Do you like comics? Do you dig horror? Then you should be into at least a few of these comic-based horror movies — some of which became franchises! Did I miss anything major? Let me know in the comments!
Last year I did this thing where every horror movie I watched during the scare season (which starts in September for me) would have a connection to the previous film. I fully intended to write about all 60-some films and my path from Return Of The Living Dead 3 to the new Halloween, but life gets in the way of our best intentions. At the moment, I’m feeling a renewed interest in blogging, so here we go with this year’s entries. Let’s see if anything can even come close to the horror show of a year we’re living through (it won’t).
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:
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
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.
For some reason I thought I hadn’t seen that many Wes Craven films, but after looking through his IMDb page, I realized I’ve actually seen a fair number of his offerings. Still, the ones that always stick out are The Hills Have Eyes movies, his Nightmare entries and Scream. So, when I saw one of his movies that I hadn’t seen pop up on Netflix Instant, I figured I’d cross another one off the list. That’s how I came to The Serpent And The Rainbow.
This is one of those movies that I know of, but went in knowing zero details. As it turns out, Bill Pullman stars as Dennis Alan, an anthropologist who spends his time traveling from one remote place to another, usually running into various kinds of mystical or supernatural elements. In fact, the main thrust of the film finds him in Haiti dealing with voodoo after his bosses at the pharmaceutical company task him with figuring out what turns people there into zombies. To clarify, we’re talking about voodoo zombies which aren’t actually the living dead, but instead living people acting like the living dead.
I won’t get into too many details on this one because, honestly, it’s been a few days and I can’t quite remember many of them. Pullman narrates the whole thing like it’s a detective story which is actually an intriguing element for a story like this. I also enjoyed seeing a more modern take on the original zombie concept considering the only films of that nature I’ve watched are Val Lewton’s I Walked With A Zombie and the James Bond movie Live And Let Die.
And yet, at the end of the day, there wasn’t much about this movie that stuck with me. There was a solid sense of xenophobic dread all around in the film, but I didn’t really connect to Pullman or any of the other characters. As such, all the crazy dream sequences — which really are quite effective — weren’t enough for me to really get invested in the story. I guess that just goes to show that you need more than an interesting story to make a great film.
Let’s see, I’ve blogged about my history with the Scream franchise a bit when revisiting the first and third installments recently, so you can head over there for a little more backstory. Basically, much like the Mission: Impossible franchise, this one was huge when I was growing up and really getting to understand and love movies. You couldn’t be a teenager and avoid them and I was cool with that because they were right in my horror wheelhouse. When I heard that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson were re-teaming for another sequel, I was curious but not intensely so. I tend not to get as excited about these things as I used to.
That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them, though. I actually had a great time watching this movie even if I had to break into three parts and only watch when the kid was sleeping. Craven and Williamson did a great job of using elements from the first film, commenting on them in this one and switching things up. In other words, it’s not a beat for beat remake along the lines of Hangover 2, but instead done in the same spirit and universe as the original.
This time around, the walking catnip for nutjobs Sidney Prescott returns home on a book tour only to find that a new person(s) running around killing people as Ghost Face. In this reality the Stab movies are almost up to double digit sequels and so people are very well versed in horror both real and fictional. Dewey and Gale, now married, are also involved though there’s trouble in their domestic paradise.
Things move along at a good clip with SPOILER a series of false openings starring pairs of stars talking about horror movies, usually before one kills the other. The kills were on par with what I wanted to see in something like this and I thought the cast, including all the younger kids brought in for the new generation, were really fun to watch. I like the kid that was supposed to be the new Randy, Emma Roberts did well and a friend and I both agree that Hayden Panettiere is mesmerizing. I was most surprised by how brutal some of the pre-kill fight scenes were. I didn’t watch a movie for Friday Fisticuffs last week, but I think this movie has plenty of good ones. I’d check and see if one in particular towards the end was on YouTube, but it’s a huge spoiler, so I’ll skip it.
I did have one problem with the film, but it’s not really the movie’s fault. I think I’m losing my taste for fiction that involves people going nuts for stupid reasons. I know it happens, but with the proliferation of procedurals, horror movies and real life news stories, it can be a little difficult to take so many reasons to kill. I had a hard time buying Stu’s motives in the original film and had equally hard time accepting that the killer this time was doing it just to be famous. Again, this stuff happens, people can be broken and damaged and do incredibly awful things to one another for no good reason, but seeing so many of these explanations gets a little tiring. The straw that really broke the camel’s back for me was an episode of Bones I caught recently where the killer did her thing because someone messed with her bushes. Seriously? While these things might make sense in their own little worlds, being a consumer of pop culture and being inundated with them can be a bit taxing.
However, I still liked this film and possibly more than the original. Scream is held up as this huge milestone in horror, the movie that not only made the genre’s films more self aware (whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen and lies in the eye of the beholder) but also gave my generation a horror movie that had a big budget and was also just plain good. On the other hand, I’m not sure how good it is on repeated viewings. I’m the type of person who definitely holds things in esteem because I was familiar with them when I was younger. So, I almost feel a little bad for not liking parts of Scream, but don’t have that connection with the newest one. That sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not. It’s an easier watch, it’s got a cast that’s equal to or better than the original and I think the creators really found a sweet spot in both of their crafts.
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.
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.
This might sound strange coming from a horror fan, but I’ve only seen the Freddy movies I’ve seen once, which makes it my least-watched franchise. Halloween’s probably the highest with Texas Chainsaw, Friday the 13th and Final Destination definitely ranking higher than it on my repeated viewing lists. When I turned 16 and could rent movies from Family Vidoe, I immediately started going through all the franchises I could, but never went back to Nightmare for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean I never wanted to go back though, so I asked for the two 4 Film Favorite packs that include all the Nightmare movies including Freddy Vs. Jason which I have seen plenty of times and already owned. On Friday, I had myself a little double feature and watched the first two Freddy films.
I think the original Nightmare still holds up pretty well. I can’t say it ever actually scared me, but I can imagine someone first getting into horror movies could still appreciate the classic scenes like the glove-in-the-tub, room-spin and geyser-of-blood deaths. Plus, in this first entry there’s a lot going for the franchise. The concept is incredibly cool: a killer who can only get you in your dreams. Hell, the entire idea of building a movie and then a series of movies around the craziness of dreams sounds fascinating, especially after seeing some really cool dream sequences, like the ones in The Sopranos. And, of course, Freddy himself is very creepy and potentially terrifying.
The problem is that the series doesn’t really hold up to all of those potentials from what I can remember. Perhaps the remake will pick up on some of these and run with them in new and interesting directions, but all the trailers are showing me is that they will be doing all of the exact same gags, but this time with computers.
If memory serves, a lot of fans don’t go in for the first sequel which came out a year after the original. This time, instead of the kids only contending with Freddy in their dreams, they’ve got to worry about Freddy actually taking over a dude’s body and killing them that way. It’s an interesting concept that gets ignored for the rest of the series from what I recall, but it seems like a logical next step for the narrative.
The film also has some pretty good effects itself, like when Freddy bursts out of the dude’s chest and brushes him off like Jay-Z does dirt off his shoulder. I will say that the film isn’t particularly memorable. I was working on some freelance while I had it on and I remember the main kid having to contend with a weirdly strict father who demands he empties the boxes in their room (they recently moved into the house on Elm Street from the original) and then dating a blond girl who becomes the final girl for lack of a better word. The main guy makes friends with a guy who seems mostly like an enemy who doesn’t go to the big party at the end of the movie. Oh, and the parents of the girl throwing the party go inside the house to have sex. As soon as they do the kids are like “Let’s really party!” and start blasting the music. Guys, they just went inside, it’s not like they hopped a flight to Crystal Lake.
Anyway, the film ends in the party scene where Freddy is free to run around and go after plenty of teenagers, but doesn’t really do anything but stumble around. Maybe he was enjoying a pool party of his own before crossing into the real world? Like I said, I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember enjoying the movie, or at least not being put off by it.
Actually, here’s something I’ve never thought of: what does Freddy do between terrorizing children? If he’s got all this power, he’s probably got a pretty rad set up in dream world. Ooh, I wonder if Morpheus from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman created him. Okay, I’m getting off track. I dug these two movies enough. I’m glad I’ve got them around along with my Friday the 13th box set and collection of Halloweens 1-5, but still prefer those other franchises so far. One thing I do remember liking about the series, aside from the next installment, is that I appreciated how they continued to build on Freddy’s origin, even if it got crazier and crazier as it went on. I don’t necessarily need an origin story for this psychopath, but I like that they tried to build on the character after a fashion. Oh, plus the covers to these movies are CRAZY.