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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  I’d never heard of the film, and wasn’t sure how enjoyable a horror film that originally made it’s premiere on CBS over 30 years ago would be.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 17: Hausu “House”

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 17: Hausu “House”

“Just try it” the pusher had told me. I knew better, however. I’d heard all about the effects of acid drops, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I had heard about people having “flashbacks” years after dropping the hallucinogenic drug, and I had no interest in having one come to me in the middle of an important speech, or while I’m piloting an impossible mission to rid the world of an evil galactic empire (you see, I am capable of ambitiously dreaming without the aid of a chemically induced chimera).

As I began to view today’s entry in this month long series of horror films timed to the upcoming All Hallow’s Eve, I suspected that somehow someone had slipped me a Mickey at some point in my past, and I was now suffering the onslaught of the aforementioned HPPD.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 17: Hausu “House


Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Year: 1977
Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Yôko Minamida, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba
Language: Japanese
Country: Japan
Specs: 88 mins. / Color / OAR 1.37.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★ / D

A schoolgirl travels with her classmates to visit her reclusive aunt, only to tragically learn that the country house in which she resides is alive.

Having lived in Japan, and thus having an understanding of their fascination with watermelons, I was able to relate to the set-up of bringing the delectable fruit as a gift to the oba-san. I was not, however, able to relate to the outcome of such a generous gesture. Needless to say, I will forever think of watermelons, and, much to the dismay of my toddler daughter and her fascination with all things Snow White, wishing wells, in a much different light after having watched this fanciful flick.

The film is certainly to be commended for its effort and originality. However, much like a 2 year olds finger painted murals on the wall in the recently remodeled foyer, it may not be welcomed nor retained.

The acting in this foreign picture was amateurish. I understand that most of the cast were mere dilettantes, and it shows. Of course, there is so much zaniness going on in this film, I’m not sure I even paid much heed to the acting chops of the talent. Cheesy effects are the best way I can describe the effects here. Cartoonish ghosts, plastic body parts, kaleidoscope of colors, novelty shop eye balls, the outlandishness never lets up.

The story doesn’t serve much purpose, either. It simply serves to showcase the forenamed effects. I honestly felt Obayashi had lost his mind, and this film was the result.

Don’t confuse this with excellent William Katt film of the same name. This is not another version of that same story. In fact, in has more in common with This House Possessed than it does the franchise starter from 1986.

If you want to be bedazzled by the puerile antics of a film, this is for you. If you hate cats and find them as creepy as I do, you’ll want to visit another haunt.

Don’t say I didn’t imashimeru you.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 16: The Mummy

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 16: The Mummy

I often feel like the Gill- Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon got the shaft. Other than a pair of sequels in 1955 (Revenge of the Creature) and 1956 (The Creature Walks Among Us), the scaly monster from the deep has not been featured in any other films, other than The Monster Squad and Hotel Transylvania, since his initial unveiling.

Perhaps a television show called The Creature Diaries didn’t have quite the same ring as the CW’s sudser about another creature of the night? I’m guessing The Gurgling wouldn’t have appeared as menacing atop a poster hanging in the lobby of the local cineplex as another more lupine film from Joe Dante in 1981 did. Certainly, had Kevin Bacon wanted to team with Paul Verhoeven to give us The Hollow Thing from Deep Down in a Cove Somewhere in The Amazon, the marketing people would have shot it down in favor of their other 2000 film nobody saw (get it?!).

Today’s film, however, features a classic monster that hasn’t suffered the same fate as his green gilled partner in slime.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 16: The Mummy


Director: Terence Fisher
Year: 1959
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Specs: 88 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating:
Rating: ★★★★★ / A

After being woken from years of hibernation within his tomb, mummified Egyptian high priest Karnak seeks out those responsible for his awakening, when they disturb the tomb of his lover and Princess, Ananka, to avenge their desecration.

The opening music is amazing, deep and resonating as the opening credits unfold. Composer Franz Reizenstein helped create an atmosphere of wonder, accompanied by the wonderful sets and wardrobe expected in a Hammer film.

I always appreciated when the classic monster films were period pieces, allowing for a more immersive tale of fantasy and intrigue. This film does not deter, nor does it disappoint.

There were some directorial decisions that I found jarring, such as the numerous fades to the next scene as someone is speaking, and wondered if I were missing some excised scene, or if my stream had hiccuped. Overall, however, the calibre of the story, acting, and scenery overcame any misgivings I may have had.


The action and the suspense are simply top-notch. Special-effects are also superb, bearing in mind the time in which they were made. Many elements of these Hammer films, in part due to its being set in the past, no doubt, are timeless, and hold up against any modern film in the same genre, often surpassing it in originality.

I recommend this film to any fan of the classic Universal monster films. I suggest this film to any fan of the other entries in Hammers stable of features. Lastly, I urge any fan of the more recent outings from Universal and Stephen Sommers to view this film immediately, lest the curse of Ananka fall on you.

By the way, for those keeping score, the films/tv shows mentioned in the exordium were The Vampire Diaries, The Howling, and The Hollow Man, natch.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 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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