The 2018 Slasher Franchise Project – In The Beginning

I’ve officially kicked off this year’s attempt at tackling The Great Slasher Franchise Project. Feel free to read the whole post, but if you don’t here’s the gist. For the second year in a row, I’m watching a whole mess of slasher franchises in the order they were released. Since I watched most of the biggies last year, this one is filled with a wide range of films ranging in release from 1974 all the way up to last year. To see the full list, check out the Google Docs spreadsheet I made and click on the 2018 tab at the bottom.

I got the ball rolling and started with what will mostly likely remain the best film of the bunch, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974. To my surprise, I’ve never written about this film specifically here on UM. That stems from the fact that I don’t actually watch it that often and also don’t know what I might add to the conversation when it comes to one of the most loved and effective horror films of all time.

Here are some quick thoughts about the film. Marilyn Burns put it all out on the field with this gut-wrenching performance. Franklin might be the most unlikable character in film history. I wonder if the film would hit for a younger audience with some of its more arch characters. I remembered the suffocating chainsaw sounds in the last third of the film, but was impressed with that additions when she met the old man. It’s interesting that there are no living females in this family. Jim Siedow’s turn as Old Man from kindly helper to bat-shit bonkers is chilling. With all due respect to Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface, Edwin Neal’s Hitchhiker might be the scariest/craziest character in the film. Why doesn’t the truck driver haul ass out of there?

As it happens, I then jumped six years until 1980 where I encountered Paul Lynch’s Prom Night starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen a few years before he fully dove into the wonderful world of slapstick. This is another film that I’ve never written about her on the site before, but only because I saw it for the first time a few years before starting UM. I actually remember renting a really bad VHS copy with my buddy Rickey when we were roommates, but not much else about the film.

It turns out that, even when I’ve got a clean-looking version to watch on Amazon Video, it’s still a bit of a hard film to follow. This one’s about a group of kids playing a super creepy game where one of them’s a killer that tragically ends when a young girl falls out the window of an abandoned building. We then jump ahead to these kids in high school getting ready for the prom and falling prey to a masked killer. There are a few shots that clearly state which teen was which kid, but I was muddled on how JLC’s character fit in.

Having just watched TCM, I thought it was interesting that the kids’ “kill” chant takes on a similar feel as Leatherface’s chainsaw, wherein both felt anxious and suffocating. There’s also a motif of going out of windows that both films share, though with different results. Of course, the two films that Prom Night gets compared to the most are Carrie and Halloween. I feel like the former comparisons simply stem from the longstanding difficulties of being in high school, while the latter is actually used to throw people off the scent of what’s really going on as there’s an escaped killer on the loose who might be the one responsible for the current swath of killings even if that wouldn’t make much sense given the prank phone calls and year book pictures being cut out and taped up in lockers. 

While not my favorite slasher, I do consider this one to be a solid entry in the genre. The escaped killer stuff felt tacked-on, but then again, one of the few memories I had of the film actually revolved around the killer’s identity. I also think it did a nice job of understanding the tropes of the still relatively young genre and playing with them, while also delivering on what fans wanted. 

My travels then took me to 1982 where I became reacquainted with Amy Holden Jones’ Slumber Party Massacre. I actually wrote about this one a whopping 8 years ago when the DVD box set came out and had a lot of the same thoughts then as I did this time around (I guess I’m getting consistent in my old age).

The plot here’s pretty basic. A madman by the name of Russ Thorn just broke out and has decided to go on a rampage that coincides with a group of high school girls sleeping over at a friends’ house together. Calamity ensues.

A lot of the “problems” with this film — too many fake-outs in the the first third, the gonzo killer, the nods to other movies and the seemingly endless failed attempts to take out the killer — stem from the fact that it was actually written as a parody, but shot like a straight-ahead horror film. I had to remind myself of that when I would get a little bored here and there.

Actually, the more I think about it, the fact that Thorn — a guy who dresses not unlike Michael Myers and uses a power tool like Leatherface, but doesn’t bother with a mask — is just going nuts on whoever he can find is pretty enjoyable. When you think about it, he could have been caught at any moment. Unlike Myers, he’s not calculating. He’s not wearing a mask on Halloween, he’s just running around a school knocking off whoever he can get his hands on. He also shares Myers’ flair for the dramatic at times and you even get to watch him set up for a surprise kill which is something I can’t remember seeing in another slasher flick. Upon further reflection, his chaotic nature makes him even scarier, but I had to think on it a bit.

That brings us to the our November 1983 release, and one of my all-time favorite bug-nutty movies: Sleepaway Camp. Yes, I’ve waxed rhapsodic on this one already, but did have a few more thoughts on this Robert Hiltzik-helmed project.

If you’re not familiar, Sleepaway Camp revolves around a young girl named Angela who lived through the death of her father and sibling during a childhood boating accident. She moved in with her aunt and cousin and now, years later, the awkward young woman accompanies her cuz to a summer camp chockablock full of absolute scumbags who start getting killed in horrible, but still deserving ways.

What really struck me this time around is just how terrible the women in this film are treated, for the most part, both by lecherous or greedy men as well as other females. I’m sure I noticed those bits and pieces before, but this time they turned into a tapestry exemplifying all of the crap women have to deal with in the world and it bummed me out. I’d imagine this one’s trigger warning central and should probably be avoided. Still, I find it so odd and boasting a surprisingly deep context thanks to a few scenes here and there, that I like coming back to every few years or so.

Finally I moved to November of 1984 Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I wrote about here. Fun fact: I wound up taking possession of the Wizard library copy of the first two films in this series. Well, maybe that’s only fun for me.

Anyway, this time around, I found this one difficult to watch. Billy goes through so much terrible shit that you want to be on his side, but once he snaps, there’s very little defending him as he starts killing indiscriminately. At that point, I realized that, instead of trying to present a sympathetic character, this film and director Charles E Sellier, Jr. seem more interested in presenting a holiday-themed blueprint for creating a madman. That’s not generally the kind of film I’m interested in watching, but I will probably keep coming back to this film for the toy store scenes along. Where else can you see Mickey Mouse, the Smurfs, Star Wars characters and two wildly out of place and super creepy inflatable purple Easter bunnies all in one film?

With the first five films of the project in the bag, I’m not sure I’ve found any mind-blowing coincidences or connections. All of these films are about mentally unbalanced people preying on young people or said young people developing their own murderous tendencies. They all seem to lack parental oversight, forcing the young people to fend for themselves. All five also kicked off franchises that had healthy enough lives throughout the decade to keep them going and even lead to remakes in three out of five cases. We’re still fairly early on in the genre and will jump ahead to the latter half of the decade with the next batch which kicks off with our first sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Now I just need to get my hands on a copy! And it’ll only get more wild from there.

Halloween Scene: The Great Chronological Franchise Project

It’s that time again. Some horror fans celebrate October by watching a movie or two a day. Others do deep dives into all their favorite franchises. I’m mixing the two up and putting a slightly different spin on it all with The Great Chronological Franchise Project! Because I”m some kind of glutton for punishment, I decided to put all of the original (non remake) films in the Psycho, Romero Zombie, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Scanners, Phantasm, Return of the Living Dead and even Final Destination series’ in release order and watch them. Here’s the list I’m working off of:

Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Great Chronological Franchise Project

A Few Thoughts On A LOT Of Newer Horror Movies

Last fall, I watched a ton of horror movies for various work projects. I also did a deep dive on newer entries on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other sources and had a lot of good luck with new films. I covered some of these in a post about new slashers, but wanted to get some of the thoughts down before they totally left my mind so here we go! Continue reading A Few Thoughts On A LOT Of Newer Horror Movies

Toy Commercial Tuesday: X-Men Classics Battle Blasters

Sorry about the lack of posts lately. Things have been bonkers around here lately (I feel like I write that every two months or so, but it’s always true). Anyway, I might not have been writing about much here, but I’ve still been reading and watching quite a bit. As I mentioned in one of my few March posts, I’ve been on a big X-kick lately.

This particular toy commercial doesn’t have much to do with what I’ve been reading, but it’s a pretty fun one! First off, how can you not love the image of a kid dressed up as Marvel’s number one mass murdering hero? Plus, the figures seen in this spot are all based on one of the House of Ideas’ best alternate realities, Age of Apocalypse.

x-men classics battle blasters

It took a little more looking around than I thought, but I got the skinny about this line on MarvelToys.net. It’s basically a repaint and redecco line. I thought that Wolverine looked familiar and it’s because it’s actually a Sabertooth figure I have in my collection! Also he has both hands, so he’s not REALLY AoA Wolvy, but it’s still a fun figure.

Halloween Scene: My Halloween Watch List

Goodness gracious! I was looking through my unpublished drafts and found this post about the rest of the horror movies I watched during October. There’s some good stuff in here, so let’s jump back in time a few months and think scary thoughts!

dawn of the dead originalAfter a super busy September and October, I’m still catching up on all of the movies I watched for work and fun. After focusing on new films early on in the season, I decided to go through my movie collection and Netflix to make a list of films I wanted to watch leading up to Halloween. The list had a total of 26 films, though I wound up removing five. All told, I watched 13 plus the seven films making up the original Halloween franchise. I’m saving a few of them for another post, but I did want to throw out a few thoughts about what turned out to be a major rewatch experience.

As it turned out, zombies were a huge part of this year’s list. Dawn and Day Of The Dead easily made the list along with Dance Of The Dead, the Dawn remake and World War Z. I didn’t get to those last two, but I keep seeing more and more things in those two Romero movies that I love. I’ve been seeing a lot of people dump on the zombie genre lately. To them I say, watch those two movies. They are amazing films, not just horror flicks. Meanwhile, I still have a great time with Dance which is just super impressive when you take into account it’s a low budget film that doesn’t look it. This is easily one of my favorite zombie movies from the past few decades. Continue reading Halloween Scene: My Halloween Watch List

Trade Post: Tomboy By Liz Prince

tomboy by liz prince Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir (Zest Books)
Written & drawn by Liz Prince

Last month I got an email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a copy of Liz Prince’s Tomboy (Zest Books) and I jumped at the chance. I admit that I haven’t read Prince’s other works like Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? or Alone Forever, but I was immediately drawn to the concept of an autobiographic graphic novel focusing on a woman who grew up trying to avoid society’s imposed gender norms.

As it happens, I’m one of those guys that didn’t really think much about gender relations until I had a daughter. To be fair, I grew up with a single mother for a few years before she remarried, always had great respect for women and, because the girls in my grade school classes were so smart, assumed ladies were the more intelligent sex. So, it wasn’t like I was some he-man woman-hater going into father hood. I feel like I was a fairly open-minded dude, but there was just so much I never even thought about because of how I was born.

And that’s a great place to dive into Tomboy, because it’s about a young girl who, from an early age, realized that she didn’t fit into the rubric of what it meant to be “a girl.” So, she mentally eschewed everything that made her think of “girliness” and focused on being “more like a boy.” As she grew up, however, she realized that this made her something of an outcast from both groups. Eventually Prince made some similarly minded friends, met one of those key adults who “got her” and became this awesome person who makes autobiographical comics about her life.

Even though I might not have thought about these things much before the last few years, I did find myself relating to Prince on a variety of levels. I had a solid group of friends in grade and high school, but I was small, sorta smart and unathletic. I assumed from watching a lifetime of TV and movies that this could make me a target for bullying and did my best to just fly under the radar. As it turns out, Prince was a lot braver than I was as a kid.

But there were other personal connections I made to this work. As it turns out Prince and I are the same age, so the “boys’ toys” that she was into as a kid were the same ones I was into. I think that, had we grown up in the same neighborhood, we would have actually been pals, especially given our mutual love of all things Ghostbusters and, later, Green Day.

Back to the whole dad-thing, as I said in last week’s episode of The Pop Poppa Nap Cast, I’ve always been concerned about my daughter conforming to society’s ideas about what a girl can be. As such, I got worried when it became clear that she was a gigantic fan of princesses, ponies and all things pink. Soon enough, though, I realized that it doesn’t matter what she likes as long as she likes it because it’s something that appeals to her and not something she’s supposed to like. I do my best to offer her plenty of other entertainment options, which she also enjoys. Because of that, I have a daughter who’s been photographed in princess dresses holding a football and wielding lightsabers, so I feel like I’m doing alright in this whole thing.

One key element that I took away from Tomboy is that talking to your kids about societal norms and ideas is a pretty good idea. From the book, it seems like Prince’s parents supported her desire to not where dresses, but maybe they didn’t actually sit down with her and explain what was going on. It wasn’t until Prince met an adult who worked with her mom that was into making zines that she realized that it wasn’t her sex or gender she was mad at, but the ideas that people place on women and girls. Hopefully, that’s something I’ll be able to impart on my daughter so she can avoid some of the trials and tribulations. Then again, I have a feeling my awesomely headstrong daughter will be the kind of person who wants to make her own mistakes (something that will drive her movies-offer-enough-experience-for-me dad nuts).