Alright gang, once more with feeling! Unless I decide to get my act together and do a post about my favorite comic-reading experiences of 2018, this will probably be my last recap post. On one hand, it’s been fun looking back at everything I watched and read last year, on the other, I’m reminded of why it’s fun to do these sorts of posts as they happen. Here’s hoping I do more of that! Anyway, this last batch of horror movies features a five-pack of movies that not only deal with the complexities of childhood both during and after that stage of life, but also emotionally devastated me (well, all but one). Alright, let’s dive in!Continue reading My Favorite Newer Horror Movies Of 2018 Part 2
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.
I’m starting a new horror-themed podcast with a guy who lives in a big spooky house all by himself! It’s called Dastardly Double Feature and you can listen to it here or check iTunes. On this very first episode Mr. Dastardly and I talk about two killer 80s slashers: The Burning and Terror Train, both of which have amazing Scream Factory Blu-rays that are must-own.
So far I’ve watched Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13 and Someone’s Watching Me, in a fairly short period of time as part of this whole Chronological Carpenter thing. That experience, plus a fairly strong knowledge and memory of Halloween have given me a good idea of what Carpenter was doing in the late 70s and earliest of 80s. It seems like he was interested in telling the kinds of stories that no one else was really interested in or capable of at that time. I can’t speak to how many TV movies focused on crazy peeping toms in the 70s, but he basically kickstarted the slasher genre with Halloween and did the kind of cops and robbers movie others weren’t even thinking of with Assault. I think it’s safe to say that his next movie, The Fog, was in a league of its own as well what with its strange visitors attacking a town via weather anomaly.
The film finds a coastal California town besieged by a supernatural fog killing people while shifting focuses between a variety of groups and characters. You’ve got mother and DJ Stevie Wayne who spends most of her time in the light station-located radio station she owns. Then there’s local Nick (Tom Atkins) and his newfound friend Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) who meet via hitchiking pick-up and get swept along with all this craziness. Meanwhile, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) discovers the dirty truth of his town and Mayor Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) does much of the same along with her assistant Sandy (Nancy Loomis).
I went into The Fog with pretty low expectations. I’d seen it once before, but it just didn’t do much much for me. One of the few things I remembered about the film was one of the less interesting elements for me personally and that was “ghost pirates.” Even as a long time genre, comic and horror fan, there’s just something about those words that makes me snicker a bit. As it turned out, it took me about four or five attempts to actually watch the whole thing in the proper order. This was far more about my inability to stay up past 11:30PM than anything else.
Anyway, after finally getting through the movie, I came away with a much better opinion of it, partially because I had an interesting realization while watching. Instead of being a haunted house story, which is a kind of horror tale I don’t always enjoy, The Fog is actually a haunted TOWN story. Viewing it through this prism made the seemingly silly idea of ghost pirates more palatable because it all seemed upscaled for the larger setting of this haunting story. It also helped me develop something of a theory about all this. Maybe the pirates aren’t as important because they’re not the real threat. The fog is. They might be more like an anti-body inside the mist which is why they don’t ever get fully shown. That’s not really backed up by information I learned by watching behind the scenes stuff, but it’s an interesting read of the material as presented.
You’ve got to give the cast of this film a lot of credit. Barbeau is fantastic as she casually flips between regular person and sultry DJ. It’s a nice set-up for her character before she turns into scared mother and fueled fighter. Then you’ve got the always-great Atkins playing regular guy Nick like nobody’s business. Seeing Curtis as an adult dealing with insanity was actually a fun transition from my memories of her more girlish character in Halloween. Sometimes young actors don’t get cast in their actual age and it felt like she did here and really got to play in that field. I haven’t even gotten into Leigh or Holbrook who both bring their years of experience and greatness to their roles. Everyone really went for their characters and gave it their all which helps when dealing with a movie like this that isn’t as easy to categorize as some others.
It’s funny how just a few years have added to my perspective when it comes to watching a movie like this. Even a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have understood Stevie’s absolute dedication to her job because jobs were just things I had to make money. But, in this film, she needs a job to take care of her kid. Plus, it’s not just a job, she OWNS the radio station, so the whole thing is riding on her shoulders. That’s a lot of pressure! I also plugged more into Stevie’s fear of being a witness to her son’s supernatural attack without being able to do anything about it. She’s just pleading over the radio waves for someone, anyone to help him without knowing if it’s working or not. That’s pure parent-fear right there mixed with unhealthy doses of helplessness.
If you’re looking for more traditional scares, the film has a few solid ones. The early one in the priest’s office got me. Actually, now that I think about it, Holbrook is pretty darn scary and intense throughout the film. There’s a bit where he pops out of the shadows at Leigh which is just amazing. There are some ghost scares that were effective, but it says something about a movie when I’m noting humans being scary and not the actual bad guys of the project which sets this pretty far away from something like the epically amazing Halloween.
I appreciated the film a bit more after watching behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD called “Tales From The Mist” shot when the DVD was put together. They actually made the movie without the pirate ghosts and a lot of the more atmospheric haunting aspects at first. A lot of that stuff was added in after the fact. I also learned that Carpenter compared the project to old EC horror comics which is interesting considering this is a tale of past greed coming back to haunt people, a common theme in those books. There’s also a solid look at how they actually made the fog effects in the film which was one of the biggest questions I had while watching. It’s a super clever idea, too!
In regards to Carpenter’s career and the people he worked with The Fog features a lot of previous and future collaborators. You’ve got Curtis and Loomis from Halloween, Darwin Joston from Assault, Barbeau from Watching (who also married) and a variety of familiar character names like Dark Star co-writer Dan O’Bannon and editor/pal Tommy Lee Wallace. Carpenter also wrote the film with Halloween co-screenwriter and produce Debra Hill who he would also work with on Escape From LA. Oh, and Dean Cundey shot the film as he did Halloween, a slew of other Carpenter films and tons of classics from the 80s and 90s. On a musical note, Carpenter did the soundtrack for this film as well and while I don’t usually notice such things, it did remind me of the one for Halloween on several occasions.
Up to this point, this was Carpenter’s most supernatural film, what with the ghost pirates and everything, but it’s interesting how other elements from his previous films come through. There are all kinds of shadow killers in this movie; not just The Shape, but many shapes. The end of the film also features a group of uncanny killers laying siege to a fortified building, much like Assault. Oh, and of course, there’s an independent woman facing off against a male villain wielding a sharp object. Always more of that!
While I enjoyed this film much more this time around thanks to a new and different understanding of it, I will say that I’m curious about finally checking out the Scream Factory version. I’ve heard good things, but I haven’t been able to find a copy of that version on the cheap. If you’re a fan of either version, what are the differences? What makes one version better than another?
With The Fog behind me, I’m on to a pair of Carpenter’s films that I own, Escape From New York and The Thing followed by Christine, which I’ve seen once and Starman, which I’ve owned for years, but never watched!