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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 24: Something Wicked This Way Comes

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 24: Something Wicked This Way Comes

My wife and I were still dating, and I asked her if she knew of the Fremont Centre Theatre? I had mistakenly thought it the Pasadena Playhouse, and was now frantically digging out my trusted Thomas Guide in order to find the location of the venue featuring a play written by Ray Bradbury. I had secured tickets to opening night, and surprised her with them as a part of my carefully organized (not so carefully, as it turned out) mystery date.

I had been a fan of the famous author since childhood, having read many of his works as part of my high school book club. Over the past few years, I had been fortunate enough to meet Ray on a number of occasions, always as a customer at the excellent Mystery and Imagination Bookshop, owned by the extremely friendly and knowledgable Christine and Malcom Bell.

She served as navigator as I hurriedly made our way through the dimly lit streets, in hopes of arriving before the opening curtain. We pulled into a parking spot, and found our seats just in time for the house lights to dim.

As the play progressed, I noticed, seated directly in front of me, a wheelchair bound figure. As I deduced, it indeed was Ray. During intermission, he politely took the time to speak at length with my wife and I. It was a night I’ll not soon forget.

As I was preparing my list of films for this series, I realized I had never seen one of the films based on one of Ray’s famous works. I recently had reread the book, and decided what opportune time to finally view the film.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 24: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Director: Jack Clayton
Year: 1983
Cast: Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Specs: 95 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: PG
Rating: ★★★★★ / A

A mysterious carnival appears in a small rural town, granting the dreams of the townsfolk. Their wishes come at a terrible cost, however, and it’s up to a boy and his father to deliver their town from the coming evil.

This film simply shines as a testament on how to adapt a novel into a film that completely captures the heart of the original work. The cinematography, the acting (Robards is simply wonderful), the direction, and the music (James Horner at the top of his game) work together like a perfectly contructed jigsaw puzzle.


The eeriness of the nefarious Mr. Dark, the lusts and temptations of the members of the small affected town, and the innocence of the two boys are all excellently portrayed. I completely bought into the performances of the entire cast, and was engrossed for the entirety of the 95 minutes.

It’s rare that I watch a film and don’t find any faults. That’s not to say there aren’t any (I intend to watch this winner again, and will update this post shall I discover anything worthy of note), but I was simply too engrossed to notice. Another sign of an excellently crafted tale.

This will be a film that will join the ranks of The Lost Boys and The Goonies as a picture I will annually watch during the Halloween season.

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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 23: The Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm)

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 23: The Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm)

It was a dark and stormy night, my brother and I huddled under the handmade quilt that our grandmother had made for one of us as a birthday gift years earlier. Gripped in hand, flashlight at the ready, was my brothers 1984 Thriller Talking View-Master. We took turns viewing the mesmerizing images from the famous John Landis directed music video for the King of Pop’s zombified music video. Slowly, we progressed through the images, anticipating the moment when our favorite section of the stereoscopic viewer with a soundtrack would arrive.

After a few brief moments, our expectancy was quenched by the haunting narration from the master of macabre, the dab hand of horror, the cognoscente of creep: Vincent Price.

To my brother and I, there was no other actor. We would often make pilgrimages to a neighboring town on Saturday afternoons to visit our favorite comic shop, Dave’s, and then saunter across the street to the old music hall in order to watch a double feature of films from years before. Many of those times one of those films would feature our favorite film star of horror. It was there, on the big screen, on a print that had seen far better days, that we first saw House of Wax in 3D, The Fly, Tales of Terror, and House on Haunted Hill.

So it was with great anticipation when I learned of this film, only weeks ago. An acquaintance of mine was questioned by a film industry news site what he would pick as his top horror films of all time. As you can guess, today’s film was on that list. Thankfully, the excellent folks at Scream Factory had also recently released it on glorious Blu-ray.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 23: The Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm)

Conqueror Worm posterDirector: Michael Reeves
Year: 1968
Cast: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Specs: 86 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: NR
Rating: ★★★★★ / A

Matthew Hopkins, a man calling himself a Witchhunter, roams the countryside, offering his services to any paying community in order to rid themselves of so called witches. Unfortunately for the small village of Brandeston, Suffolk, he chooses them for his next “visit”.

Wow. That’s the 1st word that I thought of as I sat through this fictional tale of an actual person during a disturbingly dark era in modern human history. This film is brutal. It isn’t filled with gore, there aren’t any ghosts, not a possession nor masked murderer of sexually charged teens in sight. What we have is a morbid tale of the infamous witch hunts. As I watched this film, the thought entered my mind that if even a fraction of what is on display here were true, it would be more disturbing than anything the minds of Eli Roth or Dario Argento could produce.

The acting is top notch. The story is equally as engrossing. The subject matter is repulsing. The direction and soundtrack is revealing, in that the most disturbing horror is what we as humans do to each other, more than what any My Buddy doll come-to-life could wreak. Those responsible for the atrocities fictionalized here are the true Pin Heads of our society.

Witchfinder General stillI’m glad that I “found” this film. I’m hopeful that others will be as intrigued. I’d recommend screening your own personal Double Feature, rounding out the bill with a film featuring another of my favorite veterans of horror, The Wicker Man, staring Christopher Lee.

I should forewarn you in advance, however, that you certainly won’t find any spoonfuls of sugar in these versions of the UK.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 22: Dark Night of the Scarecrow

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 22: Dark Night of the Scarecrow

The made-for-tv film was a category that used to be populated by dozens of productions per year.  Sunday nights spent in front of the tv with our paper Chatham’s bag filled with freshly popped butter-salt popcorn at the ready was a weekly ritual in the house of this film fan.  It’s a genre of film I miss, and wish would make a concerted return to the air beyond the offerings of the spurned wife tales found on Lifetime channel.

Today’s film came to me as a surprise.  I’d never heard of the film, and wasn’t sure how enjoyable a horror film that originally made it’s premiere on CBS over 30 years ago would be.  While I have fond memories of The Night Strangler or The Burning Bed, neither of those films were as much horror as they were suspense.  In fact, I couldn’t recall having seen any horror films on TV that were originally created for that medium.

Thankfully, a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the featured tale I bring to you today.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 22: Dark Night of the Scarecrow

Scarecrow VHSDirector: Frank De Felitta
Year: 1981
Cast: Larry Drake, Charles Durning, Tonya Crowe, Jocelyn Brando, Lane Smith
Language: English
Country: USA
Specs: 96 mins. / Color / OAR 1.33.1 / MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Rating: ★★★★ / B

After a retarded man, dressed as a scarecrow in an attempt to escape a crazed lynch mob intent on unjustly murdering him for a crime he didn’t commit, is found and slain, the members of the mob are hunted and killed by someone resembling same said scarecrow.

I enjoyed this suspenseful thriller from the moment the title cards began.  Call is nostalgia for a bygone era, or call it appreciation for talented character actors at their best, this film is surprisingly terse and tense for a film appearing on network television over 30 years ago.

From the opening scene of Drake’s (Darkman, Dr. Giggles) Bubba befriending the young girl in a scene reminiscent of Frankenstein, to the closing shots of the ghostly scarecrow ominously hanging in the corn field, the acting never truly dips into hamminess, despite its portrayal of country bumpkins and oversized simpletons.  In fact, I was surprised to see such familiar faces peppered throughout this feature.

The editing is also notable, successfully amping up the suspense in a way more attributable to a theatrical pic than a made-for-tv production.  The camera work also is commendable.  And while the story nor elements of the plot without flaws (it never is explained nor understood why a little girls parents would allow her to roam deserted fields with a mentally retarded adult), it does call forth memories of the elements commonly found in a classic episode of The Twilight Zone.Dark Night of the Scarecrow

I heartily recommend any fan of revenge pics, ghost stories, or classic made-for-television horror films to track down and give this haunted tale a viewing.  You’ll

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 21: Halloweentown

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 21: Halloweentown

As popular as Halloween is, and as much as many people associate it with horror films and scary monsters, there aren’t many films that pertain to the holiday in particular. John Carpenter’s classic started a trend in which horror films took on the moniker of other beloved festive days, including St. Valentines Day (My Bloody Valentine), Christmas (Black Christmas), even April Fool’s Day (April Fool’s Day).

When I hear of a film that takes place on the day for tricking (no, not William Friedkin’s Cruising. I mean a different kind of tricking) and treating, I instantly will add it to my queue for viewing on a brisk autumn evening.

When I came across today’s film and it’s myriad of sequels in the local video store, I decided to set aside the original intended film (that will come tomorrow), and give the first in the series a spin (or an insert, as it were. Although that has a different connotation entirely).

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 21: Halloweentown


Director: Duwayne Dunham
Year: 1988
Cast: Debbie Reynolds, Judith Hoag, Kimberly J. Brown, Joey Zimmerman, Emily Roeske
Language: English
Country: USA
Specs: 84 mins. / Color / OAR 1.37.1 / MPAA Rating: G
Rating: ★★★ / C

A group of siblings, who come from a long line of witches/warlocks, stowaway on their grandmothers magic bus in order to travel to the mysterious Halloweentown, where all the creatures of lore reside. Once they arrive, they discover that evil forces are at work, and they must band together in an effort to return Halloweentown to normal.

The Disney Channel original certainly is perfectly suited for Halloween. Goblins, witches, ghosts, and zombies are only a fraction of the denizens of the holiday themed town in which the film is set. It features some impressive costuming and effects, particularly the skeletal cab driver.


However, the film is hardly bound to be enjoyable to any viewer over the age of 13, whereas another film focusing on the notion of there being a mysterious other dimensional town for each of the US holidays is timeless and appeals to all ages. I found the jokes to be juvenile, the acting to be hokey, and the storyline to be formulaic. While I always find it enjoyable to see modern films with actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood, I’d rather it be in roles that I certainly could enjoy.

Reynolds, playing the matriarchal role, is perfect, even in her over-the-top performance. The rest of the cast, however, appears to be trying, resulting in a stilted performance.

Other elements of the story were simply tired, mere rehashes of other films, like Mary Poppins or Bedknobs and Broomsticks. However, newer viewers may not be entirely familiar with those more beloved classics, hence my assessment that the prepubescent crowd my be more entertained.

Given a choice, and looking for a timeless fantastical story of magic, I’d rather settle for the aforementioned Nightmare Before Christmas, or either of other Disney classics mentioned above.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 20: Freddy’s Dead – The Final Nightmare

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 20: Freddy’s Dead – The Final Nightmare

Sometimes you feel like a nut.

Sometimes you don’t.

Almond Joy’s got nuts.

And so does today’s film.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 20: Freddy’s Dead – The Final Nightmare

freddys_dead_ver2_xlgDirector: Rachel Talalay
Year: 1991
Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Shon Greenblatt
Language: English
Country: USA
Specs: 105 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★ / D

Acting is bad (Rosanne and Tom Arnold??!?!), direction is typical Hollywood over-produced nonsense.  Actions of the characters make little sense.  Sets are so obviously Backlot looking.  Typical characterizations (angry rebellious older teen girl, carefree smoking long haired young boy teen, rebel without a cause could care less teen boy,).  Not a scary moment in the film.  Instead, we are treated to a boy being nearly suffocated by a map that is way too large!  We get “homages?” to Wizard of Oz, with Freddy being the wicked witch.  We get the typical crazy teacher in the ghost town who teaches an empty class, as all the children are missing.

House is abandoned and boarded up, but it has porch light on, and all the lights in the house are conveniently on.  Freddy resembles NOTHING of the character in the other films, and is strictly a cartoony character this time.  Freddy “toys” with victim (“fingers on chalkboard for deaf kid”, “pin drops”, “noise till head explodes”.)

“K. Krueger?  That could be anything from Kevin to Kyle” is the tripe we have to listen to.  “Thanks for lending me an ear”.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 19: A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 – The Dream Child

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 19: A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 – The Dream Child

I love posters that are not photoshopped poses.  Many times, with the painted poster, or the artistic poster that truly was created by a person with talent, a person will talk about the image of the one-sheet many years after they’ve seen the film (or haven’t seen, as it were).

Some iconic posters over the years have been any poster from Saul Bass, Drew Struzan, Boris Vallejo, Richard Amsel, Bill Gold, and Anthony Goldschmidt.  The poster alone from any of these maestro’s would sell tickets to a movie, regardless the pic.

Sometimes it would be as great as the film.  Sometimes….the only good thing about the film.

Today is just one of those instances…

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 19: A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 – The Dream Child

nightmare_on_elm_street_fiveDirector: Stephen Hopkins
Year: 1989
Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox, Kelly Jo Minter
Language: English
Country: USA
Specs: 89 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★ / D

Freddy, in attempt to finally destroy Alice, begins to haunt her through the dreams of her unborn child, whom he hopes of possess, allowing for him to be reborn into the world.

What a mess.  The story makes little sense this time around.  Pointless elements that haven’t any justification, laughable makeup and special effects, zero scares, and the most inane one liners delivered from Freddy hitherto.  I actually think every sentence spoken from Freddy is a very UNFUNNY one liner.

Whereas the first and third film in this franchise had a reason, this iteration has no reason whatsoever why Freddy hunts and kills his victims.  The sound effects are completely amateurish sounding.  The film feels like a rejected “Puppet Master” film retooled to be a Freddy pic instead.

Nightmare 5 FoodyTo close it off, the end credits song is perhaps one of the worst songs ever to appear in a film.  Were they serious???

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 18: Silent Night, Deadly Night

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 18: Silent Night, Deadly Night

It was a swealtering summer night in the suburbs of my hometown.  My brother and I were spending another night with my cousin, looking forward to the traditional night of watching a double feature in the living room of his tiny downstair apartment.  We loved to stay the night, as my aunt seemed to have no qualms about the type of films we would be allowed to view.  Compared to my mothers restrictions on something as seemingly innocent as Strawberry Shortcake or The Care Bears, a film that featured any worldly vice or plot was like a trip to Fantasy Island.

This night, my cousin was ecstatic.  He had stated that he was a fan of both films on the bill, and was sure we would equally enjoy them.  We turned down all of the lights, grabbed our individual servings of Jiffy Pop, and sat down to watch the first of our VHS tapes that night.

Sleepaway Camp was the first feature.  The second feature was the film I chose tonight for this series on frightful films during the month of October.  I chose the film not because I remembered it as a classic, but because amazingly, I remembered nothing about either film prior to tonights viewing.  I simply remembered the title of the films, and have wanted to revisit them both since my days as a youth.

As I write this, I wish I could unremember once again.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 18: Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night Deadly NightDirector: Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Year: 1984
Cast: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Robert Brian Wilson
Language: English
Country: USA
Specs: 85 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★ / F

Years after witnessing the brutal murder of his parents, a young man goes on a murderous rampage, dressed as Santa, choosing those he deems as “Naughty” as his victims.

What the 7734 were they thinking?  My word, what a travesty.  There is nothing about this film that I found enjoyable, frightening, intriguing, or any other emotion other than belwilderment.  While I could remember nothing about the film (I must have blocked it from my memory upon my initial viewing), I was aware that it spawned 4 sequels.  How that happened is beyond me.

The film is a worthless slasher pic that was as painful to watch as Chinese Food by Alison Gold.  I would have enjoyed it more had I miraculously experienced a Stay Tuned moment and found myself one of the victims of Billy’s axe to the stomach.  The dialogue, acting, plot, deaths, costuming, sets, all are about as shallow as my toddlers swimming pool.

I understand that parents boycotted the film upon its initial release due to its subject matter of a killer Santa.  I would rather have picketed the bank that funded this mess for wasting peoples money on such dreck.

Killer SantaIf you are as wanton as the un jovial man in red, by all means, rush out and rent this stinker.  If you are of the same character as the family in the Saturday Night Live skit The Gross-Out Family, then ask for the collector’s DVD box set of this film for your Christmas gift.  Otherwise, save yourself the misery and rent Misery instead.  At least you’ll enjoy the maniac with an ax (or a hammer in the theatrical version) much more.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Movies

 

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