Halloween Scene: Shock Value By Jason Zinoman

shock-valueIf you’re keeping track, and I’m not sure why you would be at this point, I’m still muddling through Stephen King’s The Stand. And yet, I stray away from time to time to check out other books like Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value, which I stumbled across while looking for various horror films in my library’s database. With a subtitle like How A Few Eccentric Outsiders Gabe Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, And Invented Modern Horror, how could I not bite, especially around Halloween! Continue reading Halloween Scene: Shock Value By Jason Zinoman

Halloween Scene: Ten Notable Movies That Scared This Jaded Horror Fan

I’ve seen a lot of horror movies since I started getting into the genre around the age of 16. Like a lot of horror fans, I feel like I’ve become somewhat jaded over the years. Once you see enough of these things, you can see the Matrix a little bit and know when a scare is coming — if you can tell the difference between an impending jump scare and a legit one, you’ve got the super scardar. And yet, there are still the scenes that scared us when we started out and even though they’re fewer and farther between these days, the new films that still give us the willies or come out of nowhere to spook us. I figured with Halloween still in the air — and inspired by awesome horror blogger Stacie Ponder doing something similar over on her excellent Final Girl blog — I’d run down the ten movies that scared me over the years. I’m sure there’s more out there in the world, but these are the ones that came to mind, either because they entered my life at just the right time, scared me for a moment or created an atmosphere that still ooks me out to this day. So, in no particular order, here’s the ten movies the still spook me in no particular order. Consider yourself warned, spoilers abound after the jump!

Continue reading Halloween Scene: Ten Notable Movies That Scared This Jaded Horror Fan

Halloween Scene: Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Texas Chainsaw When I got a press email about review copies of Texas Chainsaw DVDs being available for review, I almost didn’t respond. I get several of those a day and only reply back to ones I’m really interested in reviewing. First off, I only have so much time and don’t want to spend time watching things I don’t think I’ll like. Sure, I’ll probably miss out on some unexpected greatness doing this, but it leads into the second reason which is that I do feel a real responsibility to write a prompt, timely review when a company goes out of its way to send me a review copy. I don’t want to be that guy who asks for free stuff, but never fulfills his part of the agreement by actually reviewing the material.

Anyway, I gave Texas Chainsaw a watch and didn’t fall in love with it, but it definitely has some interesting idea kernels in there that kind of burrowed their way into my brain. Unlike the 2003 remake or its 2006 prequel The Beginning which worked with a new universe based on the original Tobe Hooper film, this version of the story is supposed to be a direct sequel to the original 1974 film. To let you know this, the film picks right up with a montage that pretty succinctly sums up that film and then moves right into a scene of the local sherif trying to get the Sawyers out of the house. Just as things look like they might end peacefully, in rolls Burt Hartman with his redneck posse, their own guns and a few Molotov cocktails. Soon enough, there’s a firefight and the whole house goes up in flames. Nearly every Sawyer dies except for a little girl who gets saved and goes off to live with another family.

Cut to today (or some mysterious time) when Heather (Alexandra Daddario) discovers that she’s inherited a house in Texas that belonged to her birth grandmother. What she doesn’t yet know, but soon discovers after travelling to the house with her friends, is that she’s actually a Sawyer and her cousin Leatherface is living in the basement. Leatherface winds up getting out and making short work of her friends. Heather gets away to the cops where she informs the hunky young deputy of what’s going on, but it turns out said deputy (played by Clint’s son Scott Eastwood) is actually the son of now-Mayor Hartman! Burt and his buddy try to go for some off the books justice against Leatherface which doesn’t work out too well for them.

Many of the problems with the film stem from basic writing and production choices. First off, the timing is all kinds of crazy. They make a big deal of saying the date of the events of the original, but then firmly set this movie in 2012. That’s tricky if you know that the original took place in the 70s and are then curious why Heather isn’t in her 30s or 40s as she was supposedly a baby in the events following the first film. I’ll be honest, this didn’t bother me much until I read Brian Collins’ review over on Horror Movie A Day and really realized how sloppy that made things. I was also really confused as to who all those extra people hanging around the Hewitt house were in the beginning. It’s great that they gave cameos to some of the original cast members — Gunnar Hansen (OG Leatherface), Bill Mosely (from TCM 2), Marilyn Burns (Sally) and even Grandpa himself John Dugan — but it added an extra layer of confusion for me. If they’re such a tight nit family, where were they before? How’d they hear about the troubles so quickly?

The script — which I assume was written and re-written several times by many different people — also suffers from some really corny bits. For absolutely no reason, Heather’s best friend Nikki (Tania Raymond) is constantly after Heather’s boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz). Heather winds up never finding out about any of this and the only purpose seems to be to make you not like either of them and also get them out of the house for a bit, but it just comes off as rote, typical slasher stuff. Another problem that arose from this relationship is that Nikki gets Ryan out to the barn with the idea that something monstrous has happened, but it’s before they discover that someone is actually murdering their friends and acquaintances so it just comes off as overly meta.

My biggest problem with the movie involves pretty significant spoilers, so skip this paragraph if you want to stay pure. A huge part of the movie revolves around Heather discovering that she’s part of this murderous, psychotic, cannibalistic Sawyer family. One of the idea kernels that I was most intrigued by was how Heather would deal with the idea of being related to those folks. Is this an examination of nature versus nurture? Will Heather turn out to be evil because it’s in her DNA? Will she fight it and stay good? Those were the questions that started appearing in my bead Pop Up Video style. There’s a weird turn where Heather realizes she’s related to Leatherface and also finds out what happened to the rest of the Sawyers (also that she is one) and then instantly teams up with Leatherface. Who, I will remind you, is a man who killed her friends with a chainsaw (he cut one dude in half at the waist in a pretty great gore scene), tried very hard to kill her before seeing a particular birthmark and also sews human faces onto his own face (another pretty great scene, by the way). You get kind of caught up with this as the mayor is trying to kill Leatherface, but when he and Heather get back home and she tries to dab his face — the face he’s wearing on his face — you come back to your senses and none of it washes. I completely understand being adopted and how that can mess with your head, but if I found out that my birth parents were psychotic murderers, I’m 99.9% certain I wouldn’t instantly switch to their side. I also wouldn’t throw him a chainsaw and say, ugh, “Do your thing, cuz,” especially after he almost killed me with the same weapon.

And yet, the movie does a lot of things I like. It’s slick looking, though not as much as the remake. Nothing can really capture the look of the original, so I don’t have as much of a problem with it this time around. I also appreciate how much went into the gore scenes which all seemed to be at least mostly practical. In addition to those there are some legit creepy moments that got me a little twitchy like one where Heather’s looking at a picture of a relative and the reflection ghosts over her own face and the whole thing looked really great and weird and scary. I also liked how they played with some of the conventions associated with this franchise. There’s no dinner scene for one thing. And while it does include a hitchhiker who’s not exactly a good dude, they still do something different and fairly important with him, so it feels more earned.

And yet, there’s still so much goofiness and badness. I really wish they hadn’t used the same actors for the sherif and soon-to-be mayor in the past and present. They look exactly the same and it gets distracting. Same goes for naming the lawman Sheriff Hooper. I get it, you want to pay homage to the original’s director, but when you’re already dealing with so many elements that put horror fans out of the drama, don’t add another one like that.

While the movie itself comes up short, there’s a lot to love on this DVD. The special features are plentiful on this one and sure to please whether you really like this movie on its own or you’re just a fan of the original. Most of the features fall into either retrospective and practical sections. While all of the retro stuff features current footage from this film there are constantly references back to the original film and how this one was trying to pay homage to it in various ways. Take the one called “The Old Homestead” for instance. It’s about the house from the original movie which the crew scanned both in real life (the building is a restaurant somewhere) and the film and did their best to recreate it. Now, I noticed some of the more horrific elements were supposed to be homages, but my memory stinks, so I didn’t realize how far they went to recreate the scene. The coolest aspect of this featurette though was seeing the actors from the original who were in that scene I didn’t like at the very beginning come in and basically relive their experience as if they were transported back to 1974. You get even more from the original gang in “Texas Chainsaw Legacy.”

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of interesting technical stuff expressed on the screen. One called “Resurrecting The Saw” focuses on the producer and writers talking about actually bringing the franchise back and the 3D cameras involved in shooting. The writers straight up say they wanted to go for a vibe where Leatherface is the hero and this lynch mob is the bad guy, partially (I’m extrapolating a bit here) because the mob goes against our sense of fairness and the justice system in this country. Not sure if they nailed that one, but it was interesting to hear where they were coming from. The writers also talked about how much bigger the original script was with more kills and more 3D but a lot got changed. I think a lot was left unsaid here and would love to hear what all four credited writers thing about how this movie turned out.

You’ve also got “Leatherface 2013” which focuses on Dan Yeager and his super-intense experience while playing the renowned crazy person, something that might have made him go a little batty himself. “Lights, Camera, Massacre” gets into some of the complications of shooting in 3D (which seems a bit moot since you’re watching a DVD without that option) and “It’s In The Meat” gets into a lot of the gore special effects. So there’s really a lot to sink your teeth into as a TCM, Leatherface or horror fan.

I think my opinion of the move might have changed a bit after watching the behind the scenes stuff. You can really tell that most of the people involved with the film really had the best intentions and there are a ton of good things going on from the gore and Yeager’s performance as Leatherface to the set design. But then you remember something like “Do your thing, cuz,” and wonder if there wasn’t a producer or studio person sticking their head in a bit too much and making changes.

I think Texas Chainsaw might be the kind of movie that I can enjoy a lot more the second time around. I try to keep my head clear of bias when watching anything, but that’s not all the way possible, is it? You can’t help but let your memories sneak in while watching something referring to old favorites. Now that I know about the Sawyer’s hanging out at the beginning and what happens with Heather, it will be less of a shock to watch again. I find when some things are blunted like that, you can enjoy them more on a second watching.

Halloween Scene: Leatherface The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

2008-10-16
3:41:39 am

So, I watched Leatherface yesterday and have already forgotten a lot of stuff about it, but it was a pretty decent flick, even though it generally ignores the second movie and I’m usually a fan of continuity. But let’s be real, none of the TCM movies can ever really live up to the original, it’s a true classic that can’t (and shouldn’t) be replicated, though I’ve got no problem with new stories being told in that world. Which is kind of the route they took with TCM3.

This time, you’ve got a couple driving across country who get rerouted while the cops excavate a mass grave full of corpses. This brings them in contact with a creepy gas station owner who, you guessed it, has ties to Leatherface’s family. This time, though you’ve got a mother figure along with grandpa, a little girl and maybe some other people, I got pretty confused and I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention for different parts. Anyway, the couple end up in the woods with Ken Foree (from my favorite zombie movie of all time, Dawn of the Dead) who’s a survival dude who just happens upon the craziness.

You get the basic running through the woods, dinner and chainsaw scenes in this flick. Oh and a great performance by Viggo Mortensen who SPOILER plays Tex, a guy who fakes getting killed and then turns out to be part of the family. At one point he gives Leatherface this crazy chrome-plated chainsaw with “The Saw Is Family” carved into the blade. It’s kind of hilarious, but still creepy. Speaking of Leatherface, we get a pretty good version in this flick as he cuts a woman’s face off in the opening, nails a girls hands to a chair and just generally looks like he wants to murder you.

There’s some pretty cool gore effects in this one and the performances are all pretty solid. A higher death count would have been nice, but what are you gonna do? Worth checking out for slasher and TCM fans.

Halloween Scene: Leatherface and Michael Myers Drawings (2008)

2008-10-07
2:37:37 am

As I mentioned before, I’ve been having some fun drawing lately. This time I wanted to do some larger pieces based on classic images of my favorite slashers. Below you’ll find the original and my direct (though nowhere near as good copies). One of these days I’ll stop doing these drawings on the back of scrap paper so you won’t see the text through the white parts.

I’ll start with the one I’m not as happy with.

LEATHERFACE

Unlike the Michael Myers drawing below, I decided not to do the big time Sharpie fill-ins (mostly because they made me kind of dizzy). This was the first time I ever drew a chainsaw, a dude holding one or a mask made out of human flesh. I think it looks okay, but still cartoony. Ah well, it was fun.

MICHAEL MYERS

I had a LOT of fun drawing this one and like I said above, got a bit dizzy with all the Sharpie blackening. There’s definitely some parts where I didn’t get the original down all the way (the placement of the knife, etc), but I think it captures the thing pretty well in black and white. I wish I had a blue marker that wouldn’t look like a fourth grade art project. Those shadows and the hair sure can be hard to draw. But I’m starting to finally get hands. I think. I guess we’ll see.

Enjoy!

Halloween Scene: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Beginning (2006)

2008-10-06
6:04:17 am

Two Texas Chainsaw Massacre flicks in one day? Maybe something’s wrong with me. But, I’ll be honest, I didn’t find much wrong with this flick. Consider this movie the Year One of TCM movies as we get to see the birth of Leatherface, how his uncle played by R. Lee Ermey “became” a cop, Leatherface’s first kill, chainsaw, chainsaw kill and his first human flesh mask. And it’s all done very well by director Jonathan Liebesman who stays as far away from cheesy as possible, even when rehashing the same old TCM tropes you expect: the dinner scene, the girl jumping through a window and getting chased by Leatherface.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story starts in 1939 where we see Leatherface born, abandoned and found by the Hewitt family. I thought this was an interesting plot point because maybe Leatherface (aka Tommy) could have had a fairly normal life although his apparent facial disfigurment might have prevented that. It’s kind of nature/nurture thing that isn’t really touched on again, but it put an idea in my head and I like that. The main part of the story takes place in 1969 as two girls drive with their brother boyfriends as one plans to re-enlist for Vietnam and the other says he’s going to join up, but really plans on heading to Mexico with his girlfriend. Meanwhile we see the meat packing plant that Leatherface works at getting shut down and R. Lee Ermey kills the last sheriff in town and puts the uniform on. Basically the Hewitts, lead by R. Lee, decide they’re going to take over the abandoned town. Oh, they’re also going to eat human flesh, starting with the the previous sheriff.

In a pretty great scene, the kids are getting hassled by this biker chick, the driver (the marine) is struggling to get his gun out the glove box when they smash into a car, wrecking it in the process. That’s when they get caught up with R. Lee. The effects of the cow-explosion and all the later death scenes look gruesomely real. Just wait until Leatherface starts hacking people up.

From there it’s a lot of what you’d expect and some things you wouldn’t. Like I said above, the directing is fantastic as is R. Lee’s performance. Unlike Matty M in TCM TNG, R. Lee plays the role with the same amount of brutality, but a lot more subtlety. And this Leaterface puts the TNG one to shame. He’s a huge, beast of man mountain. And the filthy chainsaw really looks creepy.

My one complaint about the flick is how utterly stupid Chrissie (Jordana Brewster). First she tries looking around the destroyed truck she was in instead of getting on the biker chick’s motorcycle and rolling away. Now, she does get points for going for her boyfriend’s gun, but come on. It’s just foolish. So, she ends up at the house with the rest of her friends and instead of making a break for it she spends the rest of the day and night trying to find a way to save her friends. I respect her sticktoitivness, but for cripes sake take the hint. There’s one point where she finds the biker girl’s boyfriend on the road, he wants his girl, so he ditches Chrissie. Again, she doesn’t take HIS motorcycle and get away, she ends up in Leatherface’s basement butcher shop. THEN she’s making her escape when she hears the other girl screaming upstairs, so she goes back upstairs to try and help her. She was at the freaking door when she turned around. Ugh. By this point I was rooting for her to get iced. If any of my friends are reading this post, take note: don’t come back for me if I’m being held captive by a family of psychopaths, cause I’m gonna steal the first motorcycle I can find and get out of there.

One thing I noticed about the movie is that I really really wanted the kids, especially the marine, to kill the entire family, I knew it wasn’t going to happen due to its prequelness, which added a kind of hopelessness to the whole thing. Sure some of them could have gotten away SPOILER (no one does), but they weren’t going to kill the bad guys. I do love the scene when dean smashes R. Lee’s face into the porch a few times. It felt cathartic. It was also cathartic in a weird way when Leatherface popped up in the back seat of the car that Chrissie stole and chainsawed through her seat, killing her. Man she was dumb.