HALLOWEEN (2018) – Jamie Lee Curtis Returns With a Vengeance, But Rest of Horror Flick Pretty Bad

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HALLOWEEN (2018)

The Jamie Lee Curtis story arc in HALLOWEEN (2018) is so good it almost saves the rest of the movie which sadly is rather— well, there’s no other way to say it, awful.

HALLOWEEN (2018) is the latest chapter in the Michael Myers saga, and before this film was released, I found myself shaking my head at the title. This is the eleventh film in the series and the third to be called HALLOWEEN. Granted, the second film entitled HALLOWEEN (2007) was Rob Zombie’s flawed reimagining of the original, but still, to call this movie HALLOWEEN seemed rather lazy.

However, when I saw the film’s trailer, which I really enjoyed, I decided to reserve judgement on the title because what I saw in the trailer looked so good.

HALLOWEEN (2018) completely ignores events in any of the sequels and re-imaginings and exists in a universe where only events from the original HALLOWEEN (1978) have occurred.

And so it has been forty years since Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) survived the brutal attack by masked killer Michael Myers on Halloween night, a night that saw three of her high school friends murdered. She has spent her remaining years dealing with the trauma, preparing for Myers’ eventual escape from the mental hospital, as she says here in the movie, so she can kill him.

And of course, Myers does escape and does return to Haddonfield, Illinois, to kill more teenagers on Halloween night, and to go after Laurie Strode once more, who after forty years of preparation, is more than up to the task of taking on the masked madman.

The best part of HALLOWEEN is the Laurie Strode story arc, and in fact it’s the only part of this sequel that’s worth watching. Her story is first-rate, as is Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance. It’s a shame the writers couldn’t come up with equally impressive stories for both Michael Myers and any of the other new characters.

But back to Laurie Strode. She’s agorophobic and lives in a secluded fortified compound. She’s estranged from her adult daughter Karen (Judy Greer), but she has a better relationship with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who’s now in high school and along with her friends are the new natural targets for Michael Myers. But even Allyson implores her grandmother to “get over it” and get on with her life.

But Laurie is wise not to, as Michael Myers returns to start another murder spree. The story told from Laurie’s perspective is completely believable, and her scenes where she takes on Myers are the best in the movie.

Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent here, and she pretty much alone saves this movie from being horrible.  She does this because the rest of the movie is pretty bad, and with Curtis’ effective performance and watchable storyline, things balance out.

So, why is the rest of the film so awful?

Let’s start with the Michael Myers character. If only the writers had spent as much care crafting Myers’ story as they did Laurie’s. His story here makes little sense. One of the biggest problems is the constant need by several characters in this movie to know more about Michael, in effect teasing the audience with their questions, and then the film gives us absolutely nothing for answers.

In John Carpenter’s original classic, we knew nothing about Michael Myers other than he was, as Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Sam Loomis constantly reminded us, “pure evil.” Myers was somehow for whatever reason the embodiment of evil. Not knowing more about him worked here because frankly it didn’t matter.

In the sequels, we learned all sorts of laughable reasons for his existence, from he was Laurie Strode’s brother to he was controlled by an evil cult going back to the time of the Druids. None of these plot points did the series or the character any favors. In short, there has never been a decent explanation for who Michael Myers was or what he did other than he was “death on two legs.”  And in Carpenter’s original movie this worked just fine.

Actually, the best explanation may have come in Rob Zombie’s 2007 reimagining, which revealed Michael’s traumatic childhood. What that flawed film failed to do however was connect the dots from bullied child to supernatural killer.

The problem with Myers in this new HALLOWEEN is that everyone and his grandmother keeps asking “what’s Michael Myers’ secret?” “What’s it like to be Michael Myers?” “Why won’t he talk?” And for answers, the film gives us nothing. If you’re going to give the audience nothing, don’t ask the questions!

That being said, I did enjoy how Michael Myers walked in this one, as he had a little more skip in his step—even at his advanced age!— than he did in the older films, where he would have lost a race to Kharis the Mummy!

The other huge problem with HALLOWEEN is the supporting characters are all for the most part, dreadful. It’s as if the writers spent all their time writing Laurie Strode and had nothing left in the tank for anyone else.

Judy Greer, a fine actress, who I’ve enjoyed in such films as CARRIE (2013), the recent PLANET OF THE APES movies and the ANT-MAN films, is wasted here in a whiny role as Laurie’s adult daughter Karen who criticizes her mom for obsessing over Michael Myers but herself can’t stop obsessing about her own childhood or lack thereof.

Newcomer Andi Matichak is okay as Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson, but it’s not really her story, and even though at times it seems as if she’s going to become a central character, she never really does.

I like Will Patton a lot and pretty much enjoy everything he does, and his performance here as Officer Hawkins is no exception.  Patton is very good as an officer facing his own demons, as we learn that he was one of the officers at the scene of the original 1978 Michael Myers murders.

But the writers botch this character as well, as he simply is not in this story enough to make an impact.

All of the teen characters are negligible and forgettable.

But the absolute worst character is Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) who is Myers’ current doctor and who calls himself a protegé of the deceased Dr. Loomis. Sartain’s motivations make no sense at all, and the plot twist involving his character is one of the most ridiculous plot points in the entire series. It’s awful.

The only other character who fares well is young Jibrail Nantambu who plays 10 year-old Julian who’s being babysat by Allyson’s friend Vicky (Virginia Gardner). Nantambu is only in a couple of scenes, but he steals them all, and is the only other lively part of this film other than Jamie Lee Curtis.  That being said, Virginia Gardner’s best scenes are the ones she shares with Nantambu.

Director David Gordon Green and Danny McBride wrote the deeply flawed screenplay. They get Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode right, but that’s all they get right. The other characters and the rest of the story is a mess.

The same can be said for Green’s direction.  Truth be told, I did enjoy all the scenes where he pays homage to the original HALLOWEEN. For example, the scene where Allyson sits in her high school class listening to a teacher— played by P.J. Soles, who played Laurie’s friend Lynda in the original—  drone on about fate is exactly like a similar scene in the original where Laurie sits in class listening to a similar lecture. Laurie looks out the window and see Michael Myers. Here, Allyson looks out the window and sees her grandmother.

Laurie falls from a balcony the same way Myers does at the end of the original, and likewise, just as Donald Pleasence’ Dr. Loomis looks down to see that Myers has disappeared, here, Myers looks down to see that Laurie has disappeared.

These scenes work well, However, the gas station scene which is supposed to pay homage to a similar scene from HALLOWEEN 4 – THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988) simply comes off as too derivative.

And what’s with Myer’s obsession with wearing a garage mechanic’s uniform? He wore similar garb in the original because he happened to kill a random man for his clothes, but in the sequels he seemingly has to find a way to wear the same kind of clothes all the time. Rather silly when you think about it.

The film tries to make a big deal about Myer’s mask. Everyone in the movie wants to know: What is it about this particular mask that sets off Michael Myers? Again, the film offer no answers.

Green also doesn’t give the film any decent pacing or true scares. It simply plays like your standard— and oftentimes bad— slasher horror film, complete with characters making bone-headed decisions.

John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN was ripe with suspense, including a final twenty minutes which was sweat-inducing. There’s no such suspense here.

Speaking of John Carpenter, he’s credited once more with scoring the music, and that is certainly a plus. His HALLOWEEN theme has never sounded better.

HALLOWEEN (2018) is a mixed bag of trick or treats. I loved the Laurie Strode storyline and Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance, but the rest of the film isn’t any better than HALLOWEEN’s worst sequels.

Somewhere druids are celebrating.

—END—

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE BABYSITTER (2017)

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Judah Lewis and Samara Weaving in THE BABYSITTER (2017)

I had so much fun watching THE BABYSITTER (2017) I almost watched it again immediately after finishing it.  It’s that good!

The best part of THE BABYSITTER is the script by Brian Duffield. It’s hilarious. Think SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) meets STRANGER THINGS (2016-present) with a sprinkling of 80s slasher horror.

THE BABYSITTER is the story of twelve year-old Cole Johnson (Judah Lewis) who like other middle schoolers is dealing with issues of self-confidence and bullying. But he has a super hot babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving), who is a very popular high school student. She treats him well, and they enjoy spending time together.

Cole’s friend and neighbor Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind) dares him to stay up and spy on Bee after he goes to bed, to see what she really does late at night, the implication being that she invites friends over and has wild parties. Curious, Cole does just that, and when a bunch of friends do come over, and he spies Bee making out with one of them, he smiles thinking he is going to watch a fun time, but when Bee suddenly drives two knives into another teen’s skull, Cole discovers that Bee and her friends have an entirely different agenda, and it involves a cult, a sacrifice, and the blood of a young boy— Cole’s.

THE BABYSITTER starts out fun and never lets up. As I said, the script by Brian Duffield is nonstop funny.  The dialogue is fresh and lively, full of pop culture references, and the characters of Cole and Bee are developed long before the horror elements kick in.

Add some very creative direction by McG and you have an instant winner. McG uses clever touches like superimposing words on the screen for comedic effect, first person camerawork, and during the film’s second half plenty of blood and gore. None of it is all that scary, but it is very entertaining. That being said, the initial murder scene with Bee and her first victim is rather jarring.

McG has directed a lot of movies, including the standard Kevin Costner actioner 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014) and the lowly regarded TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009), the one with Christian Bale and without Arnold, a film that in spite of its bad reputation I actually liked quite a bit. That being said, THE BABYSITTER is by far the best film I’ve seen that McG has directed.

It was filmed in 2015 and was intended to be a theatrical release until it was bought by Netflix for a 2017 release on its streaming service.  Like other Netflix originals, the colors are exceedingly bright and vibrant. There’s a clean, crisp, look to the film which goes a long way towards making it watchable.

I loved the cast.

The two leads are perfect. As Cole, Judah Lewis is a nice combination of dorky and heroic. He’s a middle schooler without self-confidence, but he’s a nice kid who’s more mature than he thinks he is. And later when it’s up to him to save the day, he’s more than up to the task.

Samara Weaving steals the show as Bee, the babysitter. Early on she’s the ultra cool and sexy babysitter who really treats Cole right and does well by him. But when she becomes the cult killer, she’s all vamp and evil, and she pulls off both sides of Bee with relative ease. She’s very convincing in the role.

Weaving was also in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) and the TV show ASH VS. EVIL DEAD (2015-16), and I’ve enjoyed her most of all here in THE BABYSISTTER.

The other reason THE BABYSITTER works so well is the chemistry between Judah Lewis and Samara Weaving. In spite of the humor, the film portrays a very real relationship between Cole and Bee. They really do like each other, and the emotions felt between the two of them later when things go south, are genuine and real. The story works as more than just a lighthearted farce because Cole loves Bee and feels betrayed by her. These feelings come out loud and clear, despite the film’s over the top style.

Lewis and Weaving are also helped by a strong supporting cast.

Robbie Amell has a field day as Max, the ultra handsome friend of Bee’s who wants nothing more to personally end Cole’s life. Hana Mae Lee and Bella Thorne round out the cult team, and both turn in strong performances.

Leslie Bibb and Ken Marino do a fine job as the cliché clueless and syrupy sweet parents, looking and acting like they walked off the set of FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986). Their performances work because it’s all played for laughs.

My second favorite performance in the film behind both Lewis and Weaving belongs to Emily Alyn Lind as Cole’s friend Melanie. She obviously has a crush on Cole, and her scenes with him are some of the best in the movie.

So, THE BABYSITTER is light and funny, but how does it hold up as a horror movie? Surprisingly well! The film doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore, and the humor never becomes dumbed down or stupid, and so it never detracts from the story, which ultimately is about a group of cult members who want to harvest the blood of a young teenager.

At least that’s the plot. The theme is much more in line with needing to stand up for oneself, which is something that Cole never does early on, but that all changes later on in the film.

But make no mistake.  This one is played for laughs, so don’t expect GET OUT (2017). That being said, the humor is so sharp and the script and direction so imaginative, you’d be hard-pressed not to totally love this movie.

I know I certainly did.  In fact, THE BABYSITTER is the most fun I’ve had watching a horror film in a long time. And while I’ve never encountered a babysitter like Bee, everything else about this story, in spite of its over the top humor, rings true.

This Halloween, as you’re heading out to a party or to a haunted house tour or to a night of just plain old trick or treating, make sure—even if you don’t have kids— you hire THE BABYSITTER.

—END—

 

 

Memorable Movie Quotes: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)

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Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) and the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi) busy searching Frankenstein’s castle for Dr. Frankenstein’s records in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

Welcome back to MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at memorable quotes from classic movies.

Up today it’s FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), the classic Universal monster movie that put two Universal monsters in the same movie for the first time. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN is the sequel to both THE WOLF MAN (1941) and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942).

Both films starred Lon Chaney Jr.. He played the Frankenstein Monster in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN and of course he played Larry Talbot/aka “the Wolf Man” in THE WOLF MAN. Early on the idea was Chaney would play both monsters in this one, but that’s not what happened.

Instead, the role of the Frankenstein Monster went to Bela Lugosi, which made sense, since the character he played in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, Ygor, ended up at the end of that movie having his brain transplanted inside the body of the monster. The original screenplay to FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN had Lugosi’s Monster speaking as the evil Ygor, but this was also changed, and sadly, all of Lugosi’s lines in the movie were cut before the film’s release.

So, there won’t be any memorable quotes from Lugosi’s Monster here! In fact, a lot of the memorable quotes in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN come from supporting players.

Let’s have a look at some of them, from a screenplay by Curt Siodmark, who also penned the screenplay for THE WOLF MAN.

The movie opens in a graveyard in one of the more atmospheric scenes in a Universal monster movie. The first half of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN is a direct sequel to THE WOLF MAN, and so this opening scene features two grave robbers attempting to rob Larry Talbot’s grave. Little do they realize that when the light of the full moon touches Talbot’s body, he’ll come back to life.  Yup, you can’t keep a good werewolf down!

Anyway, the two grave robbers have an interesting conversation. Let’s listen:

GRAVEROBBER #1: (reading from the headstone) “Lawrence Stewart Talbot, who died at the youthful age of thirty one. R.I.P.”

That’s it. Give me the chisel.

GRAVEROBBER #2: Suppose they didn’t bury him with the money on him.

GRAVEROBBER #1: Everybody in the village knows about it – his gold watch and ring and money in his pockets.

GRAVEROBBER #2: It’s a sin to bury good money when it could help people.

 

There’s something very sad and sincere about that last line.

 

When Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) comes back to life, he finds himself in the care of Dr. Mannering (Patric Knowles) at the local psychiatric hospital, while Police Inspector Owen (Denis Hoey) tries to learn Talbot’s true identity. After learning Talbot’s name, the inspector calls Talbot’s home town to learn more about him.

INSPECTOR OWEN: This is Inspector Owen speaking, in Cardiff. Have you got anything in your files about a man named…

POLICE SERGEANT: Lawrence Talbot? Why of course, he lived here.

INSPECTOR OWEN: Well, that’s all right, then. We’ve got him up here in our hospital.

POLICE SERGEANT:  I wouldn’t want him in our hospital. He died four years ago!

 

When Mannering and Inspector Owen confront Larry Talbot with the news that the man he claims to be is dead, Talbot realizes he cannot die. Frustrated he tries to escape, but not before giving Mannering and Owen some advice:

DR. MANNERING: Mr Talbot, if you want us to help you, you must do as we say. Now, please lie down.

LAWRENCE TALBOT: You think I’m insane. You think I don’t know what I’m talking about. Well you just look in that grave where Lawrence Talbot is supposed to be buried and see if you find a body in it!

 

And Mannering and Inspector Owen decide to do just that. They discover that Talbot’s body is indeed missing, and once they establish there’s a close resemblance between the two men, Mannering calls his hospital to check on Talbot but learns some unsettling news instead, which he relays to Inspector Owen:

INSPECTOR OWEN: What happened to Talbot? Did he die?

DR. MANNERING: No. He tore off his strait jacket during the night and escaped.

INSPECTOR OWEN: Tore off his strait jacket? How?

DR. MANNERING: Bit right through it. Tore it to shreds with his teeth.

INSPECTOR OWEN: His teeth?

 

Later, Talbot seeks out Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) the gypsy woman who helped him in THE WOLF MAN. Her fellow gypsies warn her about Talbot.

GYPSY: You’re not leaving us. You’re not going with him. He has the sign of the beast on him.

MALEVA; He is dangerous only when the moon is full. I shall watch over him.

GYPSY: He will murder you.

 

Maleva and Talbot travel to Vasaria in search of Dr. Frankenstein, who Maleva believes can help Larry. When they arrive in Vasaria, they learn that Dr. Frankenstein is dead. Before they leave the village, the moon becomes full and Talbot transforms into the Wolf Man. After he murders a young girl, the villagers wonder if the Frankenstein Monster has come back to life:

RUDI: Could it be the monster again? Frankenstein’s monster?

GUNO: No, the monster was burned to death by Dr. Frankenstein.

FRANZEC: Yes, we found his bones and buried them.

VARJA-BARMAID: How do you know they were the monster’s bones?

GUNO: She wasn’t killed by the monster. An animal bit her to death. I saw the wound on her throat.

RUDI: What animals are around here that can kill people?

(A wolf howls.)

RUDI: A wolf!

 

Eventually, Dr. Mannering catches up with Talbot in Vasaria and tries to convince him to come back with him so he can care for him, but Talbot isn’t having any of it.

LARRY TALBOT: Why have you followed me?

DR. MANNERING:  Talbot, you’re a murderer.

LARRY TALBOT: Prove it.

DR. MANNERING: You’re insane at times and you know it. You’re sane enough now though to know what you’re doing. Why don’t you let me take care of you?

LARRY TALBOT: You think it would do any good to put me in a lunatic asylum?

DR. MANNERING: You know that’s where you belong. It’s the only thing to do.

LARRY TALBOT: Oh that wouldn’t do any good. I’d only escape again sooner or later.

DR. MANNERING: We might be able to cure you. It might prevent you…

LARRY TALBOT: I only want to die. That’s why I’m here. If I ever find peace I’ll find it here.

 

 

When the villagers of Vasaria find themselves dealing with both the Wolf Man and the resurrected Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi) they discuss a plan on how to deal with the Monster. Lionel Atwill plays the Mayor.

MAYOR: We must be more clever this time. We must pretend to be friends with the monster.

VAZEC (sarcastically): Yes, why not elect it mayor of Vasaria!

 

And we finish with one of Lon Chaney Jr.’s more dramatic scenes, at the Festival of the New Wine, where a performer sings about living eternally, causing Talbot to explode in an emotional tirade:

LARRY TALBOT: Stop that! Stop it! Quit that singing! Eternally! I don’t want to live eternally! Why did you say that to me? Get away from me! Stay away! Go away, all of you! Let me alone! Stay away!

 

I hope you enjoyed today’s Memorable Movie Quotes column, on the Universal classic FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, one of the more entertaining Universal Monster movies, and that you’ll join me again next time when we look at notable quotes from another classic movie.

That’s it for now.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

HELL FEST (2018) – Horror Movie Gets Better As It Goes Along

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Bex Taylor-Klaus, Christian James, Reign Edwards, and Amy Forsyth in HELL FEST (2018).

HELL FEST (2018) is one of those rare horror movies that actually gets better as it goes along.

And that’s a good thing, because it didn’t get off to such a hot start. In fact, after a lackluster opening sequence which could have appeared in countless other slasher films, I thought that this was going to be a pretty bad horror movie.

I was wrong.

HELL FEST opens at a Halloween attraction where a young woman is murdered by a man in a mask who’s obviously taking his job of scaring people a little too seriously. Of course, he’s not working there at all.  He just snuck in, and no one notices him because it’s a Halloween attraction and all the employees are wearing masks. As opening sequences go, this one is as derivative as they get.

The action switches to a couple of years later where we meet a group of college students on their way for some Halloween fun at Hell Fest, a horror-themed amusement park. Of course, our masked friend from the movie’s first scene is also planning to be there.

The characters here include Natalie (Amy Forsyth), Brooke (Reign Edwards), Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), Quinn (Christian James), Asher (Matt Mercurio), and Gavin (Roby Attal). Natalie and Brooke are best friends, and Brooke is trying to set Natalie up with Gavin, but she doesn’t have to work too hard because they hit it off immediately.

Too bad for them they choose Hell Fest for their first date.

After its initial ho-hum opening, HELL FEST continues its sloppy start with the introduction of its main characters. All of these folks seemed like they had ten cups of coffee each, and there’s so much excitement about going to Hell Fest, these college kids act like toddlers on Christmas morning. It just didn’t seem all that real to me.

The dialogue didn’t help either. There was just something off about the film’s early scenes. The script gave us lines that didn’t seem real, the way people today talk, and the direction was choppy.

I also had an issue with the look of the film. I’m guessing this was done on purpose, but HELL FEST looked like a 1980s slasher pic, in particular Tobe Hooper’s THE FUNHOUSE (1981). But this movie isn’t taking place in the 1980s. It’s taking place in the here and now.

Moreover, the characters didn’t exactly look like college students here in 2018. They looked like 1980s college students. I found this to be rather distracting early on.

Now, the actual amusement park, Hell Fest, was pretty cool.  I’ve never been to a Halloween attraction as elaborate as this one, but I thought, well, if this film remains bad, then at least I can enjoy all the horror elements from the amusement park. And this really is a plus for this movie. It doesn’t take place in a house, haunted or not, and we don’t have to suffer through long boring scenes where characters walk alone in dark corridors looking for trouble. The Hell Fest setting really helps.

But then a funny thing happened. The movie actually gets better and becomes a decent horror flick.

The moment this occurs is when Natalie meets the masked killer in one of the haunted attractions, and he’s got a victim pinned to the floor, and of course Natalie and her friends all believe this is just part of the show. Natalie, who’s into this less than her friends, has been trying to make herself more resilient and less scared, and so when her friends exit the room, she remains to watch. The killer has the knife pointed at his victim, and finally Natalie says “Just do it, already. You’re here to scare me.” And he does. He stabs her to death in front of Natalie.

The expression on Natalie’s face when she realizes that what she has just seen looks real is one of the best moments in the movie. Amy Forsyth who plays Natalie doesn’t play this scene in a clichéd manner, where she suddenly screams outright. No. The camera lingers on her face, and it’s one of those moments where she’s so good an actress that the audience knows exactly what she’s thinking and feeling.  She goes from confidence to suspicion to anger to uncertainty to fear. It’s a great moment. And the movie never looks back. It takes off from that scene and keeps on going.

There are plenty of well-done horror scenes. Gavin’s encounter with the killer is a good one, as is a memorable sequence involving a guillotine. There’s also a very suspenseful scene in which Natalie wears a mask to hide, and another bit where she’s trapped in the rest room by the killer.  The ending is not half bad either.

The film also put a nice spin on the jump scare trope. Pretty much all the jump scares in this one are from the masked employees at the amusement park, and so they all work. The filmmakers use them here very effectively, as they are caused by people who are supposed to be causing them. The real horror here, the killer, operates outside the jump scare scope.

And the very ending of this one is a welcomed improvement over “the killer is dead but then leaps back up at the camera” routine. I liked how this one ended. It achieves the same result, setting up possible sequels, without the traditional way of doing it.

I thought Amy Forsyth was superb as Natalie. The best part of her performance is she makes the character her own. She’s not a traditional “scream queen” constantly running away screaming, nor is she the traditional “bad ass heroine.” She’s someone in between.  She plays it as the thinking person’s heroine. A lot of thought goes into her actions, and she’s one of the smarter characters to take on a masked serial killer.

Likewise, Reign Edwards is excellent as her best friend Brooke, who early on acts all bad ass, but later becomes so incapacitated by fear it’s up to Natalie to save the day.  Bex Taylor-Klaus is fun as Taylor, the quirky loud and abrasive friend. Both Christian James and Matt Mercurio as Quinn and Asher make for stand-up boyfriends, and Roby Attal as Gavin shares a natural chemistry with Amy Forsyth’s Natalie and so their romance came off as likable and real.

Michael Tourek is believable in a brief role as a security guard, and has one of the more memorable lines in the movie, when he tells the girls he can’t help them since they weren’t harmed, and that it’s just the employees doing their job. He says rather dismissively,  “You’re scared? Welcome to Hell Fest.”

And Tony Todd plays the masked killer. Todd has some experience in this department, years ago having played  The Candyman in CANDYMAN (1992). He really doesn’t have to do all that much here other than walk around and look scary.

The actual mask used in this movie is indeed rather creepy, and I certainly liked the look.

Director Gregory Plotkin stumbles to get out of the gate with some unconvincing and awkward early scenes, but he more than makes up for it with some effective horror scenes in the film’s second half.

The screenplay by Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, and Akela Cooper also struggles early on. The initial dialogue between the main characters came off as forced and phony, but once the horror elements settle in, the script, like the direction, improves.

I also really enjoyed the music score by Bear McCreary, who also does the music for TV’s THE WALKING DEAD.

HELL FEST certainly hearkens back to the slasher films of yesteryear, especially from the 1980s. In fact, this one looks a lot like a 1980s slasher flick, which at times distracted me because it looked more like the 80s than 2018.

Which also got me to thinking. Forty years ago, when I first saw the slasher film that really got these films started, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978), I was 14, and subsequent films continued to be from my generation. But now here we are in 2018, and the main college age characters in this film are actually from my sons’ generation.

And so I got to thinking, and this is one of the things that rubbed me the wrong way early on with HELL FEST, that forty years have passed, and characters from 2018 shouldn’t be acting the way characters acted in 1978, which in effect, was the way they were acting in this film. I remember clearly as a teenager watching films on TV like THE BLOB (1958) which had teens from my parents’ generation, and teens from the 1950s definitely were different from teens from the 1970s.

Forty years is a long time to be dealing with movie serial killers without bringing anything new to the table. Horror films like HELL FEST need to do a better job of bringing their characters into the here and now.

Which brings me to the worst part of HELL FEST: it’s a slasher movie. There’s only so much one can do with this trope.

But the best part of HELL FEST is that in spite of this, it has a talented group of young actors, led by Amy Forsyth in the lead role, and it does make full use of its horror elements, and so once this one gets started, about midway through, it really becomes a decent horror movie. Sure, we’ve seen all this before, and we’ve seen it done better, but we’ve also seen it done a lot worse.

Is HELL FEST as ambitious as GET OUT (2017) or A QUIET PLACE (2018)? No. But it’s certainly a fun horror movie, and with Halloween on its way, you can’t ask for much more than that.

 

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE OBLONG BOX (1969)

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Oblong-Box-poster

 

This one is a reprint from September 2010, originally published in The Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association:

 

IN THE SPOOKGLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

 

Vincent Price made a career playing over-the-top hammy dramatic characters in colorful period pieces in the 1960s.  He’s at it again in THE OBLONG BOX (1969), a film in which he is paired with Christopher Lee.

THE OBLONG BOX is loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name—very loosely, as in just borrowing the title!

The story begins in Africa, with Sir Edward Markham (Alister Williamson) tortured by natives, his face apparently scarred beyond recognition. Markham’s brother Sir Julian Markham (Vincent Price) arrives too late to save him.

They return to England, with Sir Edward now a crazed lunatic. Sir Julian is forced to keep his brother locked in chains in an upstairs bedroom of their mansion.  With the help of a family friend Samuel Trench (Peter Arne), Edward plans his escape.  They hire an African witch doctor to supply Edward with a drug to imitate death.  The plan is for Edward to be removed from the house as a “corpse” only to be revived and rescued later by Trench.

However, Julian immediately seals Edward’s lifeless body inside a coffin and unknowingly buries his brother alive. Trench decides rescuing Edward from a premature burial is too dangerous and out of the question, and so he leaves him for dead.

Meanwhile, Dr. Neuhartt (Christopher Lee) has been paying grave robbers to supply him with bodies for his research. As luck would have it, his grave robbers dig up Edward. When Neuhartt opens the coffin inside his laboratory, Edward attacks him but doesn’t kill him, deciding he could use the doctor as an accomplice.

Edward then dons a crimson hood and seeks revenge against both Trench and his brother, going on a bloody rampage through the countryside, slitting the throats of his victims. Eventually, Julian discovers his brother is still alive, setting the stage for the final confrontation between brothers, as well as the obligatory unmasking of Edward’s hideous face.

THE OBLONG BOX has long been considered too long, too slow, and too rambling by critics, but I’ve always liked its intricate plot with its many pathways.   It takes the viewer along a very creepy ride, with premature burials, African voodoo, a masked maniac, and bloody murders.

THE OBLONG BOX was supposed to have been directed by Michael Reeves, the talented young director who had just finished another Price movie, THE CONQUEROR WORM (1968) [also known as THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL), a film that had been very well received. Sadly, Reeves died before he could direct THE OBLONG BOX, and so the directing duties went to Gordon Hessler.

A lot has been made of Hessler’s lackluster direction of this picture, and I would have to agree. In spite of its strong story, there really aren’t a lot of memorable scenes in THE OBLONG BOX.  On the contrary, there are a lot of weak scenes. The bloody killings are tepid and the blood obviously fake, and the final confrontation between Edward and Julian is also a disappointment, as well as the unmasking scene.  The make-up job on Edward’s face is embarrassingly routine. Still, Hessler can direct.  Five years later, he would be at the helm of THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974), one of the best of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies.

The acting is just OK. With Vincent Price, you get exactly what you would expect, an over-the-top hammy performance. As always, he’s fun to watch.  Christopher Lee is cast against type as the decent Dr. Neuhartt, but sadly, there’s not a lot for him to do with this role.

Alister Williamson is a disappointment as Sir Edward Markham.  As the main villain, Edward should dominate this movie. He doesn’t. Had Christopher Lee played Edward, THE OBLONG BOX would have been a much better movie. Of course, I can understand Lee not always wanting to play the bad guy. Trouble is, he’s just so damned good at it! I wish he had played the role.

Speaking of bad guys, probably the most memorable performance in THE OBLONG BOX belongs to Peter Arne as Samuel Trench. Trench is the slimiest character in this movie, and Arne plays him to the hilt.

But the most disappointing part of this movie is that in spite of the pairing of the two horror superstars, Price and Lee only share one brief scene together. Rip-off!

And the final nail in the coffin— heh, heh— regarding THE OBLONG BOX is that its ending doesn’t make any sense. It’s one of those endings where you see it and you know it was shot just to have a shocking last scene, even though based upon what has happened before, it makes little or no sense.

But even with all these flaws, I still like THE OBLONG BOX, for the simple reason that I love its plot, an exciting roller coaster ride of frights and thrills.  The screenplay was written by Lawrence Huntington, with additional dialogue by Christopher Wicking.

THE OBLONG BOX is an example of a movie that succeeds because of the strength of its writing. The direction is fair and the acting okay, but it’s the writing that lifts this one to memorable status, which is a rare thing in movies, a medium dominated by directors and actors.

—END—

 

THE NUN (2018) Is Not Fun

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THE NUN (2018) has one major thing going for it: atmosphere.

And that’s because it was shot on location in Romania, and so you have enormous ominous castles and an Old World countryside that is ripe with superstition and evil spirits. In terms of setting, you can’t get more authentic. It’s so rich in atmosphere it brought me back to the Hammer Films of yesteryear.

And yet it’s all for naught because unfortunately, sadly, in spite of this being an atmospheric gem, the rest of the film is unbearably awful.  As in really awful.

What a shame.

This one would only have needed a halfway decent story, and direction that just allowed the story to flow without getting in the way, and yet the writers and director here couldn’t even do that.

Again. A shame.

THE NUN is the latest film to take place in THE CONJURING (2013) universe.  THE CONJURING of course is the well-received horror movie by director James Wan, and a film that I liked a lot, that told the story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. It was followed by THE CONJURING 2 (2016) and a pair of ANNABELLE movies featuring a scary doll which first appeared in THE CONJURING.

Now we have THE NUN which features a scary demon from THE CONJURING 2  that looks like a nun.

And this nun demon which goes by the name of Valak is pretty scary looking, which is another thing this movie has going for it. This film actually has a few things going for it, which makes it all the more amazing that it’s so gosh darn awful!

The film opens in Romania in the 1950s at a cloistered abbey where we witness two nuns fighting an unseen demon. To prevent the demon from entering her body, one of the nuns hangs herself.

The action switches to the Vatican where a priest named Father Burke (Demian Bichir) is informed he’s being sent to Romania to investigate the suicide of a nun, with the implication being that there’s more going on there at the abbey because Father Burke has experience with exorcsims.  Burke is told he needs to bring a young nun with him, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) because she has experienced visions, and these visions will be of help to Burke in his investigation.

In Romania, Father Burke and Sister Irene interview the young man who found the body of the hanged nun, a man who goes by the nickname Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) because he’s French. Duh.

So, Burke, Irene, and Frenchie go to the abbey and begin the investigation, which does not go well. Why, you ask? Because there’s a demon there of course! And this demon doesn’t like people poking around in his business, and so he does all the things audiences are used to seeing demons do in horror movies: makes loud noises, makes people see things that aren’t there, jumps out at people, and generally wreaks havoc all the while giving people in the CGI business jobs.

Yawn.

I’ve pointed out a couple of things THE NUN did well, but now it’s time to mention the things it didn’t do too well.

Let’s start with the special effects overkill.  There’s so much going on in the special effects department I felt like I was on the Disney Haunted Mansion ride. And when this happens, it kills any authenticity the film has. I didn’t believe any of it.

 

The story here has a lot of problems. The screenplay by Gary Dauberman creates very dull characters without any real sense of purpose. I’m still not sure what it was exactly that Father Burke was investigating or why exactly the Vatican wanted Sister Irene to help him. Additionally, I don’t really know what this demon was all about. Why was he possessing these nuns? It’s not like he’s actively trying to leave the abbey.  Is he a demon-homemaker who just wants to be left alone?

And the characters here have zero depth and are all rather boring.

Demian Bichir, an actor I generally enjoy, looks serious as Father Burke, and he definitely carries himself with some presence, but he’s about as interesting as a rosary bead.

The far more interesting bit of casting is Taissa Farmiga as Sister Irene. Farmiga is the younger sister of Vera Farmiga, who played Lorraine Warren in THE CONJURING movies. Hmm. THE NUN takes place before the events in THE CONJURING, and here we have a character Sister Irene, who because she is played by Vera Farmiga’s sister, bears a strong resemblance to the Lorraine Warren character. Would there, I wondered, be some sort of connection between the two? In other words, would the filmmakers have used this potentially ingenious bit of casting to the story’s advantage?

In a word, no.

So much for that.

Anyway, Taissa Farmiga is very good as Sister Irene, but again, I didn’t know much about the character or understand what her visions had to do with the story being told here in this movie.

THE NUN was directed by Corin Hardy, and I can’t say that I was impressed.  The scares were practically nonexistent, and the pacing poor. For a film that clocked in at just over 90 minutes, it felt much longer than that, especially during its second half. It also featured far too many special CGI effects which did nothing but detract from its storyline.

The other thing I did like was the music score by Abel Korzeniowski, which certainly captured the whole possessed abbey feel with lots of religious undertones. You could almost see the chanting monks hovering in the damp dark corridors. Korzeniowski also composed the music for the PENNY DREADFUL (2014-16) TV show.

THE NUN actually gets off to a good start. The on-location shooting in Romania combined with Abel Korzeniowski’s effective music score easily lured me into the proceedings. And upon first meeting Father Burke and Sister Irene, and buying into the performances of Demian Bichir and Taissa Farmiga, I was definitely interested in joining them on their investigation into the mysterious occurrences at the haunted abbey.

But this investigation only led to lots quiet moments searching dark corridors and hallways, with ghostly encounters that made little sense, and demonic confrontations that featured over-the-top CGI effects that were anything but scary, and some pretty awful dialogue.

Yes, when it became apparent about two-thirds of the way through this one that its story wasn’t going anywhere, the film simply lost my interest and became flat-out dull and boring, which is too bad, because it really looks good.

What a shame that the filmmakers went all the way to Romania to make this movie but didn’t bother to bring a decent story with them.

And I don’t know about you, but I went to see THE NUN to see a horror movie, not a Romanian travelogue.

—END—

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: CLOVERFIELD (2008)

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cloverfield poster

CLOVERFIELD (2008) is the best giant monster movie from the last twenty years.

The recent Godzilla movies, including GODZILLA (2014) and SHIN GODZILLA (2016), the King Kong flicks, both Peter Jackson’s KING KONG (2005) and KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017), and the well-regarded MONSTERS (2010), none of these even come close to matching the thrills and chills found in CLOVERFIELD.

In fact, CLOVERFIELD is so good I’d argue it’s one of the best giant monster movies ever made. Period. It’s in the conversation with such classics as KING KONG (1933), GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956) and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953).

I’m still amazed that a film this good hasn’t spawned a direct sequel.  There have been two recent movies that have shared the same Cloverfield “universe” but they haven’t been direct sequels. We’ve had 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016), a decent movie, and THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018), a not-so-decent movie.

I suppose I shouldn’t be upset. I mean, most of the time, sequels don’t improve on the original, but for a movie that’s as good as CLOVERFIELD, it almost seems a shame that it may end up being a standalone one-and-done kinda deal.  Imagine if you will, if Christopher Lee had never played Dracula again? He almost didn’t. It took him eight years before he agreed to do a sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). It’s been ten years since CLOVERFIELD. Rumor has it that a direct sequel is in the works.  But I’ve heard that rumor before.

I hope it eventually happens, because sometimes you just need more.  On the other hand, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water—- yeah, we didn’t need JAWS 2,3 and 4.  JAWS (1975) should have been a standalone movie.

Anyway, back to CLOVERFIELD. This movie received so much hype before its initial release because of its incredibly intriguing and cryptic teaser trailer showing the severed head of the Statue of Liberty crashing onto a New York City street.  It also didn’t hurt that J.J. Abrams’ name was attached to the project as its producer. Abrams, at the time, was riding high from the success of TV’s LOST (2004-2010).

CLOVERFIELD tells the story of a giant monster attack on New York City. It’s a “found footage” tale as it uses the gimmick of a videotape found by the government after the attack to tell its story. And the tape is of a farewell party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David) who’s leaving the next day for his new job in Japan. While all his friends are gathered at his apartment to wish him well, the attack happens outside, and suddenly everyone there is caught in the crossfire as the military moves in to contain the situation—or to try to contain the situation, anyway.

At the party, Rob had a fight with his girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman), and so after the attack, when she calls him and tells him she is trapped in her apartment building, Rob decides to head back into the fray to save her, and his friends decide to go along with him.

The story in CLOVERFIELD is just okay, but it’s everything else that makes it such a superior movie.

First of all, it’s intense and flat-out scary. It’s one of the scariest giant monster movies ever made. It’s also one of the best “shaky cam” movies ever as well.  The credit here goes to director Matt Reeves, who’s one of my favorite horror movie directors working today. Reeves also directed LET ME IN (2010), a film that a lot of folks don’t like, as they prefer LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) better, but I actually prefer Reeves’ film, as well as DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017).

In CLOVERFIELD, Reeves creates some really intense scenes, from the aforementioned Statue of Liberty scene, to the sequence in the darkened subway, to the thrilling rescue of Beth. There are just so many edge-of-your-seat moments, which is not something one usually says about a giant monster movie.

Speaking of giant monsters, the “Cloverfield monster” itself is pretty cool looking.  It’s definitely an original, as it’s unlike most anything else that ever set foot in and trampled a large city. And to keep things consistent, it’s also pretty darn frightening!

CLOVERFIELD also has a phenomenal script by Drew Goddard. The dialogue is first-rate and it does a really good job developing its characters, which isn’t easy to do in a found footage movie.  These characters are so very real. He also gets the humor right, as there are lots of moments of welcomed comic relief. Goddard would go on to work on the scripts for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012), WORLD WAR Z (2013), and THE MARTIAN (2015).

It also has a superb cast.

T.J. Miller steals the show as Hud, the man holding the camera and doing the filming. It’s amazing that he’s as good as he is in this movie, since most of the time he’s holding the camera and so we only hear his voice. He gets some of the best lines in the movie.

Lizzy Caplan is also memorable as Marlena, a friend who barely knows Rob, but who Hud is definitely interested in.  She has some key moments in the film. Likewise, Michael Stahl-David is very good as Rob, and Odette Yustman is equally as good as the frightened Beth.

The film is chock full of memorable lines, like when a military officer responds that they don’t know what’s out there, but that “whatever it is, it’s winning.”

In the same way that Godzilla’s devastating attack on Tokyo in the original GODZILLA hearkened back to the dropping of the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the monster’s pummeling of New York City in CLOVERFIELD hearkens back to the events of 9/11. As such, the chaotic scenes in the city really resonate.

CLOVERFIELD is also a very short movie, clocking in at only 85 minutes.  This short length only adds to the intensity.

There’s also no music score, which adds to the realism. However, there is music during the end credits, by Michael Giacchino, a piece entitled “Roar!” It’s a powerful piece of music and seems to have been inspired by the various Godzilla themes.

CLOVERFIELD is one of the best giant monster movies ever made. It’s also one of my favorite horror movies.

If you haven’t seen it, you definitely want to check it out. And if you have seen it, maybe it’s time for you to check it out again.

You’ll have a monstrously good time.

—END—