Fishies Pt 2 (Piranha II: The Spawning, 1981)

piranha_ii_spawning_posterSet in the Caribbean (though, no pirates) Piranha II: The Spawning is the story of Scuba Instructor, a police chief (her ex-husband) and a biochemist (her current boyfriend) trying to determine the cause of several gruesome deaths.

There are lots of people who are eaten by the Piranha…but there is a twist…apparently the piranha have mutated and can now fly.  Yes…fly.  They flap their fins and fly around.  In spite of this, the hotel manager refuses to cancel a beach side fish fry.  Because there is always one guy who refuses to listen to the people setting off the alarms.

Frankly, the film is pretty dull.  This is no fault of the cast (which includes Lance Henrikson in his sixteenth of 227 roles)…the concept just goes nowhere and it lacks any actual tension.

Piranha II was James Cameron’s first feature length film.  He was also fired.  His name remains as the director due to a contractual obligation that the film have an American director.  Cameron filmed the movie but was not allowed to cut it or see the footage.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 2 (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 1986)

the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_part_2_poster
Don’t You, Forget About Me…

Cannon Films got the rights to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and immediately set to get Hooper to make a sequel.  Except, Hooper was not really interested in a sequel.  He agreed to be a producer, but only after they found they could not afford a director, did Hooper agree to direct.

While the studio expected a straight up horror film, Hooper had something else in mind.  A gory and dark comedy.  This is even evident in their poster, which mimics the Breakfast Club poster.

Two guys harass radio DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams), only to find themselves attacked and killed by Leatherface and his clan.  This is a pretty memorable scene, in part due to the obnoxious preppy guys and their demise.  Stretch starts to rebroadcast to solve the crime.

 

Meanwhile, the crime is also being investigate by Lefty (Dennis Hopper)…Lefty has been on the trail of the Sawyer family for over a decade, as they killed his nephew Franklin and nearly killed niece Sally.  Leatherface and Chop Top (a family member who was in Vietnam during the first film) show up to the radio station looking for Stretch.  She convinces Leatherface to let her live,  rushing off with Chop Top.  She follows them to their new home (they are hiding out in below what appears to be a the remains of a theme park).  Soon Lefty shows up as well.  This results in a big chainsaw fight between Lefty and the family.

The film’s final scene mimics the original film’s final moments, but reverses them.  The film also is where the cannibalism aspect comes in.  The family has an award winning chili recipe (hint, the special ingredient is people meat) that they take around Texas.

The cast here is a lot of fun.  Hopper is over the top as Lefty and his Chainsaw battle is downright hilarious.  William’s handles being both the terrified victim, yet also is smart enough to find ways to survive.  Bill Mosely is great as the absurd Chop Top, the weird hippie of the family.  Bill JohnsonThe make-up effects and set design are beautifully theatrical.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not well received, but it’s become a cult classic, and deservedly so.  It is entertaining, even though it is not a scary film by any means.  Horror fans should not miss this clever skewering of Horror sequel tropes.

Fishies pt 1 (Piranha, 1978)

piranha_1978_posterJoe Dante’s third film was one of Roger Corman’s knockoff films.  Corman had a formula and it had a lot to do with seeing what was big or on the verge of big and following suit with lower budgets.  And it worked.  A lot of well known filmmakers and performers came out of the Corman Machine.  Dante, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Gale Anne Hurd and John Sayles are but a few.

The first writing gig for John Sayles, Piranha is the tale of a young private detective named Maggie who is searching for a rich man’s daughter who disappeared on a hiking trip.  She meets up with local guide Paul and they find a remote building with a large pool.  They suspect maybe there could be bodies in the pool.  They find the lever to flush the pool, but get in a struggle with a crazed gentleman who wants to make sure they do not succeed.  After they managed to flush the pool, they find two skeletons.  Ultimately, it turns out that the pool was full of genetically altered piranha who are making their way down the river eating everything that comes into their path.  The river is taking them right to a local summer camp and a grand opening of a resort.

As is to be expected, there is a race against time (Paul’s daughter is at the camp) as Maggie and Paul try to warn everyone.  The local mayor wants them jailed, as he does not want to hurt tourism.  Did I mention that Piranha was made to cash in on the success of Jaws?

Sayles and Dante do not treat this as just a knockoff of a bigger film.  They understand the limits of their budget, and center things to work within those boundaries.  This results in a fun monster movie that has plenty to enjoy.  It is not nearly as exploitative as other Corman films (Corman often had deals with distributors requiring sex scenes and gratuitous nudity) and the gore is low level.  The titular piranhas are often unseen or blurry shadows.  The attacks often involve people disappearing beneath churning waters.

The cast is enjoyable, especially Corman regulars like Paul Bartel and Dick Miller.  Kevin McCarthy is always dependable for the “Maniacal Scientist” role, and he does not let the viewer down here.  Piranha has earned it’s cult status, being one of the more clever attempts to take advantage of a hit movie.  It manages to avoid simply being an imitation and is quite memorable in it’s own right.

 

 

Let’s Visit Texas Part 1 (the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974)

the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_posterI think the lesson in this film franchise is never take a road trip to Texas.  But anyways, the original film about a family of twisted and likely inbred rednecks is based very loosely on Wisconsin’s Ed Gein.

Gein is pretty notorious for his grave robbing and making furniture from human bodies.  He also confessed to killing two women.  But it is the creepy house of horrors that really seemed to inspire Tobe Hooper and his team.*

Hooper opens his film with an introduction warning us of the horrifying tale we are about to witness. It is followed by a creepy visual of a corpse that is hugging a gravestone.  All as a news report tells us what the police discovered.  The sound effect that accompanies the scene is intensely creepy.

We meet a group of young friends on a road trip to check the grave of Sally Hardesty and her brother Franklin’s father, based on the reports of grave robbing.  They pick up a creepy hitchhiker who freaks everyone out.  They toss him to the side of the road and continue on their way.  Their van is low on gas, so they pull over.  Hearing a generator, they discover a farmhouse.  And that is where the mayhem kicks in.  The friends find themselves stalked and treated like animals by the Sawyer family.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most controversial of the classic 70’s horror films.  It is remembered for it bloody brutality and gore.  Which made my first viewing a surprise.  The film is raw and frightening.  But it is also not very gory.  It is, largely bloodless.  Even a scene in which a young woman is suspended on a meat hook is not nearly as gruesome in it’ visuals.  Much of what makes the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to gruesome is the viewer’s imagination.  The thought of how painful it is.  It is also interesting to realize the who “Family of Cannibals” aspect was not actually established in the film.  Certainly there are things you could see as hints, but nothing explicit.

The set design was made on a budget, but the crew puts together a weird and creepy home for the family.  It is genuinely unsettling.

Made with a cast of unknowns (for almost all the performers, this was their first film) by a second time director, Massacre is pretty remarkable for it’s near continuous intensity.  Hooper and his team (both behind and in front of the camera) do quite well on a shoestring budget.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a powerful and raw horror film that has held up for forty years, and for good reason.  The film is one that sticks with the viewer long after turning off the TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Gein also inspired Robert Block’s Psycho among others.

Modern Vampires (Lost Boys: The Thirst, 2010)

lost-boys-thirst-posterIn spite of the critical failure of the Tribe*, somebody wanted to try and keep the franchise undead.  And I can say…this is a better film than the Tribe. This came out a few months after the death of Corey Haim.  The Tribe had a credit scene showing Sam as having become a vampire and in an alternate ending, there is a brief shot of Vampire Alan on his way.  This film leaves Sam out entirely, instead bringing back Jamison Newlander as Alan Frog.  The film makes Edgar Frog (Feldman) the center of the film, though the Frog Brothers are reunited, out to finish off a new crew of vampires.

The Thirst pretty much ignores the Tribe, other than Edgar is living in a shack and his brother is a half vampire.

 

This time around, we see how Alan was made into a half vampire, leading to a split between the Frog Brothers.  Edgar is down on his luck, facing eviction from his camper and trying to raise money by selling his comic book collection.  He takes a job from Gwen, a Stephanie Meyer type, to help her find her brother, who she believes has been captured by vampires.  Edgar despises her work for romanticizing vampires, but is convinced that the vampires in question  include the first vampire.  Edgar tries to recruit Alan to help, but Alan refuses, feeling chances are that killing the head vampire will not do anything.

Edgar is forced to work with reality star Lars who was hired as a fallback for Gwen.  They go to the location of the Vampire rave (shades of Blade there) where they take on the vampires.  I mean, that is kind of expected, right?  There are a couple twists before they reach the end, of course.

As I said…this is better than the previous sequel.  This is not saying much, as it is no where near as enjoyable as the original.  They try and be somewhat original in this story.  Of course, having vampire movies that mock the Twilight franchise is hardly new.  Same with reality show characters.   The film’s call back moments to the original film kind of work.  During an early conversation Alan asks why Edgar did not go to Sam and Edgar states the Sam Turned and he had to stake him.  Alan asks about Michael & Star (who are apparently still a couple) and Laddie (the kid vampire in the original).  But it also has jokes like: “It turns Holy Water into Holy Slaughter.”

It has it’s moments, and sets up the planned fourth sequel which was going to have the Frog Brothers take on werewolves.  It even hints that one of the characters is a werewolf. There was even talk of a Frog Brother TV show.  However, Warner Brothers shut down the  Warner Premiere label.  This killed the the film and TV show for the foreseeable future.

Part of the problem here is that Edgar is a pretty skilled vampire hunter at this point.  He and Alan are competent.  Part of the charm of the Frog Brothers in the first film was that, for all their talk, they were largely bumbling and ineffective…when they did succeed?  It was usually by stupidity or some other intervention.  And having them be the skilled folks who are the only ones who know the real danger is just…well, not as much fun.

The film is flashier than the original, but has less of an identity.  The fast shots make it look like lots of vampire movies we have seen.  The Lost Boys had a style all it’s own.  The Thirst does not.

 

 

 

 

 

*The film received a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes critic assessment is still at zero to this day.  The audience score is 25%…in spite of this, it was one of the top selling videos that year.

Instability (the Ward, 2010)

the-ward-posterCarpenter’s final film to this point is the Ward.  It was his first feature length film since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars.  Carpenter said he had fallen out of love with film-making.  And so, the Ward was to be his return to his love.  And I wish I could say it is a triumphant return.

The Ward is the story of a young woman, Kristen, in the 60’s locked in a mental ward.  She is locked away with several other young women.  She tries to get along, but feels there is something wrong.  And it is not just the cruel employees who mistreat the girls.  It appears the ward may be haunted.

The film quickly throws away the question of if it is in Kristin’s imagination.

 

It becomes obvious there is a ghost and she is killing off the girls, working her way back to Kristin.  They discover the name of the ghost is Alice a prior patient of Jared Harris’ Dr. Stringer.  Oddly, the hospital seems unconcerned with the disappearing girls.  And then there is the twist…a twist that is pretty easy to see coming early on in the film…and a twist we saw in the 2007 film Identity.  I am not saying you cannot have a reveal similar to a previous film.  But you better find a way to make it a surprise.

The problem is not really the performances…everybody is doing their best with very thin characters.  I suspect that this was partially intentional.  That each girl was some brand of archetype.  But they lack the depth beyond this to sell them as real characters, which again fails to hide the big twist towards the end.

I realize the story and script are not the fault of John Carpenter.  He did not write this film.  Carpenter was strictly in the capacity of director with this one, even the music being composed by someone without input from Carpenter.  Which is regrettable, because he has some terrific musical output the last couple of years.

I truly had high hopes for the Ward, but it feels like a really pedestrian offering from a talented director.

 

 

Blood Surf (Lost Boys: Tribe, 2008)

This sequel, directed by P.J. Pesce, came 21 years…um…to late.

lost-boys-the-tribe-cover

Normally, I try and say something about the film that sees possible potential.  I mean, Nightmare On Elm Street 2 is not all that great, but at least they tried to tell a totally new story.  But this is all I got. Keifer Sutherland’s half brother (he plays the lead vampire) has none of Sutherland’s charm as a vampire.  The soundtrack is mostly terrible.  And…

lost_boys_suck

(drawn by me)

Religious Fervor (Pro-Life, 2006)

pro-life-posterCarpenter’s second contribution to Masters of Horror is a bit more mixed.  For one thing, it makes They Live look subtle and nuanced in it’s politics.  Pro-Life is, unsurprisingly, a horror movie centered around abortion.

Angelique is a young pregnant woman seeking an abortion.  She comes from a religious family that protests abortion clinics and uses violent methods.  She arrives at a clinic, but soon her father and brothers show up to stop the abortion.  But Angelique has no ordinary child growing in her.  The father is not human…as her father and brother terrorize the clinic, she gives birth to a horrific beast that is already deadly.

And that is before daddy shows up.

 

Pro-Life is a dealing with a sensitive topic, and it handles it with all the care of a sledge hammer.  The father and brothers commit a vicious murder, and although there have indeed been doctors killed by pro-life activists, this is flat out standard horror movie death.

The visual effects are quite good, the monster(s) is effective.  The cast is good, especially Ron Perlman as the frightening Dwayne Burcell.  But it these things do not make the film less distasteful.  It is a pro-choice screed and not a very effective one at that.  In the end, it is one of Carpenter’s lesser efforts.

Daddy Issues (The Lost Boys, 1987)

the-lost-boys-posterPunk rock vampires.  This is the film that launched the Coreys (though, both Haim and Feldman were established independently) and helped cement Keifer Sutherland into public consciousness (both he and Feldman were in Stand by Me a year before).

Opening with a quick introduction to Keifer and his buddies, there is a hint of ominous as they harass people having fun at a beach side amusement park.  Kicked out by a security guard who finds himself under attack upon the park closing down.  We are then introduced to Sam and Michael, whose mother is moving them all to Santa Carla California to start a new life with their Grandpa.  Grandpa is revealed to be very quirky.  Sam laments there being no TV, but then his Grandpa starts laying down the rules mentions the TV Guide.  Sam asks if there is a TV, only to be told, “I just like the TV Guide.  You read the TV Guide…you don’t need a TV.”

The family explores the boardwalk amusement area, Sam discovers the Frog Brothers and their parents comic book store.  They start to push a vampire comic on him, which Sam initially rejects.  Meanwhile, big brother Michael has become infatuated with a beautiful free spirit named Star.  All while their mother gets a job at a local video store.

Star turns out to be associated with the punks from earlier…and Michael finds himself drawn into the world of David and his vampire friends.  As Michael starts to change, Sam works to save him (with the help of the Frog Brothers).  Sam and the Brothers embarrass themselves when they go to prove their mother’s new boyfriend is a vampire (he passes all the tests).

The film ends with a battle royal of Michael and Sam standing against David and his boys leading to a couple of nice twists.  The film is visually lush and colorful.  There is terrific uses of reds, especially that add a real punch.

The vampire lore sticks pretty close to the typical movie vampire mythology.  They fly, drink blood, can mesmerize people, hate garlic and so on.  This is not where the film excels though.  They bring nothing original to the myths, but they do bring a fun flair.  The film is full of humor (Plenty of it from Barnard Hughes as Grandpa).  David (Sutherland) is menacing and yet also little more than a petulant trickster child.  Feldman and Jamison Newlander are great fun as the Frog Brothers, self styled vampire hunters.  Sutherland’s brood truly love and embrace being vampires which helps make this film’s approach really work.

This is not one of the great horror classics, but it is a terrifically fun vampire movie with a killer soundtrack to boot.

The Folly of Film-making (Cigarette Burns, 2005)

Cigarette_Burns-CoverIn 2005 Mick Garris created the Masters of Horror for Showtime.  The idea was that well known horror directors would make short horror film (an hour long).  There were two seasons and Carpenter contribute a film to each season.

Norman Reedus (better known as Daryl on the Walking Dead) is Kirby Sweetman, a rare films dealer.  He is hired to locate La Fin Absolue du Monde (French: The Absolute End of the World) a movie shown only once and it caused the audience to go into a homicidal frenzy.

The deeper Sweetman digs into trying to locate the film, the more disturbing things become.  The film featured an act so depraved, it’s evil infects the viewer.

 

The twists and turns of the tale are well orchestrated by Carpenter.  Visually, it is disturbed and haunted.  It is well cast, including horror veteran Udo Keir is the buyer who hires Reedus.

Cigarette Burns could be an addendum to the Apocalypse trilogy, and it is a strong episode from the Masters of Horror series.  Carpenter feels a top form here, and after Ghosts of Mars, it is good to have him back.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑