April 28, 2011

April's Horror Cat of the Month

Here's a new feature that I intend to do every month for as long as there are horror cats worth mentioning.

This month, it's the mackerel tabby from "The Sadist" (1963) in the Mill Creek 250 Horror Movies collection.

"Three people driving into Los Angeles for a Dodgers game have car trouble and pull off into an old wrecking yard where they are held at bay by a bloodthirsty psycho and his crazy girlfriend."

Psycho girlfriends like Judy (Marilyn Manning) really do love cats more than people but who can blame her?

For more horror cats, please check out http://horrorcats.blogspot.com.

April 27, 2011

Shutter (2008)

"A newly married couple discovers disturbing, ghostly images in photographs they develop after a tragic accident. Fearing the manifestations may be connected, they investigate and learn that some mysteries are better left unsolved."

I just watched the remake rather than the original version of "Shutter" because I like Joshua Jackson from "Fringe". Sometimes I choose my horror movies this way but more often than not it's simply about which ones I haven't seen for ages or whatever is most easily available. I also like Rachael Taylor in this although that's a bit of an understatement. I could watch her all day in anything whether she's acting or not. Yes, I am that shallow sometimes.

I've never seen the Thai version and I don't think that I even own a copy of it. I may be wrong about that because I tend to double-dip on all the remakes and probably have it stashed away somewhere. I probably wouldn't watch the original back-to-back with the remake though as, although it's supposed to be better, it's still going to be essentially the same story and I would be bored. Both films appear to have a very similar story to "What Lies Beneath" anyway so I'm hardly going to be giving out any prizes here for originality.

I still really enjoyed "Shutter" not only because Joshua's character, Ben, turned out to be such a nasty piece of work and got his just desserts but because I prefer ghost stories to any other subgenre of horror movies. Having finally caved-in and watched "Insidious", I was in the mood for something scary to watch. Unfortunately neither "Insidious" or "Shutter" were particularly scary so I'm still looking.

Not being scary really is a major flaw with all these PG-13 horror movies even if, in this case, the DVD that I watched is actually the "Unrated' version with a few more seconds of gory footage. It doesn't have to be that way. If you look back at some of the classics like "The Haunting" (1963), it really is possible to have a scary film without tons of gore, nudity and expletives every five seconds. I just don't know why nobody can make a scary ghost story anymore. The last one that even came close was "The Others" and that was ten years ago.

"Shutter" still had some quite nasty moments and what happened to Megumi really puts it outside of the PG-13 category whether you get to see anything or not. I don't know if kids would understand the bigger implications of what Ben and his friends did to Megumi so it's weird that the theatrical version had this "kiddie friendly" rating in the first place. I've seen quite a few toned-down from what should have been R-rated movies over the years and most of them just leave me puzzled about who the intended audience are supposed to be.

As a fully grown adult, I really understood the darker side of "Shutter" and, as much as I like Joshua Jackson as an actor, I really despised his character in this. There wasn't all that much to like about him anyway especially as he was really difficult to empathise with but his hot wife made me overthink things until I fleshed out his character a lot more in my own mind. By the end of the film, I almost felt sorry for Ben in the same way that Alison Lohman changed my affections from one minute to the next in "Drag Me to Hell" (2009). Human beings obviously have a lot of grey areas and make mistakes but, when it comes to horror films, you just know that their punishment is going to exceed what would really be justice for their original crime.

There really isn't much more that I can say about "Shutter". It has very good production values, cinematography and all those other throwaway words plus seeing a few bits of Japanese life here and there is always interesting. In saying that, "Shutter" could be set just about anywhere and probably would have worked equally as well.

Anyway, although the story moves along quite briskly and really gets out of control at the end, I had a pleasant enough time watching "Shutter". It may not be the best ghost story ever but it had a few good moments including yet another ridiculous death scene for John Hensley (Matt in "Nip/Tuck"). I recommend it as a Neflix rental but probably not as a keeper unless you find the "Special Feature" on spirit photography interesting.

April 23, 2011

Doghouse (2009)

"A group of men head to a remote village to help one of their friends get over his divorce; when they get there, though, they discover that all the women have been infected with a virus that makes them man-hating cannibals."

You know how I said that I was going to take a break from watching horror films? Well, as much as I intended to just relax over Easter by eating chocolate bunnies and getting stuck into my James Bond collection, Netflix decided to send me "Doghouse" and I couldn't help myself. I'd been waiting to see it for some time even though I knew that it was a horror-comedy.

Directed by Jake West, who was also responsible for the awful low-budget "Razor Blade Smile" (1998), "Doghouse" stars Danny Dyer (from "Severance" and "Closure"), Noel Clarke (from "Doctor Who"), Stephen Graham (from "This Is England") and Lee Ingleby (from "Crooked House", and who now plays Wyndam in the BBC's "Being Human").

Obviously there are a lot of familiar faces in "Doghouse" for fans of British horror movies and horror TV. One you might not recognise so easily is Christina Cole who was the star of the girly-horror TV series called "Hex". It was so bad that it made me change channels from Sky One to absolutely anything else at all so I can't say that I even watched more than two whole episodes of it. Christina plays the minibus driver, Ruth, who takes the guys from London to the isolated village of Moodley.

Basically, "Doghouse" is a zombie movie with a similar plot and wittiness to it as "Lesbian Vampire Killers" which was also from 2009. The only big difference between them is that one has zombies in and the other has vampires. Neither film is particularly funny and both set out to be as sexist as possible in failed attempts to bring back the "Saucy Seaside Postcard" humour of "Carry On" films from the 1960s and '70s. Is Danny Dyer the new Sid James? "Do me a favour, mate, innit."

Where "Doghouse" has the edge over "Lesbian Vampire Killers" is with the make-up and other practical effects. It really doesn't look too bad as a zombie horror film at all though obviously it's not to be taken too seriously as one. The "Zombirds" are the least sexy female zombies that I've ever seen in a horror-comedy but that's a good thing. If you ever encountered one in real life, it could be quite frightening.

The male characters try to be a mixture of loveable rogues and comic book nerds a lot like the ones in the similarly unfunny comedy "Faintheart" (2008). Yes, they are all stereotypes though I'm pretty sure that Danny Dyer just plays himself in every film that he's in because he is no different in any of them. As you can imagine, most of the characters get killed anyway.

Noel Clark is surprisingly good in a role other than Mickey in "Doctor Who" though you may find it amusing that his character is called Mikey instead. I know that he's worked with Danny Dyer before and it's obvious that certain British actors always show up together in the same productions presumably through being friends, having mutual contacts or the same agent. This nepotism was at its most obvious in "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) which a lot of people will mention in their discussions of "Doghouse" but not in the same way that I just have. Personally, I can't stand "Shaun of the Dead" or any "horror-comedy" for that matter so if I was to tell you that "Doghouse" wasn't as good as "Shaun of the Dead", it would be the same as me saying that cat turds aren't as tasty as dog shit. I have no desire to eat either of them particularly.

But, here's the thing, I didn't actually hate watching "Doghouse" as much as you might expect. The opening scenes with all the laddish London behaviour had a Guy Ritchie feel to them. I've always been a big fan of "Eastenders", "Doctor Who" and "Minder" (and anything else by Euston Films back in the day) so pretty much anything involving London has a bittersweet quality for me. Although it makes me homesick, I never want to live in London ever again. What you see in the background of English films really gives away how things have changed for the worse especially with the yobbish drinking culture that's taken over. When one more stereotypically oafish character turned up near the end clutching his beer can, Jake West (probably completely unconsciously) made a subtle piece of social commentary.

If you read too much into "Doghouse", you could say it had a lot of social commentary to it about the battle of the sexes in Britain but that would be giving the film way too much credit. It's just another throwaway production which obviously had a lot of work put into some aspects of it but not enough where it counts. If you are a grown man who still thinks that he's fifteen years old (a bit like my infamous hater) or you can switch off your brain enough then you might enjoy "Doghouse" a lot more.

I wanted to be able to say that "Doghouse" was the best British horror-comedy ever but it just didn't work for me. While it was nicely paced and had some lovely gore, I didn't really like the characters en masse all that much and the ending was annoying.

If you take the tone of "Severance" and dumb that down almost to the level of "Lesbian Vampire Killers" then you get the overall effect of "Doghouse". It's entertaining but instantly forgettable especially when you compare it to the much better, and more serious, zombie films available.

April 22, 2011

Derrière les murs / Behind the Walls (2011) - Teaser

"In 1922, a young novelist goes to the countryside to write her latest book and falls victim to terrifying hallucinations and nightmares."

The first French live-action feature shot in 3D!!!

Happy Easter!

I just had to post this because it has cats in it. :)

It might be good. What do you think?

April 21, 2011

Hy Ate Us!

I'm going to take a little break to watch some non-horror films before I burn myself out. I'll probably still be posting on my horror cats blog but I think I've done enough reviews for this month.

See you soon.

April 20, 2011

Fire Escape Cat is watching you!

Fire Escape Cat is watching you eat dead homeless people in the street!

Come and see the new "Horror Cats"!

Amityville III: The Demon (1983)

(AKA "Amityville 3-D")

"A reporter moves into the ominous Long Island house to debunk it of the recent supernatural events and becomes besieged by the evil manifestations which are connected to a hell-spawn demon lurking in the basement."

Call me crazy (I know a lot of my haters do) but I decided to watch the weakest of the Amityville sequels just to see if it had any cats in it. It was the first time that I watched it on the flipper DVD which I bought from Big Lots and I've had it in my collection for two years. Not only did it not have any cats in it whatsoever, I should have left it shrink wrapped. It was awful.

Originally "Amityville III" was filmed in 3D but I've never actually seen a 3D version of it available. I doubt that it would enrich my viewing pleasure in any way especially as it's still painfully obvious from the purple-edged images which scenes had small 3D enhancements in them. It's interesting that the gimmick has come into vogue again fairly recently though.

Just like all the other sequels with Amityville in the name, there is no attempt at any continuity with the story. Apart from mentioning the Defeo murders, there's no acknowledgement of George and Kathy Lutz's story at all. Of course, this was mainly due to avoiding any copyright infringement. If you thought that all the inferior modern remakes just cashing in on the name of well known franchises were a recent phenomenon, well, it obviously happened in the 1980s too.

So, yes, "Amityville III: The Demon" is yet another reboot of a pretty tired haunted house scenario. This time though it has the addition of several horrific and tragic "accidents" before ripping off five minutes of the scenes from "Poltergeist" with a team of paranormal investigators taking over the house. The plot lurches from one thing to another and at least two scenes seem completely out of place with no attempt at continuity or consistency whatsoever.

Since some people moan that I don't give away the details when I write something like that due to not wanting to give spoilers, in this case, the movie was so bad that I don't care. The first scene which had me wondering if I'd missed something was when the mother, played by Tess Harper, just appeared at the paranormal investigators' lab. What the hell was she doing there? How did she know the scientist? Was he supposed to be a family friend or just an acquaintance of her ex-husband? That's right she'd divorced her husband, Tony Roberts, and the miserable thing was still giving hanging around to give him grief! When she turned up at the Amityville house and wouldn't leave after their daughter's death, it was another moment where I was completely bemused. Why didn't Tony Roberts just kick the nutter out?

Now Tess Harper might be absolutely lovely to look at but every time she opened her bossy mouth, I couldn't stand her. Not only was the character she played absolutely horrible but her acting skills weren't up to the job either. Nobody else did much better either.

Lori Loughlin played the tragically doomed daughter, Susan. I've honestly never heard of her before but I think she may be kind of a big deal in TV now. I think the only reason that this film continues to be available as a DVD is because it also had Meg Ryan in it in what I think was her first film role. After an embarrassing start, Meg Ryan, playing Susan's friend Lisa, isn't too bad really and at least displays emotion unlike Tony Roberts.

I really can't get over how bad Tony Roberts was in this. I know the script was awful but, really, with his best female friend/work partner horrifically killed and then his daughter getting drowned, you would think he'd show some grief!

In a vain attempt to be positive, I could say that Candy Clark, who got top billing on the credits, did a good job with the only believable supernatural scenes in the movie but she wasn't exactly brilliant either. The only other thing to mention is that the jump scare with the demon and what it did to scientist Elliott West (played by Robert Joy) worked quite well too though it was still pretty ridiculous.

Anyway, I really don't want to say any more about this cheap and nasty rubbish. The effects were horrible, the death scenes were stupid, and there wasn't one genuinely scary moment in the whole abomination.

If anything stood out from "Amityville III: The Demon" (especially in 3D), it was all the purple-edged flies. And you don't need me to tell you what flies are usually found on.

Do not even be tempted to watch "Amityville III: The Demon" out of perverse curiosity. I'm locking it away in The Dungeon now and will never watch it again.

I need help with the name of a film

Here's a kind of competition for you. Let's see if you can work out the name of the film that I am going to describe using the few details that I can remember.

I just watched "The Disappearance of Alice Creed" (2009) which was excellent and I might review it later even though it wasn't a horror film. Anyway, it put me in mind of another film which I watched late at night on TVS or Meridian back in England probably around 2003-2004. I don't remember if I saw the beginning or the end and so have no idea what it was called.

Here are the bits that I remember:

1) Either a blonde American TV celebrity or pornstar is kidnapped for ransom.

2) She is shown either having sex or being raped (though probably not raped) on either a website or some kind of cable channel. The "rapist" is the leader of the gang of kidnappers who she seems to fancy a bit so it's not even rape. It's something like a business arrangement and not done for love.

3) Something to do with the kidnapping is to either boost ratings or get a load of internet hits with the result being a huge sum of money.

4) Maybe it isn't about ransom at all.

5) One of the kidnappers turns out to be the victim's boyfriend. He's black and probably famous but maybe not for acting. She has been in cahoots with him all along.

6) The head kidnapper is some kind of overly handsome actor who (and this could be a false memory) dresses like a medallion man with a white suit and black shirt. I'm thinking along the lines of Chris Sarandon or maybe someone with a beard... not sure about the beard.

7) Weirdly, the kidnap "victim" and her boyfriend have set up the whole thing.

8) I think the black guy kills his boss then the blonde kills him and takes the money.

9) Possibly she doesn't get the money either.

10) The film could have been made anytime from the late 80s up to 2000.

That's all I remember. I don't know why but I keep thinking that Traci Lords was in this but I know the blonde wasn't her. She's some kind of actress who isn't really an actress if you know what I mean, like a pornstar previously, but she did a pretty good job anyway.

Anyway, if you have any idea at all what this film is called please let me know. Even if you don't know, take a guess. You might be right.


I finally found out that the film was called "Stealing Candy" (2003).

From the IMDb:

Three ex-cons kidnap a famous movie star.

Director: Mark L. Lester
Writers: C. Courtney Joyner (screenplay), Dana Dubovsky (story)
Stars: Daniel Baldwin, Coolio, Jenya Lano and Alex McArthur

April 19, 2011

RIP Elisabeth Sladen

Elisabeth Sladen, best known for playing Doctor Who's assistant Sarah Jane Smith, has died of cancer. She was 63.

Meteletsa (2011) - New Russian zombie movie! Not yet released!

(AKA "Winter of the Dead")

"Russian Winter is a terrible thing... especially if it arrives in mid-July. Out amidst the icy storm, something raises its hideous head - a Russian zombie - senseless and merciless."

I don't often post anything about upcoming foreign horror films mainly because they often get delayed or turn out to not be worthy of the hype.

This new Russian zombie movie, however, sparked my interest because, apart from "Trackman" (which was pretty awful), Russia has never been known for its horror films. Forget about "Night Watch" and "Day Watch", they were great fantasy films but most certainly not horror in spite of being promoted as such.

Anyway, have a look at the trailer and tell me what you think.

RIP Michael Sarrazin

Michael Sarrazin, best known for starring opposite Jane Fonda in 1969's "They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?" has died in Montreal after a brief battle with cancer. He was 70.

Among Sarrazin's memorable horror movies were "Frankenstein: The True Story" (1973), "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud" (1975) and "FeardotCom" (2002).

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

"A family moves into their new home, which proves to be evil, resulting in the demonic possession of the teenage son. Only the local priest can save him."

Since I'm on an "Amityville" kick right now, I thought it was about time to rewatch this much maligned and controversial prequel which some wags refer to as "Amityville II: The Incest" for reasons which I'll come to later.

With a script by Tommy Lee Wallace (based very loosely on the book "Murder in Amityville" by Hans Holzer), this fictional account of the murders allegedly committed by Ronald Defeo is a masterpiece of dramatic license. Although all the names are changed from Defeo to Montelli, the family has more children, and there are a lot more supernatural goings-on, the source material is still pretty obvious.

Set in 1974 but with some anachronisms for the careful viewer, "Amityville II: The Possession" may not be quite up to the same overall standard as the original but it still has a few good moments. The house still looks as scary as ever with its evil-eyed windows plus there is a definite gloominess and feeling of dread for the first 60 minutes or so.

Burt Young from "Rocky" is typecast as a stereotypically thuggish Italian-American father, Anthony Montelli, complete with stained wifebeater and is instantly dislikeable. In case anyone forgot that he played Sylvester Stallone's brother-in-law in the "Rocky" movies, there's even a poster on his screen son Sonny's bedroom wall. Only truly eagle-eyed viewers will notice it though and I didn't until I was told about it either.

Jack Magner plays Sonny Montelli in what I think was the only major role in his career. The IMDb has only one more entry for him as a "Young Serviceman" in "Firestarter" (1984) and Googling doesn't shed any more light onto what happened to him after that. Maybe he just got bored with acting. It happens and it's always a shame but I expect his role in "Amityville II" was something that damaged his career even though he was really good in it. James Brolin, in the "For God's Sake, Get Out!" documentary on "The Amityville Horror" DVD claimed that he found it very difficult to find work for years after his starring role too.

Of course, the real star of the show is, no, not TV regular James Olson as Father Adamsky, but a deliciously young and hot Diane Franklin who you may know from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989). Yes, I've now got to the bit you've all been waiting for.

Basically, the possessed Sonny seduces Diane Franklin who plays his sister Patricia. I hate giving away spoilers but the controversy about this vileness and the reactions of some of the most famous movie critics of the time are quite well known. Leonard Maltin called it "alternately dull and disgusting". Surprisingly, Roger Ebert thought that the film was better than the original.

Personally, I think that the whole incest thing was laughably perverted. Sonny showing his sister's knickers to her and admitting that he stole them from the laundry had me smirking for all the wrong reasons. The whole scene is so uncomfortably contrived that quite frankly (no pun intended, Diane Frankin), it's embarrassing to watch.

Because the incest scene totally eclipses the rest of the story for most people, it's quite hard to focus on whether the supernatural and horror elements are any good. The effects are actually pretty decent in the ending which owes far too much to "The Exorcist" but there isn't a lot of gore otherwise.

Some dated but still quite nicely done latex bladder effects don't really have much of a scare factor to them but are amusing to watch. As ever, it really depends on your own point of view if any of them are gross, disgusting or just plain silly. I tend towards the last of those descriptions but I did think that the make-up was much better than the practical effects. While Sonny's transformation was similar to something from "The Evil Dead" (1981), Diane Franklin was made to look uber hot and slutty just when you thought that you wouldn't see her in the film again. That was a very welcome surprise and was almost as trouser-tightening as Linda Blair in "Exorcist II: The Heretic" (where they surely got the idea).

Overall, I think that the director, Damiano Damiani, did a pretty good job with what he had to work with although he really should have spent more time on Rutanya Alda whose Dolores Montelli was simply awful. I don't know what she thought she was acting in.

The ending itself, from the moment where Father Adamsky (whose name I associate with a UK popstar) persuades the detective played by Moses Gunn to let him take Sonny out of the hospital, is something which could only exist in a Dino De Laurentiis production and is necessary once most of the characters who you've got used to for the better part of the film have all disappeared. Some might say that the ending is noticeably tacked on just to up the horror quotient but there are indications all the way through the story that this is what will happen.

So, do I still recommend "Amityville II: The Possession" after all these years? Even in spite of its flaws, I do. If you've never seen "The Exorcist" or any other Amityville film then you will be thoroughly entertained by it.

"Amityville II: The Possession" has a high-quality look to it which hasn't allowed the movie to become too dated at all. Yes, it's full of as many clichés as one of my movie reviews but it takes a lot of chances by not following the predictability of every other "haunted house" movie which preceded it.

If you want a derivative yet somewhat original mix of the best bits from "The Amityville Horror", "The Exorcist" and "The Evil Dead" all rolled into one then "Amityville II: The Possession" is for you.

Nebular the Liar - Your 5 seconds of fame!

For anyone who read my previous post about some idiot called Nebular (or should that be "NebuLIAR"?) from a pathetic little blog called CineMarvellous then be aware that he's trying to start a blog war with me. Most uncool.

He's even gone so far as to post a warning to other bloggers about me. Hahahaha. What an idiot! Talk about overuse of the ad hominem!!! Yeah, I'm bad to the bone, baby. Watch out for mean old Dr Blood! He'll probably touch you inappropriately while you sleep albeit through your internet connection! Muhahahaha! :D

Guess what? Nobody cares and the blog war that he wants so badly isn't going to happen. It's not even as if anyone reads his blog full of one paragraph reviews anyway. The truly sad part is that his flaming of me is the longest and most interesting thing that he's ever written! Of course, it has to be interesting since it's about me and I'm apparently such an egomaniac. :D

It's certainly better than the harassing comments he left on one of my reviews such as:
"Like I care, dumbass. I've never been interested in your tasteless blog anyway. Your reviews are always hollow and full of cliches, but hey what could I expect from a moron like you, who's opinion depends on critic's feedback. Piss off, loser."

You should see all the childish insults and threats he's posted now such as, "Let's beat the crap out of this idiot!" which I assume refers to me since it's not at all obvious from his comment who the real idiot is. Does he not realise that making threats on the internet to attack someone physically is a crime? And what's all this over? Because I DISAGREED with a movie review? A movie review, I hasten to add, that wasn't even written by him! To say that he's retarded is an insult to retards.

The same thing happened to me last year with some Austrian guy called Maynard Morrissey who took great exception to my reviews of "A L'interieur" and "Calvaire" and wrote under one of them, "You, sir, are an idiot!". Why do these people get off by thinking that they can hide behind their computers and be so blatantly rude to other bloggers? Then to lie about it afterwards? Jesus wept! With hindsight, I didn't actually realise at the time that Maynard was Austrian, has poor English skills, and was probably just joking around. His arrogance and complete disregard for another person's humanity, however, put me in mind of a far more famous Austrian.

The best thing to come out of this is that NebuLIAR's comments section has provided me with the names of half a dozen worthless bloggers whose sites I will never follow now. If you read it then you'll know who to block too. You certainly don't want any drama from this clique of disturbed individuals on your own blog, do you?

I still stand by what I said about that crappy remake "Let Me In" which I posted under Porkhead's review of it:
But it IS dumbed down. Eli was a castrato, Abby is just a girl who is now a vampire so the whole "I'm not a girl" thing is made simpler and the relationship to the "non-father" paedophile makes even less sense. Also "Let Me In" just has stereotypical American high school bullies, amped-up gore to please the masses, Abby is now a jerky CGI monkey vampire, and the swimming pool scene is much weaker. But, yes, the only thing that needed to be changed was the cat scene, i.e. it needed to be done better not left out entirely.

So for having an opinion (based on an objective comparison of "Let the Right One In" and its inferior remake), I got told by NebuLIAR, "Dr Blood, you know what? Everything you say is bullshit."

So what? Who cares? I certainly don't especially when it comes to the opinion of someone who loves every film that they watch regardless of whether it's actually any good or not. The word "bullshit" equates to "lies" in my mind. Basically, he straight out called me a liar. Bad form, old boy, especially when I'm known for being one of the most honest movie reviewers you will ever encounter.

All he's done is increase the number of page views to my little website by a couple of dozen. Like I said, nobody cares or really reads his blog (or mine for that matter) in the first place. They only comment on his posts because he's a sycophant who will leave them a sugary comment back. By even posting his blog he's made himself out to be an even bigger fool than he was before. It's all about page views, baby, not the number of Google Followers you have. Oh, he makes me laugh so much. :D

I follow about 600 blogs (not 1700 like NebuLIAR suggests) because I want to read what the writers have to say. I couldn't care less if they follow me back or not. Sometimes I quit following them because they've let their blog wither away and die but I have a huge number of "ghost sites" (i.e. dead 'uns) that are still on my reading list in case the owners ever return.

As for me being constantly negative with my own reviews, hmmmm, I think at least 90% of the last dozen reviews that I've written have been pretty damned positive. They have to be since I'm working my way back through my "Video Vault" of films which I recommend in the first place. Obviously, NebuLIAR, was never a true reader of my blog at all. He skimmed it for what he wanted to see and made up his own deranged mind that I was just a "hater" in the process.

Does this jealous troll think that I have no life outside of the internet? I hate to break it to you but I do and you are never going to know about it. Blogging is only a VERY small part of my social life. It's supposed to just be a bit of fun but when something like this comes up, it really makes me want to give up entirely. No, I'm lying too now. I'm NEVER going to give up blogging based on the ramblings of some geeky fanboy loser with bipolar disorder.

Anyway, it's given me something to write about. I hope it amused you as much as it did me. :)

The troll strikes back! :D

What a whack job! Yawn! Same old jealous blah blah blah. Bored now.

Yet another new horror blog - The Horror Cats!

I've just started another blog called "The Horror Cats". Yeah, it's all about cats in horror films.

I'm going to add something to it every time I see a horror film with a cat in it. Since I've only just starting rewriting the reviews for the films beginning with "A" in my Video Vault, this may take some time.

Anyway, if you like cats and feel like adding another blog to your reading lists, either click the screencap above or this link: http://horrorcats.blogspot.com and become a follower.

Just in case you wondered, yes, I was getting bored with writing reviews of all the horror films that I've already seen. This is just a bit of extra silliness which I'm using to help me to concentrate even more on the films that I'm rewatching.

April 18, 2011

The Amityville Horror (1979)

"Newlyweds move into a house where a murder was committed, and experience strange manifestations which drive them away."

As I've already mentioned in my review of "The Amityville Horror" remake, I first encountered the story through Jay Anson's novel. I had the reprinted version with the silver cover (not the original one with the Dutch Colonial house on it which I found much later) which I remember buying from a revolving rack outside a souvenir shop on one of Jersey's beaches. No, not that Jersey shore but the Channel Island where I spent many childhood holidays. Even in broad daylight, in the hot Summer sunshine, the book absolutely terrified me. I got really into it, bought the matching silver covered sequels and the harder to read Hans Holzer spinoffs, and completely believed that everything about the haunting was real.

When I found out that there was a movie version of course I wanted to see it straight away but I was too young. I had to wait a few more years for "The Amityville Horror" to appear on TV. I can't remember which station it was on though I'm sure it was the BBC. Whatever the case, it wasn't censored or edited in any way. Unfortunately, I'd only just seen Margot Kidder reprising her role as Lois Lane and couldn't quite get my head around her appearing in a horror movie. Obviously I had no knowledge of Bob Clark's "Black Christmas" back then.

Seeing "The Amityville Horror" as a child wasn't a good experience. I didn't think anybody in the film looked like how I imagined them, I didn't like the actors, and, basically, I was thoroughly disappointed. Things had moved on and the story was being disproved plus I had bigger things on my mind such as "Salem's Lot" and puberty. "The Amityville Horror" was just another ghost story to me and, now that everyone was saying that it was just a hoax anyway, I lost all interest in it.

But things changed once I became an adult. I obviously bought the VHS version of "The Amityville Horror" and watched it during the 1980s along with all the sequels no matter how ridiculous they became. Although I was mostly bored by "Amityville III", I loved "Amityville 4" with the lamp and then hated "Amityville: Dollhouse". After that I gave up. The '90s weren't a good time for horror movies.

Having moved to America just over three years ago, seeing all the Dutch Colonial style houses where I live made me want to watch the original Amityville film again. Off I went to FYE and got a used copy of the flipper version with both widescreen and fullscreen versions of the movie on it. Having just moved, widescreen TVs were only beginning to catch on in America so I thought it best to have the fullscreen version too.

A couple of years ago, now that I was fully armed with a massive widescreen LCD telly, I found out that there was also a newer "high definition transfer" of "The Amityville Horror" available with a documentary called "For God's Sake, Get Out!" featuring James Brolin and Margot Kidder which I wanted to see. I bought it for $3 from Big Lots along with all the sequels and so now I have both versions. The newer one, which also includes a commentary by Hans Holzer of all people, is the on the right in the picture below.

But you haven't come here to read all this nostalgia. What you must want to know is how the original version of "The Amityville Horror" holds up today. Well, it's better than I remembered.

Now that I've outgrown the "Superman" movies, Margot Kidder is no longer just Lois Lane to me. Though I've never thought of her as ever being an outstanding actress either, she's really good in "The Amityville Horror". Hell, she's better than good, she's pretty damned sexy! I never even noticed that quality about her before until rewatching "The Amityville Horror" and wonder how I missed it previously. Maybe because, in spite of being eight years younger than James Brolin, she looks a lot older than 31 in "The Amityville Horror". Now that I've got to the age where I can appreciate MILFs (for lack of a better description!), Margot Kidder had me perking up with renewed interest and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

The relationship between James Brolin and Margot Kidder, as George and Kathy Lutz, is given a lot more attention in this version of "The Amityville Horror" than in the remake. You get to see a lot more interaction between them as they are buying the house and, because things don't immediately start going wrong, you get to know them as a couple you could care about. Well, almost. The characterisation still isn't perfect but it's better than I once thought. Also, although they have to interact with them, you don't find out anything much about their kids which is always a relief. I think far too much time was spent on the kids in the remake. This is very much a movie for adults and the focus is nearly always on the adults. I liked that.

Another thing which I really liked was that, as a story set in the mid-1970s, it was also filmed before the end of the decade came and everything looked right. The attention to detail and set dressing was immaculate. Half-unpacked cardboard boxes are everywhere and you are never allowed to forget that the Lutz family have only just moved in. At nearly two-hours long, "The Amityville Horror" could fool you into thinking that they've been in the house for years but it doesn't. Of course, the occasional onscreen caption about which day it is helps to keep track of time but, if you ever forget, you only have to look at how they are living.

I also have to mention the various outfits that George and Kathy wear. Plaid shirts and bellbottoms abound but only Margot Kidder's wedding outfit is particularly awful. She's really very neatly dressed and doesn't wear any of the "granny clothes" that poor Melissa George had to. You never get the impression that George and Kathy are poor and can't afford to pay their bills from how they dress. Appearances however can be deceptive.

Much speculation about the hauntings being a hoax has centred on the Lutzes financial situation. Yes, the film makes it clear that they are struggling, cheques bounce and George has been neglecting his business, and it probably adds a lot of fuel to the fire. I looked it up though and it seems that the Lutzes were never in any trouble with their mortgage and continued paying it for many months after they left the house. I always thought that they must have needed money pretty desperately too but I was mistaken. It's funny what films can make you believe.

Now the big thing is does the movie make you believe that the house is haunted? Well, as someone who watched the film on my own with the lights off, I can tell you that I even believed that my own house was haunted after watching "The Amityville Horror"! The atmosphere was pretty intense at times. It's not like there's any suspense or build-up to what happens, it just happens, randomly and without warning. One bit where you see a jacket lying on the sofa move slightly while everyone is getting ready for a wedding really got me. It's subtle but it's a lot better than most of the predictable jump scares in other movies. Having said that, "The Amityville Horror" has it's own fair share of unpredictable jump scares too.

The special effects may be horribly dated now but they were used sparingly. There's no over-the-top gore or real unpleasantlness other than the occasional "accident". Apart from a little sex scene, there's not a lot to prevent kids from watching it. I don't have any, I have cats instead, but I didn't have to shield their eyes from it so my opinion still counts.

One major thing that I really need to mention before I wrap up this increasingly epic review is that "The Amityville Horror" spends a lot of time on Father Delaney (played by Rod Steiger) and the Catholic Church. Since this is very much a tale about a supernatural evil presence, slight possession and hauntings, with a Catholic family at the centre of it, you know that the Church is going to be involved in it somewhere. They really don't get presented in a good light though and poor old Father Delaney really suffers after his failed attempt to bless the house. It's pretty obvious that the evil that inhabits the house is far older and stronger than the Catholics and, apparently, this is one of the few films other than "The Exorcist" where evil wins. I find all this Catholic hokum and their internal politics absolutely fascinating at times but not in a good way. I bet they hate "The Amityville Horror".

Other than that, the plot is more or less the same as the remake. George Lutz's "coming apart" is convincingly portrayed by James Brolin, and Margot Kidder is equally as defenceless against the evil that inhabits their home. There are some genuinely eerie scenes and only one unintentionally funny moment, i.e. the babysitter's dental braces, and, even though it's a long film, the pacing is pretty much perfect.

It may not be all blood and guts, quick cuts, and inappropriately loud music but "The Amityville Horror" will certainly hold its own in a battle with modern day horror movies. Having said that, supernatural horror movies may not be for everyone and, as tastes change, I can see this once hugely successful film going further down people's "top ten" lists. If you don't already know "The Amityville Horror" story then I still highly recommend that you watch this film.

April 16, 2011

The Amityville Horror (2005)

"A family is terrorized by demonic forces after moving into a home that was the site of a grisly mass-murder."

I tried rewatching this remake of "The Amityville Horror" earlier today and, although I made it through to the end, I only just managed it. Part of the problem is that I read Jay Anson's book at a really young age and it scared the piss out of me. When I saw the original version of "The Amityville Horror" (1979) several years later, I was slightly underwhelmed and disappointed. Watching a remake that has even less to do with the literary subject matter, especially now that I know it was all fake apart from the Defeo murders, just made me want to "switch it off and go and do something more interesting instead" as the lyrics to the theme song of the appropriately '70s kids TV show "Why Don't You?" sprang into my head.

Now, since everybody knows that I've been a fan of Melissa George ever since she was in the Aussie soap "Home and Away" which I watched religiously (sometimes twice a day) as a student, there is no way that I'm going to dismiss a film outright if she is in it. Similarly, although I'm not the world's biggest fan of Ryan Reynolds, he is a good actor too and I'll also watch just about anything that he gets himself involved in. You would think that having the two of them together in a horror movie would make it really good especially as they create enough eye-candy between them for all genders but you'd be wrong. They have no chemistry together at all and what makes that far worse is that they are supposed to a newly married couple.

Apart from the absolutely horrible MTV-style filming techniques which I'd tried to forget about in the many years since they were in vogue, the messy pacing and complete lack of atmosphere are more nails in this movie's coffin. I know that I seem to be skipping over the details about exactly how and where it all goes wrong but really it's from the start of the movie until the end.

Only one section of the film interested me at all and that was the stuff with Lisa the hot babysitter (played by Rachel Nichols). After that it was all about George Lutz getting crazier and more unkempt just like the original. And, just like the original movie, you don't get to know any of the characters that well while things are normal to even care about what happens to them later. I don't want to say too much about any of that at the moment though since I'm going to rewatch and review the 1979 version next.

I'll just throw a small spoiler into this instead. In the remake, Jodie is no longer a pig! Now that threw me completely out of the movie. In the book and the original movie, Jodie is a pig. In this remake, Jodie is just an ugly little girl who shakes her head like something out of "Jacob's Ladder" (1990) and invites people to stick their finger into the bullet hole in her forehead. All this reeks of trying to recreate this film in a kind of Japanese horror format which, of course, didn't even exist when Jay Anson and the Lutzes invented their story. It's all just wrong.

I have to give the filmmaker's a lot of credit for the make-up effects though. Not only did the pale scary ghost girl with black hair look like a corpse but both Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George looked really haggard throughout as well. I don't think that anyone apart from Rachel Nichols was glammed-up and it made a change from watching yet another horror movie full of unrealistically pretty people. The kids were particularly ugly as far as I could tell but then I don't like most kids in movies anyway. Without giving too much away with another spoiler, Ryan Reynold's character isn't exactly thrilled by them either which is a major (and slanderous) addition to the original story.

Although "The Amityville Horror" is supposed to be set in the mid-1970s, I really didn't get that feeling about it at all. The iconic Dutch Colonial house wasn't suitably dressed with enough '70s props and the eldest son being into the rock band "KISS" with all his posters and t-shirt was the only attempt that I could see to make it look like a period piece at all. I was a child myself in the '70s and so I know how things were supposed to be. All this was a long way from the grooviness and flared jeans of "Starsky and Hutch". Dressing Melissa George like a frumpy old woman should make whoever was responsible ashamed of themselves.

The culmination of all these inept technical atrocities which created "The Amityille Horror" remake is, of course, that the film wasn't scary. We've all seen people get haunted and go really mad in films before but it's never that scary unless it's Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" (1980). Ryan Reynolds may be a pretty good actor with awesome abs but his George Lutz is no Jack Torrance. I'm not going to compare my uber hot, angelic Melissa George in any other favourable way to Shelley Duvall either. But, yes, basically, the remake of "The Amityville Horror" tries to use a very watered down version of the characters from "The Shining" and doesn't do the greatest job of it either.

The obvious difference between "The Amityville Horror" and "The Shining" is that the former has a slightly more pleasant ending. If you go back to the books themselves, this is less so especially as the sequels and spinoffs to "The Amityville Horror" novel inspired just about every ghostie film from the "Poltergeist" franchise to this year's highly overrated "Insidious".

Once "The Amityville Horror" ended, I went through the special features on the DVD and watched most of the documentary about the Defeo murders. I've seen a more recent documentary about Ronald Defeo on one of the cable channels so I didn't make it to the end. It was a solid piece but a bit boring and certainly didn't sensationalise any of it the way that the late Dr. Hans Holzer, author of "Murder in Amityville", did. But, again, I'm back to the books.

As much as I wanted to be able to recommend "The Amityville Horror" to you, I can't. It strayed too far from the original source material and, in my opinion, probably would have worked much better as a haunted house movie if it hadn't tried to cash in on the "Amityville" name at all.

I'll be reviewing the original version of "The Amityville Horror" later even though I know that it isn't the greatest horror movie either. Some scenes in the original just work a lot better though and at least it looks the part. It probably would have been easier for me to review the original version first but I like a challenge and this remake was certainly that.

April 15, 2011

Scream 4 (2011)

(AKA "Scre4m")

"Ten years have passed, and Sidney Prescott, who has put herself back together thanks in part to her writing, is visited by the Ghostface Killer."

Even though I know that everybody else has been raving about going to see "Scream 4" for weeks, it doesn't really interest me so, at this present time, I'm just going to post links to other people's blogs who I know have done a great job of reviewing it already. As I see the reviews appear on my blogroll, I'm going to list them here.

Horror Movie A Day - Scream 4 (2011)
Super Marcey's Super Website - Scream 4
Black Sheep Reviews: A film review site - SCREAM 4
Horro's Gory Reviews: Reviews to die for!!!! - SCREAM 4 REVIEW
The Paradise of Horror - Review - Scream 4 (2011)
Zombies are Magic! - Scream 4: Meta Whateva
The Non-Review - N is For: Non-Review: Scream 4 - Shrunken Head Review
From Midnight, With Love - Scream 4
Obscure Movie Thoughts From An Obscure Movie Fan - REVIEW: Scream 4
Dinner With Max Jenke - Something To Scream 4
Things That Don't Suck - Scream 4
Freddy in Space - Scream 4: Just What I've Been Craven
Little Miss Zombie - MOVIE REVIEW: Scream 4
Mendelson's Memos - Review: Scream 4 (2011)
Dead End Drive-in - Scream 4 (2011)
The Diary of an Indy Grrrl - Scream 4, A Relevant and Refreshing Sequel
cinebrooding - movie review: scream 4
The World of Disgruntled Monkey - Review - Scream 4 (2011)
Cannelton Critic - "Scre4m"
The Horror Club - Scream 4 (2011)
DARKMATTERS - The Mind Of Matt - Scream 4 Review and Promo
Thrill Fiction - Scream 4

This may seem like a bit of a cop out considering that I'm usually right up there with the other "zero day review" people but I just can't motivate myself enough to go and see the fourth instalment of a franchise that, in my opinion, really should have died with "Scream 3" (2000).

I didn't like "Scream 3" and I've never really been all that enamoured by Wes Craven as a director. Yes, I liked "The Hills Have Eyes" (1977) and "Deadly Friend" (1986) but I've never been a big Freddy Krueger fan and the "Scream" series was more a miss than a hit to me as well.

I have no idea how a one-time "trendy teen horror" is supposed to work again with the main characters being far from trendy teenagers now but, maybe one day, I'll watch "Scream 4" on DVD and find out.

If you've seen "Scream 4" and have a review that you think I should add to my list, please feel free to post it as a comment below.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

"Two American tourists in Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists."

Do I really need to review "An American Werewolf in London"? Well, just on the off chance that there may be at least one person on the planet who has never even heard of it, I'll ramble about it anyway.

I haven't rewatched "An American Werewolf in London" for almost three months now, which is probably the longest that I haven't seen it since I moved. I really can't count the number of times that I've used this film to enter my "happy place", but it's been a lot. Some people might find it weird that a horror movie forms a huge part of my comfort zone which I have very little desire to ever leave, but it does.

I don't know what it is exactly about "An American Werewolf in London" which makes me feel all snuggly and cosy inside, since when I've tried to analyse it before, all I could pin it down to were the rainy, opening scenes set on the Yorkshire moors.

David Kessler and Jack Goodman arriving on the moors in the back of truck filled with sheep isn't a totally happy event. In fact, it's a huge piece of symbolism which gives away that they are just lambs for the slaughter, and the name of the pub that they then visit repeats it. But socially awkward as the fish out of water that they may be, the pair are so instantly likeable that you feel like you've known them forever, and that makes what follows even more tragic.

If you had some idea in your head that "An American Werewolf in London" was going to be a comedy based on its witty script then seeing Jack get brutally torn apart will change that pretty drastically. When David initially runs away from the first werewolf attack, it makes you wish that there was some way of saving him, but like the original "Wolf Man" starring Lon Chaney, Jr., you already know that he's been doomed from the very beginning.

Geographically speaking, "An American Werewolf in London" is somewhat flawed considering that the Yorkshire moors are over 200 miles away from London and the nearest hospital that David should wake up in after the attack would be much closer. Even taking into account the often maligned National Health Service system (which I miss more than you could possibly imagine) making some huge mistake, it's a huge plot hole which nobody has ever properly explained. But since the scenes on the moors were filmed in Wales, I suppose it's a moot point anyway.

A lot of people refer to "An American Werewolf in London" as a horror-comedy, and it's really annoying, especially for the director John Landis. It's a horror film with some moments of black humour, but it's primarily a horror film with a tragic ending. If it was a comedy then everything would be played for laughs, and there would be an upbeat happy ending.

"An American Werewolf in London" is probably best known for having one of the best human to werewolf transformation scenes in cinematic history. Make-up artist Rick Baker won an Oscar for it, and it's one time that you can actually trust a result from the Academy Awards. The transformation of David Kessler into a big, hairy, snarling beast was groundbreaking at the time and looks really painful. If there's any doubt in your mind that this film is a comedy rather than a real horror movie, that should be the moment that you realise your mistake.

"An American Werewolf in London" really only has a few moments of comic relief which, strangely, serve as a device to make the full-on horror scenes which follow them to be even more horrific. Giving the audience a false sense of security and then shocking the hell out of them is what makes "An American Werewolf in London" still a valid horror film today as it was when it was first released.

Of course, I'm a bit biased when it comes to the merits of "An American Werewolf in London". Not only do I view most of it through rose-tinted glasses, but it was one of the first films on VHS that I ever bought albeit on the "4 Front" label. I still don't have the "Full Moon" edition on DVD, just the regular "Collector's Edition", but I might upgrade soon to just to see "Tall Paul" Davis' "Beware the Moon" documentary which I know he spent years putting together.

Because no movie is ever perfect, there are obviously a number of flaws in "An American Werewolf in London" which I wish weren't there. For instance, David's bad dream sequences are messily placed and are more annoying than revelatory, and if they were cut entirely, it wouldn't make much difference as far as I'm concerned. Of course, some people like seeing David Naughton running around with his cash and prizes on show, and film buffs love discussing the ghoulish German soldiers who butcher his Jewish family, but I didn't think these surreal scenes were very well done.

Another thing which I've never liked is that the werewolf attack scenes are too short and you don't really get to see anything. I know a lot of that was to do with keeping the werewolf hidden as much as possible until the end, especially since as good as the design is, it's still animatronic and the animal's eyes are lifeless and dead. The same thing can be said of Griffin Dunne's puppet in the movie theatre scene. Maybe a CGI makeover would help these creatures to look alive, and I know from the documentaries on the "Special Features" that Rick Baker would definitely be willing to see it happen.

The best horror scene in "An American Werewolf in London" is, undoubtedly, the one where the guy gets stalked and killed in the Tottenham Court underground station. There is absolutely no humour involved at all, even the poster for the spoof porno film "See You Next Wednesday" seen on one of the corridor walls won't mean anything at this point. I wish that the rest of the film had more tension-filled scenes like this, but it is what it is.

My only big problem with "An American Werewolf in London", however, is the ending. Since everybody who watches this film really likes the love story between David and Alex, played by Jenny Agutter (just in case you thought that this story went into same sex relationships beyond the friendship of David and Jack), the tragic ending is not only saddening, but it's quite annoyingly rushed too. When the "bom diddy bom" from "Blue Moon" starts playing almost immediately over the end credits, the whole moment is lost. I blame John Landis for trying to fit every single song with "Moon" in the title into this without putting enough thought about where to strategically place them.

In closing, I may as well mention that I'm still amazed at how hot Jenny Agutter looks as Alex, and despite her very dated use of the English language, it's one of the few roles that I can stand watching her in. It may not be everybody's wish fulfilment to see one of "The Railway Children" get banged by the "Dr. Pepper" guy, but I'm sick like that, as you know. The shower and sex scenes are pretty racy even for 1981, plus there's a "film within a film" piece of soft porn which spices things up a bit too.

Incidentally, I've got Jenny Agutter's autograph, although not on a still from "An American Werewolf in London". I have no idea what movie it's from, so feel free to let me know. She looks a lot prettier than this in "An American Werewolf in London".

It's no surprise that I'm going to recommend "An American Werewolf in London" to you as probably the greatest werewolf film that's ever been made. The sequel "An American Werewolf in Paris" (1997) was a horrible disappointment, so you can forget about watching that. The Universal classic "The Wolf Man" (1941) isn't all it's cracked up to be either unless you like badly dated movies. One that gets mentioned by Jenny Agutter's character, Hammer's "The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), and the copycat Tyburn production "Legend of the Werewolf" (1975), would be my other recommendations.

For some people who absolutely hate werewolf movies, "An American Werewolf in London" may seem overrated, but as someone who has watched it a couple of hundred times over, I can assure you that it's not. Add it to your collection now!

April 14, 2011

Spider Baby (1968)

(AKA "The Maddest Story Ever Told")

"A caretaker devotes himself to three demented adults after their father's death."

Since my last post, a few people have asked me about Jack Hill's "Spider Baby" so I decided to do a quick review of it.

Starring several former big names such as Lon Chaney, Jr., Mantan Moreland and Carol Ohmart (best known as Vincent Price's wife in "House on Haunted Hill") plus a few that would be even more well known including Quinn K. Redeker (Oscar nominated as a writer for "The Deer Hunter") and, of course, Sid Haig, "Spider Baby" is a cult film featuring one of the first "adults behaving like little kids" scenarios.

Obviously, the real star of the show is the eponymous "Spider Baby" played by the late Jill Banner. No, she's not half-spider and half-baby or anything quite so ridiculous as that but her character, Virginia, certainly has a lot of other things wrong with her. Not only does she look amazingly like popstar Lily Allen but she has a fictitious disease called "Merrye Syndrome" which causes her to mentally regress backwards as she grows older. So at the age of 18 (which she was when "Spider Baby" was filmed in 1964), she acts like a very naughty and vicious 6 year old. She also likes to play at being a spider but I'll get to that later.

Basically, the whole Merrye family are afflicted with this syndrome due to inbreeding. Virginia, her sister Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn), and her Brother Ralph (Sid Haig) are the ones we see most of but there are also aunts, uncles and cousins who have all suffered the same fate.

As is nearly always the case with a horror film like this, everything would be just fine if only other people would leave the family alone. But this is one of the blackest and sickest horror comedies of the time so you know that isn't going to happen.

I was fine with all of it, especially the curiously sexy Virginia playing "spider" by tying people up and stabbing them to death with a pair of kitchen knives, but Ralph killing a cat for dinner was a little bit unnecessary. You don't get to see anything of course because you never get to see anything nasty happen in films of this nature, and it adds even more disgustingness to the dinner that Lon Chaney serves, but I hate it when bad things happen to cats in horror movies.

Rather than tell you the whole story, suffice it to say that this film is weird. As an even more dysfunctional family than "The Munsters" or "The Addams Family", most of the comedic elements work, though, as it only took a week to make before spending four years tied up with financial problems before it was released, you have to view "Spider Baby" as a product of its time.

Don't get me wrong, "Spider Baby" isn't a bad film at all. Sid Haig is reminiscent of the pinhead from Tod Browning's "Freaks", all the girls are beautiful (especially Carol Ohmart later on in her black underwear!), and, even though this is pure B-movie fodder, the story is written well enough to keep you watching right until the end. Most of the time, you can almost forget that it's a comedy too. If you've ever seen the original "Little Shop of Horrors" then this has the same vibe. It's not too serious but it leaves realism out of the picture as much as possible.

I'm probably in danger of losing my good taste in horror movies by watching so many of these sillier ones because I have to admit that I really like "Spider Baby". I like it enough to add it to The Vault so, even though I intended to go from A to Z, you'll just have to forgive this little gem cropping up so early in my alphabetical rewatching of everything else.

"Spider Baby" may not be an uber scary or very serious horror film but it is certainly worth a watch on one of the streaming public domain websites. Yes, it's a public domain movie so it's free! You don't even have to buy the "Director's Cut" DVD to watch "Spider Baby" unless you want to watch it on your big TVs with a little bit of extra footage and a commentary by Jack Hill. If you really like horror films though, you'll already have put this in your collection anyway.

April 13, 2011

American Gothic (1988)

"A group of yuppies charter a plane for a camping getaway, only to find themselves making an emergency landing on an isolated island. They are taken in for the night by the only inhabitants, the rapidly-religious 'Ma & Pa', who seem trapped in a Rockwellian time-warp. This proves to be every bit as unpleasant as it seems."

Having only recently watched "Girly" (1970), I was in the mood for yet another half-remembered film about nutters from my teenage years. "American Gothic" (no relation to the TV series of the same name) has been sitting unwatched in The Vault for so many years now that I only remembered it as being a fairly average slasher movie. Obviously, I must have thought highly of this Canadian film once upon a time so, without further ado, I gave it a reappraisal.

The DVD of "American Gothic" which replaced my ex-rental VHS copy is such a good transfer that you would honestly think that the film was made last week not 23 years ago. Although the opening scenes looked a little bit cheap and improvised, the production values and camerawork once the "yuppies" arrived on the island was very good indeed. Having said that, the acting still didn't noticeably improve until they encountered Rod Steiger, Yvonne De Carlo and, the instantly recognisable, Michael J. Pollard as their son.

It's funny how one film can trigger another in your memory especially when it comes to films about adults behaving like little kids who are isolated from the outside world. There appears to be a long tradition of this in horror films dating right back to "Spider Baby" (1968), and, in some ways, "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962). Recently we've also had an Oscar nominee using a similar format with the Greek "Dogtooth" (2009) which, in turn, was influenced by the Spanish "Castle of Purity" (1973). As I always say, there's nothing ever that original about the basic plots of horror movies. How the subject matter is presented is what really counts.

Combining religious mania with other psychoses is another overly abused theme in horror films too. You only have to look at Carrie White's mother for the ultimate depiction of how that works. In "American Gothic", it's more subtle as the emphasis is about maintaining Ma and Pa's obviously mentally retarded offspring and making sure that none of the family are corrupted by the outside world. The film throws up a lot of questions about how the family sustains itself, what forced them to move to an isolated island, and what exactly is wrong with them all but, even more so, what were the events that made it all go so very wrong? Pa has a very warped view of religion which, evidently, has not worked quite the way he wanted it to as a method to control his family. Throw in a smörgåsbord of broken taboos including murder, incest, necrophilia and all that other sexy stuff, and you can see where this story is going.

Of course, most of this is just a clever backstory to set the stage for all the kills which follow. Since the kills have no way of being very original, "American Gothic" relies more on the weirdness of the whole drama coupled with the element of surprise. Only one scene, on the swing, is predictable in a "this is going to end badly" way but it doesn't make it any less effective. Most of the events are so random that you wouldn't guess what was going to happen next in a million years.

The problem with reviewing something like "American Gothic" is that it's a borderline cult movie which you can either really get into or which will have entirely the opposite effect if you aren't in the right frame of mind. On one hand, "American Gothic" absolutely defines a world of craziness which you can barely understand but, on the other, it can still be argued to be a pretty basic slasher film dressed up to seem cleverer than it really is. You either have to pay a lot of attention to what's going on to overthink the film into cult status or pay hardly any at all to write it off.

Where "American Gothic" is severely lacking is characterisation. Whereas the nutters are all very well worked out, there's nothing all that likeable about the yuppies to make you even care about what happens to them. Sarah Torgov, as recovering mental patient Cynthia, actually gives a pretty good performance throughout but her peers are little more than two-dimensional and disposable. It's tempting to say that Janet Wright, as Fanny, is the only one of the nutters who really stands out but even her brothers have a little more depth to them if you watch closely. Every actor in "American Gothic" is still noticeably underused though.

So, I'm left with a conundrum. Does "American Gothic" have enough sex, gore and rock and roll to remain in The Vault? Well, in spite of not being overly gory, having only one really hot chick who unfortunately wears a very '80s jumpsuit throughout, and for not really living up to its potential, I'm going to let it stay. "American Gothic" is not a scary film but there is a demented creepiness about it all that entertained me enormously.

Alligator (1980)

"A baby alligator is flushed down a Chicago toilet and survives by eating discarded lab rats, injected with growth hormones. The small animal grows gigantic, escapes the city sewers, and goes on a rampage."

I first saw "Alligator" when it was introduced to an unsuspecting British public by Alex Cox, director of "Repo Man" (1984), in one of his far too short seasons of cult '80s films on BBC2's "Moviedrome". According to my Googling, this was actually in 1994 so, obviously, I was way behind the times with my knowledge of cult '80s American horror movies as I'd never even heard of it before. If it was ever shown theatrically in the UK then it certainly wasn't near me. Even my local Blockbuster didn't have a copy of it, and they had just about everything. The DVD version was only released in 2007 in America so there are probably still quite a few people who have never seen it.

The director of "Alligator", Lewis Teague, went on to do a couple of better known Stephen King adaptations, "Cujo" (1983) and "Cat's Eye" (1985), both of which I feel are hugely overrated by genre fans. I can barely make it through "Cujo" without wanting to slap Dee Wallace's character silly and "Cat's Eye" is a mixed bag which I only like on a personal level because it has cats in it.

There is a terrible sequel to "Alligator" called, imaginatively, "Alligator II: The Mutation" (1991) which coincidentally stars Dee Wallace who I've only just mentioned. Don't worry though, she isn't in "Alligator".

Having to rewatch "Alligator" again after all these years isn't really too much of a chore though. It may be little more than "Jaws on land" with a ridiculously large alligator instead of a shark but it isn't as camp as the trailer above makes it out to be. It isn't quite as serious as you might hope for either which is something that some people might appreciate more than others. I didn't notice any obvious parody of any other monster movies myself, but I suppose, given the subject matter, that it goes without saying.

"Alligator" isn't a bad film at all really but, thirty years on, it is getting dated. It's not embarrassingly dated apart from a few effects and some of the dialogue, but it still feels oddly cast and more like a TV disaster movie. I think that's more due to Robert Forster's presence than anything else though as most people would only associate him with a slew of '70s cop shows rather than his work in horror films.

Apart from the stupid premise, based on an urban myth, that if you flush your pet alligator down the toilet it will grow massive and eventually come back to get you, I still managed to find "Alligator" very entertaining. Of course a sick puppy like me has no time for all the contrived tense moments in the sewers but thoroughly relished people being eaten, especially the infamous kid in the swimming pool scene, not that you really see anything.

It's not often that kids get killed in horror movies as there appear to be some weird laws about what you can do with "minors" in a film. Well, obviously, all that has changed for the better with all the films about evil kids but, back in 1980, an innocent little kid getting eaten must have been more shocking. "Jaws" still did it first though.

All the gore, severed arms and legs, is quite fake looking now, but at least it's there. For the time, it was pretty damned good and the alligator itself isn't let down animatronically either. Some of the scenes involved a real alligator with scale models and if you look too closely you'll spot the flaws. My advice is to not look too closely and to concentrate on the good stuff.

"Alligator" is nicely paced apart from some minor lag in the middle where among other things a very stereotypically '70s celebrity big game hunter is introduced. Henry Silva plays Brock, the aforementioned hunter, with just enough arrogance to make you dislike his character instantly but not much else. If "Alligator" has a major flaw, it's this section of the film, which you can predict the outcome of a mile away and just want to be over. This is wrapped around a S.W.A.T. team driving the alligator out of the sewers into the city which is the least credible part of the whole thing anyway. As if people wouldn't notice a 30-40 feet long alligator trying to hide in the middle of Chicago.

Running jokes about Robert Forster's male pattern baldness abound and, if you look carefully at various wall posters and paintings in the background of some scenes, you will see that there are even more attempts at self-mockery concerning the subject of the film itself. If, like me, you have no sense of humour then you'll just be entertained by the attention to detail which is like something Joe Dante would do.

Anyway, as has been duly noted, "Alligator" borrows a lot from "Jaws" including various set pieces and even the background music. I don't think anybody was out to rip anyone else off here though as "Alligator" has its own fair share of original moments along the way too. It's about as similar as comparing two Westerns and saying that they are the same because they both have cowboys and indians in them. One could be "Rio Bravo" and the other could be "Carry on Cowboy", but that's as far as you could use the analogy to compare "Jaws" with "Alligator". "Alligator" isn't a comedy spoof as such, but you know that it isn't taking itself all that seriously either.

I really liked the first half-hour of "Alligator" and the action-packed end even though it was all way too predictable. I think the pacing was generally okay and even bits which seemed like padding added some little detail which tied things together. I'm glad that I rewatched "Alligator" again and can thoroughly recommend it. It's no more gory than "Jurassic Park" or "Jaws", but is still R-rated for no good reason at all (that I can think of) apart from a couple of minor swear words and some semi-nudity from Robin Riker.

If you can still find "Alligator" on DVD (I noticed that Amazon only has 7 left in stock) and you don't have any other man vs. alligator horror movies in your collection then you need to buy this. "Alligator" is everything that "Lake Placid" wanted to be but failed at, and you can be sure that with the success of films like "Piranha 3D" someone somewhere is already thinking about remaking it.

April 12, 2011

Alien (1979)

"A mining ship, investigating a suspected SOS, lands on a distant planet. The crew discovers some strange creatures and investigates."

If someone ever told me that they had never seen the original "Alien", not only would I not believe them, but I'd probably laugh at them too. This sci-fi slasher movie has been available in so many formats, shown on TV thousands of times all over the world, and has so much merchandise available for it that, even if you haven't ever watched it, you'd still know exactly what it was all about and who was in it just through hearsay.

When VHS tapes started to get replaced by DVDs, "Alien" was actually the first DVD that I ever bought although I had to return it several times to get one that worked properly. It seems that DVD authoring errors have plagued this movie right up to the famous HMV recall of the "Alien Quadrilogy" box set which is a shame.

I now own three different DVD versions of "Alien" due to changing countries and because I'm greedy. I chose to rewatch the "Director's Cut", and without Googling, I really can't tell you the differences between it and the original theatrical release. Any additions or cuts are either so subtle that I missed them, or I've seen "Alien" so many times that I just wasn't paying enough attention. I think Veronica Cartwright slaps Sigourney Weaver in the "Director's Cut" but not in the original although, as far as I care, it might be the other way around. Whatever version of "Alien" you watch, it's still the same story.

Now I may well be a bit of an expert when it comes to horror movies purely due to the sheer number of them that I've watched over the years, but when it comes to science fiction, I usually couldn't care less about it. Yes, I know that the space ship in "Alien" is called the Nostromo and its crew are made up of some kind of "space truckers", but as for the little technical details about who they are working for or what happened between now and the future that the whole thing is set in, I have no idea. "Alien" is just a horror movie set in space as much as it matters to me. It could be the same scenario on a plane, a boat or set in a cabin in the woods, but it's still a slasher film with a big predatory monster doing all the killing rather than some deranged guy in a mask.

I also know that the alien itself was designed by H.R Giger, and although I'm not consciously familiar with anything else that the Swiss surrealist artist has done, I'd bet a ton of money on the fact that it was probably the best work he ever did. Giger's alien is now such a ridiculously iconic figure that the few glimpses that you actually have of it in "Alien" don't really matter. You know that it's something big and nasty with several sets of teeth and claws which is going to hurt you severely if you are stupid enough to get yourself caught by it.

If "Alien" has any flaws at all as a movie then it's simply the cliché of a group of people who should know better deciding to split up into smaller groups to try and track the monster down and kill it. That scenario had been done to death even before Ridley Scott had the genius idea to set the whole thing in space where "no one can hear you scream".

Of course, only a few years earlier, Steven Spielberg did much the same thing with "Jaws", but whereas his shark put people off going into the water, I've never had any yearning to become an astronaut and go alien hunting anyway. Therein lies a subtle distancing that might put a lot of people who hate science fiction off wanting to watch "Alien" in the first place. Since it's hardly another "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" filled with funny looking people with weird heads, you'd really be missing out on one of the scariest and most adrenaline pumping horror movies of all time if you dismissed this film so easily.

Some of the jump scares which worked for me initially have become almost comical over the years especially John Hurt's famous chestburster scene. It seems that when it was filmed, Veronica Cartwright had no idea what was going to happen and her response is as real as it gets. Personally, I hate spidery things so I was already quite anxious from the previous facehugger stuff, and it made me jump when I first saw it too. I was, however, quite relieved that it was a snaky thing and not another spider.

Here's an autographed picture I have of one of the most memorable moments in film:

I remember, back in the '80s, loads of people buying t-shirts with latex chestbursters hanging out of the front of them as what used to be one of the most frightening movie moments began to lose its impact somewhat. Darlene's choice of Hallowe'en costume from one of the "Roseanne" TV shows sums up exactly how most kids felt about it. Watching the chestburster scene now just has me on titter alert and I actually find the baby alien that pops out to be quite cute. How it shrieks and scuttles off now has quite the opposite effect on me to what was originally intended.

Other notable memories for me were obviously based round Sigourney Weaver's extremely ugly and far too small knickers. Watching "Alien" again as a fully grown adult doesn't really do the same things to me that it did when I was going through puberty. I still don't really like Ripley as a character until "Aliens" but can appreciate Veronica Cartwright in a much more sexual way instead.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. All the claustrophobic stalking and killing is what makes "Alien" special, and it's that which you really want to know about. Well, I'm not going to tell you about it because you just have to see it all for yourself and experience it. If the action scenes don't get your heart beating faster then you've simply been spoiled and burnt out by too many torture porn movies.

"Alien" is over 30 years old now, but I still recommend it as a horror movie that everyone should have in their collection. Try to forget all the sequels (except "Aliens") and wish that all the "AVP" nonsense had never happened because the original "Alien" is still one of the best horror films you will ever see.

April 11, 2011

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

"After a team of surgeons botch his beloved wife's surgery, leaving her for dead, the emotionally distraught Dr. Phibes creatively concocts a fatal prescription for revenge. Using the Good Book as his guide, Phibes unleashes a score of old testament atrocities - from a plague of locusts to an attack of rats - on his enemies."

Have you ever rewatched a film from your childhood with memories of it being really good only to discover as an adult that it was a load of old crap? Well, that's how I felt about "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" except that I never liked it much as a child either.

Now I realise that "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" is a cult classic for many people and is not a true horror film for a great many others, but bearing in mind that it was a forerunner of "Se7en" and "Saw", the vengeful serial killer storyline of "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" has become a staple of the horror genre. I've seen people argue that "Se7en" stole its plot directly from "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" minus all the campness and art deco set decorations, and they are probably right. I would argue in return that "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" stole a great many ideas from "The Avengers" and "Batman", and so did everything else from that era. Nothing is ever that original anyway.

The things I've always hated about "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" are mainly to do with the pace at which the story unfolds, the overly comedic British police, and the absolutely useless reactions of Dr. Phibes' (yes, I'm using the American way of abbreviating doctor with the full stop/period) victims.

When I rewatched the DVD earlier this morning, it was hard going to even stay awake for the first ten minutes due to it all being style over substance until the first murder by fruit bats occurred. Actually, it was the second murder as you only get to hear about the first murder using bees from one of the detectives. I don't think anyone at the time could figure out how to create the plague of boils caused by bee stings, but I would have liked to have seen them try.

Out of all the nitpicky things to annoy me the most though were Dr. Phibes' exaggerated hand gestures when he was supposed to be playing the organ. Well, obviously he wasn't really playing it nor were his Frank Sidebottom-headed robot musicians playing any of their instruments either. In spite of all the flawless 1920s set decoration, nobody seemed to care if anything else looked real or not and, in my opinion, that makes it a very bad movie.

Other things which threw me completely out of my willing suspension of disbelief were how I couldn't pin the time period down. The art deco (or art nouveau) stuff could be in vogue at any time, and since things don't change that much in England, it could just be due to well maintained listed buildings. The old cars were definitely later and the Tiger Moth biplane was created in the 1930s (albeit without the 1970s' "No Smoking" sign screwed to the dashboard in the cockpit). The heavy suits worn by the detectives looked very early 1960s although the uniformed police could have been from the '40s or '50s as far as I know. I've read that it was all supposed to be set in 1929, but it was all over the place. Couple all that with the late Peter Jeffrey's obviously 1970s comedic delivery as Inspector Trout and you have one hell of a mess to get your head around.

But since it's all fantasy anyway, maybe these things work in favour of "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" especially when it comes to creating a cult film. I don't really understand how that works or why something so obviously bad gets promoted to greatness, but to each his own. I'm sure that most people will agree with me that "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" is flawed, dated and overrated whatever their opinion of cult films is anyway.

I didn't watch "The Abominable Dr. Phibes' just to pull it apart but to see if it should remain as a recommendation in my "Video Vault". I didn't have a problem with Joseph Cotten's bad acting, the far-fetched nature of the story, or even all the plotholes surrounding the mute Vulnavia. What concerned me the most was that it was actually all very boring. The supposedly ingenious murders and their horrific aftermaths weren't all that entertaining to me as a fully grown adult living in the 21st century. There was no tension or suspense involved in any of the punishments even with the timed one at the end and I didn't know enough about any of the characters apart from Terry Thomas (who always seemed to play the same role in films) to feel anything for them. None of the victims tried to fight back either, and that was just odd.

I suppose that if I ever decided to overthink things then I could probably empathize with Dr. Phibes, but only if I'd ever been married to the uncredited Caroline Munro and lost her. Yeah, losing a gorgeous trophy wife like that would be enough to drive anyone nuts. But surely to gain a non-speaking Virginia North as a replacement would be satisfying enough, wouldn't it? Actually, the more I do think about it, I'd prefer Valli Kemp from the awful sequel "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" which was on the same DVD.

I highly doubt that anyone who saw "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" when it was released in 1971 was horrified or scared by it. British horror films of that time, especially AIP produced films set in Britain, were actually way of sync with the nastiness that American and European filmmakers were delighting their audiences with. If anything, "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" was a throwback to the cosy Roger Corman, Hammer and Amicus style from ten years before and would have stood out glaringly as such amidst the competition. I wasn't there at the time though so all this is just hypothesis.

Another major factor in determining whether or not anyone would still enjoy "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" is how much they like Vincent Price. People who have read further into my blogs will probably already know that I bought Vincent Price's autographed cookbook (signed to Boris Karloff) from the auction of Mrs Evie Karloff's estate which was coincidentally on the day that Vincent Price died (October 25th, 1993). At the time, I was even more into all things horror related especially anything to do with the old guys. If you haven't already seen it, here's a link to a post about Vincent Price's "A Treasury of Great Recipes" on The Bloody Forum and a picture to whet your appetite:

Even though I would class myself as a Vincent Price fan, I really didn't like him as Dr. Phibes. The whole role was a mockery of what he could achieve as an actor. Even though he was hardly the most physical of actors, I still think that "The Last Man on Earth" was his best film with "Witchfinder General" a close second. I know that other people will disagree (especially the essay writers over at vincentprice.org), but everybody who likes Vincent Price chooses a different favourite film of his as being his best anyway.

Anyway, should I leave "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" in the Video Vault and recommend it to you? I think not. Since it was originally a borderline entry with a score of only 5 out of 10, I can't justify putting it anywhere now except The Dungeon. It's a shame, but when your tastes change as much as mine have over the years, it really is a case of putting childish things like this away and moving on.