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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 2: V/H/S

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 2: V/H/S

On this, the second day of my month long series on films in the horror genre (or a variation thereof), I decided to take a trip down memory lane. I pondered what film ought I sacrifice two hours (more once I’ve written this post) to as I rummaged through the mess of Blu-rays, DVD’s, VCD’s, and Laserdiscs that I’ve accumulated over the years. Many of these films remain in the original cellophane (no comments about that please, that is a blog for another day) and haven’t been touched since I chose to store them in the box. I reached high atop the towering stack within the darkest recesses of the closest within my office. I tilted the box that hadn’t been opened in ages, ghosting myself with the inch or so of dust that had accumulated on top and now slid down like a massive mudslide coming from the sides of Mt. Fuji resting in my hair and on my face. I cracked the box open, and saw something that peaked my interest. I instantly recalled images I had recently come across in the local newspaper. I had seen pictures of a grim grinning ghostly exponent heralding the release of the newest addition to the massive franchise of films featuring the ghastly Sadako, or as U.S. readers may know her, the girl from The Ring. Sadako 3-D2 4-D.


Behold, in front of me, was a DVD of a movie that I hadn’t seen in years, long before the reality of ingesting octopus balls and the carcass of Mr. Ed would become a reality. I wondered if I ought to revisit the film, that being The Ring 0? Then I remembered, the film was featured as a major plot device an object that happened to be a video format I had neglected. A format long ago forgotten, unless you shop at the library, or are an overseas missionary. Not Betamax, no no no. Something far more available in its heyday. Not HD-DVD, neither. VHS. The Ring movies focused on a VHS tape. Thankfully, that was the moment when I recalled a newer movie I had not yet seen. Another film with a sequel in the local cineplex this very season. Rather than skip straight to the overpriced shopping mall to gaze upon the newest entry in all it’s ear piercing glory, I chose to go back to my queue, to visit the original entry.

Because of that not so quick witted decision, I am now able to bring to you:

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 2: V/H/S

Director:
Adam Wingard
David Bruckner
Ti West
Glenn McQuaid
Joe Swanberg
Radio Silence
Year: 2012
Cast: Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Lane Hughes, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Jason Yachanin, Calvin Reeder, Hannah Fierman
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 116 mins. / Color / OAR N/A / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★ / B

A group of petty thieves are contracted by an anonymous 3rd party to break into a house and retrieve a mystery VHS tape. Finding the presumed homeowner dead, they begin to rummage through hundreds of found VHS tapes, viewing each on a television next to the corpse, in hopes of locating the tape requested. Startled, they soon realize that each cassette contains a grim video of some poor unsuspecting victims demise.


I am thankful that I had zero knowledge of the film prior to my viewing. It made my “enjoyment” of this terrifying anthology all the more startling with each haunting segment. The film is comprised of 5 short-films, posed as found footage films within the main story-arc (Tape 56) of the petty thieves and their home invasion. Perhaps the strongest of the shorts, Bruckner’s Amateur Night, was also the most terrifying. The aspect that I enjoyed most, with all of the segments, was the “reveal” at the end of each, akin to a gorified episode of Twilight Zone, or Night Gallery (itself a more gruesome take on creator Rod Serling’s seminal classic.)

In recent cinema history, we’ve seen a glut of films of this sub-genre grace the local silver screen. Apartment 143, Paranormal Activity, The Last Broadcast, and of course, The Blair Witch Project. This film, however, stands apart from those others. It is unpredictable at times, which, for this genre, is rarer than a Caucasian in the town I currently reside.

Each film was created entirely autonomous from the others, with its own cast and crew, and it makes for a stronger whole, in my opinion. While not all of the subjects are equal in their caliber, I appreciated the variety of styles of each creative team.


There certainly is a fair share of scares, an equal amount of gruesome imagery, and creative and inventive plots to hold the interest of even the most jaded of horror film fans. While not a masterpiece in and of itself, it is a film that I would happily recommend to anyone that hasn’t just finished off an extra large portion of lasagne from their local Italian eatery.

In conclusion, it’s a film best viewed with the lights on. However, if you choose to not heed my advice, I heartily suggest watching an episode of lighter fare afterwards, such as the latest episode of Dads.

On second thought, that’s worse. Forget what I said. Enjoy the nightmares…

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 1: Night Stalker

October 1, the first day of my favorite time of year. Crisp leaves crunching under the feet of passerby, the smell of autumn in the air, apple orchards, hayrides, bonfires, and a cornucopia of color, all usher in the beginning of the Holiday season.

As I sat and reflected on these titillating particulars, my thoughts drifted to anamnestic and mnemonic images of hockey masks, leather sacks, bedsheets, and acupuncture needles. I love to watch movies. I love to watch movies about Halloween during the month of October. Not Halloween per se, but movies that are themed around horror, and everything else within that genre. I’m not normally one for gruesome gore porn type of films, but the occasional one slips into my viewing queue.

It is with great fanfare that I begin this new journey for the month of October 2013 of watching one film per day and blogging a brief review, for your reading pleasure.

My hopes in doing so are that you will find a film that you can seek out, if you may dare, and add to your queue. Perhaps you have seen it and want to revisit the hallowed haunting grounds. Even better yet, you either have seen and loved, or loathed, the film and simply want to refresh your memory of the reasons why. It is with these intentions that I have taken on such a task.

Thus, I now give you, without further ado:

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 1: Night Stalker


Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Year: 1972
Cast: Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Claude Akins, Barry Atwater
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 74 mins. / Color / OAR 1.33:1 / MPAA Rating: N/A

An investigative reporter, notices a strange set of circumstances involving a number of recent homicides in the city. He begins to suspect that the murder may be a vampire, and sets out to prove his theory before all around him commit him to a mental hospital.

Minutes into my viewing, it became evident that I was about to witness a great, modern-day, detective-noir film. The narration by the main character Kolchak, along with the moody 70’s cinematography, instantly transported me to a world of mystery and suspense with a supernatural bent. Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story) shines as the reporter caught between politics and the desire to uncover and report on the truth, something that was very much on the minds of people at the time this film was made (and still is, no doubt!).

I was engaged throughout the entire film, immersed in the tales of cover-ups, corruptions, and intrigue. The story was very well written, especially given the confines of 70’s television. Proof positive that good storytelling needn’t have the crutches or vices common to a modern Rated R feature film in order to deliver.


Richard Matheson, writer of numerous episodes of the classic Rod Serling anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone, as well as timeless novels such as Hell House, I Am Legend, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, here again displayed his prowess as an auteur of the genre. Taking a novel (at the time unpublished) titled The Kolchak Papers and adapting it as his own, Matheson was able to deliver to producer Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) a tale that would lure McGavin to commit to this made-for-tv ABC movie.

It became very evident, mere moments into watching this film, why a sequel, titled The Night Strangler, would arrive the following year, as well as a television series titled Kolchak: The Night Stalker for the ’74-’75 season.

My only qualm, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the film itself, is that I wasn’t able to enjoy this in glorious HD. My hope is that someone over at Criterion stumbles across this blog, and grants the wish of one new fan.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2013 in Movies, TV Shows

 

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