Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: HALLOWEEN (2007)
Imitation is often seen as a tribute to an artist; other times it is seen as a mockery and a laughable attempt to establish, oneself, in a world of other artists. A question that should be asked, what separates the good imitations from the worst?
The answer is a little more underlying.
A work of imitation can branch off and become something different, something appreciated by others. The difference is—Appreciation for the original work and artist—nothing more.
In 1978, John Carpenter set out and defined the slasher genre. Many fans were introduced to their first masked serial killers: Michael Myers. The original story was enough to send millions of fans into a terror filled adventure, murder and mayhem a-plenty. Man escapes mental institution after murdering his sister twenty years prior and begins slashing and stabbing his way through Haddonfield, IL. 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
Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: American Psycho (2000)
American Psycho is a satirical novel written by Bret Easton Ellis and published in 1991. It is an unreliable first person narrative, in the present tense, given by the main character, Patrick Bateman, who is a yuppieliving in 1980s New York City. It is an extremely controversial novel, given its depiction of increasingly brutal violence against women; this issue led many feminists to protest the novel.
A movie version was made in 2000, the screenplay written by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron (the latter also being the director), and starring Christian Bale in the lead role. The movie removed or mitigated the novel’s violence, and rearranged much of the material: apart from that, the film was reasonably faithful. Continue Reading
Insidious: Chapter 3 in review
The simple fact that I have to write this disclaimer is a testament to how uber-critical we horror proprietors can get. We get caught up in the haves and haves not’s, the that’s and this’, we forget how to unplug and enjoy a movie on the sole basis of watching a movie. Our brains are at a constant state of flux. And we judge everything. Actor performance. Dialogue. Setting. Mood. Plot. Storytelling. And of course, meaning. While all these are important, I fear we’ve allowed the benchmarks of our business to eclipse the most important aspect…entertainment. There are some movies that are pointless to pick apart because they’re not movies with great plot or have terrible actors or more often terrible scripts. Some require such a single scoring method. Some simply beg the question: Was the movie entertaining? And thus we must answer. Yes or No. You can keep your own opinion on the subject. If a movie is in a series, especially, you may regard with disdain without ever having watched it, stating, “Ugh, I hate that series.” And this is okay. Its your opinion, isn’t it?
I am not innocent of these charges. I’ve been there, said that. For example, a buddy of mine asked if I wanted to go see this new Vin Diesel flicks, The Last Witch Hunter. I impudently turned him down, saying something akin to, “ugh, that movie looks lame. Its going to be awful.” I made this assumption without ever stepping into the theater. Why? Well…its a reasonable assumption, right? Judging from the previews, it looked kinda stinkerish, correct? Maybe so, maybe the acting would be terrible. Maybe the plot would be silly. Maybe the dialogue would feel cheesy. Maybe… there’s lots of them. But what about the most important aspects…? Was the movie entertaining? I wouldn’t know, and never will, unless I watched it.
If we want to judge a movie, we must first watch it, then judge.
What does all this have to do with my review for Insidious? Well, I’ll tell you. Over the weekend, I stopped by our local Redbox to pick up Pitch Perfect 2 for the wife. Lo and behold, Insidious: Chapter 3 was available as well. At first, I scoffed at the idea. “Horror series’ are lame,” and all that. But then I got to thinking…”why not?” It only added $0.50 cents to my cost. Why not? And I’m glad I got it. Because even having already judged the movie because its part of a series, and most horror series’ are lame, I found Insidious: Chapter 3 to be…what’s that magic word…? Oh yes. Entertaining. Sure…the character relations got a little sloppy, at the beginning. The relationship between father and daughter seemed catawampus, at best. Was there an over abundance of “jump scares?” Sure. Maybe they could have dialed those back a nudge. But the movie was highly entertaining. How entertaining you ask? Well, while screening the movie, I never once opened my tablet to check Facebook. Boom. That’s how entertaining it was. Enough to keep my attention, despite whatever short coming it had.
Here’s a quick fire synopsis:
When teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) senses that her late mother is trying to contact her, she seeks help from gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). However, Elise’s tragic past makes her reluctant to use her abilities. After Quinn is attacked by a malevolent entity, her father (Dermot Mulroney) pleads with Elise for help. With support from two parapsychologists, Elise ventures deep into The Further — where she finds a powerful demon with an insatiable craving for human souls.
And there you have it…
AND we can dig a little deeper, if we want. We’ve already established the flick was entertaining enough to garner our short attention span. What else was there? Well, the movie seemed to focus a lot on the loss of loved ones. Not only did character Quinn lose her mother, to cancer I think. But psychic Elise also lost her husband (suicide). And not just her, but a well known neighbor had also passed away too (unknown causes) and we get to watch the uncomfortable “gee, wiz, sorry to hear about your loss. If you need anything, anything at all, please don’t hesitate” conversation between the bereaved and clumsy father, Sean Brenner. To say that Insidious: Chapter 3 dealt with the meaning of loss and separation and coping with death would be an understatement. Following the plot felt like strolling down the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) in one form or another, between all the characters, not just Quinn and Elise. Besides the expectant “jump scares” that accompany such as movie, the mood and tension was very well tuned. It started in slow and then built from there. The tar footprints were a lovely touch. And the fact that, given this is a series, the story moved away from the “dream walkers” to something more akin to possession and…looking for the right word here…hmm…the closest I have is paranormal slasher. Kinda like “It Follows,” but better. The “demon” doesn’t want to enter the world of the living, according to Elise. It wants to take souls back with it to its own world, back into the darkness, or as they coin, The Further, which I find to be even more creepy than the plain Jane possession. To be possessed seems short term. You’ll either be saved or die, in which case you will likely be free, assuming as much anyhow. With the “paranormal slasher,” you’re not just possessed, but you’re also possessed, forced to kill yourself, and then stolen for eternity to this dark nightmarish underworld. For me, thanks in part to my oh so lovely fundamental religious upbringing, the “eternal punishment” aspect sets the creep factor pretty high!
Insidious: Chapter 3 may seem like a flick unworthy of your time. But I hope my review here has changed your mind on this. It was a great break from the previous storytelling, whilst keeping true to its shared universe. And I think “paranormal slasher” is a budding horror sub-genre that needs farther exploring. While we most certainly can nit-pick at the things the movie suffers from, Insidious: Chapter 3 was still highly entertaining movie. And in the end, isn’t that what truly matters?
My Review: 4/5
Halloween Horror Movie Marathons
The month of trick or treat is upon us, and, no doubt, folks have already started making plans for Halloween parties and horror movie marathons. For the non-deranged, horror movies might be something usually reserved for this particular month of macabre and everyone has their favorites they like to watch. But if you’re going to start somewhere, you ought to start with the classics. Reserve the newer additions of horror for later in the night and kick start you’re party (or month, if you’re one of us depraved individuals) with one of the classics. Obviously, being a fan of horror, there is absolutely no way I could select just one film as said classic; instead, i’ve selected a few films from several popular categories, such as: zombies, slashers, demonic/supernatural, creature features, satire/comedies (including musicals), and even family friendly sarcastics.
- Classic Universal Studios Pictures
If you’re going to start somewhere, why not begin the night (or month) with a classic black and white from Universal? Some of my personal favorites from this era include both Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolfman (1941). Excellent tales that explored the question: who is the monster? Another plus is watching the late great actor Boris Karloff in one of his best pictures. Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman is also enjoyable. Lawrence Talbot is just such a terribly tragic character and Chaney Jr. played him perfectly; he looked so sad, you really felt sorry for the guy. The Mummy (1932) is also good. Nosferatu (1922) & The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) are some of the best silent horror films from the German expressionist movement. Or, if you’re more on the artistic side, why not check out my personal favorite from this silent film era, The Phantom Of The Opera (1925) with Lon Chaney, senior.
If the Universal Studio Pictures monster movies doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps you might enjoy a classic zombie flick! Nothing says Halloween then walking, biting corpses shoveling across you’re yard, banging on the front door, looking to borrow some brown sugar. However, if you’re interest is peaked with said undead, why not start with one directed by the guy who started it all, George A. Romero? Any of his three original “dead” movies would suffice, which includes: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Day of the Dead (1985). However, if you’re more into spoof zombie movies, the only recommendation I could honestly give, keeping a clear conscience, is Return of the Living Dead (1985). Just avoid the sequels, please…seriously, you’ve been warned! But what if none of the above zombie movies isn’t enough? Have you considered Re-Animator (1985)? Trust me, you will not be disappointed. Its serious, but not serious. There’s gore and dark humor a-plenty. Re-Animator has to be one of Jeffery Combs greatest movies, his level of wit and concentration are disturbingly funny!
One of the most popular horror genres among Halloween movie marathoners would probably be the slasher. And why not? Slasher movies have enjoyed a long lived and celebrated history as a horror trope. And lovers of this particular genre have plenty of classics to choose from. Seriously, there are more slashers out there than any other typography of horror. So, where does one start when selecting a slasher movie? You could go with the movie that defined John Carpenter’s legendary career, Halloween (1978) (a movie many horror historians consider the granddaddy of all slashers). You could also go with Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), every child’s favorite dream killer! There is also Friday the 13th (1980), Scream (1996), Child’s Play (1988), or even The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), though technically more savage cinema than slasher; iconic villain Leatherface has, for the most part, been considered a slasher-esk monster.
- Demonic & Supernatural
Okay, so maybe masked killers are a bit too kindergarten for you. Looking for something more dark or haunting? Well…have you given any thought to a demonic or supernatural inspired horror movie? There are almost as much of these as there are slashers. For the demonic inspired marathon, consider Clive Barker’s moody epic, Hellraiser (1987), following the tale of a man escaped from a sadomasochistic hell, chased by leather clad demons with hooks. Not you’re cup of tea? You can always watch this movie about a innocent young girl, sweet as can be, and possessed by a demon. The forever classic: The Exorcist (1973). Like ghost stories? Poltergeist (1982) is good haunt, Amityville Horror (1979) is decent enough to fill your dreams with nightmares about home ownership. Salem’s Lot (1979) is almost (almost) as good as the book. Sleepy Hallow (1997) is an interesting take on the Ichabod Crane legend. And Evil Dead II…well, you can’t really celebrate Halloween without watching this amazing movie at least once…or twice, whatever the case may be!
- Creature Feature
Alright, so Frank, Bub, Jason, and Ash aren’t doing it for you. What else is there…what else is there, are you kidding me? Plenty! I’m guessing you for the creature feature type, well…look no further my friend! Horror’s got plenty of nasty’s out there to help keep you’re party going! Dig shark flicks? Jaws (1975) would be my only recommendation, and as Spielberg’s dip in the horror pool, incredible cast and awesome music score, Jaws is an amazing picture worth watching with plenty of nauseating sequels to keep you feeling nervous about swimming in you’re parents pool at night. Feeling more extraterrestrial than killer fish? No prob! How about Ridley Scott’s legendary film, Alien (1979). Trust me, everyone at you’re party will know at least one particular dinner scene from the movie and if they don’t, well…then they really shouldn’t be at you’re party, right? Or, you could always skip Alien (blasphemy!) and go for James Cameron’s take on the series, Aliens (1986) and folks will the drunkenly laughing, “Game over man, its game over!” Okay, okay, so you’ve been there, done that. Well, if you’re going to watch anything with creepy aliens, John Carpenter’s, The Thing (1982), is really the only way to go (sorry Ridley). For me, what really makes The Thing one of the best are its (before their time) special effects and the overwhelming terror of not knowing which of the characters is who they say they are, and not a shape-shifting nightmare.
Not the serious horror movie type? Like to take you’re gore with a dash of wit? Then perhaps you’d be more interested in some “horror” satire instead. There are plenty of classics from this trope to choose from; you could even go all musical, if you’e brave enough. But how could one really go wrong with watching Tim Curry go full drag in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)? Trust me, if you’re party is a party worth showing up, there will be at least one person dressed as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. No? Okay…well, assuming there are actual people at you’re party, then you could always pop in Little Shop of Horrors (1986), or maybe Young Frankenstein (1974) with the distinguished Gene Wilder. Creepshow (1982) is worthwhile, especially for Stephen King and Romero fans. And last, but not least, the most recognizable horror satire, everyone ought to know, Ghostbusters (1984) should be watched at some point during the night (or month, whatever the case may be).
- Family Friendly
So maybe you’re party isn’t that kind of party. Maybe you’re hosting a family friendly event and before you can get you’re drink on, you need something for all the kiddos to watch. Don’t worry, we got you on this, and not really that surprising, there are lots of family friendly horror movies to choose from. Most of these will more than likely be playing on some channel on cable at some point during the month. There is the ever popular, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966). Or there’s, Casper (1995)…no comment. The Addams Family (1991) is another 90’s Christina Ricci film bearable enough for adults to enjoy. If you’re kids are a bit older, try my childhood favorite, The Monster Squad (1987). This PG-13, teenage friendly flick has all the classic Universal monsters, plus a group of Goonies-esk friends who work together to stop Dracula’s plot of, i’m assuming, world domination. Last but not least, you can sit you’re kids down for cable’s go-to-film, Hocus Pocus (1993), where after 300 years, three sister witches are resurrected in Salem, Massachusetts during Halloween night. Plus its got Bette Midler, how could you go wrong?!?
As I said before, there could really be no “one” horror movie to go with, but hopefully i’ve given you plenty of options to choose from; if you haven’t already decided. Halloween is an amazing holiday worth celebrating. Why? Because its fun, it doesn’t take itself too serious, unlike some other holidays (cough-cough, Christmas, cough). When it comes to horror movies, its hard to go wrong. It really just depends on you’re particular tastes and mood you want for you’re party. If you’re wondering which horror movie i’ll be starting my month with, and if you don’t count episodes of The Walking Dead (i’m catching up with season three), Carpenter’s masterpiece The Thing (1982) will be my choice of terror. I do not have a definitive favorite horror movie, I simply cannot pick just one, i’m too much of a fan of the genre; but, The Thing comes damn close!
Friday the 13th
If you’re a Friday the 13th fan, today is a good day for you. Not only has the, in my opinion blundered, Blu-ray box set released, but also, the more anticipated Crystal Lake Memories: the Complete History of Friday the 13th (a more definitive making of Friday the 13th franchise collection), and a new book by author David Grove, Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th. And at conjuncture, I’d rather get my grubby mittens on the documentary film than the Blu-ray box set. There isn’t much there that hasn’t already been offered on DVD. You can check out my full review on the quote-unquote, so-called “complete collection” here (for shame WB, for shame!).
But, today, not only can we be excited for these new Friday the 13th releases, but also because today is the moniker for our beloved franchise. Now, Friday the 13th wasn’t the first slasher, John Carpenter’s Halloween should be credited as the patron saint for fictitious murderers, but Friday the 13th has become the most influential, goring the hearts and minds of horror fanatics ever since its release back on May 9th, 1980. Springing from a simple, albeit notorious, tale of a bereaved parent struggling to find justice for the death of her son, Friday the 13th has since encapsulated how killer outcasts seek retribution and old testament justice (revenge) in a post-contemporary world. It’s always interesting going back to the original and comparing it to the many sequels and spin-offs that have followed over the years. Though the mood and pace of the original is similar to the others, it’s also very different. In the original, while the film is still dominated by the classic slasher motif, there is an actual story, worthwhile, taking place.
The synopsis follows: “In 1957, a young Jason Voorhees, drowns at Camp Crystal Lake, while the counselors were ‘too busy’ (wink-wink) to watch him. His body was never found. One year later, two counselors are found murdered [at the same camp], [but] the murderer [is] never caught. After the brutal murders the camp is dubbed, ‘Camp Blood’ by the locals [and] remains closed [for twenty years]. Many [attempt] to reopen, but failed due to foul play. [The story picks up as local native] Steve Christy [throws himself into] reopening Camp Crystal Lake [at all costs]. He hires [a group of rag-tag teens, including:] Annie, Alice, Marcie, Jack, Bill, Brenda, and Ned… [Yet] one of the counselors never shows up. [A storm rolls in] and one by one, each of the counselor’s go missing. Till only one remains, to face the killer alone” (adapted from Camp Blood synopsis).
The real shock, for me at least, when watching the original was discovering that Jason wasn’t the killer; he wasn’t even in the movie until the very end. Friday the 13th wasn’t my first Friday the 13th film, I started with part 7 (I think) and after a few years, decided to give the original a go. Sadly, at the time, Jason wasn’t my favorite horror movie monster. Growing up, Freddy was slightly more popular than our hockey masked friend. Thankfully, through the decades, I’ve wised up and have accepted Jason for the dominating 80’s horror icon that he was and still is. Today, Friday the 13th, despite lacking one certain “pissed off goalie,” and supposed questionable production value, has become my personal favorite in the entire franchise.
Why? Good question. Sure, the Nightmare on Elm Street series is rather good, at least the first couple films, but as I’ve found myself a little more…seasoned, the characture and character of Jason resonate stronger with who I am now; not who I was as a kid. I don’t think kids could (can) appreciate Jason. Freddy always had those cleaver one-liners and retrospective dream stories children tend to find interesting (right?); whereas, Jason simply goes for the throat without the Bond-esk narrative. Jason delivers up-close and personal stalk and slash without being silly about it. The films are normally grainy but never lazy. There is a pace expected and always delivered. You cannot reason with Jason. He is who he is; the situation is what it is. You can fight and lose or fight and survive. The strong do not necessarily live to see another sequel; the weak do not necessarily expire in some grotesque manner. Chance and unpredictability play just as equally as the notion of “bad luck.” And then there’s the nagging question of morality. In a way, Jason is a supernatural judge, weighing the lives of his victims, and dispatching fanatical Old Testament justice.
The question of morality is why, as it seems to me, Friday the 13th has become such a popular movie and has built such a huge fan base. No one enjoys being judged. In Friday the 13th, Pam and Jason are giving the audience a way of relieving feelings of moral judgment by making lite of the entire enterprise. Jason and his doting mother are cathartic; extreme, chilling and gruesome, but yet satisfying in the face of bullhorn preachers. And the best part of Friday the 13th is that it’s really just a simple popcorn horror movie, enjoyable to the last kernel. A movie nostalgic campers resonate with well. Friday the 13th is a “ghost” story, a myth that fits perfectly in the old way of looking at evil, “out-there” in the deeper places out in the woods, beyond the campfire, where we dare not go alone.
Really, so much could be said regarding the Friday the 13th series. You can love them or hate them, but doubtfully anything ho-hum; it is truly the only absolute either-or I’d accept. I’d expect nothing less from such a unique franchise. While critics initially hated the release of the first film, fans have only grown to adore it that much more. There are currently twelve Friday the 13th movies, spanning over 33 years! And the franchise is still growing, or at least has plans to grow. Even the really cheesy ones hardcore nerds tend to criticize, such as part 10 (clears throat), in themselves have found their own fan base. I’m not a huge fan of Jason in Space, but then again, some folks really dig it and the simple fact that there are people who actually love the awful ones is what makes the series so amazing!!!
Have a Happy Friday the 13th everyone and don’t forget to pop in your favorite Friday the 13th film!