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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 31: Trick ‘r Treat

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 31: Trick ‘r Treat

There are times when I hear of a film that, having played at a few test screenings, or possibly film festivals, gets shelved because the reaction wasn’t up to the standards the filmmakers had set for themselves.  Other times, the film is so wretchedly awful that the chance of it ever seeing the light of day seems as dim as the dark room the celluloid was developed in.  There are even times when a film was unable to pick up distribution upon completion, for a whole myriad of reasons.

Today’s film falls into the later category.  

Upon hearing of the film some time ago, I’d wrongfully assumed it to be a remake of Trick or Treat (1986) or Trick or Treats (1982).  When I learned about the production of the film, and its lack of distribution, I wrote it off as another horribly contructed film.  However, I soon began to hear rumblings of how enjoyable the film was, and noticed it being mentioned in other film blogs and articles.

For reasons that defy understanding, I forgot about the film as its DVD release came and went, only briefly becoming aware of it again periodically, usually around this time of year.

Recently, I began recieving notices that Legendary Pictures was going to be screening the film on Youtube via Facebook, with a live Q+A to follow.  My ears perked up, I cleared my schedule, and decided to add my review to this series on 31 frightful films.  When I learned of it taking place on Halloween, I knew it would be the final entry in the series.

I’m so glad I that waited.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 31: Trick ‘r Treat


Director: Michael Dougherty
Year: 2007
Cast: Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, Tahmoh Penikett
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 82 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★★ / A

An anthology of four stories, connected by their occurance on the same city block on Halloween:  A neighborly high school principal harbors a dark secret, a college virgin seeks to find the man to share herself with, a group of youth take a trip to the site of a deadly accident, and a curmudgeon old man gets more tricks than treats.

Right from the start, I knew I was going to enjoy this film.  Dougherty pays a somewhat homage to one of my favorite films that take place on Halloween, by utilizing a POV shot of a killer in a mask (Halloween).  The suspense alone in the opening scene is so well directed, and edited, that I was on the edge of my seat before the opening titles had even begun.  When they did, they also were cleverly executed, standing out from the current glut of horror films for its homage to another classic horror anthology (Creepshow).

The script, stripped from the visual tropes of a cat jumping across the path of an unsuspecting victim from the trash cans just off screen, and absent of the musical cues meant to invoke a gutteral reaction of fright, still manages to hold its suspense, delivering twists and turns in the vein of a classic Tales From the Crypt tome.  The stories are tightly interwoven, creating a cohesive overarching plot to an otherwise unrelated group of shorts, sans the Holiday in which they occur.  Very well done.

As for the aforementioned visuals, the cinematography from Glen MacPherson (Rambo, The Final Destination, Exit Wounds) is dark and atmospheric, perfectly framed to maximize the effects of the most haunted of holidays.  The costuming is original, creating an iconic character (that which is on the poster) sure to join the ranks of a Freddy Krueger, Pinhead, Leatherface, and Chucky.


While the gore is a bit over-the-top, it is far from gore porn.  It strangely didn’t feel gratuitous, blending in well with the comical undertones the film delivered, much in the same way Sam Raimi did years ago with his Evil Dead trilogy.

The acting also was exceptional, which wasn’t surprising given the calibre of talent Dougherty brough into the fold.  The cast easily handled what could have been camp, were the roles in the hands of less experienced talent.

The most enjoyable aspect, for me, was the fact that it takes place on Halloween.  Most horror films which many would associate with the frightfully festive day have nothing to do with the actual day itself.  Here, Dougherty, who also serves as screenwriter (Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, X2, Superman Returns), focuses on the traditions of the holiday, as well as the mythologies often associated with same.  Thankfully, he crafted a wonderfully entertaining addition.  An addition that deserves to be, and will be, viewed again and again, for many years to come.

     

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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 30: Halloween II

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 30: Halloween II

I consider the original Halloween by John Carpenter to be one of the best horror films ever made.  Many detractors may deride the film for its violence, its wanton use of gore, or its hokey style of killings.  I’d challenge those persons to review the film, and notice that none of those things actually apply to the film that many would argue started the slasher film genre, if not certainly the holiday themed horror film.

I had seen the original for the first time on a brisk Halloween night on my family’s living room television.  My family were subscribers to ONTV, and we would often gather round to watch films such as Star Wars and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

It was on one such night where my father popped his famous bag of popcorn, buttered salt added, pulled up my little wooden white rocking chair, and allowed me to view what would spawn numerous sequels and remakes for years to come.

Having not seen the sequel for many years, I decided to revisit it for the penultimate entry in this year’s series.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 30: Halloween II

Halloween II PosterDirector: Rick Rosenthal
Year: 1981
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers
Language: English
Country: USA
Specs: 92 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35:1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★ / B

After a horrible night of being attacked  and seeing her friends killed my masked killer Michael Myers, Laurie Strode is taken to a hospital to recover from her wounds.  Unfortunately, the crazed killer is still on the loose, and tracks her down, in order to finish the job.

Less superior to the original in many ways. For starters, Rosenthal attempts to have Michael mimic the mannerisms he displays in the first film, but done with much less style and/or creepiness.

Second, the motivations of Michael this time around are much less understandable. In the first film, he is after Laurie, and everyone associated with her. Here, he kills randomly, for killing sake. He begins by going to a neighborhood house, and killing the husband and wife for no apparent reason.

The violence has been punched up, and has become more “shock value” than suspenseful, more of what many viewers would associate with the slasher genre and the effects work of horror guru’s like Tom Savini. Now we get a syringe in the eye, a boiled face, and two bullets into the eyes. Also, the actions in this film rely solely on the stupidity of the characters.
Halloween II Lobby
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the film is the choice to house it entirely within a hospital. Hospitals are normally quite busy, well lit, and well staffed. In order to make it fit the mold of a horror film, however, they strangely make the hospital staffed by only a couple people, very dimly lit, if lit at all, and nary a patient in site, with the exception of poor, can-barely-walk, always in a daze Laurie Strode.

When coupled with the first film, it is enjoyable to view.  I also found enjoyable what obviously was intended to be the finale for what became a long running franchise.  Even if it were a bit of a different feel than its predecessor.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 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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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 15: Love at First Bite

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 15: Love at First Bite

When I was a child, I loved to visit my uncle and see what new toys he had acquired since my last visit.  Years before I knew who Ridley Scott or Sigorney Weaver was, he had a 18″ Alien action figure.  While I had dozens upon dozens of Luke Skywalkers, Darth Vaders, Stormtroopers and Snaggletooths, he was the only person I knew whose parents would spring for a Tie FIghter and Millenium Falcon.  However, with all the expensive, rare, and coveted toys that he had in his massive toy box, there was one gadget that he was in possession of that was a favorite of mine, The Laugh Bag.

The Laugh Bag was a small box within a small bag, no larger than my hand, which would produce an insanely annoying laugh with the simple press of a button.  We would press that button over and over, often walking around the basement mimicking the laugh ourselves, much to the consternation of my poor grandmother.

When I originally saw today’s film, I loved it for merely one reason.  There was a character in the film that had a memorable laugh, that I found to be equally as impressionable as my uncles giggle machine.

<span style=”color: red;”>31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 15: Love at First Bite</span>

love_at_first_biteDirector: Stan Dragoti
Year: 1979
Cast: George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Arte Johnson
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 94 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: PG
Rating: ★★★½ / C+

Having been evicted from his home in Transylvania, Count Dracula travels to New York, where he meets whom he believes to be his long lost love, Mina Harker, reincarnated.  As he pursues her, her former lover, a descendant of the famous Van Helsing, pursues the count.

Revisiting the film for the first time since I was a child, I only remembered that the film was a comedy.  If I were to be viewing the film for the first time, I may be surprised to find it as such at the beginning.  As the opening credits begin, a tech music track plays, giving the impression the film about to unroll is a film in the vein of The Lost Boys.  However, the moment we see Hamilton, accompanied by the overpowering sounds of howling wolves, and the line that he delivers, we know we are in for a film of a different genre entirely.

Within moments, I was shocked to see Hamilton looking pale, his bronzed skin nowhere in sight.  Johnson, as Renfeld, then delivers his memorable laugh, and the tone has been set.  There were a number of scenes in the film that were wonderfully crafted send ups, and others that were jovial attempts at juvenile humor.  The passage through customs was amongst the best, in pure Zucker Brothers fashion.  In fact, I was surprised that the film was not a product of the famous filmmakers (Kentucky Fried Movie, their first effort, preceded this film by 2 years).

Interesting of note, was the timeliness of the scene with Sherman Hemsley, especially since the newest Oxygen show on prosperity gospel preachers (Preachers of L.A.) has been in the news. I also enjoyed seeing Isabel Sanford make a cameo as the fiery judge!

Something I did not remember from my childhood, but became instantly evident upon viewing with my more mature eyes, was the tone of the films comedy.  The swinging 70s are on display in full form, with much of the humor focusing on sex and drug use.

Some of the humor was a bit stale, perhaps in part due to its overabundance of use numerous satires since.  There have been no shortage of send ups to films in the horror genre, even those that contain the count himself (Dracula Dead & Loving It).  While the film surely was no Young Frankenstein, it certainly was more entertaining than Saturday the 14th.  I’m glad I revisited this pic.  Perhaps you may enjoy doing the same…

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 11: House of Dark Shadows

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 11:  House of Dark Shadows

As a young child, I would sit in front of the television, playing with my Imperious Leader, Ovion, and Daggit action figures as my father would watch The White Shadow. I remember my mother would also make comments about Dark Shadows, a soap opera that she enjoyed watching along with the likes of General Hospital and One Life to Live. I would often confuse the two well into my early adult years. It wasn’t until recently when I truly became aware of the distinction between the two. When Johnny Depp was announced as playing the star of the remake/reboot of today’s film and its universe, I moved to seek out the original to see exactly what Tim Burton was choosing to ape.

As an aside, I’m not sure, and I’ll save this for another day, why we keep getting comedic remakes of films that weren’t originally comedies. Who are they making these films for, the original audience? They’re bound to be disappointed. A new audience are less likely to have knowledge of the source material, thus entirely missing the satirical elements of the feature..

With that being said, onto today’s entry.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 11: House of Dark Shadows

house_of_dark_shadows_xlgDirector: Dan Curtis
Year: 1970
Cast: Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Henesy, Roger Davis
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 97 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: PG
Rating: ★★★½
/ C+

Vampire Barnabas Collins, a member of an aristocratic family, returns from a long slumber, where he encounters a woman who resembles his long-lost love.  He embarks on a journey to find a cure for his curse, in order that he be allowed to live life as a human once again, and be reunited with his lover.

I’ve never seen an episode of the television show that this film was based upon. I’ve noticed that there are episodes available to stream on Hulu, and while I would like to go back and visit it at some point, having learned that it’s over 1200 episodes long, it is unlikely I’ll have much opportunity in my overworked life. Thus, going in, I knew little to nothing, as you’ve already seen in my opening paragraph, heading into today’s viewing. I eagerly sat down to see what the draw was to this long-running TV show and its 2 theatrical sequels. I was curious why it had spawned numerous books, games, television reboots, and other forms of merchandise.

Dark Shadows car

I’m happy to say that while I didn’t find the film a brilliant sortie into vampire fiction, I also didn’t find it deplorable. It was simply prosaic, lacking any nuances to justify a repeat viewing. Perhaps had I been familiar with the original series I may have gained more out of my viewing experience? I was a little confused as to who the characters were, and felt that they didn’t truly offer much exposition to clear my confusion.

The cinematography did stand out, as well as the sets and locale lending an air of authenticity. The spooks and blood also did play more like a film coming from Hammer Films than a 70s television sudser. However, the acting does come across like an extended episode of a soap opera, and is theatrical and over-the-top at moments.

House of Dark Shadows [1970]

The greatest thing that I experienced while watching the film was the desire to sacrifice some of my precious time set aside that I may catch up on other storied series to watch the original series. I also would like to watch the sequel, in the hopes that I may gain more clarification to the questions I had without resorting to 600+ hours and more searching for on googling. I’d actually love to hear what others who are familiar with the television show thought of the film, or if they believe it’s worth my time and effort to visit the original series.

Perhaps, as the Tootsie Owl once heard it said, the world [me] may never know. (That actually sounds like Elmo. Oy vey)

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 10: The House at the End of the Street

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 10: The House at the End of the Street

Every once in a while, I come across a film that stands so far above the competition, it belongs in a class of its own. The script is so eloquently woven it commands accolades and awards. The story takes the genre into new territory, creating an entire generation of copycat films due to its success. The acting is of a caliber scarcely spoken of outside of awards season, elevating the actors into a class observed by few in the world. The direction is stupendous, earning the auteur “a film by…” credit on each subsequent film. Scores of film lovers around the world clamor for a deluxe collector’s edition Blu-ray or DVD to adorn their massive shelving unit in their darkened home theater.

Today’s masterpiece….is none of those.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 10: The House at the End of the Street


Director: Mark Tonderai
Year: 2112
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Max Thieriot, Elisabeth Shue, Gil Bellows
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 101 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35.1 / MPAA Rating: PG-13
Rating: ★★ / D

A young girl and her estranged mother decide to move to a new home in the country to begin a path of healing for their broken relationship.  Learning that a horrible murder happened in the house across the way only complicates things, especially when all is not what it seems.

Within moments of the opening scene, I checked the menu of my television set to confirm that I hadn’t accidentally switched the input to MTV, or another music video channel. Once I realized that I indeed was watching Netflix, thanks in part to my realization that a music video hasn’t been played on MTV since I was a tyke, I knew I was in for an experience.

The opening scene begins with a crazed teen wandering the halls of her suburban home, hammer in hand, in order to slay her suspecting parents. Not UNSUSPECTING, but fully aware their daughter is a little this side of sane. Yet they both [SPOILER ALERT] allow themselves to defenselessly get pummeled to death by the half their size nutjob.

Lest I lead you to believe the script was the only problem, their death is confirmed when we see a low angle shot from below the bed they rest in of the feathers from their pillows and/or comforter shower the floor, followed by a steady amount of blood. John Woo this is not.

We also are priveledged to see such mesmerizing camera work, such as dolly, crane, shaky cam, dolly, shaky cam, crane, canted angle, birds eye POV, [good lord please stop, I’m getting sea sick], dolly, crane, dolly, crane…ugh. I felt like I’d mistakenly inserted into my video player one of my students horrible productions. How was it, I wondered, that the director was allowed to constantly use every movable camera trick in the book. I was nauseous.


Of course, it would all have been slightly excused had the dialogue fared any better.

For instance, in a early scene that takes place at a “parents aren’t home” party, a girl passes out [alcohol induced, no doubt]. The odd choice of direction aside [that being everything moving in slow motion then speedily ramped up into fast motion (called ramping) and tricky artistic edits and spinning bottles and (again I asked if this was a music video) flashing lights] Lawrence’s characters reaction and dialogue is comical.

In another scene, we are succumbed to such prose as:
“What happened to the body.” “They never found it.” “They think she’s still alive and living in the woods.” “WHAT!?!?!?!” as a reaction of utter horror and fear is on the characters face. Based on the complete lack of knowledge of anything at that point in the film for the character, its simply played for the audience and their prior knowledge. What tripe.

I honestly feel like I’ve already wasted enough time with watching the film and spending time to write this blog. I will wrap it up (something I wish the film had done 90 minutes sooner than it did) by stating how sad I was to see the caliber of talent on screen fail miserably in this film. It only must be a testament to the direction they were receiving. I don’t know how else to explain the cardboard performances and pain inducing dialogue.

Just to clarify, I nominate this film as definitely a must pass, even for fans of Lawrence and Shue.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 9: The Bay

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 9: The Bay

I spent a large part of my youth growing up in a coastal town famous for its boat marinas. As such, we had a boat docked in one of those marinas. My father used to take us out regularly far into the massive body of water to go swimming, fishing, or just plain relaxing. Other times he’d take us just around the bend from the marina, to a cove famous for its swimming holes. Sadly, much to the consternation of my stay-at-home mother, he would also often times leave the boat parked in the dock, and let us simply swim off the back of the boat. Looking back now as an adult, I see how foolish that may have been. Many other large cabin cruisers pulling in and out of the marina, filthy greasy film floating on the surface, the rainbow of colors reflecting in the hot summer sun. Even at that age I had moments of hesitation when my siblings were so blindly diving into the sludge from the rear of the cabin cruiser.


He also would let us fish, often gutting, cooking, and eating the fish within hours of our catch. To the dismay of my mother, his brother figured little better. He would take my cousin and I swimming in what was perhaps the most polluted river in the country, if not the state. There are many times I remember getting some bacterial fungal disease, which certainly came from the river, only to be told I likely was having an allergic reaction to some food I had not eaten.

Had I seen today’s film prior to my childhood, I am positive I would have lived an entirely different life.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 9: The Bay


Director: Barry Levinson
Year: 2012
Cast: Will Rogers, Kristen Connolly, Kether Donohue
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 84 mins. / Color / OAR N/A / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★ / B

After a pair of divers mysteriously die in an apparent shark attack, a seemingly unconnected bacterial outbreak occurs in a small coastal town, causing disaster and panic in its wake.

I had briefly noticed today’s film when it was prominently displayed on my Apple TVs What’s New screen last year. When I had read the information about the film, I found it interesting that Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag the Dog, Good Morning Vietnam) had helmed this entry into the horror genre. He primarily has chosen films that are dramatic and/or political in tone. The reviews I read gave the film good marks, however, as is the case with more films than I care to admit, it slipped off my radar until preparing for this series of films for the month of October.

To cut to the chase, let me state that this is a film that I recommend all to see. Fans of other films that focus on an epidemic of mass proportions, such as Outbreak, Contagion, and 28 Days Later, will assuredly find this film to be enjoyable. For others, after watching the film, if you do not react in a way that causes you to take note, you perhaps have been swimming in the same waters as I did in my childhood a day too long. It’s a horror film, that is so eerily believable, that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. A found footage film yet again, and another that truly fits the medium.

I particularly found impressive Levinson’s use of multiple cameras to tell the story. Whereas most found footage pics focus on 1 camera that contains a tape of the incident that serves as the film, The Bay instead is composed of security cameras, ATM cameras, civilian cameras, traffic cameras, news crew cameras, and whatever other kind of video source that was “found” in the city that is affected. It is a clever twist on the found footage pic, and a welcome one at that.

There was ample amounts of gore, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen on an episode of ER, and not the kind you’ve seen in Saw. Be ready, if you have the stomach for it, to hit Google after you’ve watched this film, to see how much of the plot has been based in reality, and how much of it is Hollywood fiction. According to Levinson, during a screening on the films initial release, he stated that 85% of what is seen in the film is partially based on fact. Now that is SCARY!


The weakest element in the entire film is the character Donna, or rather Kether Donohue. She annoyingly licks her lips to moisturize them throughout the entire film. I couldn’t stop wishing someone would have simply thrown her a tube of lip balm, and gotten on with the show. It seemed more a nervous twitch of an amateur actress than it did a character trait she had developed (forgive me if I’m wrong). Also, there’s nothing here regarding cinematography, set pieces, music, or sound-effects for that matter. This is simply a character driven fear fest.

No ghosts, vampires, or extraterrestrial beings in this one. This is simply a matter of what you don’t see, in our real world, might kill you.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2013 in Movies

 

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