Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre/ The Hills Have Eyes Remake Double Feature!
Fresh from Fright Fest we’re resuming our annual In Review series with a special double slasher feature with the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Yes. Okay. First off, I understand that reboots and remakes are typical fodder for heated debate. Often, i would agree with the naysayers and who much rather prefer new stories instead of rehashed ones. HOWEVER…sometimes a reboot or remake is just what the doctor ordered, no? Consider Cronenberg’s 1986 The Fly versus Kurt Neumann’s 1958 original staring Vincent Price. Or Don Siegel’s 1956 take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers versus Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version. While these originals were themselves fantastic films, the remakes added to the story for a new generation of moviegoers. Today’s double feature films are not necessarily better films than the originals nor are the above mentioned movies, but they weren’t totally unnecessary. Right? Let me explain myself. Continue Reading
Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)
If a friend asked me, “Hey, Tommy, can you recommend a good slasher movie?” Off the cuff, I’d typically guide said friend to one of the many wondrous titles under the Friday the 13th franchise or Nightmare on Elm Street. If they wanted obscure but tasteful, I’d most likely say The Prowler or The Burning. Those looking for something for date night, I’d recommend Scream or perhaps Silence of the Lambs. If I wanted to sound like an intellectual or one of those real classic film guys, I’d suggest Psycho. But if I were really brave…if i wanted to take the risk, if not in losing a friend and all credibility in recommending slasher movies, but also risk being looked at (at worse) like some weirdo pervert, well…if i didn’t care about that, then I would totally recommend THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).
This isn’t to say that THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (TLHOTL) is a horrid movie. Its not. Its actually quite amazing. Raw. Brutal. Shocking. And truth be told, not entirely that fun of a film. Just how slasher flicks really ought to aspire. TLHOTL doesn’t wear a mask to scare you, it removes the mask, and in so doing is utterly terrifying. There is no pleasure in the depravity, except for perhaps towards the end when the protagonists’ parents exact revenge (more on that later). In Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street or even Halloween, we’re (mostly) rooting for the killer, “Yeah! Murder those dumb stupid teenagers!” But in TLHOTL, those very scenes are sickening and uncomfortable to watch. Continue Reading
Gourmandizing Hulu’s Wondrous Horror Collection
More than any month of the year, October bids us to watch more then normal amounts of horror. We dip into our collective vaults of DVD and Blu Ray frights. And of course, in the Age of Instant Streaming, we’re given the added benefit, though life-draining practice, of watching movies online through sites such as Crackle, Shutter, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. While these streaming proprietors may in fact be digital vampires, ghost in the machine hypnotists singing sweet lullabies, tempting us to sit hour after hour, binging on our most favorite shows and movies, we cannot deny the often overwhelming selection they provide. Netflix has stumbled a bit in horror selections in recent years, though you can still find a good amount of classic picks. I’m not a member of Shutter, so I cannot make any kind of comment of their selections. Nor do I watch anything on Amazon. I’m a fan of the cheap, and when it comes to more bang for your buck, both Netflix and Hulu are worthwhile choices for those looking to get away from the endless money pit of cable and dish networks. Its interesting how easy it is to find a best of list on both Netflix and even YouTube, journeymen and women who’ve done the leg work to provide a collective list of top tens or so for us to dabble our curious appetites. However, I haven’t seen many Hulu lists, and I find that strange. Why? Have you been on the horror genre list on Hulu, have you seen? Well…allow me to say, Hulu boasts the largest/cheapest collection of horror movies that would satisfy any deranged loon. The only drawback is that there are TONS of horror movies to pick from. Thus brings us to the point. We need a list. We need a Hulu Horror List. Here, you’ll find not the BEST OF; rather, my own personal picks from Hulu’s dark and endless vault. Enjoy!
Lord of Illusions (1995): Based on a Clive Barker short story, Private eye Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) travels to Los Angeles and meets with a new client, Dorothea Swann (Famke Janssen). Swann reveals that she and her husband — famed magician Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor) — have been targeted by a religious cult experimenting with reincarnation. After Philip dies on stage in the midst of a dangerous trick, D’Amour must struggle to protect Dorothea from the ruthless cult members and their newly reanimated religious leader, Nix (Daniel Von Bargen).
Hellraiser I & II (1987, 1988): These picks are conjoined because they’re perfect watching back to back. Part II picks up not long after the traumatic events from the first flick, continuing the misadventures of would-be twenty-something Kirsty Cotton verses Pinhead and his leather bound Cenobites. If you haven’t indulged in these of Barker’s darker imaginings, please do. It’ll make a great choice among any Halloween marathon listing. Forever classic and haunting.
Motel Hell (1980): No list is complete without some gore-heavy satire! Motel Hell is about a brother sister duo, Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons), who run a rural hotel, but they earn most of their cash operating a food stand that specializes in world-famous sausages. After years of success, however, the duo’s upstanding brother, Sheriff Bruce (Paul Linke), eventually discovers the grotesque details of his siblings’ booming business: Vincent and Ida are actually plumping up their hotel patrons, killing and dismembering them and then grinding them into frankfurters.
Cannibal Holocaust (1979): While you’re out watching The Green Inferno, be sure to check out this original masterpiece of fright. Cannibal Holocaust was one of the first steady-cam mockumentaries/found-footage flicks. An American professor flies down into the Green Inferno, to discover the fate of a group of documentary crew. And he found them alright, what was left anyhow. He also found what remained of their footage. Upon his return, the professor watches the grisly footage. Cannibal Holocaust is a fantastic film. Old but still gritty and gruesome, even by today’s standards.
ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1978): If you haven’t seen this one, you probably never will. Pure science-fiction satire, spoof, low-budget flick about over-sized killer tomatoes that go on a rampage killing people…yup.
Candyman (1992): There sure seem to be a lot of Clive Barker based flicks on this list…what does that say about me??? Whatever! Candyman is a classic mythology story about resurgence and racism. Skeptical graduate student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) befriends Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) while researching superstitions in a housing project on Chicago’s Near North Side. From Anne-Marie, Helen learns about the Candyman (Tony Todd), a knife-wielding figure of urban legend that some of her neighbors believe to be responsible for a recent murder. After a mysterious man matching the Candyman’s description begins stalking her, Helen comes to fear that the legend may be all too real.
The Thaw (2009): Not the best among Hulu’s options, but certainly a decent flick. I think the reason why I watched it and included it on my list is that the movie reminded me a lot of the classic X-Files episode from season 1, code named “Ice,” when Mulder and Skully are sent to investigate when a team of geophysicists stationed at a remote Alaskan outpost are killed by a parasitic alien life form. In The Thaw, ecology students discover a prehistoric parasite that has been released from the melting polar ice cap threatens the safety of the world. Again, you may find the acting to be a bit sub-par, but the premise and story is, I thought, pretty creepy.
Cannibal Ferox (1981): Jesus…what’s wrong with me? My list seems to be full of Barker flicks and cannibal films…I think I may need professional help. Until then, if you’re collecting a list of gruesome grind house type movies to add to your Halloween month list, you may want to consider Cannibal Ferox. There isnt much to plot here, just gore, and lots and lots and lots of it. The basic premise is this, a cocaine dealer and an anthropology student fall victim to cannibalistic Colombian natives…boom…there you go, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Scanners (1981): Okay…finally, a Cronenberg film! Here you’ll find men and women born with incredible telepathic and telekinetic powers. There are many who exercise the benefits of their special gifts in a safe and judicious manner. However, there is a group of renegade scanners who plan to create a race that will rule the world. If anything, you need to watch this movie for a very infamous scene and nod towards practical effects. Its great! You’ll know it when you see it…
The Beyond (1981): If you haven’t seen this one, you need to. Its a mesmerizing gem that at first feels kinda lack-luster, right? But as the film progresses, so does the bizarre. Its a fantastic journey and somewhat artistic film by famed Italian director Lucio Fulci…and yup, he put zombies in there too!
Demons (1985): A group of people are trapped in a large movie theater in West Berlin that is infected by ravenous demons who proceed to kill and posses the humans one-by-one, thereby multiplying their numbers…..enough said!
Pieces (1982): In this violent and gut-wrenchingly gory flick, set in a Boston university, the story centers on a crazed meat cleaver killer who hacks up hapless women in the hopes of building his dream girl. A throwback to the 70s savage cinema era. If you can stomach this one, you might want to add it to your list, along side every other cannibal flick I’ve mentioned. You can book your therapist after.
Intruder (1989): Nearing the end of the Slasher Age comes a grisly picture, a claustrophobic thriller set entirely in a small supermarket, whose owner is preparing to go out of business. This doesn’t sit too well with one of the staff members, who busily butchers the night crew using the tools of the trade (hooks, axes, knives, power tools, and so on). A fantastic gore and practical effect based horror tune that even cameos Sam & Ted Raimi and the man, the legend, Bruce Campbell!!!
Well, there you have it folks. Not a top pick, but a solid pick from among Hulu’s endless treasure trove of horror. If you have the time, be sure to check out some others on their site. Lots to pick, lots of golden B-flicks as well, and even more classic ones, including: Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Cronos, Carnival of Souls, The Innkeepers, The Brood, and so many more!!
Political Unrest in The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: Or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead, is the story of a young woman who is scrutinized and harassed by police and tabloid (sleaze) press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Film historian Jack Zipes begs the question regarding the political reality and repression in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bunderrepublik) during the 1970’s using both the film and novelization of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Zipes first illuminates the reality in which these two depictions are attempting to criticize. According to Zipes, the reality of the Bunderrepublik of 1972-75 is “on one level the entire history of the student movement or extra-parliamentary opposition [which] provides the subject matter of the novel and film” (Zipes, 75). Basically, the history these two forms of the same story attempt to bring to light depictions of social political attitudes and conditions regarding the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the SPD uber-conservative government (75). The political situation in Germany seems to be volatile during this period, especially due to the actions of a few militant terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, aka the infamous RAF. Because of the actions of the few, according to Zipes, the conservative forces of the German state and mass media made it appear as if the entirety of the “Left,” the progressive forces of the Bunderrepublik were associated with terrorism. An incredible swing on the American-esk McCarthy pendulum, ushering never-ending witch-hunt bonfires stacked with the stench of 800,000 progresses and reformers who were no longer fit the state’s “legitimate” government program (76).
According to historian Zipes, Heinrich Böll’s writings are concerned with gross human rights violations and origins of violence (77). The novelization of the story, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, for better or worse, urges for the reformation of mass media, of the press, radio, and TV. Considering Zipes interpretation of the novel, a strange dual world emerges where the fictional narrative is more truthful than the non-fictional reports carried out by the corrupted mass media. Though, according to Zipes, Böll does not create a perfect explanation of the “socio-political dynamic of violence in the Bunderrepublik” (78); however, it nevertheless a straightforward participatory revelation of a moralist’s case for political resistance (79). In Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of Böll’s novel, Zipes mentions a more distinguishable focus on a cohesive left movement that was nearly nonexistent in the novel (81). According to Zipes, director Schlöndorff “focuses [his film] on the power relations in the case of Katharina Blum in order to facilitate the viewer’s comprehension of how the police and mass media conspire to victimize private citizens” (81). Basically, where Böll focused on the power in the use of words, Schlöndorff gives greater attention to the unfolding of human drama in the interpersonal relationships of his characters.
While the film itself is a somewhat dull watch, until the very last bits of the movie when Katharinaunshackles her discontent, fellow historian Jack Zipes does an excellent job separating these two renditions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum while they are simultaneously attempting to convey the same story. However, his comment regarding the drama of American, so-called, “good cop, bad cop” motif is somewhat lacking. The American filmic expressions of the late 60’s and early 70’s, depending on the genre you’re talking about, are not vague impressions of the time in which they were made. Consider the gruesome social critiques in the up and coming era of Savage Cinema, especially the word of Wes Craven, in films like: The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes as perfect examples of political unrest in American cinema. Savage Cinema was loud, gruesome, and not the lease bit disturbing, but these films also compelled audiences to question the validity of the times. Last House on the Left, if anything else, begged the question if reactionary violence was a justifiable resolution. The Hills Have Eyes was a critique about repression and violence and repercussion using the most taboo form of expression: cannibalism. And there are many more examples during this era to pick from. Regardless, Zipes makes an interesting case regarding the wild swings on the pendulum during Germany’s political unrest of the 1970’s with the RAF and student base movements. The media, if anything, should keep government (of all walks) in check, not condone extreme reactionism.
Sources: Jack Zipes, The Political Dimensions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1976.
Evolution of the Horror Remake: A Short Narrative
Something strange started happening during the dawn of the new millennium. Beginning as early as 2003, once revered horror movie classics were being revamped for a supposed new audience, a audience geared toward a sicking predisposition for hyper violence and “better” special effects. Now that we’re well into a new decade, its interesting looking back and speculating why certain trends even started in the first place. The biggest and most fascinating parallel between those “classics” and their children are the things happening in the world when said films were being made. For me, the two biggest world events impacting film worth mentioning (especially considering our horror subject matter!) are the Vietnam War and the Iraq/Afghanistan War.
The Two Wars:
Doing our best to avoid a politico argument, lets look more at the similarities between the two decades (1965-1975, 2001-?). Besides the obvious similarities in the type of war (strategic and tactics, guerrilla urban warfare, and the precarious balance in winning hearts and minds while simultaneously engaging the enemy), the Vietnam War and Iraq War could also be compared to the amount of combat footage that made its way into the mainstream. In the living rooms of millions of Americans, while folks sat down for their nightly news, they were bombarded with images of seemingly “random” acts of violence. Allow me to clarify. These acts of violence feel random because folks in the U.S. and folks over in the desert or jungle getting blown up are disconnected. The people back home in their living rooms have no way of knowing whats really going on “over there” except from what the media provides. This new norm impacted how we engage movies, especially the shock value in horror movies.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
The best thing that could ever come from the mess over in Asia-Minor was how it effected horror films and turned them into positive avenues of expressing discontent. Some have dubbed this epoch in the history of horror as Savage Cinema. Films, such as: Deliverance (1972),The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and later The Hills Have Eyes (1977) disconnected horror away from fantasy. The horrors of the world were no longer shown in the castles of Transylvania or some tomb in Cairo, but in our own backyards, down the road, behind the curtain. The monsters were no longer beasts or creatures of myth, but our own neighbors, our relatives, or that seemingly ordinary fellow walking down the street. Horror, in essence, became set in reality.
Now, flash forward to the post modern take on Savage Cinema during the 2000’s. Comparatively, in every way possible, each and every remake falls short of the original. The effects and filmography were often better, but what they left behind was the message, the meaning behind the chainsaw and the desperate family living among the rocks in the Californian desert. The heart was replaced for even stronger images of violence. In a way, I suppose this could say something of the time period. Did we no longer care for actual storytelling? Were we simply looking for our “new” norm among the flooding destruction brought on during our nightly news broadcasts? Perhaps, but can we really forgive those remakes, such as: The Fog (2005), The Wicker Man (2006), Halloween II (2009), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2003) and so many more that needless tore asunder classic storytelling for pointless mayhem? The only real forgivable remake during this epoch was Dawn of the Dead (2004), though not entirely. The forgivable aspect of the new Dawn of the Dead was how producers didn’t trash on the old characters, but instead introduced new ones for a new evolution of the film. And, in a way, maintained the similar, though less obvious, take on consumerism.
A New Decade:
Though we are just entering the 2010’s, there seems to be a change in how movie makers are approaching remakes. The trend of completely redoing the classics have, in a way, transformed into a continuation in the story itself, in a undefined kind of way. Basically, the new remakes are not really remakes anymore; they are and they aren’t. Make sense? Consider the recent revamp of Evil Dead. The story wasn’t so much a new story of the original, but a continuation without having to give a huge boring and needless back story. The simply yet obvious easter eggs were enough to reconcile the old with the new. The way Evil Dead was re-imagined could possibly (and hopefully) be a reacquiring trend in how future remakes will be done. News of the upcoming revamp of Poltergeist seems to confirm this “new” direction as we’re given not a retelling of the same story with flashier gimmicks, but a continuation of the story with a new set of characters facing a similar threat without having to spend an hour explaining the original. The most interesting take on this new Poltergeist (which, by the way, the 1982 classic is a personal favorite of mine) is how producers are approaching home ownership. In the original story it was about the 1980’s boom in home development, and with this new revamp, its about the boom in refurbishing old homes. Keeping it the same; not keeping it the same, simultaneously.
Hopefully this trend will continue, especially when pertaining to old classics. While I personally would rather see new stories being told, if Hollywood insists on remaking the classics, let the story evolve instead of just mindlessly rehashing what has already been said.
The Hills Have Eyes: 36 Year Review
Most folks remember Wes Craven for his contribution to the slasher genre during the 80’s (Nightmare on Elm Street) and his more subversive take during the 90’s (Scream). But the father of Freddy did much more for horror than glove claws. During the 70’s, following the Vietnam War and its mass exposure to hyper-violence, savage cinema, through avenues in grindhouse productions, became in its own right, a way in dealing with this era of heightened confusion, uncertainty, and death. Consider Blood Feast (1963), Cannibal Holocaust (1979), and Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) as just a few examples of the best savage cinema had to offer. Their stories are typically simple depictions of everyday life pitted against terrible random violence. Friends on a road trip, adventures in documentary, families pulling up and moving cross-country juxtaposed with psychopathic food caterers, vicious desert dwellers, and hungry homesteaders.
During the era of savage cinema, Wes Craven gave us horror nerds the two best films in his career, Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). With Last House, creepy Craven handed audiences, as John Carpenter said during an interview with Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue, “a strong cup of coffee,” brewed with a heightened since toward violence against the innocent and, basically, probing what people are willing to do in revenge and showing us, even though we’d rather not know, that even when we act just as violently, there is no satisfaction, there is no justice in those kinds of actions.
Back out in the Hills, Craven introduces us to a world a little less violent, but much more compelling. The Hills Have Eyes is an atmospheric horror flick depicting the “average” American family traveling cross-country in their mobile home. Ignoring the warnings of the old gas station owner, the family becomes stranded off the main road. Then, out of desperation, they are forced to split up, leaving themselves vulnerable to vicious attacks. The hill people begin their assault by taking away the very things they feel make this family serene and perfect, leaving the Carter’s to defend for themselves, becoming, eventually, just as violent as the hill people.
With the Hills, Craven was able to weave familiar mythologies (travelers being attacked by outside forces) into the modern nightmare. The Hills Have Eyes is an amazing picture worth seeing over and over. After viewing the movie myself, last night in celebration of the films 36th year anniversary, I went to bed pondering how far people are really willing to go in defending, not only what is their’s, but also, their loved ones. If a horror movie can still make you question society, 36 years after the fact, it is easily one of the scariest and meaningful horror films of all time. For long time horror fans, the “scary” moments are not normally what makes us jump in our seats, the cheap thrills. “Scary” for a horror fan are the moments we’re left thinking, “who made the movie?” Moments that really make us question reality. Maybe not right away, but later, on the drive home or when we go to sleep. Those are the best moments for horror. And for Wes Craven and The Hills Have Eyes, if you watch it, you might likewise experience those very uncertainties of society.
I give The Hills Have Eyes 4 out of 5! A timeless classic and must watch for any connoisseur of macabre.