My Favorite Older Horror Experiences Of 2019

Thanks to an email from one of my editors, I realized it was New Year’s Eve! Funny how that works out. These might be coming out a bit later than the norm, but I figured I would jump in on the whole “End of the Year” list thingy. First up, I’m going to cover my favorite horror viewing experiences of films that came out several years back!

Continue reading My Favorite Older Horror Experiences Of 2019

Holiday Halloween Scene: Red Christmas (2016) & A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

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I’m pretty bummed that Blumhouse.com went through whatever changes they did because that means I can’t parlay my weird predilection for watching new Christmas horror films into cash. However, that hasn’t stopped me from continuing this yearly tradition. This year, I’ve checked out some classics like Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 and Gremlins, but also a few newer entries.

First off, I watched an Australian horror film called Red Christmas by writer-director Craig Anderson. I heard them talk about this one on the last episode of Shock Waves (#76 if you’re curious) with co-host — and my former BH.com editor — Rebekah McKendry saying it was bad and guest Brian Collins of Horror Movie A Day fame saying he kind of liked it.

Continue reading Holiday Halloween Scene: Red Christmas (2016) & A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

Halloween Scene: The Frighteners (1996)

the frightenersI want to say I saw Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners starring Michael J. Fox at some point in high school, but I can’t quite remember. I do remember seeing a special somewhere about how they did the ghost-wall special effects, but that’s about all I could recall. So, when I saw it on Netflix, and since I’ve been in the mood to watch movies I’ve seen only once before, I figured it would be a fun watch. It turned out to be strangely timely too considering I’ve been enjoying The Michael J. Fox Show and I just watched Jeffrey Combs in Re-Animator very recently.

The film itself follows the exploits of Fox’s Frank Bannister, a man who can actually see and talk to ghosts. Instead of using this power for good, though, he uses it — and the ghosts — to trick people out of their money. Basically, he sets up a haunting and then gets paid to get rid of the ghosts who simply ride back with him in his crappy car. In the course of a normal swindle, Frank becomes aware that there’s a hooded, Grim Reaper-looking figure killing people and ghosts. Frank and a recent widow become embroiled in this battle and the crook has to become the hero.

I haven’t been this conflicted about a film in a while, you guys.

One one hand, I love the plot of this film and was completely surprised by the twist at the end. I’m still not sure how or if it makes sense, but it made for good drama. Plus, Fox and his main co-star Trini Alvarado were a lot of fun to watch. I’m a long-time fan of MJF and love him in just about anything, but it’s also cool seeing him in kind of a broken down, action hero role. I can’t say that’s something I’m used to and it was a nice change. For the most part, the rest of the cast really got into their roles, I thought Dee Wallace and Julianna McCarthy really dug into their characters as the daughter and mother Bradley.

On the other hand, two elements of this film that keep it from being a true, timeless classic: the tone and some bad-by-today’s-standards CGI. While Fox and Alvarado play the whole thing straight, most of the ghosts seem like cartoon characters. This gives the film a kind of Beetlejuice vibe (as does the Danny Elfman score). And I think that would have worked well…but then Combs’ Milton Dammers shows up. If you thought Combs was intense in Re-Animator, you ain’t seen nothing yet. He’s a government agent who had been deep undercover with some cults and is now completely out of his mind. Oh, he also can’t stand when women scream at him. He’s just so over the top and bonkers that he’s nearly impossible to take seriously and definitely took me out of the film.

The bad CGI will probably take more people out of it, especially younger viewers. I’m sure they were great at the time, but everything just looks fake. That coming-out-of-the-wall thing just doesn’t work. The hooded villain is completely rendered in CGI and sometimes almost looks like an unnatural beast, but mostly looks like old CGI. This becomes most evident in scenes that include ghosts (who look like they were shot normally and then tinted blue) and the villain who is completely CGIed. The actors are doing their best, but it sometimes look like they’re just getting attacked my an ancient screensaver. The worst part is that some of the poorly CGIed scenes probably could have been done practically to better effect. I’d sacrifice some of the Reaper’s animal-like movements for a villain that actually looks real.

And yet, I fell in love with the characters and really appreciated the story so I’m giving this a thumbs-up with a “but.” I don’t see this ever happening, but I would put The Frighteners at the top of the list of films to get update with modern CGI. I have no idea how these things work, but I just kept imagining how much better the whole thing would come off with a more polished and update set of visual graphics. I think with better looking effects, it might balance out the parts of my brain that don’t like how all-over-the-place the tone gets.

The Chronological Spielberg: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

et I don’t think there’s a person my age who doesn’t have some pretty strong feelings about E.T. I was born the year after this movie came out, so it always existed in my brain. Back in my day movies tended to live on in my mind morso because of regular viewings on cable instead of tape rentals. But, I do have two very distinct memories of watching this movie. The first time, I was pretty young, maybe five or six, possibly seven. It was one of the few childhood Christmases I remember where my aunt, uncle and cousins who lived in Indianapolis all came and stayed at our house. Grandma also came in from Cleveland, so her whole family was in one house. That might have been the Christmas I got my Nintendo, but I know that we all sat down together, dimmed the lights and watched E.T. on VHS. That’s a great memory that still lives on in my mind.

The other important viewing of E.T. came in 2002 when the film was re-released to theaters with some extra scenes and all the guns edited out. I was 18 or 19 at the time and had been dating my future wife since early November of 2001, but since neither of us had a car or much money, we tended to just hang out around campus or maybe go out for some coffee. Eventually we decided that we should probably go out an official date, so we hit up one of the local Mexican places, caught the movie at the local, privately owned movie theater and got coffee at The Mean Bean. It was a wonderful date and I think we both really enjoyed watching the movie again.

Even with those two very fond memories, E.T. isn’t the kind of movie I purposefully revisited on a regular basis. I’d see bits and pieces of it on TV and I bought the DVD release of the 20th Anniversary when it came out, but I don’t believe I’ve seen that movie again since that 2002 viewing. The film lives in my brain in a weird, incomplete space where I have pretty solid memories of E.T. appearing, the frog scene and the bike stuff leading up to the end, but not all the doctor and sciencey stuff. I think it bums me out, so I forget it.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the deal with the movie if you’re unfamiliar or don’t remember too much. The film opens with a spaceship landing in the forest. We don’t know why they’re there, but they seem to just be looking around and taking samples. Some folks show up and scare the aliens away, but one of their own gets left behind. That alien, eventually dubbed E.T., finds his way to a house inhabited by Elliot, his older brother Michael, his younger sister Gertie and his recently divorced/separated mother Mary. Elliot and E.T. form a bond as the two become good friends and also form an empathic bond. We soon discover that E.T.’s not doing so great and wants to contact his people, so Elliot, Michael and their friends do what they can to save their new, weird friend.

The beauty of the film is its emotional heart. Every member of Elliot’s family has an emotional center that seems related to the others, but different. Mary loves her children, but also has a broken heart from her husband’s leaving with another woman. Michael is the only one who understands this and wants to protect her. He actually speaks a line that’s kind of the heartstone of the film early on to Elliot when he says something like, “Why don’t you grow up and start thinking of other people for a change,” to Elliot. Gertie does this in a more child-like fashion while Elliot’s entire arc revolves around the idea. That’s really what this film is about: empathy in all forms.

On a quick side note, I just realized something really great about this movie: the older brother isn’t a total jerk. Isn’t that how most of these 80s movies go? There’s always a jerky older brother who gives his brother crap and the two don’t even seen to be related. I don’t have any siblings and I understand that they don’t always get along, but it seems like, especially in movies like these from this time period, that dynamic was never more complicated than “the older brother’s a jerk.” Michael has a lot of depth and it shows in the film. I love the part where he’s so excited to hear about E.T. being okay that he jumps up in excitement and bangs his head on the ceiling. That’s a great bit.

And the movie is jam packed with great bits. I was especially blown away by the first 10 to 15 minutes of this movie which all seemed like a big homage to Spielberg’s previous hits. Of course you start off with a spaceship (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) that leads into the shadowy introduction of the film’s hero (Raiders Of The Lost Ark) and also something of a chase scene where you don’t really get a good look at the pursuers (Jaws). In fact, I didn’t realize this until I was looking through the film’s IMDb Trivia Page, but you don’t really see an adult’s face aside from Mary’s until the scientists show up. And guess who the villains are? Yup, adults. Spielberg might have stumbled upon the idea of keeping the shark hidden in Jaws because of technical difficulties, but he took that idea and used it in his other films.

Speaking of film connections, E.T. is a really interesting companion piece to Close Encounters because of the similarity of content but looked at from different angles. They’re both about people dealing with the reality of aliens but in very different ways. While Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy practically loses his sanity trying to get to the aliens, which doesn’t happen until the end of the film, Elliot finds his right away and goes from there. Another interesting bit of info I came upon while reading the Trivia page is that E.T. started as more of a horror movie where a family is terrorized by alien creatures. He went the nicer route and wound up using the nefarious elements for Poltergeist which he produced for Tobe Hooper to direct, but the two movies kind of work together as different sides of the same coin. Maybe I’ll give that movie another watch and see how they compare while E.T.‘s still in mind.

Aside from that, I’m going to do my best to get to the next Spielberg film in a more timely fashion. I’m going to watch at least Spielberg’s part of The Twilight Zone movie which I don’t always enjoy watching because I’m constantly comparing every frame to the original episodes in my brain. From there it’s on to my personal favorite Indiana Jones movie, Temple Of Doom. After that, I think I’m going to hit up the two episodes of Amazing Stories that he directed (“Ghost Train” and “The Mission”) before moving on to two movies I’ve never seen: The Color Purple and Empire Of The Sun. Should be a fun ride!

Halloween Scene: The House Of The Devil (2009)

So, a lot of people dig this movie. I started hearing about it some time last year, that it was a great, slow burn movie that looked like it was straight out the 80s even though it was filmed in 2009. Well, I can agree with that, at least. It does look authentic. From the cars to the old school Walkman and even the local news kicking it over to the local horror movie show (I think they’re showing Night Of The Living Dead). I guess it also feels slow, boring and confusing like a lot of 80s movies too.

As if you couldn’t tell, I’m not a fan of House Of The Devil. See, the idea behind the movie is that this girl Samantha has just gotten a great deal on renting a house, but has no money (kind of makes you wonder why she decided to take on this financial burden, eh?). She sees a flier for a babysitting job and ends up getting it, but there’s a twist. Let’s call the rest of the review SPOILER TERRITORY just for safety’s sake. The twist is that there’s no baby, but the ultra-creepy couple has an old lady who won’t bother the girl. After upping the pay, Samantha takes it. Her friend, who dropped her off, leaves (the house is out in the middle of nowhere Last House On The Left-style), so she spends most of the movie getting freaked out by sounds and what not. But it’s not even that interesting. There’s a freaking dance scene with her listening to her Walkman and knocking over a vase. Really? Has this ever happened to any living person?

Eventually, she gets drugged and knocked out. Then the mom and dad are back and the grandma’s a monster and she’s tied up and then she struggles enough to get out (I guess the other victims didn’t struggle to get out) and then she runs UP THE STAIRS. It goes from being boring to kind of crazy for a second to being just plain stupid and then ending with a bit of a shocker (followed by a huh moment when it turns out she’s still alive).

All in all, I wanted to like this movie, but an 80s aesthetic wasn’t enough to get me involved in the movie and my attentions soon wandered. Also, I liked the actress who played Samantha, but I wish the much more interesting Megan had been the main character.

Halloween Scene: Critters (1986)

Gah, damn you Ruins for taking up so many of the last few hours of today, you almost made me miss my self-imposed schedule of posting about something horror every day (the Star Wars Death Troopers thing doesn’t count). Okay, so as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I scored three Critters VHS tapes at a flea market. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen Critters, even as a kid, but I remember being amazed by the box art of the tape at the video store. Anyway, the box art is much cooler than the movie. I guess it’s aimed at a younger audience and I’m not young anymore, so it didn’t really keep my attention.

See, the plot of the movie is that these aliens called Krites escape a space prison (maybe it’s the same one from Star Slammer. They land on Earth and then these shapeshifting bounty hunters follow to take them back. It takes a little while to get going and then it’s not all that thrilling, like I said, aimed at kids and featuring a proto-Forrest Gump who swears he knew the aliens were coming. I hear he’s the star of the next few movies. It wasn’t a great movie, but it was good enough for me to at least want to watch the next three movies in the series, though I can’t promise I’ll still be saying that after another movie or two.

One thing I did want to mention is that I was surprised at how good the movie looks. They don’t cheap-out on the space prison or the space ship. I mean, they’re not mind-blowing, but they’re pretty good. Then the actual Krites look cool. I mean, they’re Tribbles with mouths, but they’re still pretty scary Tribbles with mouths. The gore was light, which again is understandable because this is like a kid’s movie. Gremlins super-light basically. I think I would ad Critters 1 and 2 movie posters to my man cave in a heartbeat. Also, this was definitely not my mystery Mini Monster movie. Damn, gotta keep looking.

Whew, made it!

Halloween Scene: Halloween (2007)

I’ve been avoiding Rob Zombie’s Halloween reinterpretation for a while now. When I first heard that Halloween was being remade I was skeptical to say the least. This is one of my all time favorite horror movies and probably on most other horror fans’ top 10 (at least). It’s a near perfect movie. So, why remake it? If anything, why not make a new sequel?

After it came out I didn’t hear any good things and figured it’d be best if I just left it alone. So, why did I watch it? It was in my house. It was sitting around for a while before I finally popped it in the old DVD player and was not impressed.

I’m not going to say that Halloween is a bad movie, but I will say that it seems to completely miss the mark on Michael Myers as a character and what makes something really scary. I know I’m not the first person to say that I don’t need to see Michael Myers’ crappy life to understand why he’s a psycho killer. What exactly is that point of showing us SO much of Mike’s childhood? All it does is kind of make us feel bad for him. But only kind of because that kid they got to play young Michael is way creepy. Just get to him being a huge killer killing people already. To paraphrase Patton Oswalt, I don’t need to see where the things I like come from, I just like them.

I’m going to switch over to my Live Blogging notes from here on out. To be fair, I was much harder on this movie than I would have been on a movie called Hallows Eve or something else, but hey, that’s what you get for recreating the BEST HORROR MOVIE EVER! Most complaints are in reference to the original movie.

*Oh, he has a shitty life? Thanks, I get it.

*Little Michael looks like a girl, he’s also too old.

*The bully looks like Shia.

*The principal looks like a zombie.

*Haha, now they’re saying Loomis was around before Michael went crazy? Ugh.

*The point of Michael Myers is that he’s just pure evil, showing him as an abused child (even a crazy one who kills animals) elicits at least a little sympathy. Also, I like the Michael just snaps in the original, it’s not a decline into madness it’s an elevator plummeting into the depths of hell.

*How is the bully letting himself get beat to death? Just get up! In real life, I feel like he’s try and get up.

*The blood looks like chocolate syrup.

*Why is his mom with that ass? I get making him a jerk, but seriously, what’s the point? There’s no explanation.

*Yeah, I get it, it’s the 70s, play something that ISN’T on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack. “Love Hurts”? Are you kididng me?

*Her boyfriend’s a douche “I want to do it with the mask on.” The MICHAEL MYERS mask? Ugh.

*Slits that mean bastard’s throat after taping him up. Pretty smart move for a kid.

*So, the boyfriend (steve) either is done banging the sister or is kicked out so he goes downstairs to make a sandwhich.

*Oh look, he’s hitting someone to death again. Inspired.

*Sis is next.

*Oh, also, killing everyone you know because you couldn’t go trick or treating is STUPID. this makes Michael seem like a bitch.

*Oh wow, he put on the MICHAEL MYERS mask. How prophetic. Blarg.

*Hey look, the baby we haven’t seen since the first scene. Will he kill her? OF COURSE NOT! Way to have no dramatic tension whatsoever. The people die in the exact order you think they would.

*Is that what an actual 10 year old looks like? I really have no idea. He seems older.

*So, he’s a normal-ish kid now in the asylum? Ha, and he’s oblivious. Perfect.

*Doesn’t remember what he did? Ugh. I hate this kid.

*YEAH, DANNY TREJO!!! Best interview I ever did.

*Danny tells him to live inside his head…wonder where THIS is going. CRAZY TOWN.

*He’s making masks. One of which is clearly Leatherface.

*HE’S SUPPOSED TO BE SILENT AFTER GOING TO THE INSTITUTION!!!!!! [I could definitely be wrong on this one, but I was not liking this movie pretty intensely at this point.]

*Woah, that nurse is a bitch. Also, probably dead soon.

*Oh no, the mom wants to kill herself. WHO CARES?!

*Old Danny Trejo!

*Why would they let him make all these masks?

*Tyler Mane DOES strike an imposing figure.

*Loomis isn’t supposed to LIKE Michael.

*Of course, the redneck guards are rapists.

*Why would you f**k with a GIANT?

*Michael just kills everyone now?

*The scene between Michael and Danny is tense (will he attack or won’t he?). Yeah, of course he does because this movie’s soulless.

*Why does Michael keep pulling Danny out of the water if he’s trying to kill him? A real murderer wouldn’t do that, it’s movie bullshit. Or he just wanted to smash him with a TV.

*Why does he zero in on this dude in the bathroom? There were a half dozen guys out there.

*Hey another knife kill. Wow.

*How is the jumpsuit not covered in blood?

*So, Laurie’s a crazy bitch? Awesome. [Introducing good girl Laurie with a lewd bagel/sex dance is a poor decision, first impressions and all that.]

*As if it needs to be said, we spend WAY too much time with Michael.

*How/when did he hide that knife and mask under the floorboards?

*DANIELLE HARRIS!!! I should have gotten an autograph when I saw her at Big Apple Con a few years back.

*Now they’re saying she’s Mother Teresa? After her weird bagel dance? Doesn’t jive folks.

*”Just keep the monkeyhouse locked until the monkey dies of old age.” – Loomis. This is great casting. I want to see him in a Halloween 6 remake, completely bat shit crazy.

*The girls are yelling shit at Michael. Why doesn’t he just kill them right there? That’s what this Michael would do.

*I’m still upset about the whole bagel thing too, mom.

*Micheal’s just walking down the freaking street! What happened to his stealthiness?

*Sid Haig, of course. I’m actually not afraid of him though for once.

*Why the heck are there title cards like “Trick or Treat?” After telling me it’s Hoddonfield and Halloween are these necessary?

*Haha, they party in the Myers house. Not a bad touch actually. Except he’s standing right there on the balcony!

*Michael’s killing yet another dude post coitus. A dude who wore a disguise of some kind. Yawn.

*Why do I recognize the gun store owner? [Can’t remember the character’s name by The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz is in this!]

*Holy crap, he just killed Laurie’s parents.

*Danielle vs. Michael, round 4, FIGHT!

*Cop’s face against the dooor as he gets stabbed looks pretty cool.

*Blah blah blah.

*He’s dead. Of course he’s not.

*Loomis: “What the hell?!” That’s a great line.

*Blah blah blah, she’s in the ceiling, they both go off the balcony.

*Empty that gun in his FACE! Aw, out of bullets. Of course. You should really check that ahead of time.

*Ken Foree was in this? Oh the dude in the truck stop.

*If it wasn’t called Halloween I think I’d be okay with it. You just can’t redo the classics.

They Can’t All Be Winners

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I haven’t been having a ton of luck lately when it comes to watching movies. Aside from falling asleep about a half hour in exactly no matter how cool the movie, I’ve been picking some duds (though still a few good ones). I couldn’t even get into watching Repo: The Genetic Opera for some reason. I’m not going to pass judgment on that one now because I was really tired, but I wanted to keep our Netflix queue going so I sent it back.

I did not however like an action movie I tried watching last night called Kiltro (2006). I made it about a half hour into that one before I fell asleep. I was hoping for an awesome action movie (as advertised), but instead I got a story about a guy who likes to fight and has a crush on a girl who blah blah blah. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want my action movies (and my giant monster movies for that matter) to be less talking and more destruction, unless they happen to be actually funny like Police Story 1 and 2. Again, I don’t really consider this a review, because I didn’t watch the whole movie, just letting you action fans out there know not to waste your time.

I also watched most of a movie called Hickey and Boggs (1972) which has a lot going for it in that The Warriors writer Walter Hill wrote it and Bill Cosby stars as a tough guy private detective along with Robert Culp who also directs. I didn’t have any problem with this movie, though it is a bit slow, I just haven’t finished it yet because it’s kind of long and it expires from Netflix on March 1. It’s in the same vein as Dirty Harry and is pretty cool, so I might finish it up today. Oh, and if you were wondering, yes it’s kind of weird seeing Bill Cosby as a tough guy, but he also pulls it off really well. It’s fun to watch. Again, not a real review, but just some thoughts.

That being said, I do have four ACTUAL reviews:

POPCORN (1991)

Man, the 90s were a weird time for horror movies. You’re looking at a time after the slasher glut greatly hindered the genre, but before Scream made them cool again. Popcorn is kind of a weird movie. The basic premise is that a college film club decides to hold a movie marathon to raise some money. But this isn’t any movie marathon, they’re showing movies with a gimmick like smell-o-vision or shock-o-rama. As such, they need an old movie theater to show their flicks in and a crazy old guy to help out (and then completely disappear) in the form of Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian). If you really liked the beginning of Scream 2 where there’s all kinds of craziness happening in a movie theater, then this is right up your alley as it seems as though a counterculture guy from back in the day wants his weirdo movie to be seen so much he’s willing to kill people for it (that’s not exactly the plot, but I don’t want to give too much away). There was enough quirky charm to keep me watching even though the movie isn’t awesome by any means. So, if that sounds interesting (oh and the fact that someone gets killed via giant fake mosquito), check it out.

THE ROCKER (2008)

I was really surprised with how much I liked this Rainn Wilson flick. I was also surprised with the huge number of cast members I not only recognized, but knew by name (for the most part). Wilson stars as a drummer who got kicked out of what became the biggest band of the 80s right before they blew up. Now, in modern times, Rainn’s down on his luck, but ends up joining his nephew’s band, which garners its own huge levels of success. Aside from the cast that includes Christina Applegate, Emma Stone, Jeff Garland, Jane Lynch (from 40 Year Old Virgin and a hundred other things), Jason Sudekis, Will Arnett, Fred Armisen, Jane Krakowski, Bradley Cooper, Lonny Ross (30 Rock), Demetri Martin and Aziz Ansari, I was really impressed with how well they pull off some moments that could have come off as cheesy. There’s also one part where Rainn offers up the emo lead singer some songwriting advice (paraphrase “let’s speed it up and switch it to I’m NOT bitter) and he actually takes it without flinching. Sure it’s kind of similar to a scene in That Thing You Do, but in this case the lead singer just decided to go for it instead of being a d-bag. The Rocker is one of those flicks that seems like it either went up against some huge other movie or their producers didn’t have the juice to put much/any advertising cash behind it, because there’s no reason that this shouldn’t have done way better (though I said the same thing after seeing Speed Racer, which I still really enjoyed, so what do I know).

I also watched a couple movies all the way through that I wasn’t really into and those were Bangkok Dangerous (2008) and The Crazies (1973). I’ll be honest, the only reason I wanted to watch BD is because I’ve laughed a million times at the Best of The Wicker Man video on YouTube starring BD’s Nic Cage. Man that’s a funny video. You can get to it here after reading an AWESOME article I wrote about horror movie remakes for ToyFare. Unfortunately, BD was no where near as ridiculous as I was hoping it would be (I mean, COME ON, it’s Nic Cage as an assassin!). Instead, it’s a pretty run-of-the mill story about an assassin who has all kinds of rules, but is starting to not want to be an assassin anymore. You’ve seen it a million times and this doesn’t really offer up anything new, unlike Grosse Pointe Blank which is completely awesome.

The Crazies (1973) is the first non-zombie George Romero movie I’ve ever seen. It was okay, but not all that interesting. Instead of focusing on characters and how they react to these crazy situations, it seemed like Romero was more focused on showing a lot of dudes in white hazmat-type suits rounding people up after a virus that makes people go bat-poop nutso, gets released in a small town. There’s nothing all that wrong, really, it just didn’t grab my attention like my favorite Romero (and horror) flick Dawn of the Dead does.