Killer Duality (The Dark Half, 1993)

Dark_Half_PosterYoung Thad Beaumont experienced painful headaches when doctors performed surgery, they found the remains of a twin Thad absorbed in the womb.  Years later, Thad is a teacher and writer.  He is approached by Fred Clawson and asked to sign a book.  Thad claims he is not the author, pointing to the author being George Stark.  but Fred has worked out that Thad and Stark are one in the same.  And he is threatening to expose Beaumont as the writer of the lurid books by Stark.

Thad decides to head him off at the pass and he publically “kills off” Stark.  And then people related to the event start getting murdered, making Beaumont look like the prime suspect.

The film plays around with whether Thad is losing his mind or if Stark has somehow found a way into our world.  There is the motif of birds within the story.  Thad hears birds in his head, but birds also seem to amass when Stark is around.

Romero does a pretty decent job with this adaption of a Stephen King novel, but it is not really a memorable film either.  But it is passable entertainment for horror fans.

 

 

The Masters of Horror series aired on Showtime.  The Masters of Horror is a gathering of Horror Directors, it is a loose conglomerate of folks in the Horror community started by Mick Garris.  The idea behind the show is various popular horror directors contributing a short horror film (an hour long or so).  Admittedly, some directors were not primarily doing horror at this point (such as Joe Dante, who had not done a horror film in quite some time) or was not primarily known for horror (Session 9’s Brad Anderson).  And noticeably missing was George Romero.  But they did get John Carpenter for a good one and one really ham fisted political one.

Dance of the Dead

Masters_Dance_DeadThe fourth outing for Hooper and Englund, Dance of the Dead is a post apocalyptic story.  After a generally society  ending war, kids run around being hoodlums.  A young woman, Peggy, works for her mom in a diner.  Her sister appears to have a mysterious condition that makes her a pariah of sorts. She meets one of the “good” hoodlums.  We know he is good because he respects her mother’s wishes and talks back to his friends.

Her mother believes that nobody is any good except her daughter, trust nobody else is her message.

The dead also walk in this wasteland.  There are clean-up crews that gather them up and burn the animated bodies.  But this is not the only use.  Robert Englund  is the Ringmaster of a club where they make the dead dance for entertainment.    the club is the kind of post apocalyptic bondage club we have seen throughout sci-fi history.  And there is nothing to set it apart.  Englund has some fun with his role, but this film is not about him.

Dance of the Dead feels largely pointless, and takes forever to get going.  In an hour long story, long slow scenes a re a death knell.  If it is a satire or exploration of mankind’s darker tastes in entertainment…it sure misses that mark.  Is it about teen rebellion? Rebelling against repression? Maybe.  But the film feels largely empty and without meaning.  And not in the darker meaningful sense where it is upsettings or subverting our expectations.  It is simply cotton candy…and bland cotton candy at that.

The ending is very dark, and would have been really powerful had the set up been better.

The Damned Thing

Masters_damned_thingThe Damned Thing was written by classic sci-fi and horror writer Richard Matheson and based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce.  Sheriff Kevin Reddle has a dark history.  As a young boy, his father killed his mother and tried to kill him.  Decades later he is married to Dina and they have a son.  He secretly suspects there is an evil force that caused his dad to try and kill the family.

At first there is little proof, and he questions his own sanity.  But as the town starts to experience aggressive outburst, Kevin becomes certain that there is a force, one that feeds on people’s fear and anger, turning them into violent killers.

Sean Patrick Flannery gives a good performance here, especially as Kevin sinks into the overwhelming power of the “Damned Thing”.  Hooper shows the sparks of his stronger works here.  He makes good use of the environment and his setup is very effective in making this one of those southern feeling horror tales with talks of generational curses and the like.

This is probably the strongest of all of Hooper’s later works.

Poe-Vision (Two Evil Eyes, 1990)

two_evil_eyes_poster.jpgTwo Evil Eyes is a double feature from George A. Romero and Italian horror icon Dario Argento.  The two tales are Poe inspired tales The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar and The Black Cat.

Romero’s tale is a pretty straight forward.  Jessica Valdemar married Ernest Valdemar for his riches.  She has to keep him alive, but he is nearing death. She is trying to keep her affair with his doctor, Robert Hoffman, secret.  Hoffman is a practitioner of hypnotism and has been hypnotizing Mr. Valdemar.  He dies during one of these sessions, presenting a problem for Jessica.  His will specified he must live to a certain date for her to inherit his money.

Jessica and Robert concoct a plan to freeze the body so they can claim he died after the necessary date.  But there is a hitch.  Valdemar may not be dead.  Moans come from the basement freezer…and eventually they are able to converse with him. Mr. Valdemar warns of others who want to use him to get into our world.  Robert is obsessed with learning more…and it is not meant to end well.

Argento’s the Black Cat follows crime scene photographer Roderick Usher.  He is following a series of murders seemingly inspired by the stories of Edgar Allen Poe.  Meanwhile, his girlfriend has adopted a stray feral cat.  When he kills the cat in a fit of rage, in spite of lying about it, his girlfriend kicks him out, certain of his guilt.  But the cat keeps coming back.  What ends up playing out is a gruesome telltale heart story.

Both stories have a great cast of horror veterans.  Harvey Keitel is particularly good as the unlikeable cat obsessed Usher.  The Black Cat has far more unnecessary gore than Romero’s story, but overall, they both are fairly effective stories.

New In Town (Mortuary, 2005)

Mortuary_CoverDenise Crosby is Leslie, recently widowed, has moved her family cross-country to a small California town.  She has bought a local mortuary (right next to a graveyard).  The Mortuary has a past and there is a lot of legend regarding the land it is built on.

As the tale goes, the first owner was a farmer who found nothing would grow on the land.  It was as if the ground was cursed.  Eventually, they built the mortuary and cemetery.  The last owners had a dark history and a handicapped son.  They hid the son away, and then when he got older, as the story goes, he killed his parents and hid beneath the cemetery.

Of course, something evil lives in the mortuary and it possesses people, turning them in zombies.  It is up to her son Jonathan (Cougertown’s Dan Byrd)  to stop the evil (with the help of his girlfriend) and save his little sister from the sinister force.

The plot is kind of a mess.  What exactly are the evil force’s goals?  Why is salt a perfect weapon?  Is it some sort of slug?  Why is it a terrible look digital monster?  The characters are the under-developed stock character type and the film lacks any scares.  This is pretty much a failure on every level.

Monkey_Shines_PosterBased on a novel by Michael Stewart, Monkey Shines is the tale of a quadriplegic man who given an enhanced monkey as his helper.  Allen is an athlete who is left wheelchair-bound after a terrible accident.  Initially, he is stuck with a rather unsympathetic nurse (who lets her parakeet fly around the house) named Maryanne.  He struggles, and his girlfriend walks out on him (only to start dating the doctor who saved his life).  His friend Jeffrey (a scientist experimenting with capuchin monkeys) and a trainer, Melanie, introduce him to Ella.  A capuchin meant to perform tasks for Allan, she initially shows a great amount of intuitiveness, selecting music Allan would like to listen to.  As time goes on, Allan and Melanie also start to build a romantic relationship, while he and Ella seem  to be developing a deeper bond.

But as the story progresses, the bond seems to become more and more primal, thus more dangerous.  Allen has visions of running around, at about the height of a monkey.  As he gets agitated, so does Ella.  And he starts talking about he and Ella as “We”.

While the film starts out shaky, with the initial accident looking almost comical, Romero quickly finds footing in Allen’s struggle with his new situation.  The slow changes from where we see his temper growing shorter and shorter, combined with his growing paranoia over his connection to Ella is very effective.  This is especially seen in his relationship with Maryanne, which rapidly deteriorates with the addition of Ella to the house.

Monkey Shines is a compelling thriller that should really be remembered more as one of Romero’s film canon.

Renovations (Toolbox Murders, 2004)

Toolbox_Murders_PosterTobe returns to the haunted house genre.  Nell and Steven move into a dilapidated but historic Hollywood apartment complex. From the start, Nell feels there is something wrong with the building.

As people disappear, nobody believes her that murders are happening.  Of course, this leads her to watch the red herring, only to discover secret passages below the basement.  So, you know a sub-basement..with sub-basements.

 

She finally finds that the real killer is a disfigured man in a ski mask.  Apparently, it never occurred to him to wear a human face mask, but hey…we can’t all be Leatherface.  I should say, I do think the look is the villain is pretty effective.  Sadly, the rest of the film is less effective.

Toolbox_Murders_1978

The film has laughably inept cops.  In one scene, they leave an apartment, never noticing the body nailed right above the door.  There are several character who exist to be dispatched at the end in a massive bloodbath of a final reel.  The film lacks both suspense and scares.

This is a remake of an exploitation slasher from 1978 that, frankly, I remember nothing about.  Well, except for that VHS video box in the horror aisle at Blockbuster and Hollywood Video.

This is definitely not one of Hooper’s most memorable films.

Day_of_the_Dead_PosterDay of the Dead begins with the films heroes landing a helicopter at the edge of a city. They are calling out as the camera explores a desolate empty world seemingly only occupied by animals.  But then we see a shadow and the camera pans up to the mutilated face of a zombie.

Day of the Dead shows us a world over run by zombies.  There are few members of the living.  In fact, our heroes are part of a secret base of scientists and soldiers who are starting to wonder if they are all alone on the world.  Set on a small island in an underground base, tensions between the civilian staff and military men are running high.

Captain Rhodes and his men are starting to become more aggressive, believing the scientists work unimportant.  The military men just want to find another outpost and leave.  But the lead scientist Logan is obsessed with the idea that he can “domesticate” zombies.  His best example is the zombie Bub (which he explains is a nickname of his father).  Bub seems to remember things like tools, books, phones.  He mainly is mimicking what other people do (he simply thumbs through a Stephen King book, runs a disposable razor down his cheek, etc).  But Logan believes it is more, and the end of the film does suggest that Bub is not as mindless as he seems.

Eventually, it all explodes, the scientists plan an escape, while Rhodes and his men plan to leave the island and the scientists behind.  You might be surprised to find that not everything goes as planned.

A new theme enters Romero’s films with Day of the dead…one of…”Who is worse?”  Not unlike Ripley telling Burke you don’t see the aliens “f***ing each other over for a percentage”, Rhodes and his men may be more terrifying as they bully and abuse the scientists.  It has been said that as the movies have gone on, George Romero started to side with the zombies.  Day of the Dead is the seeds of that.

It is not just the callous obsession of Logan or the cruelty of Captain Rhodes.  It is, ultimately, Bub.  Bub, who barely says a word is remarkably sympathetic.  Sherman Howard packs a lot of emotion into his performance, and it is no surprise that Bub is a popular character.

Truthfully, Day of the Dead is my favorite Romero zombie movie.  I like and admire the previous two films, but Day is my unabashed favorite.  Being set beyond the zombie outbreak allows an exploration of that world based in something other than confusion and desperation.  It asks the most intriguing questions about human nature and our desire to control situations that may be far from our grasp.

Crocodile_PosterA bunch of teens go on a trip to the lake, staying in a houseboat.  They stumble on a nest of crocodile eggs and take one.  So then they are pursued by the huge crocodile momma.  Meanwhile, the local police chief is investigating a series of grisly deaths.  With help from a shady alligator farm owner, he figures out what is going on.

Crocodile is not very good.  It is pretty standard, it’s pretty teens are bland and only two characters are really defined… the nice girl and the slut, who wants the nice girl’s man. But no worries…the slut gets eaten.

The egg plot seems directly lifted from the third Jurassic Park movie…right down to a female character returning the egg.  And let’s be honest…this is a poor man’s Lake Placid…and it is indeed poor.  This is one of those films where people are ten feet away, but still end up in the crocodile’s mouth.  The crocodile is a mix of practical and digital.  And all the digital looks terrible.

Even for a die-hard Hooper fan, this is not a movie worth checking out.

Creepshow_Poster

The Horror anthology has always been risky.  There are few true classics.  Mostly what you get are movies with a couple good tales among some duds. George Romero and Stephen King teamed up to create Creepshow.

The five stories included here are all pretty strong.  The first is Fathers Day, the story of a somewhat rotten family gathering to celebrate the birthday of the late patriarch.  This year, he intends to get his birthday cake.

The second story is the Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill is about a simple-minded farmer who discovers a meteor on his land. After touching the meteor, Jordy finds frass growing uncontrollably, consuming his body.

Something to Tide You over features an adulterous couple who are discovered by the woman’s husband.  He seeks to take revenge trapping them on the beach (so to speak).

The Crate follows an older professor who is constantly belittled by his alcoholic gossip wife.  His respite is his fellow professor, Dexter.  Dexter is called to the school by a janitor who finds a mysterious crate tucked away.  The crate seems to be decades old…but to also contain something still alive.  And hungry.

Finally, They’re Creeping Up on You is about an old man obsessed with cleanliness finding his home seems to be under siege by cockroaches.

The film is framed as a comic book, with art by Jack Kamen (an E.C. comics artist, which is the inspiration for Creepshow).  As each story begins and ends, we see comic book art that fades into the live image (or Vice Versa).  The art is great and provides a unique look to the film.  The film also has an extra framing device of a story about a young boy (Played by King’s real-life son Joe) whose father (played by veteran character actor Tom Atkins) is angry when he finds him reading a horror comic book.

Tom Savini provides a great series of effects, with visuals that mimic the color of comics. The gruesome visuals are not interested in realism, rather in being lush and colorful.

The cast is really terrific.  You have veterans like E.G. Marshall and Hal Holbrook along with upcoming stars like Ed Harris and Ted Danson.

Most of the film has a tone of cartoonish horror.  The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill struggles the most in this regard because at times it gets absurdly comical.  But overall, Creepshow is still one of Romero’s straight up most fun works.

It’s Alive! (The Mangler, 1995)

The_Mangler_PosterThis is…a weird film.  Englund is back for another round with Hooper and he is clearly having a blast this time around.After a tragic accident with an old and giant folding machine at the local laundry, Detective John Hunton finds himself drawn into a dark and supernatural world.

Based on a ten page Stephen King short story, the Mangler is a folding machine possessed by a demon that is served by the elderly Bill Gartley.  Hunton, with help from a spiritualist friend and elderly photographer/mortician he uncovers a dark history of human sacrifice and works to save Gartley’s young niece Sherry.

Among the odd choices in the film are having the mortician be played by a young man in old man make-up.  Jeremy Crutchley turns in a good performance, but the make-up is so obvious it is distracting when he is on screen.  There is an exorcism of an old fridge.  Most of the characters are largely unpleasant or annoying.  Of course, it gets downright hilarious when the giant machine starts running after the leads in the factory like a wild animal.  As mentioned, the short story is pretty short, so they add a lot of stuff…but funny enough?  The machine chasing people?  Not one of them.  In the story, it runs around town killing people. Oh, Stevie.

Truthfully, this is really only good for a bunch of friends to watch and laugh together.  It is also worth noting that although Hooper is the credited director, he was actually replaced after having filmed the majority of the film.