Halloween Scene: The Burning (1981), The Mist (2007) & From Beyond (1986)

The Burning Scream Factory Halloween’s the best you guys! I’ve been able to watch more horror flicks than I expected considering our toddler staked her claim on the TV long ago. Still, I’ve been able to go back and watch some old favorites and also check out a few new films like the amazing Sinister.

A few weeks back, after earning a few extra bucks at NYCC, I decided to splurge on some Scream Factory Blu-rays. I snagged The Burning and From Beyond on sale. A subdivision of Shout Factory, Scream is a horror centric imprint that goes all out when it comes to special features, extras and great looking transfers. Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Burning (1981), The Mist (2007) & From Beyond (1986)

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.

Halloween Scene: Re-Animator (1985)

re-animatorWhen I was about 15 or 16 and just getting into the world of horror movies, it seemed like I’d never be able to catch up on all the classics. Of course, I knew about the big franchises like Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street — what kid in the 80s didn’t? — but there were so many nooks and crannies in this new genre to explore. Being the somewhat obsessive sort that I was, I combed the internet — such that it would have been circa 1999 or so — and remember printing off a list of something like the 666 best horror films of all time. I did a quick Google search that turned up basically everything and nothing at the same time, but if this strikes a chord in your memory, please leave a comment.

Anyway, one of the movies I kept seeing pop up all over the place — in addition to Evil Dead, George Romero’s zombie films, the Texas Chainsaw movies and some choice Vincent Price films like The House On Haunted Hill and The Abominable Dr. Phibes movies — was Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. I remember combing my beloved Family Video for these films (the videos were organized in a general alphabetical order instead of by genre), so I’d grab whatever I could. Luckily, Re-Animator was one of those films, so I saw it relatively early on. I remember liking the film — how can you not get into Jeffrey Combs’ craziness and those amazing special effects? — but I’m fairly certain it’s been about 15 years since I’ve watched this film all the way through. That has very little to do with the film itself and more of a focus on slasher films as well as a desire to branch out and watch as many unseen films as possible.

So, while flipping around on Netflix the other day, I saw Re-Animator was available on Instant and decided to give it another whirl. As you probably already know, the movie follows mad scientist Herbert West as he inserts himself into the lives of a med student and his girlfriend. See, West has developed a serum that can bring the dead back to life, an experimental process that he takes very seriously. So seriously that he cares about rekindling human life so much that he’ll extinguish it when he feels it to be necessary.

As it turns out, the two things I remembered most about this movie also happened to be the two best things about it. Combs is pretty much on another level compared to everyone else in this film. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s that he plays the obsessed scientist so well that he deservedly represents the prototype of that longtime character in the minds of many fans. The effects are also pretty fantastic, though I think my memory was reminding me more of the ones from the sequel than the original. Still, that bit where West drills through the corpse’s body is bonkers. And, of course, you’ve got the all-out zombie jamboree craziness at the end of the film.

I should note that I’ve only read a story or two of H.P. Lovecraft’s and can’t speak to this film’s accurate portrayal of the original story. I want to say I did read the original story — Herbert West-Reanimator — but honestly can’t remember. I have heard from people far more well versed in Lovecraft’s work that the film does a solid job of capturing the feel of the story, though. Even if I did, though, I’d be comparing the story to the book anyway.

I’ve got to admit, while I enjoyed this film, I can’t say it’s one of my favorites. Even with Combs being amazing in this film, it seems like I’ve seen a million movies where scientists eschew standard moral practices in order to follow their intellectual pursuits, so the originality in this one comes more from the Combs’ performance and the special effects which isn’t enough to launch this film into the upper echelon. I think if I’d seen this movie a few more times in my younger days, I’d be a lot more into it, but with more story experience under my belt it doesn’t pop nearly as much as it could have back then. Still, I have zero problem recommending this film and think it would easily find a place on the 666 horror films I’d recommend to a genre newbie.

Halloween Scene: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) & I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)

In an attempt to quell my fears with all the craziness yesterday, I put together a dresser and watched a bunch of horror movies starting off with Urban Legend, which I had never seen before. That flick reminded me of other late 90s slasher flicks like Scream and the IKWYDLS movies thanks to the cast of well known actors getting hunted down and slaughtered by someone who had been wronged in the past by one or more of them. I’ve had the two IKWYDLS movies sitting in my to watch pile ever since I was at Wizard and they cleared out the DVD library and gave away a bunch of freebies. Unfortunately, I didn’t find either of them nearly as enjoyable as Urban Legend. Oddly enough, this movie starts off with a similar discussion of the same “boyfriend on the car roof” urban legend I mentioned in yesterday’s review.

The plot revolves around a group of friends–Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Jennifer Love Hewitt–who accidentally hit a dude with their car and instead of calling the cops and doing the logical thing, they decide to dump him in the water and act like it never happened. Well, one year later, someone starts leaving notes that invoke the title. People start getting killed (including Johnny Galecki), mistrust spreads and eventually the killer is revealed and some people survive.

This movie was kind of destined to fail with me from it’s very inception. I hate movies or stories that rely on people making stupid decisions and then feeling like they can’t tell anyone what they’re dealing with for fear of getting caught. Had they called the cops when they should have or even right after someone started threatening them, it would have been okay. Heck, they weren’t even friends anymore after a year of college. If someone threatens to kill me, I don’t care, I’m going to the cops, no matter what Ryan Phillippe says! That’s a motto I live by.

The only really draw here is for vintage SMG and JLH hotness (two of my biggest teenage crushes) and I would assume the same goes for the fellas in the movie as well. I’m going to get into a little SPOILER territory here so get into another reason why I dislike the movie. Here goes. So, the killer winds up being some guy involved in the hit and run, but not the one they thought it was. Keep that in mind because it makes a lot of things make very little sense. For instance, they throw a red herring into the story–Galecki–and then immediately take him out by having fall victim to the killer. How would the killer even know he was there? He had just been hit by a car and was on the other side of a guardrail over a cliff. So, it doesn’t make logical sense, but it also doesn’t make story sense because you’d want to keep that red herring around to draw suspicion away from the four leads. Once he’s dead, you have to assume it’s either one of the kids or the guy who got hit. The twist that it’s some guy they don’t even know lessens the impact of the story and makes it a lot more complicated. In fact, I think I’ve already thought about this movie way too much. Moving on.

I guess I liked I Still Know What You Did Last Summer better than the original, but not by a lot. This time around, JLH is in college where she rooms with Brandy who’s dating Mekhi Phifer. Prinze is still back in the little town all the murders from the first movie took place in, which is why JLH doesn’t want to return for the Fourth of July vacation. JLH also has this dude named Will who’s sweet on her and, when Prinze decides not to go with her on a trip they win via radio contest to the Bahamas, Will winds up taking his spot. Once on the island, a storm picks up which cuts off all communication to the island as well as boats, so it winds up just being the leads and some of the hotel workers (including Jack Black as a white dude wanting to be a Jamaican rasta, Jeffrey Combs and the always lovely Jennifer Esposito) against the rain slicker-wearing killer.

There’s some interesting suspense moments like when JLH gets locked in the tanning bed (those things make me nervous anyway) and SPOILER Will’s reveal that he’s in on the killings was great “Because it’s not my blood.” But overall, it winds up being more complicated that necessary. Ben Willis (the killer from the first movie) used to live on this island and had a son who turned out to be Will who played a long con to get this group to the island. Much like the dudes in Scream, the level of acting chops a psychotic murdered has to have is pretty impressive.

The Scream sequels suffered from the same clunky explanations for their sequels. It’s always an unexpected relative or the original killer coming back (“They never found a body”). I think I prefer my killers to be supernaturally charged so the filmmakers don’t have to waste too much time thinking of why they’re back and killing. Michael Myers got up, Freddy lives in dreams. Done and done. I can not imagine the lengths they went to to explain the 2006 straight to DVD I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer. Blech, no thanks.