Willing Sacrifices (Bloodtide, 1982)

Set on a small greek island, a young man, Neil, and his new wife Sherry have arrived looking for his missing sister Madeline. He discovers she is staying with some nuns restoring art and hanging with a gruff treasure hunter named Freye.

The Island locals are secretive and not very friendly. As the film goes on, we discover that there is a dark secret… the locals still sacrifice virgins to a creature that lives under the island. Freye has disturbed the creature from a long slumber. Madeline’s art restoration reveals ancient art of the creature, and the discovery of coins seems to infect the locals with a madness reaching even the children. Meanwhile the visitors are all becoming obsessed with their own goals.

For some reason I always thought this was a killer crocodile film. But while it is a creature feature, it is more of a monster flick. You never see much of the monster, even in the few reveal shots. Otherwise you usually see everything from the monster’s perspective. Thankfully, this actually benefits the movie as you get some absolutely beautiful underwater scenes. This movie makes great visual use of it’s environment.

While a slow moving film, I found myself drawn into the mystery and the characters. Bloodtide has a couple moments that left me scratching my head (a passionate lover’s kiss between brother and sister for example). But really, I enjoyed the film a lot of a visual level and seeing James Earl Jones in a not Darth Vader role was fun.

Bloodtide is a film that got relegated to the bargain DVD bin for years, which is a shame as I found it rather interesting and engaging.

The Hunger Grows (Alligator 2: the Mutation, 1991)

Over ten years after the original Alligator came the sequel. Now, the first film was about an alligator that was flushed into the sewers, fed on dogs full of growth hormones and was mutated into a giant alligator. It was defeated by a cop and his love interest zoologist.

Meanwhile, the sequel follows a police Detective David who is investigating disappearances that seem tied to a nearby lake. With help from his scientist wife Christine, he discovers there is a giant mutant alligator living in the lake. An unscrupulous land owner is trying to force locals out of their homes to build condos or something. He is a shady dude. So, like this is a totally different movie with a new plot. Really.

So, yeah, this was a direct to video attempt to cash in on the name recognition of the original and even reused footage from the film (shots of the alligator swimming and eye closeups). It pretty much follows the same story as the first, but there are small tweaks I genuinely like. David and Christine have a pretty nice relationship. Their marriage is not in jeopardy, and they seem to really like each other. Richard Lynch has a fun role as the mercenary badass initially hired by the bad guy to dispatch the gator. I like David, he is portrayed as “One of the Good Ones”, a cop who has a sincere love and respect for the community he serves. This makes him quite likable.

The effects are okay, but largely hokey. I am not sure why this is the mutation…this gator seems pretty much the same as the previous gator…which also was a mutation. This film is pretty much on par with the original, more of a remake than a sequel. It is kind of fun, though not any kind of classic.

The Hunger (Alligator, 1980)

Opening with a young girl getting a pet baby alligator at an alligator park (after an alligator attacks an employee) whose father decides to flush the gator down the toilet. Playing into the old urban legend about alligators living in the sewers, this film adds an animal testing conspiracy to the mix.

Robert Forster is a Detective named David investigating dog corpses and human body parts popping up at the local waste treatment plant. His defining character trait is being embarrassed by his thinning hair. he brings this up often. The little girl from the beginning grew up to be Marisa, a zoologist who specializes in reptiles. When David discovers that the killer leaving around body parts is a giant alligator, she helps give him insight. It has been feasting on the carcasses of dogs used by a pharmaceutical company in growth hormone experiments.

When people try and catch the alligator, it goes above ground and starts killing people left and right.

Alligator is a rather goofy film. David has a trauma related to a partner who was killed and he blames himself. He does not just get help Marisa, no they start sleeping together. The evil company eventually sees their comeuppance is a bloody finale.

Notably, this film pulls a Jaws, killing a kid. But unlike Jaws, where that is played as a major tragedy that haunts Brody, here it is just one of many scenes with no real impact to the story.

I do like this creature feature overall, even though it does not have a lot of emotional weight.

Cat Scratch Fever (Sleepwalkers, 1992)

Mary and Charles are the mysterious mother and son that have arrived in a local small town.Charles is handsome and charming, while his mother is ethereal and elegant. Quickly, Charles seems interested in local Tanya.

While she thinks his interest in her is romantic, it turns out that his real purpose is far more sinister. Charles and his mother are actually supernatural creatures…shapeshifters known as Sleepwalkers who go back centuries. They survive by feasting on the life force of young virginal women.

Sleepwalkers is an original idea from Stephen King’s mind. It is an interesting general concept. But the mystery quickly is sideline by comedy and gore. Featuring some decent digital morphing, the shapeshifting in the film is an okay effect. The film is never scary, but there are also some good practical effects.

This is more comedy than horror, with the Sleepwalkers having the weakness of being killable by cat scratches. There is a scene where a guy is killed by a corncob. There is a scene with cameos from Tobe Hooper, Clive Barker, John Landis, Joe Dante and Stephen King that is largely a comedy bit (but lacking…ahem, Wes Craven). The Sleepwalkers are given to hackey one liners, especially Charles.

I enjoy the film as a goofy horror film. And it has a really good cast. But my favorite thing is honestly the music. The soundtrack is punctuated by a really haunted theme that features a sad and ominous hum. It also features a terrific use of an older song called Sleepwalk.

Sleepwalkers is not a classic horror film…it is, however, a lot of schlocky fun to gather wisth some friends around the Halloween season for some laughs and fun jumps.

Last Time Around (The Last House on the Left, 2009)

After the Hills Have Eyes, studios aimed for Craven’s Rape and Revenge flick, The Last House on the Left.

Like the Hills Have Eyes, this one hews extremely close to the source material. A virginal young woman hangs out with her more worldly friend, they meet a young man and hang out with him, only to discover he is not on his own. He is with his father and his gang. This leads to the rape and murder of her friend and her own rape and assumed death.

The gang shows up at her parent’s house during a storm seeking shelter. The girl shows up at the house and her parents realize they have her assailants in the house. The parents fight back to avenge their child and things get violent.

The original film really impacted me. I was ill during the rape and the tone of that film was unpleasant and incredibly gritty. This version? Just left me feeling nothing. I never found the film to cause the discomfort. It is too clean and modern. So even though the film is graphic, I just felt nothing.

This is actually too bad, as this is a fairly good cast.

I would not recommend this film. It adds nothing on the original and lacks any sense of emotion or urgency.

Revisiting the Hill Pt 2 (The Hills Have Eyes 2, 2007)

The first film was successful enough that they made a sequel. I don’t think that it would be accurate to call this a remake of The Hills Have Eyes Part 2.

This time around we have a script from Wes Craven and his son Jonathan. A new Director was also brought in. Largely a music video Director, Martin Weisz took over for Aja. Music video directors seem to have been a them for horror remakes.

Instead of following the survivors of the previous film, we get an entirely new cast of victims. Centering the threat around a military research camp exploring the crater established in the first film, we see the base get attacked and all its occupants slaughtered. A group of soldiers are sent out to check in, with no idea of what has happened. So when they arrive, they find an abandoned base.

As the soldiers start exploring the surrounding areas they find themselves under assault from an unseen enemy. Eventually, of course, the mutants reveal themselves and it becomes a fight for the soldiers to survive.

The film is pretty intense and exciting, but does add one explanation that was in the original Part Two as well, but more graphically. The mutants refresh their population by capturing women and raping them. This is actually established right at the beginning of the film. Honestly, this is such an uncomfortable thing to show.

The soldiers are mostly a genre mish mash of stereotypes. There is the passive guy, the tough guys, the tough girls, the tough Sergeant (Conveniently nicknamed Sarge). There is a some good interactions between the characters, and honestly, some of them make smart decisions, often being overrode by the tough guys.

This is an okay sequel/remake…and a whole lot more enjoyable than the Hills Have Eyes Part 2.

Oh yeah…by the way…this film has one of the all time great teaser trailers.

So simple…but very effective.

Revisiting the Hills Pt 1 (The Hills Have Eyes, 2006)

In the early part of the aughts, studios started to remake Wes Craven’s films. To a certain extent, this was, I believe, an attempt to give Craven more financial benefit from his work. He was tangentially involved in these films as a producer, they were all written and directed by different people.

The Hills Have Eyes was probably a good place to start. It is a film known mainly to fans of Wes Craven and horror. However, a lot of people in the mainstream are likely to have simply heard the name.

Bringing in Alexandre Aja to write and direct. He had made a real impression with 2003’s High Tension, and honestly, was probably a strong choice. High Tension was part of the French Extreme trend in horror where stories could be messy and plot twists do not make sense. Here, the extreme violence of his work really is at home.

The core story is there. A family is on vacation in their RV. They go on a detour to shorten their drive time and the car appears to break down. They discover there are other people hiding in the hills and those people attack them and kidnap their baby. And then the family must fight back.

The original film is about a family from civilization versus the feral family. The film plays up the family divisions, with Big Bob’s tough Republican versus Doug’s “weak Democrat” played up big time. In fact a lot of the film is devoted to Doug becoming a violent badass. This is not an exaggeration. Doug goes from a guy barely able to think of using a gun to hand to hand violent killer. The film is pretty good at manipulating the viewer, because Doug is trying to save his baby.

The remake’s biggest alteration is that the feral family are ravaged by radiation. They are basically mutant monsters. Visually, this is really effective, though it loses something to make the Jupiter family outright inhuman monsters.

This is a decent remake and I think gorehounds will find it enjoyable.

The Saga Continues (Scream 4, 2011)

After the disappointment of My Soul to Take, Craven returned to the grounds of his second most popular Franchise. Or is it the first? I supposed I could look at the box office.

Picking up ten years after the third film, Sydney has written a book about overcoming the events of the prior films. Her book tour brings her back to Woodsboro, bringing (now) Sheriff Dewey and Gale (now married). Gale is struggling to write a fiction book. Dewey is trying to run the police department. His Deputy Judy has a clear crush on him, His other deputies are a bit inept. We also meet a new group of teens, centered around Sydney’s cousin Jill. She and her friends suddenly find themselves facing the Ghostface killer again. Who is it now? What are the motives? Is this Sydney’s fault?

Truth be told? This is a real comeback for the franchise. It is fun to be back in the presence of Sydney, Dewey and Gale. And after the second and third films began with Dewey and Gale split up, it is nice to see them together and not really angry with each other. Their only conflict occurs when Dewey suggests Gale should not be a part of the investigation.

I really like the new additions to the cast, especially Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby and Deputy Judy played by Marley Shelton. The twists and motives for Ghostface in this film work so much better than the third film.

Honestly, one of the things that makes this franchise so great and re-watchable is it’s focus. Scream is the rare franchise that is not about its killer. Since Ghostface changes in every movie, the series is about the people Ghostface is a threat to. And we get to see arcs for our leads.

One of the things that really helps here, I suspect, is that this installment features the return of Kevin Williamson as writer, Williamson was the writer of the three good flicks in the series. He and Wes had a real magic with this series. And so, Craven’s filmography ends of a pretty high note, which is nice since he passed away four years later.

I am not sure how I feel about Scream 5…I mean, the core cast (and Deputy Judy) are coming back. But Williamson is not the writer and Craven, obviously, won’t be back. Maybe fresh writers and directors will bring something new. But I do have to say, Scream 4 is a great send off for Craven and a terrific new entry in the series.

Pop Horror Psychology (My Soul To Take, 2010)

After a break, Wes Craven returned with the supernatural tale My Soul to Take. Opening on a couple anticipating the birth of their second child, it is revealed the husband is dealing with multiple personalities. One is the Riverton Ripper. After he calls his therapist, the Ripper goes on a rampage. The police try and take him down. The same night, seven babies are born. There is a legend he will return to claim the lives of the children.

Sixteen years later, the kids are all in high school and the community has built up a whole mythology. When the kids start dying, Bug starts trying to solve the mystery of who the killer is.

My Soul to take is a bigger mess than Cursed. It is a weird mix of bad psychology and weird notions that do not really pay off quite as Craven had likely hoped. This is easily one of Craven’s weakest theatrical efforts and never finds footing to overcome its weaknesses.

Once Bitten (Cursed 2005)

For Cursed, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson teamed up to bring us a take on a different type of horror. Rather than slashers, they tackle werewolves. Jimmy and Ellie are brother and sister who witness a car accident one night, when they attempt to help the driver, they are both bitten by a wild animal that mauls the driver.

But as the days pass, the siblings both find they are feeling different. They heal quickly and Jimmy finds himself becoming both a better athlete and more desirable to people. While Ellie is skeptical of Jimmy’s werewolf theory, she becomes convinced as she feels the changes coming on. They then try and determine how to free themselves of the curse. In the grand tradition, they must end the blood line of the werewolf that bit them.

They discover who the werewolf is and then have to fight to end their curse. But there are complications…is the werewolf the one that is killing people?

You know…unlike Scream, this effort from Williamson and Craven lacks any punch. It has some decent twists and fun moments (for example, Jimmy’s dog gets infected and becomes a werewolf dog). But this really feels like an attempt by Craven to make a film in someone else’s style. Lots of fast cuts, rock music driving the soundtrack. I know Scream did something similar, but more effectively. This film has a good core cast, but is also filled with a very early aughts TV cast. You have actors from Dawsons Creek and Smallville. Pop singers.

There are no scares in this werewolf tale and it really collapses under its own reference heavy weight.

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