80s Odyssey: Cloak & Dagger (1984)

cloak_and_dagger Over the years, I’ve come to realize just how much I love movies about kids dealing with insane situations. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering how much I loved Goonies and E.T. as a kid. I guess the real surprise is how much I still connect to those kinds of movies, even ones that I’ve come to more as an adult like Troll, The Gate, Explorers and Monster Squad. There’s just something so cool about taking pre-teens, putting them in these wild scenarios and seeing what they can do given their not-yet-adult ways of viewing the world.

I recently discovered a movie that perfectly fits this mold on Netflix Instant called Cloak & Dagger starring E.T.‘s Henry Thomas and Dabney Coleman. Thomas plays a geeky kid named Davey who has constructed an imaginary friend based on a secret agent from a table top-turned-video game who looks exactly like his dad (both played by Coleman) in the wake of his mom’s death. In his free time, he hangs out at the local video game store with his friend Kim or creates elaborate spy missions for them to act out in their hometown of San Antonio, Texas. While playing spy, Davey winds up with a copy of a video game called Cloak & Dagger that contains hidden government secrets. Of course, no adults believe him, so he has to go on the run as a series of incredibly serious people try any means necessary, including murder, to get it back. Davey’s imaginary friends appears throughout the film to help him avoid death and figure out his next move until, eventually, he realizes he doesn’t need him anymore.

I’ve got to say, I was surprised by how much intensity went into this Richard Franklin (Psycho II, F/X 2) kids movie. Not only is Davey continually hunted by predatory adults in this movie, but his video game store employee friend gets murdered, he realizes he doesn’t need his imaginary friend anymore and he straight up kills a guy. There’s no way this kid’s going to be okay with all this in the future. And it’s not handled in a wacky, cartoony way, so you get to see Thomas really going through some of this stuff on screen, or actively avoiding it so he can keep moving and live to see another day. I must also admit that it easily played on one of my biggest fears: people not believing you when something terrible’s happening because it sounds crazy. Since he’s just a kid who routintely talked about his made-up exploits, everyone thinks he’s full of it when he tries to tell them this crazy story about video games and spies and whatnot.

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but you really don’t see movies like this made anymore. These days, when kids encounter craziness, if at all, they’re usually in high school or beyond and a lot of the innocence is taken out of the picture. But, there have been a few films like the Spy Kids movies, Super 8 and even the upcoming Earth To Echo which all seem to take some of their inspiration from the movies of my youth.

If you’re interested in checking out Cloak & Dagger — which I highly recommend — look for it on Netflix Instant. If you’re looking to add it to your DVD collection (far as I can tell, it’s not on Blu-ray), there’s the basic version, a double feature with The Wizard which is another favorite from that era and as part of a 10 movie pack that also includes The Wizard, King Ralph, Matinee and a few others. I’m thinking about grabbing that last one because, of all the options, it’s currently the cheapest at $5 and I love a good deal!

Halloween Scene: Hatchet II (2010)

I wish I had watched the first Hatchet before watching Hatchet II. I’ve seen the movie once before and I know I liked it, but considering the sequel picks up right from the last scene of the previous movie, it would have been nice to do a kind of mini-marathon. Thanks to a fair amount of recap, I remembered what was caught up to speed (really, all you need to know is that Danielle Harris and a group of tourists got attacked by a slasher named Victor Crowley in the swamp, she was there because he killer her family members). As things pick back up, Harris is joined by voodoo practitioner Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) and a group of hunters to go into the woods and cap Crowley thanks to a bounty offered up by the good rev.

The story picks up pretty quickly, which I like, but not too quickly. We get enough bits and pieces about the different characters, none of whom are particularly awful and then they reach the location of their ultimate demise. And man, do these people get taken out in some creative and gruesome ways. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much damage done to the human head in a horror flick. Smashed, chopped, sliced, sawed, split, this one’s got them all and they all look good, which is impressive because a human head/face is one of the hardest things to replicate and make authentic-looking.

The story’s interesting and character’s fleshed out enough, but the two keys to this movie for me are the practical effects and the ways it plays with the conventions of slasher movies. I’ve already discussed the effects which might be some of the best I’ve ever seen, but the flipped tropes are also worth talking about. Without giving too much away, Victor doesn’t pick everyone off one by one until only the final girl is left. In fact, not only are the victims this time armed and hunting him (a change from the usual), but they also come upon him in a group and try to attack him at once. It doesn’t work out super well, but it happens. They also throw a character up against Victor who actually seems like he or she can do some real damage. And that ending! Did not see that coming.

I really don’t want to go into too much detail, but I think this is my most recommended movie this October. All the slasher conventions are there, though they’re also played with. The acting’s great, though not overly deep. The kill scenes are phenomenally well done with more blood that I think I’ve ever seen on screen. If you thought the slasher movie was dead and gone with acid washed jeans and Bon Jovi, think again. Adam Green’s the real deal, folks!

Halloween Scene: Child’s Play (1988)

If you were to ask the average person over 25 to name five slashers with their own franchises you’d probably end up with a list that includes Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy, Leatherface and…Chucky. When I started my horror odyssey so many years ago, I was way more interested in those first four than the fifth. In fact, I completely disregarded the Child’s Play series as a bunch of goofy movies with a doll trying to kill people. I’ve always had a problem with killer doll/toy stories because you can either melt them or they’re magic and you’re screwed. So, these flicks were never a priority, especially after seeing bits and pieces of the sequels on TV here and there and not being impressed.

But, since it’s a somewhat long-running and popular horror series–and the first movie’s on Netflix Instant, though not the rest–I figured it would make for perfect Halloween Scene fodder. And you know what? It wound up surprising me. Much like the Freddy flicks, the Chuky movies started out pretty serious and then bought into their own hype, making Chucky an over the top wiseacre.

As you probably know, Chucky started out as a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray who gets gutshot in a toy store and winds up doing a voodoo incantation over a Good Guys doll, thus transferring his soul. He winds up in the home of a young boy and his mother, slowly wreaking havoc in the process.

What surprised me about the movie is how long they play up the mystery as to whether the kid is actually nuts or not. He’s always saying the doll told him things, but you never see it. I don’t know if I ever really bought the idea that it could be the kid, though. I mean, obviously I knew the story going in, but I also didn’t think the kid showed enough creepy tendencies to be a murderer. The weirdest thing you see him do is make breakfast for his mom that includes lots of sugary cereal with extra scoops of sugar and completely burnt toast with an ice cream scoop’s worth of Country Crock. Heck, he looks scarier on the French poster above than he ever does in the flick.

By keeping the truth a secret, the film also builds the creepiness and withholds the wisecracks and profanity from the murderous doll until the end, when the mom is in on what’s going on and Chucky’s on a rampage. I’ll even say that the movie has some good gore/effects scenes in that end series of events, especially when SPOILER the doll’s all burnt up. I had a My Buddy as a kid and would constantly kick the crap out of it, so I had no problem seeing this facsimile getting all messed up.

I’m not sure how the rest of the movies go. I doubt there’s a Dream Warriors in the bunch that stands apart as an awesome movie on it’s own, but I’m a lot more willing to give them a look now that I know that they at least come from an interesting source.

Halloween Scene: Tales From The Crypt Season 1 (1989)

I have a very deep and honest love for HBO’s Tales From The Crypt series. I wasn’t very familiar with EC Comics before discovering the show and didn’t actually have HBO, but fell in love thanks to late night, toned-down episodes in syndication (I believe they were on Fox, if memory serves). Being unfamiliar with the types of stories told in those EC books, this show was my first real dose of those amazing kinds of endings where you realize that people either got exactly what the wanted or what they deserved in the mostly cosmically complicated, but appropriate manner possible. The woman who sold her beauty can’t get it back because her younger looking self is wanted for murder! Holy crap! I can’t say exactly when I started watching, but I do remember sitting in my room with a friend named John watching episodes. We weren’t really friends after 8th grade which would have been 1996-1997, so it was probably before that, just to give you an idea. The show also informed my early horror brain and was probably the first scary thing I watched on a regular basis until I was 16 and could start renting cheap VHS tapes at my beloved Family Video.

When I saw the first two seasons of Tales From The Crypt in a bundle at Target for around $20, I had to buy them. There are episodes burned into my memory that I wanted to watch again and ones I’d never seen that I wanted to have easy access to, plus you just can’t beat that price. Well, that was a while ago, but I finally sat down to watch the first season of six episodes last night and was not disappointed.

Walter Hill of Warriors fame (a favorite of mine) directed the premiere called “The Man Who Was Death” starring Bill Sadler (the guy who played Dwight on early episodes of Roseanne). Sadler plays an out of work executioner who starts taking the law into his own hands. “And All Through The House” is a campy Christmas-themed episode that finds a woman dealing with getting rid of her husband’s corpse and a psycho slasher Santa on the loose. That one’s directed by Robert Zemeckis. “Dig That Cat…He’s Way Gone” was one I remembered from the syndication days. It was directed by Richard Donner and stars Joe Pantoliano as a guy who gets surgically implanted with a cat’s nine lives. He uses them in a sideshow, but realizes his last trick might not have been such a good idea.

Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps) did another episode I remembered called “Only Sin Deep” about Lea Thompson trading in her beauty to a pawn broker and dealing with the consequences, as I mentioned above. “Love Come Hack To Me” was also remembered and one of the more influential from the first season because it made me really wary of crazy ladies. Amanda Plummer (Honey Bunny from Pulp Fiction) plays a young woman with a strange idea of how love and marriage work. Tom Holland of Fright Night and Child’s Play fame directed the ep. The finale was called “Collection Completed” about a crankpot retiring and dealing with his wife all day and vice versa.

The episodes aren’t exactly the pinnacle of complete horror or even horror comedy, but there are some great moments of those throughout. Plummer comes off absolutely batshit insane in her episode while Thompson really sells her vapid worry about her looks (even if the accent is a little ridiculous). It’s a pretty good gateway into the world of TFTC, the tone of the series and where they were looking to go.

The first season is only six episodes, all of which are on one disc. The second disc has a pair of behind the scenes features that I haven’t jumped into yet. One’s about the history of EC, which I’m not familiar with and the other is more about the series itself. I’m pretty excited about getting further into the series. After checking out the second season today, I don’t remember a lot of those episodes, so the third and fourth season must be the real memory gold for me. I’m sure I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.