, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, etc.). The introductory scene is as incredibly as the fiery conclusion, both marked by blood and Carrie’s cries of pain. De Palma’s filming techniques here are disorienting, including split frames, rapidly changing focus shots, odd perspectives, and changes between occasional slow and normal motion. The final dream sequence at the end was shot in reverse and played forward, something David Lynch would also memorably do for Twin Peaks

As a revenge film, I don’t think Carrie works in quite the same way as something like Ms. 45 or Oldboy. Carrie is a sensitive, sympathetic character, but there’s also something repulsive, unlikable, or monstrous about her. Her level of revenge is certainly disproportionate. There has always been something lacking about Carrie for me. It is about sex, sin, blood ritual, trial by fire, and revenge. While the set pieces are incredibly powerful on an individual basis, the main narrative is too simple to really make the best use of the film’s symbolic potential.

There is also something fairy tale-like about Carrie. Mrs. White is a stand-in for the wicked witch or evil stepmother that populates so many Grimm tales and the White home is a place of horror and Gothic dread, as well religious terror. The ethereal, dreamy score from Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now, Tourist Trap) and some wonderful cinematography from Mario Tosi (Sybil) enhance these elements. Carrie’s script is an improvement over King’s novel and was penned by Lawrence D. Cohen, who would go on to write some other King adaptations, such as It and The Tommyknockers.

Though it isn’t one of my favorite horror films, it is hard to deny the power of Carrie and on that merit it comes recommended. It is available on special edition DVD and on Blu-ray. This was followed by a distant sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999), a made-for-TV remake in 2002, and another remake in 2013, as well as a musical version that was one of the biggest flops in theater history. 

Monday, November 18, 2013


Jorge Montesi, Dominique Othenin-Girard
Starring: Faye Grant, Michael Woods, Asia Vieira, Michael Lerner

A couple, Gene and Karen York, adopt a girl, Delia. They are at first excited to be parents, but Delia’s nanny, who claims to have psychic powers, begins to be suspicious of the child. Jo, the nanny, takes Delia to a psychic faire and has her worst suspicions confirmed with such ridiculous things as crystals turning black, the Devil Tarot card showing up, and other kinds of New Age bad omens. Delia, angered and upset by all of this meddling, proceeds to set the place on fire with pyrokinesis. 

Later, Jo tries to help Delia, but begins to suspect her heritage. In revenge, Delia’s Rottweiler pushes the nanny out of a window to her death. Karen, Delia’s adoptive mother, also becomes suspicious and hires a private detective to learn more about the child’s origins. More deaths and accidents occur and Karen becomes paranoid. Eventually she learns that Delia is really the daughter of Damien Thorn, the Antichrist. Karen becomes pregnant and turns to her doctor for help, but is she in the midst of a satanic conspiracy? 

There is absolutely nothing good I can say about this movie. There is no reason on Earth that someone should have made a fourth film in The Omen series. Even worse, this was supposedly intended to kick of a string of made-for-TV sequels of popular films. Obviously that went very well. This has all the ear-marks of a bad made-for-TV movie: a lousy script, bad acting, cheap effects or effects-worthy scenes taking place off screen, etc. Much of the “horror” here is really outrageous comedy, but the script is even too dull for this to be a “so bad it’s good” kind of movie. The detective is killed by a wrecking ball, Delia scowls a lot and angrily rips up a pamphlet from a Jehovah’s Witness, among many other absurd things. And there are a lot of upside down crosses.

With The Omen and Damien: The Omen II, the main issue was whether or not Damien was actually the Antichrist and what would happen to him. Here it is blindingly obvious that Delia is evil, but the script could have been a lot more clever and insidious about it, instead of introducing ridiculous scenes like the one where she sets the psychic faire on fire.

The performances are lackluster and none of the actors are capable of overcoming the awful script. Faye Grant, as Karen York, was mostly known for sci-fi TV series V and its follow up series. Her husband was played by Michael Woods, who appeared in soap operas like All My Children and Guiding Light. Asia Vieira (Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark, A Home at the End of the World) is a pretty run of the mill evil child. At least we have a brief performance from Michael Lerner (Maniac Cop 2, Newsies, A Serious Man) though he does little more than add to the comedy. 

Though this was released as a TV movie in the U.S., it had a brief theatrical run in Europe but otherwise went right to video. Dominique Othenin-Girard (Halloween 5, another great horror sequel) began directing, but quit and was replaced by Jorge Montesi (Andromeda and a number TV series). This theoretically could have been a better film, as there was already a novel (a number of them, actually) and in the original script, Delia was the daughter of Kate, Damien’s girlfriend from The Final Conflict. That would have made a lot more sense than the script gymnastics attempted here, where Delia has a secret twin (the real Antichrist, version 2.0) whose embryo is impregnated in Karen by her doctor. 

I can’t recommend Omen IV, not even for the many laughs that occur throughout the film. Omen IV is available as part of The Omen Collection. This was preceded by The Omen, Damien: The Omen II, and Omen III: The Final Conflict. Thankfully this was the last.


Graham Baker, 1981
Starring: Sam Neill, Don Gordon, Rossano Brazzi

After the U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. commits suicide, he is replaced by Damien Thorn, now a 31 year old CEO who has continuously grown in power throughout the last few years. Aware that he is the son of Satan, Damien is preparing for the Apocalypse. He soon learns that a second Star of Bethlehem will appear, which heralds the second coming of Christ. To prevent this, Damien orders his disciples to kill all male children in Britain born on a specific date in March. While he is mostly successful, one of his followers hides that his own son was born that day. Damien is also distracted by his budding relationship with Kate Reynolds, a journalist who happens to have a young son, Peter. Peter and Damien bond and he takes Peter as a young disciple. 

Damien is also being hunted by seven priests, led by Father DeCarlo, who each have one of the seven daggers of Megiddo (from The Omen and Damien: The Omen II). These are the only tools that will kill Damien. The priests are almost all killed off by Damien, but one survives for an ultimate show down where the son of Satan must face off against the infant son of God. It's as ridiculous as it sounds.

If you consider that The Omen was made in 1976 and Omen III was made in 1981, it’s pretty incredible that Damien went from five years old to 31 in just five years, but continuity is really the least of the film’s problems. Though Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman) was supposed to return to direct, he was unable to due to issues with Superman II and serves as producer here. Sci-fi/fantasy director Graham Baker (Alien Nation, Beowulf) replaced him, though I can’t say he did a lot for Omen III, which is a dull and routine affair. Much of this seems to be the fault of screenwriter Andrew Birkin (The Lost Boys, The Name of the Rose, The Cement Garden), which is a shame, because Birkin - brother of more famous actress and singer Jane Birkin, long time partner of Serge Gainsbourg - scripted a number of excellent, entertaining films. Granted he had little to work with by this third attempt at The Omen series. 

The only conceivable reason to watch this movie is Sam Neill. Still relatively unknown at this time, he was a great choice to play the adult Damien, but unfortunately could not overcome the script. Allegedly his good friend James Mason helped him get the role over actors like Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, who were considered. He has some nice speeches - or turns silly dialogue into something likable - and glowers convincingly at the screen. It was also here that he met actress television actress Lisa Harrow (From a Far Country). She also did a decent job with her role as Kate, Damien’s journalist love interest. If it seems like they had good chemistry together, it’s because Harrow and Neill began dating during this period, a relationship that would last throughout the ‘80s. 

There aren't a lot of positive things I can say about Omen III. Overall it is a cheap affair only made somewhat interesting by Neill's appearance. There was stock footage used from both The Omen and Superman II and relatively little visual effects compared to the first two films. Much of the violence is implied and takes place off screen, though there is a nice scene where Damien orders the murders of several new born babies. Granted this could have been a lot more graphic and mostly comes across as unintentional comedy. In general, the death scenes are absolutely ridiculous. The seven monks that try to murder Damien fail miserably and generally succeed in killing themselves in the most absurd ways possible. 

Very little about the film is shocking or horrific, aside from a surprise sex scene between Neill and Harrow, where anal sex is implied. There’s a slow pace and an anticlimactic conclusion, despite the fact that the film’s title is The Final Conflict and, let's face it, Larry Cohen is the only person who has convincingly pulled off a confrontation between an adult and a baby. I can't recommend Omen III, but if you really love Sam Neill, it might be worth checking out as a curious part of his early career. The film is available as part of The Omen Collection. This was preceded by The Omen and Damien: The Omen II and followed by a made for TV movie, Omen IV: The Awakening (1991).

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Don Taylor, 1978
Starring: William Holden, Lee Grant, Jonathan Scott-Taylor

A week after the Thorns’ funeral, archaeologist Carl Bugenhagen (from The Omen) hopes to send a secret box to Damien’s uncle, the child’s new caregiver, revealing that Damien is the Antichrist and must be destroyed. He asks a friend for help and shows proof by means of Yigael’s wall, which has an ancient painting of Damien as the Antichrist, among other disturbing depictions of the Book of Revelations. Unfortunately they die in a cave in before they can get word back to Thorn. 

Flash forward seven years and Damien, now 12, lives happily with his Uncle Richard, Aunt Ann, and cousin Mark. Damien and Mark attend a military academy. A hysterical reporter tries to convince Richard that Damien is the son of Satan and soon after dies in a horrible accident. Other strange things occur. Damien’s elderly aunt, who hates him, also dies, as well as a suspicious doctor, and several others. Meanwhile, Yigael’s Wall has been excavated and is making its way to Chicago with other pieces from the cave as part of an exhibit. Damien’s new instructor at school also knows who the boy is and wants to prepare him for his destiny...

Can you make a successful, well-written movie about a teenage Antichrist? I think so, though Damien is certainly not it. This might seem likely an unlikely example, but J.K. Rowling did a great job with a similar character in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when we learn about a young Voldemort. Damien’s script simply flounders far too much about Damien’s identity and makes the grave mistake of having him be the central character and the only remotely likable character.

I’ve read that The Omen’s writer David Seltzer said that if he had written Damien (he declined the offer), he would pick up the story with Damien growing up in the White House. It’s baffling that the writers didn’t make this choice, as when The Omen ends, the child is with the President and First Lady. So much about the script is baffling. One minute, Damien is innocent, an intelligent, but normal child unaware of the destiny that awaits him. The next minute he’s a budding psychopath smiling knowingly at the satanic violence that surrounds him. Aside from one key murder, the film is unclear about whether or not Damien has directly killed anyone, though many people die around him.

Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Flash Gorden) was hired to direct, but later fired and replaced by Don Taylor (The Final Countdown) due to pacing and budget issues. I can’t say a lot of positive things about the directing or the effects. The deaths attempt to be bigger and better than The Omen, but simply come across as ridiculous. A reporter has her eye clawed out by a crow and is then run over by a truck. Someone falls into an icy lake and drowns. A doctor survives an elevator crash, but is then completely bisected by cables. And so on. One of the main issues is that the score (still by Jerry Goldsmith) is cued in at the most inopportune times. Often when the demonic crow appears on screen, ominous music sounds, and someone dies. Ray Berwick, animal trainer on The Birds, handled the crows here, but I really don’t see why they have a place at all.

The main purpose of the film is confusing and has numerous, uninteresting subplots. It seems like we are waiting for Damien to come into his own, but much of the film is concerning with killing off characters who have a loose idea of who he is. The Whore of Babylon and Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are introduced, but absolutely nothing comes of this. And Damien reads the Book of Revelations to learn who he is and then cries. Seriously.

Though there are some notable actors, such as the wonderful William Holden (Sunset Boulevard) as Uncle Richard, Lee Grant (Valley of the Dolls) as Aunt Ann, Lance Henriksen, and others, none of these actors are able to save a bad script and silly effects. Leo McKern (Ladyhawke) as archaeologist Carl Bugenhagen was the only actor to return from The Omen, however briefly. 

Damien isn’t a terrible film, but I can’t recommend it. It’s available as part of The Omen Collection or as a standalone DVD. This was followed by Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981), and a made for TV movie, Omen IV: The Awakening (1991).