Here’s the funny thing about trying to tackle a big movie-watching project like this starting in September: the movies appearing on streaming change wildly when October finally hits. So, when it came to watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, I wound up running into a few problems. It wasn’t streaming anywhere for free, so I figured I’d buy a copy. The Blu-ray I grabbed on Amazon wound up not playing on my player, so I rolled over to FYE and got a DVD copy. This doesn’t sound like an epic journey, per se, but it took about a week! And now that movie’s streaming on both Hulu and Amazon Video.
This particular five pack of films all came out in 1986 and 1987 and features only one franchise kick-off accompanied by four part 2s. Only one of those sequels features the original director returning and only one could avoid the label of “bonkers” in my opinion. Let’s jump in.
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.
If 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
Last week had one of my favorite days of the year: a Friday the 13th! As it happened, my mom took the kids over to their place for most of the day which meant that, even though I had a lot of things to get done around the house, I could watch whatever I wanted.
First, I checked out Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse on my computer while getting my work done. I’ve had a copy of this movie for a while, acquired sometime after I watched it for the first time in 2009. I wish I’d read my review from back then because this movie is mostly boring and creepy in ways that don’t make it enjoyable (the brother-sister Psycho homage in the beginning, the truck driver affectionately caressing the boy’s face right in front of his parents who could care less). Unnerving scenes usually help build tension in a film, but since these have nothing to do with the actual threat of the piece, they just feel awkward, pointless and make me want to turn the movie off. I didn’t, but I did basically stop paying attention. That one will not be sticking around.
I had a much better time with a movie called The Shortcut that my buddy Rickey passed me a year or two back. All he told me was that it was directed by Nicholaus Goossen who did the excellent Grandma’s Boy (in fact, those are his only feature credits). Had I paid a little more attention to what I had, I probably would have watched this movie sooner because it stars national treasure Dave Franco, 30 Rock‘s Katrina Bowden and Raising Hope‘s Shannon Woodward, all actors whose work I’ve enjoyed at one time or another.
The plot revolves around Drew Seeley’s character and his investigationin to the weird guy living in the woods who terrorizes anyone who takes a shortcut near the school in a small town. Since he and his family just moved in, they’re not familiar with the rumors about the crazy old man who lives there. Soon enough, a group of high school kids take it upon themselves to investigate what’s really going on in a creepy old farmhouse.
I don’t want to get too much into the actual plot points because I enjoyed going into this movie completely blind and having a pretty good time with it. In addition to a talented cast and a script with just the right amount of twists and turns (or possibly one too many), I really dug this movie because it reminded me of the kinds of creepy stories we’d tell each other as kids. Where I grew up there were two consistent rumors that scared all of us, yet compelled us to tell all our friends. I don’t remember many details, but one was called the CK Killer (or possibly the KC Killer?) the other Dirty Mitch.
The former either supposedly killed or kidnapped a bunch of kids at my grade school and the other was a weirdo who lived near the park across the street from my house. I even remember kids pointing out a particular house on the bus route that he lived in. At one point the two myths collided, making them partners in crime. I just did a few Google searches for both names and nothing came up, so I guess they were complete fiction. Still, those stories — or at least the names and vague recollections of them — have stuck with me to this day and The Shortcut works with a lot of those same feelings in a way I haven’t quite seen before (or at least in a long time).
Okay, so I guess I lied above when I mentioned that I don’t want to talk about plot points too much. This paragraph features heavy end-of-movie SPOILERS, so why don’t you stop here if you don’t want the finale ruined. I can’t tell if I like or hate the end of this movie where it’s revealed that the main kid’s younger brother is also a crazy murderer, like the main villain of the piece. On one hand, it feels way too coincidental that these two pairs of brothers come into contact. On the other, it’s kind of an interesting. Either way, it’ll be interesting to watch the movie again to see if the seeds for this reveal are planted ahead of time or if it comes out of nowhere.
I love seeing horror movies that I’ve heard about over the years but never actually seen. I also love the TLC that Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint gives to films like that as far as presentation and special features go. So, as you might expect, I loved Scream Factory’s recent Body Bags Blu-ray.
Originally conceived as a Tales From The Crypt-like horror anthology series for Showtime. Body Bags features director John Carpenter as The Coroner, a creepy, pun-loving ghoul who opens various black bags in the morgue and tells the person’s tale. Carpenter directed the first two installments, “The Gas Station” and “Hair” while Texas Chainsaw Massacre mastermind Tobe Hooper came in and did “The Eye.” As with most of the horror anthologies I’ve seen — like Cat’s Eye or Creepshow 2 — this one features two solid stories and one weaker one.
I loved “The Gas Station.” It’s about a young woman named Anne (Alex Datcher) working over night in a gas station in one of those small booths so she can take money and sell cigarettes. While there she encounters a few creepy regulars, a few nice guys and a bum-murdering adversary who wants to add her to his kill list. Carpenter does a killer job of making this whole thing feel tense and dangerous. There’s a scene where Anne locks herself out of the booth and has to go find keys in the main building. I got super nervous during this portion of the short. Then you’ve got the end where she actually faces the killer. It’s great how Carpenter never leaves the gas station and makes it seem both cramped and huge depending on the scene.
There are a lot of fear elements here, many of which are simply related to work. She’s new, wants to prove herself and also make herself seem super capable. This seems like less of a pride thing and more a need for cash to keep putting herself through school, which is super important to her. You’re also dealing with the claustrophobia of the booth which goes from safe zone to cage and the seemingly expansive space between it and the main building.
Sometimes with anthologies or shorter form horror stories, they feel like truncated films, but I thought this story was perfectly suited for this format and used the timing well. Too much longer and it would be filled with too many fakeouts and lose suspense, which it has in spades.
SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH I want to talk a bit about the killer reveal in this one. Carpenter set up several possibilities for the killer in the forms of various customers — including a super-creepy Wes Craven — but I’ve got to say, I never once thought it was going to be Anne’s fellow employee played by Revenge Of The Nerds star Robert Carradine. He got me there. Even though I didn’t recognize Carradine right away, I knew he was a nice guy and didn’t even think about him again I also liked how Carpenter included a few nods to his other films like when Carradine’s character does the background sit-up Michael Myers style with Anne in the foreground.
I wasn’t nearly as interested in “Hair” which stars Stacey Keach as an aging rich business guy who becomes obsessed with his thinning hair. I understand that this is something that does get into peoples’ heads, but it’s not really on my radar. Anyway, Keach goes to Doctor Lock whose method for hair growth seems to work really well, so well in fact that hair starts growing everywhere. I won’t get into the end reveal, but I’ll say it didn’t do much for me. I’ve actually gone back and watched this segment with an eye for the satire of it all and enjoyed it a lot more.
Thankfully, I enjoyed the third installment, “Eye” starring Mark Hamill and Twiggy. Hamill plays baseball player Brent Miller who gets into a car accident that leads to the loss of an eye. He gets a transplant, but soon comes to realize that this new organ might be a bit defective as he begins seeing morbid scenes some of which are genuinely spooky. As it turns out the new eye came from a misogynistic killer who starts taking over his body which doesn’t work out so well for his wife. This is definitely the darkest, most intense entry in the series as Hamill struggles for his sanity.
It’s funny, while watching the movie again with audio commentary, “The Gas Station” whizzes by. The first time I watched, I was so absorbed and freaked out that it felt like a feature. Carpenter also points out that he used a station out in the middle of nowhere so it would feel even more remote and lonely. He also pointed out a number of shot set-ups that add to the feel of the picture. Carradine also joined in on the fun. The pair caught up a bit and talked about a few other things, but mainly stuck to the story at hand offering lots of insider details.
Keach comes on and does the same for “Hair” and it’s a ton of fun listening to these two longtime pros talk craft. More than that, Keach says that this story was very personal for him because his parents always told him to wear his hairpiece in part because his dad thought he didn’t make it as an actor for being bald. They even went off on a bit of a tangent about zombie movies after pointing out effects artist Greg Nicotero in a quick shot which was a lot of fun. Listening to this track actually framed the story in a better light for me which will definitely make repeated viewings more fun.
For “Eye” Hooper wasn’t available, so producer (and Carpenter’s wife) Sandy King and Justin Beahm talked about not only his segment, but also some of the goings on behind the scenes that went into filming the various segments and how the movie came to be. This one’s a bit more dry, but still really interesting.
The last major bonus feature on the disc is a doc called Unzipping Body Bags. Carpenter and King get a little more into the background of the show, which started out as an anthology script that they presented to Showtime who bit. So, they decided to do the first one without much thought to anything beyond this first offering. Carradine and Keach also joined in on the doc, which adds a lot of depth to the proceedings.
I’ve been on a John Carpenter kick lately and this movie just continues to build my feelings of affection for this director who has such weird, great sensibilities that have resulted in some of the most fun, creepy and adventurous films around.
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!
I’m not sure why I moved Disney’s sci-fi epic up to the top of our Netflix queue, but I did and I really enjoyed it. The flick reminded me that Disney used to make some really high quality genre movies back in the day (I still love watching 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea). I even read online that, because Lucasfilm wouldn’t rent them some of the special effects equipment they used to make Star Wars, Disney developed their own tech that was actually the best in the biz for a while. And, for the most part, the effects still really hold up. Some of the matte paintings could use some re-compositing to make the edges less obvious, but it was still fun watching the movie and guessing how they got away with the special effects. My one complaint is that I wish V.I.N.CENT looked a little cooler. When you look at him with his gigantic cartoon eyes he looks like a Snarf-like character that you’re going to want to punch, but instead, he’s pretty cool.
Also surprisingly cool? The cast. I was shocked to see it included Anthony Perkins Including “the guy from Psycho” in what was probably considered a kids movie is a fairly outside-the-box casting choice. Well, kind of. He’s got a crazy vibe in this movie too, just not “keep your dead mother around” crazy. The other big names on screen are Robert Forster who I don’t think I’ve ever seen in an older movie and Ernest Borgnine playing a role I didn’t expect him to be in. But, the two most fun cast members don’t technically appear on screen. V.I.N.CENT and Bob were voiced by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens! I’m not sure why they didn’t get billing, maybe it was a SAG thing. Anyway, it’s fun to hear them, though I’m not quite sure why you’d cast a potentially annoying southern accent as a robot or–in the world of the movie–you’d program a robot with said accent.
The movie itself has a fun plot. Perkins, Forster, Borgnine and company are on a mission in space and come across a black hole that happens to be monitored by Dr. Hans Reinhardt (played by Maxwell Schell) a rogue scientist who claims all of his crew died since monitoring of the hole started. See, in the future that’s one of the last untravelled territories and Reinhardt is obsessed with discovering its mysteries helped by an army of robots including the big red beastie Maxwell who looks like the villain of an 80s Saturday morning cartoon. As you might expect, things are quite as simple as they seem and there’s more to the robots than meets the eye.
I was expecting the twist ending, so it came as a nice surprise. There’s actually a good number of surprises towards the end, with characters making decisions that show their true character, but still offer some surprises. What seemed like it might be a corny cartoony type movie wound up being pretty nuanced with solid characters and a story that offered up its fair share of interest and surprises.
Meanwhile, I knew exactly why I wanted to watch Lifeforce and it comes down to two words and no, they’re not Tobe Hooper, but Space Vampires. That was the title of the book the flick was based on, but Canon changed it to Lifeforce to class things up a little bit. Anyway, the flick’s about a space-faring crew coming across a trio of preserved bodies. They take the bodies onboard their ship and next thing you know the ship’s deserted and heading towards Earth. The aliens get taken to Earth where they start wreaking havoc by sucking the energy out of living beings. From there it’s a strange mix of a vampire, sci-fi, zombie and save-the-world-while-trying-to-find-the-monster that seems to work even given the kitchen sink approach.
The reason horror legend Tobe Hooper wasn’t a big draw for the movie is because, well, I can’t say he’s done a lot of movies I like aside from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Funhouse wasn’t so good, his involvement in Poltergeist is up for debate and, well, that’s all I’ve seen. Anyway, Lifeforce doesn’t feel like the kind of move that the guy who created TCM would make, but I liked it regardless. There’s not a lot of horror elements, though when the practical effects do come into play, they look pretty great. There’s one scene where one of the vampires recreates herself that almost made my stomach churn. I’m just glad I wasn’t eating a jelly sandwich at the time, otherwise it could have been messy.
Another draw for the movie is the inclusion of Patrick Stewart. I spent the whole time thinking he might be one guy in the cast because I wasn’t sure when the movie was shot. The character didn’t really look like Stewart, but I didn’t know what he looked like in the 80s, so I was trying unsuccessfully to convince myself it was Picard. Of course, that wasn’t him, he shows up later in the movie as a psychologist who gets slapped around.
Anyway, Lifeforce is a really ambitious movie. A LOT goes on and the plot is pretty layered. I like how there’s even a theory that these aliens are what human vampire myths are based on. When you think you’ve got the story figured out it gets a little bit more involved and more interesting. I wasn’t expecting much from the movie, but it turned out to be a delightfully strange movie to have on while I did work. I can’t say I highly recommend it, but if you’re looking for an off kilter sci-fi movie from the 80s, give this one a whirl.
Blerg. I’m starting to understand why slasher movies got such a bad rap in the 80s. I knew nothing about Funhouse going in, not even that it was directed by Tobe Hooper, which I learned in the opening credits. I really only rented it because the title sounded cool. I still automatically think of Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I see his name, so I got a little more intrigued, and wondered how he’s scary-up a carnival (which are already pretty scary considering they’re filled with carnies). But the truth is that there isn’t much to be scared of in Funhouse.
There’s a lot of weirdness going on with this movie and I’m not talking about the carnival folk. You start off with a Psycho homage in the beginning with a girl who looks way too young to be topless in a movie, topless in a movie. We’ve all seen Psycho and our fair share of homages, so this was a pretty obvious fake. what was weird about it was the fact that it was a younger brother fake-stabbing his old sister in the shower. That’s weird right? I don’t have an older sister, but that seems like crossing a line into grossness, even for an adolescent horror fan. This starts a subplot that seems completely pointless as our final girl’s little brother follows her to the carnival, gets scared, gets found and then a nice carnie calls his parents to pick him up. It has nothing to do with the main story and doesn’t cross over into what’s going on with his sister and her friends. It’s a little disappointing because I like the idea of a kid alone against a threat, but like I said it goes nowhere. For more, hit the jump. Which leads us to our final girl and her friends. I think she knows the blonde girl, her Rick Moranis-looking boyfriend and the final girl’s date for the night Buzz. The two girls don’t have much personality, Rick is a stoner douche and Buzz is a pretty nice guy. All in all, they’re boring. And usually that’s not a bad thing because the killings start pretty quickly and we’re off in running. This time, it’s slow going. Really freaking slow. They hang out in the carnival. Look at weird animals and a baby in the jar (do they ever say that’s the big weird monster’s brother? I assumed it was). Then they decide to spend the night by jumping off inside the funhouse.
At this point the movie finally gets started. The kids witness some craziness involving a bruiser wearing a Frankenstein masks (he turns out to be the gross thing on the poster), we find out that he has a history of killing people and the movie turns into your basic “we have to protect our family” plot you’ve seen dozens of times. Even then, it’s still very slow. That’s what happens when you’ve got four potential victims (five if you count the kid, but like I said, he’s hardly in danger).
I also take issue with how freaking enormous the actual funhouse is. Not only is one level high enough to drop a rope around his neck and pull him up so high that the others couldn’t even reach his feet, but there’s also enough below it for a trap door to open and seriously injure someone and the final battle ground which shows all the gears and moving parts underneath the funhouse (which also seems to have 8-10 foot ceilings. I’m also not sure how they’re looking down on events happening. Structurally it’s confusing. Are they up a floor somehow? I kept asking myself these questions and, not being able to nail it down, kept getting distracted. Stories have to make sense, even on an architectural level!
If you’re looking for a rad carnival movie, check out Freaks, Ghoulies 2 and the HBO series Carnivale, as Funhouse doesn’t really take advantage of the setting, in fact, we only see two evil carnies. Where are all the other ones while all this craziness is going on in the funhouse? Blah. Next!