Halloween Scene: The Great Chronological Franchise Project

It’s that time again. Some horror fans celebrate October by watching a movie or two a day. Others do deep dives into all their favorite franchises. I’m mixing the two up and putting a slightly different spin on it all with The Great Chronological Franchise Project! Because I”m some kind of glutton for punishment, I decided to put all of the original (non remake) films in the Psycho, Romero Zombie, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Scanners, Phantasm, Return of the Living Dead and even Final Destination series’ in release order and watch them. Here’s the list I’m working off of:

Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Great Chronological Franchise Project

Halloween Scene: Shock Value By Jason Zinoman

shock-valueIf 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

Halloween Scene Blu Review: Scream Factory’s Body Bags (1993)

body bags 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.

Revisiting Scream 3 (2000) & Iron Man 2 (2010)

Sequels are funny things. Like a lot of people who think about movies way too much, I tend to judge them pretty harshly. Do they hold up to the original? Are they better? Does this story make sense? Is it necessary? The real question should simply be, is it any good? Was it entertaining? Did I like it? Upon re-watching a pair of sequels recently, I feel like I’m either becoming a nicer viewer or (hopefully) less judgmental. I think there’s also something to be said for experience with a story making it easier to digest even if there are elements that you find bothersome. You know they’re they, you see them coming and you adjust your viewing as necessary.

That actually wasn’t the case with Scream 3, which I watched towards the end of last week. The first and only other time I saw this movie was in the theaters when it came out in 2000. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Scream series (you can read my review of the first one here), but they were gigantic to the horror community that I was just getting into as they came out. I remember liking the third installment, thinking that the filmmakers were really playing with the genre and having fun with it. I mean, it’s not a flat out comedy by any means, but I remember feeling a sense of winking towards the audience, especially in the scene where the killer throws a knife at Dewey and the handle smacks him in the head. That bit still made me laugh.

But, I wasn’t seeing or noticing the humor as much this time around. Yes, I was working and it was kind of on in the background while I was doing other things, but it just wasn’t as prevalent. I still liked the movie and think it’s pretty good, but there were two aspects that got on my nerves. First off, and I know I liked this at the time, but the Jay and Silent Bob cameos are just super weird and kind of pointless. I’m saying this as someone who loves those characters, those movies and Smith in general, but they really took me out of the movie. But, they weren’t nearly as bad as that ridiculous voice modulator thing that so much of the movie depends on. Does that kind of thing even exist? I feel like if it did, there would be an app. Anyway, I get the idea that it makes everyone you’re not seeing directly in front of you suspect, but it gets to the point where you as a viewer can’t trust anyone and just become more and more disconnected. It also made me far more aware of off-screen dialog which took me out of the store even more. Without that aspect, the movie would actually be pretty damn solid. I don’t even mind the retconning stuff because I think it fits in pretty well and all makes sense. Plus, it’s another not to old horror movies, though this one far more unsettling. With that, I’ve watched the first and third movies in the past few years and just need to rewatch 2 and see 4 for the first time. I’ve heard good things.

After writing up a piece about Iron Man 3 for Spinoff, I remembered that 2 was on Netflix Instant and gave it another watch. I honestly didn’t remember many of my opinions about the movie from the first time I saw it other than a deep desire to punch Justin Hammer in the face. After going back and re-reading my original review of the film, it turns out that that same elements spoke to me both times. I liked it, it’s a big fun action movie. The performances are great. I didn’t like Sam Jackson that time around, but none of that stuff bothered me this time. And, while I still despise Justin Hammer as a character and think he came off kind of cartoony, I don’t think Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of him is all that far from people like him in the real world.

It’s actually kind of funny that I remembered most of the scenes of the movie, but couldn’t remember how I felt about them. There were bits I forgot, like Tony Stark’s dad as a kind of Walt Disney character. I’m actually listening to a book about Pixar right now that got into some of the “I’ve got these ideas, but haven’t developed the technology just yet, maybe they will n the future” ideas that were directly stated in this film. It’s interesting how the things you’re reading/watching/listening to can inadvertently segue into one another.

Anyway, I’ve found that repeated viewings of the first Iron Man tend to leave me a little flat. I still like all the character stuff they did and Robert Downey Jr. makes an awesome Tony Stark, but the ending definitely has diminishing returns. I understand that they wanted to show that Tony Stark could perservere over a larger, more powerful oponent, but that battle is just boring the third or fourth time around. Similarly, the one between Iron Man, War Machine and Mickey Rourke at the end of this one’s a bit lame. You get that awesome sequence with them taking on the drones and then you finish up with Tony and Rhodey aiming blasters at the Ruskie and he explodes? Eh. These things are great the first time around, but don’t always make for the best repeated viewings which is what I want from my movies. Still, it’s a movie packed with fun and shows just one small aspect of how cool an Avengers movie can and hopefully will be.

The Weirdness Of Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing is a pretty weird character and not just because he’s spent a few decades in the Vertigo universe being written by guys like Len Wein, Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Diggle and Will Pfeifer among many others. In his first appearance–the above House Of Secrets #92 from 1971–Swamp Thing is actually a different dude and not the more familiar Alec Holland. His name was Alex Olson and this was his only appearance. Swamp Thing was later resurrected by his creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson for an ongoing series starring Holland’s version of Swamp Thing. You can check out these early appearances in DC’s DC Comics Classics Library Roots Of The Swamp Thing hardcover. I’ve only read the intro by Wein and the first couple issues, but it’s pretty fun horror stuff. The series went along for a while and then the inimitable Alan Moore came along and added his unique view to the character, thusly introducing himself to the general American comics audience. Moore came along and started on the title with 1984’s Swamp Thing #20, eventually joined by artist Stephen Bissette. At that time the book wasn’t included under the Vertigo banner because Vertigo wouldn’t come into existence until 1993, yet, the Vertigo logo appears on many of the reprints, like the somewhat recent Saga Of The Swamp Thing volumes which seem set out to reprint all of Alan Moore’s issues (Swamp Thing #20-58, 60-61, 63-64, Annual 2). I’ve read some of this stuff, though not yet in the aforementioned Saga hardcover format, though I do have it on my to-read pile, possibly after I acquire a few more of the volumes. Like I said, the comic would go on to become a big part of Vertigo in the 90s and carry on through part of the 2000s, but that’s not what makes him such a weird character. That would be his exposure to regular people thanks to two movies, a live action television series, an animated series, two video games and a line of action figures. To put that into some kind of perspective, that puts Swamp Thing into the same place as characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Yeah, just think about that for a moment. That’s right, Swamp Thing starred in not one, but two movies. The first one was written and directed by master of horror Wes Craven of all people and starred the bodacious Adrienne Barbeau and convention staple Dick Durock as Swampy, who unfortunately passed away last year. The flick came out in 1982, which puts it before Moore’s run on the book, though I’m sure it was a big influence on his writing. I know that I’ve seen the movie fairly recently, but I couldn’t tell you anything I remember about it and I didn’t blog about it, so that means I obviously need to watch it again. 1989 saw the follow-up to the Craven flick starring Heather Locklear and directed by Jim Wynorksi who directed Chopping Mall (which I swear I blogged about, but can’t find anywhere), Ghoulies IV and The Lusty Busty Babe-a-que starring Tough Love’s Rocky. I have zero recollection of this movie, but you’ve got to give it some credit for getting made (maybe).

Sure it looks more like a Toxic Avenger sequel than a legit superhero movie, but you’ve got to remember that there were very few legit superhero movies at the time (basically Superman, Superman II and that year’s Batman). Maybe I’ll check it out on Hulu. Anyway, after the release of the sequel, cable network USA kicked off a live action series in 1990 called Swamp Thing (you can watch the first season on Hulu or check out the full series on DVD) that also starred Durock. The show lasted three seasons, totaling 72 episodes, which puts it one season and 15 episodes behind Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman.

But a live action series wasn’t the only Swamp Thing on television in the early 90s as the USA version was joined by an animated series in 1991 which ran on Fox for only five episodes and tied in with a toy line from Kenner which outlasted the cartoon considerably. You can buy the full series on an out-of-print DVD. Before getting into the toys, which I do remember fondly, here’s a look at the cartoon opener which involves an awkward reworking of “Wild Thing” to fit Swamp Thing’s name in.

I have a very distinct memory of seeing this cartoon at my then-friend’s house when I was about 8. He had had a big sleepover the night before for his birthday, we were all eating breakfast while the show was on and there might have even been Swamp Thing-related cups and plates, which is probably why I remembered it lasting longer than it’s measly five episodes. Like I said though, the toys made a much bigger impression on me. I swiped these images from the ever-amazing Virtual Toy Chest, which has even more on display on their Swamp Thing page. What I liked about the line was the crazy action features. I was even able to work my version of the guy in this picture on the far left into ToyFare’s greatest action features feature which was a ton of fun to write. If you pulled his arm or leg the threads holding the figure in the upright position would loosen and he’d collapse into a pile of swampness. The middle guy completely glows in the dark as do his axe and mace while the guy on the right changes color with water making him look all brown (if memory serves).There were also a series of villains with rubber monster heads that went over their actual heads. Here’s a video of a guy’s collection of them on display in a room still in the packaging.

Oh, I almost forgot, here’s some footage of the game. There was a version NES and Game Boy, but it looks pretty subpar to me.

But, of course, the Swamp Thing media monster could not last forever and by the mid-90s he was relegated back the long boxes and comic shops for the most part. There has been talk about a new movie by Joel Silver, possibly in 3D and even talk about bringing the character back into the regular DC Universe which he used to be a firm part of. We’ll see where our weird swampy friend goes from here, but he’s already had a more impressive life than 90% of the comic characters out there.