Thursday, October 04, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon - 2012

Well, here we go. Another October is upon us and it's time to start hittin' the cider, rakin' the leaves, pickin' the pumpkins, and of course, feasting our orbs on some fright flicks! This year promises to be better than last (only watched 9 movies and haven't even blogged them yet!). I've assembled a mixed bag of the old, the new, the sublime, the bizarre, and the down right freaky. One new category within the genre that I'm introducing into this years marathon is a handful of the early 60's horror/wacky films that featured aging Hollywood stars like Betty Davis, Joan Crawford, and Olivia deHaviland. Haven't seen these flix since I was about 11 years old and I remember being really creeped out by them. So, we'll see how well the scares have fared over the decades. As usual we'll hit up the 50's and 60's sci-fi films, some late 40's noir horror by Val Lewton that I'm really lookin' forward to, and all manner of monsters and mayhem leadin' us up to the big day. 27 films, that's how many I've got picked out for this year, that's ambitious given my current "new normal" life, but a guys gotta' have ghouls, uh, goals. So, Seekers, lets get crackin' on this years stream of screams!

1.) Attack of the Crab Monsters - 1957
I'm sure that I've referenced many times in these blogs the TV show that introduced me to many of these campy, late 50's, sci-fi films. It was during the Summer of 1965, on Thursday nights at 8:00 pm, The World Beyond would show these syndicated B movies and I just ate it up. This Roger Corman gem was one of the first movies that aired on that show and I've never forgotten it. It was out of production for decades and I searched all over the Internet trying to find a copy, no luck. Finally, it was released with 2 other Corman films on a digitally enhanced DVD. Well, not sure I should have looked so hard! Basic story here is your classic "aftermath of nuclear testing in the ocean" deals that has mutated the sand crab population of some uncharted isle. A second team of researchers are dispatched after the first team vanished without a trace. Good old Roger doesn't waste any time building the suspense, we get our first glimpse of the giant crab at the 4 minute mark! Shoot, that's barely past the credits. Some Navy guys are pulling up to shore in what appears to be a row boat (talk about your defense cuts) and one of the hapless squabs falls over board. Now, they are only about 15 feet off the shore line, so the water should only be about, oh, say 2 feet deep! But somehow our man overboard must have found a sink hole 'cause in the next shot he looks like he's deep sea diving. When his mates top side reel him back into the boat his damn heads been torn off. Ouch! As a kid that really freaked me out, headless bodies were always scary. The movie carrys on with just hints of our monsters, but also Corman adds a new wrinkle to the giant monster gag. Apparently, when these crabs eat you, they absorb your personality and are able to speak telepathically to the other people on the island. No, I'm not kidding, why do you ask? The acting is B movie caliber (the professor from Gilligan's Island is featured here) and the dialogue is a hoot. The crab monsters themselves are hokey as hell, but its all in good fun. Mostly nostalgia for me, but I think you'd get a kick out of it. Fun: 5, Scares: 1, Effects: 1

2.) Beast from Haunted Cave - 1959
Directed by Corman protege Monte Hellman, this movie was so low budget that they couldn't even afford the word "The" in the title! Actually, this movie ambitiously attempts to weave together a story involving a small band of low rent criminals, lead by a misogynist boss, who are plotting a gold heist in a North Dakota mining town. There's also a ski resort in this little town, and that's where most of the story takes place. The movie spends an inordinate amount of time and energy developing the characters of these thugs, the handsome ski instructor hero, and the put upon gal pal of the gang leader. So much time in fact that they never get around to explaining anything about the "beast". Really, no back story at all. The monster in the brief sequences we actually see it (which are all nearly at the end of the 80 minute film) appears to be a wraith like skeleton thingy with spider legs. Yes, really. It first attacks a bar maid who is out on a make out date with one of our ne'er do wells. They take their passion up to the cave where the gang is planning to plant a bomb that will serve as a distraction when they knock over the ol' gold storage depot in town. She gets, uh, well I'd guess you'd say absorbed by what looks like floating cobwebs, and her Casanova gets freaked and runs out of the cave back to the gangs hotel room. Somehow this incident causes the thug to develop some sort of psychic bond with the beast and he's bedeviled by this the remainder of the movie. Now, there was an extremely interesting scene that I swear must have been the inspiration for James Cameron's Alien. The beast takes its victims and cocoons them along the cave walls, leaving them alive to serve as snack packs when it gets the urge to drink blood. Oh, yeah, didn't I tell you, the spider legged skeleton thing sucks blood. Eventually, the ski instructor and the mob girl end up together after having dispatched the beast, who has, of course, killed everybody else. The End. Fun: 4, Scares: 0, Effects: 1

3.) Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte - 1964
So this is the first of my aforementioned horror/wacky films, but I'm actually stunned to find that it's not that wacky, in fact, its a damn, good movie! The cast is/was A-List Hollywood: Bette Davis, Joseph Cotton, Olivia DeHaviland, Victor Buono, Bruce Dern, and a host of other character actors that most of us have seen in dozens of movies from this era. Shit, it even has a classic flaw, like Welle's Citizen Kane. In the opening scene we are treated to an overlay that tells us the year is 1927. Remember that as I set up the movie here. This movie, expertly directed by Robert Aldrich, keenly weeves together a classic "whodunit", with elements of horror, and the well traveled story of family greed and treachery. The basic set up begins in 1927 when Charlottes father (Buono)learns that his only child has been having an affair with a married man. He confronts that man (Dern) and under threat of physical harm, directs him to cut off the relationship and hit the road. Just after the break up has taken place, during an elaborate plantation ball scene, Dern is brutally attacked by someone with a meat cleaver and killed. Charlotte enters the ballroom party shortly after, covered in blood, and the main storyline of the movie is complete. However, in the next scene we jump to the year 1964 and as we pan over the graveyard just outside of the plantation, we see the young man's headstone which is inscribed with the year 1928 as the date of his death! Yet, the opening scene clearly states that it was 1927. Just a little screw up. Enough of that. This movie is incredibly shot, and by that I mean the lighting, and the cinematography of the black and white print is just superb. The noir aspects and angles, the deep shadows, the use of moving cameras, all add to the mounting suspense and bolts of horror that dot the film. The actors, as previously stated, are f'ing phenomenal, and the storyline and dialogue are captivating. I saw this film originally when I was about 10 or 11 on "Friday Night at the Movies" which I think was on CBS. Man, those were the days. Anyway, I don't want to tell too much about the plot because there are so many potential spoilers. This one is definitely worth the watch. Just a little final factoid: This movie was the sequel to "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane", which featured Davis paired with Joan Crawford. The film was a massive success, but apparently Crawford's total Diva attitude got her thrown off the next film. Imagine that? Something about wire coat hangers, I think. Fun: 7, Scares: 8, Effects: 6

4.) 28 Days Later - 2002
Zombie movie anyone? You gotta' have at least one of these in your seasonal viewing or it just doesn't feel right. This Danny Boyle entry into the long line of walking dead films adds one new feature to the zombie myths. Danny's ghouls can run, and fast! These bastards don't just come shuffling up after you, they strap on their Nikes and haul ass! That gives this movie some real scary moments that other dead movies just don't. After all, how many of us have watched these zombie flix and wondered, "why don't you just run off, they'll never catch you, look at 'em, their slow as shit!". But Nooooooooo, not these Olympic caliber cadavers, they're on the move big time. My only real complaint with this movie is that there's just not enough scenes of the zombies. It's big on characters and does flesh each of them out nicely which gives us empathy, but there's too few scares along the way. Not a waste of time, but not as good as some other zombie movies of the decade. The remake of Dawn of the Dead comes to mind as one of the better ones, but don't blow 28 Days Later off, go ahead and watch it, just don't expect too much. Fun:4, Scares:5, Effects:6

5.) Whatever Happened to Baby Jane - 1963
Okay, remember I prefaced this year with the new wacky broad category? Well this flick is the mother of all those films. This was the first film of this kind, at least that I'm aware of, and it set the bar for the similar films to come. Here Bette Davis and Joan Crawford turn in performances that literally stunned audiences when it was released in 1964. Why? Mainly because most movie goers familiar with these two Hollywood icons were shocked, not so much with the story, but more at the way the two actresses appeared. Especially Davis who was the definition of run down, used up, bitter, and drunk ex-child star. The story is both a mystery and a thriller leading the viewer astray throughout the picture. The storyline revolves around Davis' character, a huge child star in the 1920's, doted on by her father; and Crawford's character, the sister who goes on to become a huge movie star in the 1940's, after Davis' child star turn has run it's course. One evening after a Hollywood party, the two are involved in an accident that clearly intimates that one of the sisters tried to kill the other, but only maimed her instead. We flash to the present time where Crawford is wheel chair bound and nearly a prisoner of Davis in their aging Hollywood home. Both actresses are superb, but Davis is truly amazing. Hadn't seen this one in decades, and it was worth the watch, although the sequel, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte in my view was the better film. Fun:5, Scares:4, Effects: N/A

6.) The Body Snatcher - 1945
If you only know Boris Karloff as the lumbering, bolt necked monster creation of Dr. Frankenstein, then you, like me, are in need of an education! The story here is a fictional piece built around the true life exploits of Burke and Hare, the 18th Century grave robbers who devolved into murder in their practice of supplying bodies to medical doctors for research. Here Karloff plays Cabman Gray, by day a London cabbie, and by night a grave robbing entrepreneur. He holds a evil control over a well known and respected Doctor who teaches anatomy at the university. The film hints at an alliance of the two men earlier in life before the good Doctor elevated his stature. Karloff plays this part like a master, he is truly menacing and projects sinister intent during the course of what appears to be normal conversation. He is always smiling, laughing, and joking but just beneath this pleasant demeanor lies a tangible and frightening evil. In one scene at a local pub, Karloff invites the Doctor and his young protege to his table for a drink. Right away we see that the Doctor is quite uncomfortable, although Karloff appears affable and polite. I swear, watching Karloff in this scene made ME uncomfortable. His delivery of each line of dialogue is truly frightening. The story basically grapples with the morality of the time: the ghoulish practice of grave robbing for the sake of medical advancement and knowledge, but also threads together the two characters and the class distinctions that cannot mask the brutal similarity between them. Wonderfully scripted, well acted and filmed, The Body Snatcher is, for its time, a scary movie. The final scene is a real shocker. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, Bela Lugosi has a small role here as a half wit assistant to the Doctor, and it's very entertaining to see the two horror movie giants of their time sharing a few scenes. Fun: 7, Scares: 7, Effects: 3

7.) Bedlam - 1946
Uh, oh!! Miscue alert!! This ain't a horror movie, hell, it's not even a thriller, or a mystery, or a suspense movie. It's sort of a, uh, what would you call it? A historical fiction movie perhaps? Here's the deal, this film was included in the Val Lewton "horror" collection that I just purchased so I made a natural assumption that it would at least try to be scary. Not. It stars Boris Karloff again, and after having just watched (and loved) The Body Snatcher from this same collection, I was looking forward to another dose of the non flat headed Karloff doing his thing. Now, Karloff is excellent again in this movie playing the role of the head of the notorious asylum Bedlam. This movie basically tells the tale of the infamous asylum, known for brutal treatment of the patients, and the steps that lead to its reforms. But trust me, there is not one frightening moment in the film. Although Karloff is good and really shows off his acting skills, there's just no "gotcha" moments. Anna Lee stars as the young ingenue who begins the film as an escort to a nobleman and ends up being committed to Bedlam where she transforms herself into a crusading reformist. It would be one thing if the film ever gave us shots of Karloff terrorizing the patients, or brutalizing them in some way, but this is never shown and so it's hard to get into the reform end of the story. Anyway, let's not dwell here. Forget this one and lets go cleanse our palette with some REAL horror. Fun: 1, Scares: 0, Effects: N/A

The next cavalcade of films, 10 in all, were watched during an eyeball popping 48 hour horror session in New York City with my son Cory. We do this every year, but usually we have more time so we can space the carnage out, but desperate times call for desperate viewing so here we go................................

8.) Cabin In The Woods - 2012
Well, finally, an entry that occurred in this decade! Wow, what a ride this movie is. Smart, funny, shocking, and quickly paced, Cabin is another in the genre of "knowing" horror films pioneered by Wes Craven's Scream series. In other words, the characters and the audience are in on the cliches and gimmicks that occupy the horror movie world. But Cabin takes a whole new turn on this schtick and ramps it up 200%. Filled with homages, winks, and nods to dozens of horror movies that we've seen, Cabin gives us a whole new look into why things happen the way they happen in the horror movie universe. Not going to put too much more info out there on this one, I want you to see it for yourself and let it take you by surprise the way it did me. In a good way, too! Clearly this is my front runner so far for the best entry into this years marathon. The actors are all competent, if not really good, and many of these you've seen multiple other films. Most notably, Chris Hemsworth (Thor), playing the obligatory "jock" role. All the other horror movie character stereotypes are here as well, the loose girl, the virgin, the stoner, the jock, etc. However, Cabin plays with our expectation of these stereotypes by giving the characters depth beyond the expected role. It's hard to explain, but once you see it you'll know what I'm talking about. Go out and rent it this Halloween season, you'll be glad you did! Fun:9, Scares:8, Effects: 8

9.) Creature from the Black Lagoon - 1958
The 1950's brought to us a vast variety of science fiction films, most fixated on the universe beyond our world, alien life, other planets, space travel, and man's quest for understanding. Others focused on the fear of nuclear war and it's aftermath here on earth including all manner of mutations of plants and animals. Some of these films were first rate, others were pure crap, and only a precious few gave us any lasting character or horror icon. Unquestionably the most popular of this era was The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The last of the big 13, as they were known to us Aurora model builders, The Creature was one of Universals last forays into films that featured an iconic monster. I was fortunate enough this year to catch this film in its original 3-D format on the big screen and it was a delight! Corny by today's standards sure, but the pure innocence of the presentation and the wonderful invention of the Creature character give this movie a lasting impact. Directed by Jack Arnold, who was at the helm of at least a dozen sci-fi films during this era, the movie wastes no time in getting to our story. Scientists searching for geological and biological specimens in the Amazon discover the existence of a prehistoric "man fish" in the fabled Black Lagoon. That's it, the rest of the movie follows suit with the Universal formula. You know, you always sympathize with the monster in a Universal film, they always had such pathos! If you get a chance like I did to see this on the big screen, in 3-D, grab it! Totally worth the price of admission. Fun: 8, Scares: 2, Effects: 5

10.) The Thing (remake #2) - 2011
In 1951 a small but truly remarkable film hit the theaters. All about a group of snow bound researchers and military personnel in the Arctic who had uncovered a large, unidentified craft buried deep beneath the ice, and, not far from this site, the frozen body of what appeared to be some humanoid type creature. As they thaw out the frozen visitor they quickly become aware of their mistake: he's still alive, not friendly at all, and bent on a rampage to destroy all those around him/it. Simple enough, huh? In the 1980's, John Carpenter remade this movie. Keeping the basic story intact, Carpenter added an interesting plot device. In his version, the alien could "take over" or assume the life form of those that it came in contact with. Dogs, humans, it didn't seem to matter. This added to the suspense of the film because the characters, nor we, ever knew who was human and who was alien. Well, here in the new millennium this film has been remade yet again but adds nothing to either of its predecessors. Well done, well acted, decent script and good locations but ultimately empty of advancing anything new or better than the superior Carpenter version. This film portends to be a prequel of sorts, recounting events that lead up to the storyline of the Carpenter movie. Not really sure why, I guess just so the writers and directors could claim some sort of originality. Watchable, but not worth it. Stick with the two previous versions, you'll be glad you did. Fun: 5, Scares:6, Effects: 7

11.) Sinister - 2012
Hot off the presses, this one was just released while I was in NYC for my annual horror movie marathon that I do with my son each year. Didn't really know what to expect from this one, not many trailers available or promotions, but hey, they had the balls to release it in October instead of banishing it to the graveyard of January/February releases. So, we figgered it had to have something going for it and in many ways it did. An unsettling little movie about a crime novelist (Ethan Hawke) who has had a 10 year drought since his last hit book. Specializing in writing books about real life murders that have not been adequately resolved by law enforcement, Hawke's character moves his family to each town where the murders occurred and moves into houses down the street or in the same neighborhood as the victim. This causes a great deal of stress within his family as they deal with the difficulties of relocation. But this time he takes it a step further and actually moves his family into the very same house where a mass murder of an entire family took place. Naturally, he's not in a big hurry to disclose this information to his family. Slowly, but with definite intent, the plot thickens as he comes to learn that this house, and these particular murders, are not quite what he thought. Basically a haunted house movie, the story also integrates elements of the Satanic and cultism. There are some definite scare moments, several times my heart jumped, and that rarely happens to me. It's not the Exorcist, but Sinister has its moments. Warning, it does deal with the murder of children, and the Satanic manipulation of children, so if that sort of thing bugs you, then you better pass on this one. Fun: 3, Scares: 8, Effects: 6

12.) The Loved Ones - 2010
Another in what I've come to call suburban terror films, this Australian entry into the genre was an unexpected treat. Well, if you can call a movie that contains a scene with someone using a power drill on someone elses head a treat. Here's the deal, our hero, high school stoner Brent is suffering the post traumatic stress of having been in a car accident that killed his father. They swerved off the road to avoid running down a blood soaked teen who was aimlessly wandering down the middle of the highway. Flash forward to Brent as the constantly stoned, sad eyed, boyfriend of hottie girl friend Holly and their plans to go to the Senior Prom. One day at his locker he is approached by a girl we have not seen yet, who asks him to the Prom. He declines politely and heads off to class,while the camera pans to the face of the anonymous girl who has been dejected. Clearly, we can see that shit ain't right in her head! The next thing we see is Brent being kidnapped by an older man and thrown into a car. Fade to black............and when the light go up people, strap on your seat belts and take your stomach pills 'cause it's gonna' be a furious ride from here on out. Brutal, shocking, and relentless the story proceeds with clear nods to House on the Left, Texas Chainsaw, People Under the Stairs, and a host of others. Not stealing, but paying homage to these films, The Loved Ones keeps its originality intact, and is mainly held together by the fab performance of Robin McLeavly as Lola, the homicidal, spoiled, and disturbed would be Prom Queen. This is a keeper, kids, but not for the faint. Fun: 3, Scares: 8, Effects: 5

13.) King Kong - 1933
Ordinarily, this wouldn't be one of my go to Halloween films. Oh, I like it and all, that's not it, it's just that I've seen it SO many times in my life starting as an 8 year old that I just don't feel drawn to it, especially when I'm trying to cram in so much "not seen yet" material into my limited time of film viewage. But, couldn't pass up the opportunity to see it for the first time on the big screen at a theater in NYC. As I've said before in other blogs, when you get a chance to see movies that you only know on the small scale in the way they were originally intended, you grab it! And it did not disappoint. I won't belabor the story here , y'all know it and if you don't or if you only know it from that travesty of a needless remake by Peter Jackson, then nothing I say here is gonna' get you motivated. It's a classic, the stop motion animation by  Willis O'Brien is just, uh, what's that you say? You thought it was Ray Harryhausen that did the animation? Well, you're not alone, I think that's a common misconception that most casual film fans make. Harryhausen was an assistant to O'Brien on King Kong and that's where he learned the craft which of course he would perfect over the next several decades. But the fabulous and, for its time, groundbreaking special effects make the film a historic event. Remember, this is 1933 kids and audiences had never seen anything like this in a movie before. Kind of like truth in a Mike Moore film. Sorry, couldn't help myself! Nuff said, King Kong rocks! Fun: 9, Scares:3, Effects: 9

14.) Martyrs - 2008
Okay, each year Cory and I challenge ourselves and our stomachs with at least one film that pushes the envelope. Human Centipede, Inside, Hostel, have been but a few of our self punishing outings. Now these flicks aren't our cups of tea, but we feel that if we don't explore this extreme side of horror, than we're not really basking in the entirety of the genre and therefore may not be quite as informed as we should be. (did they buy that? really, are they buying that??) I'm not sure if that's a load of shit or what, but for whatever reason we try and pick an extreme movie each Halloween season. This film we actually had our mitts on for three years before we watched it. I think the online reviews freaked us out or something, but we manned up this year and plunked ourselves down in front of the flat screen and readied for the worst. Well before the film even starts there's a damn disclaimer by the director who is on screen apologizing in advance for what we are about to watch!So now we're really feeling tense.But as it turns out, we had over hyped ourselves. Sure, pretty brutal stuff here, but still not on sick/weird scale with Centipede and Inside, or even Audition. It's a story about child abuse, revenge, insanity, and a secret society of old people who are looking for evidence of "life on the other side". No, I'm not kidding. This film really takes a weird turn about half way in. At first we're focused on one of the two female leads who was a captive victim of a serial child abuser for years. She manages to escape the physical imprisonment, but is clearly forever lost in a nuthouse in her head. She grows up to track down the culprits, finds them and brutally blows them all to hell with a shotgun. Now, her friend, whom she met in an asylum, has been her defacto caretaker for most of her life til now, and she is presented to us as the "voice of sanity and reason" of this duo. I don't know, probably not worth going into a lot of the details because most of you will never watch it. But, having set it up for you as one of our guilty extreme displeasure's, it's worth telling you that the story is pretty interesting and it does engage you to watch while giving you all manner of reasons not to! Hit the Pepto Bismol and then put it on, if you dare. Fun: 0, Scares: 5, Effects: 5

15.)  Frankenweenie -2012
A full length feature film based on the 1984 short film that Tim Burton did while working for the Walt Disney Company. Inspired by Burton's love and appreciation for the classic Universal Monster films of the 30's and 40's, Frankenweenie is the the stop motion animated story of a young boy, Victor Frankenstein, who attempts to reanimate his dead dog after it is run over by a car. Outside of having some pretty impressive stop motion work, this movie is totally unnecessary. Whoever was charged with "fleshing out the story" from the original Burton worked clearly missed on all sorts of morality angles. The basic lesson here, if you need one, is: Your dog's dead? No worries, don't learn to cope with grief, or confront the mortality of us all, just blast the friggin' Fido full of electricity and, Oi la! You have your mutt back. Really, not much real thought went into this script and the movie is clearly confused on who it is supposed to be playing to. Not witty or sophisticated enough to keep adults interested or entertained, and too dark and weird for most little kids, Frankenweenie seems lost in a search for an audience. It's a shame that Burton's love for the source material didn't materialize here in more clever ways. Basically, it's black and white, its the Frankenstein story, and there's some characters that pay homage to the classics. But beyond that, totally forgettable. Fun: 3, Scares: 0, Effects: 5


Blogger Stilson Greene said...

Bette Davis scared me more than Boris Karloff as a kid.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Stilson Greene said...

Bette Davis scared me more than Boris Karloff as a kid.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Medicare Man said...

While many of you had a mother like June Clever, I had a Betty Davis for a mother during high school. She started of
Ike a young Audrey Hepburm . But having two high strung kids who's role model was James Dean takes a toll on your soul. Sorry mom!

8:03 PM  
Blogger Medicare Man said...

This really a great blog !

8:08 PM  

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