oh-god-book-2-movie-poster-1980In 1980, God returned to the big screen with Oh, God! Book II.  This time, he visits a young girl named Louanne (Tracy Richards) dealing with the separation of her parents (played Suzanne Pleshette and David Birney).  Her dad is an adman dating a woman who is given the defining characteristics of having large breasts and obliviousness to Tracy.

God appears to Tracy with a goal.  Promote God.  He sets a few rules, specifically she cannot tell any adults.  So she enlists her friends and they start putting up signs that say Think God.  She gets kicked out of school and is sent to see a psychiatrist.  The film culminates with God walking in on a group of psychiatrists and challenging them.

While I get what they were going for by having God appear to a child, it never works quite as effectively.  For one thing, it is a lot easier to write off a kid believing in an imaginary friend as a phase than a grown man claiming he can see God.  I question the likelihood that a kid would get hauled before a psychiatric tribunal to determine her mental health.  I suspect it would be written off as cute things precocious little kids do.

The other problem is the film rehashes the same questions.  Like Jerry, Tracy wants to know why there is suffering.  Why choose me?  Admittedly, these are questions that come up repeatedly, but still…it would have been nice for them to tackle some other tough questions.

Burns is good as God, but the film tends to drag when he is not around.  The overall feeling is this was rushed to the floor, even though there is a three year gap from the first film.  Ultimately, I did not find myself  enjoying the complete retread.

Oh. My. Gawd. (Oh God, 1977)

Oh-God-movie-posterThe last hurrah of films from the hard working comic George Burns, I had not seen the Oh God films since the first film was shown to me in Catholic school.

The first film introduces us to hardworking grocery store manager Jerry (John Denver) and his wife Bobbie (Teri Garr).  One day, Jerry gets a phone call to have a meeting.  Upon arriving at the address, he take the elevator that leads to a simple white office with a chair and a speaker.  The voice from the speaker claims to be God and He wants Jerry to be his messenger.

Jerry, certain he is being pranked, tries to find the voice.  After leaving, he discovers that the floor he was on does not exist.  Troubled, but still thinking it might be a joke who heads on out.  Then God starts speaking to him through the radio.  When Jerry tells Bobbie, she tries to convince herself he is not crazy-it’s not like he is seeing things.

And then God appears in Jerry’s bathroom and car.  So, Jerry asks for proof.  Prove he’s God.  Make it rain, Jerry says.  And so God makes it rain-inside the car.  “Why ruin other peoples’ day?” God reasons.  And so Jerry takes on the task of spreading God’s message.

It is a pretty simply Golden Rule style message about treating each other with love and respect.  People think Jerry is crazy, he becomes a public joke, God comes through in the end to provide his defense against a cadre of ministers and psychologists when Jerry is accused by a televangelist of slander.

I like these films.  There is a neat simplicity to the portrayal of God.  Burns plays him as kind, gentle, wise, mysterious, funny and playful and loving.  He is not a God of showy pomp and circumstance, he wears a baseball cap and a windbreaker…and he comes off as playing it by ear.  At one point, Jerry asks why God chose him, especially stumped because h was not a religious man.

God simply says, “why not you?”  Jerry is taken aback by this seemingly careless attitude God has… God asks if Jerry thought maybe he was chosen because he was better than others.  Sheepishly Jerry admits the thought has crossed his mind.  God points out the obvious… he is better than some, worse than others.

Jerry works specifically because he is kind of the hapless everyman who takes the message out to the powerful.   Certainly, there are things that would trouble believers…throughout the series God comments on mistakes he made, such as creating “shame” (don’t know why I ever thought it was needed, God says).  And some would be bothered that the message is generic, rather than specifically Christian.  God makes no mention of needing Jesus, which I suspect would be problematic to certain viewers.

But I find the film and Burn’s approach both endearing and kind of inspiring. God chooses Jerry, though admits he could have chosen anyone.  Jerry isn’t special… and that is kind of the point.  And the most powerful being in the universe takes on the appearance of a frail little man with bad fashion sense.

It also brings up something I have always found to be a bit odd.  If someone walks around and claims to be speaking to God-having honest to goodness actual conversations with God appearing visually and audibly… even Christians think that guy is flirting with insanity at best.  It’s one thing to “feel led” or to think God spoke to you through a song… but say you see God in a physical form and have conversations with him?  That is nutty!

Overall, I found the film to be a fun viewing, even after thirty years.  It’s a gentle, amusing film that can, at times, be challenging.

So There It Is

Halloween has come and gone.  Hope folks had fun.  We will return to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

Love-in-the-time-of-monstersLet’s be real honest.  The movie Love in the Time of Monsters could have been terrible.  it has some qualities that could totally ruin it.  Especially the effects.  the monsters never look that great.  The bigfoot monster looks like the original Planet of the Apes (with log luxurious hair).  There is a mutant monster moose that looks entirely unfinished.

And yet?

The movie is a lot of fun.  The story, while not some grand twist, has a lot of fun.  It is the story of two sisters, Carla and Marla who are going to visit her boyfriend who works at a family campground with a Bigfoot theme.  Her boyfriend Johnny works as one of the Bigfoots.  People go on walks and he shows up in a cheesey costume.

During the Bigfoot Staff Meeting (really), one of the guys goes off to get high.  He drops his joint in the lake and falls in trying to retrieve it.  His co-Workers hear him screaming, and the run off to find him floating in the water.  The guys start telling their superior Lou (Kane Hodder) to report it, but he does not want to get in trouble…a struggle ensues and the fall in the lake.

Here is the thing.  The lake is full of a mutating toxin.  So the guys mutate into actual monsters that terrorize the camp.  The sisters unite the remaining camp employees in an attempt to get rid of the monsters and survive the night.

The film is fun and goofy, which works to it’s advantage.  It is fun to see guys known for their work under masks getting to play roles with their own faces.  Hodder has fun with his role, but Doug Jones shines as DJ Lincoln.  Considering this is one of the earliest works of both the Director Matt Jackson and Writer Michael Skvarla, and it appears to have been made on a budget, the film works with what it has at it’s disposal.

I had a lot of fun watching the film in spite of some of the shortcomings, and it made for a good silly Halloween offering.

Tales_of_Halloween_posterThe horror anthology format is one that can yield tremendous success (Trick’r Treat, Creepshow) or terrible results (Creepshow 3, V/H/S 3).  It has a somewhat spotty history, but the tradition holds strong.  Probably the most ambitious, but not entirely successful were the two ABC’s of Death films, which each contained 26 short films.  Tales of Halloween keeps it to ten stories, which is probably the limit for getting a good yield of stories.

The film uses the framing device of a small town where every Halloween the dead walk, ghouls play and monsters eat.  Guiding us through the tales is (in a pretty obvious homage to her role in the fog) radio host Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, Swamp Thing).

The stories are hit or miss, with an uneven tone, but when they hit?  They are terrific fun.  Standouts include The Night Billy Raised Hell, the Ransom of Rusty Rex, Bad Seed, and Friday the 31st.  What makes all those stories work is their sense of humor.  All are having more fun than trying to be scary.

This Means War starts out strong, but ends kind of weakly.

Friday the 31st starts out like a slasher story, complete with an obvious Jason type…but then takes a complete left turn.  The Ransom of Rusty Rex tells a tale of ambitious kidnappers who grab a rich man’s (John Landis, director of American Werewolf in London) son while he is trick or treating.  Except, the boy is a bit more of a hellion than anticipated.

On the other hand, Sweet Tooth goes more for the traditional monster/urban legend territory…and it ends exactly like you expect it to.  The Weak and the Wicked lacks any real life in it’s narrative, and for being a short, fails to do much in it’s premise of revenge.

In the end, I found the film an enjoyable watch, with some good humor, fun cameos and even a few scares.  It is not quite Trick’r Treat, but it is some good Halloween fun.

trickrtreat_posterYou know, usually when a movie sits on a shelf for two years, there is a good reason for it.  But in the case of Michael Dougherty’s Trick’r Treat?  I cannot see why Warner Brothers took so long.  It was ready in 2007, yet Warner Brothers was hesitant to release it.

When I sat down to watch this film, I had built up some high hopes.  The trailer looked good and people I respect were singing it’s praises.

It’s easily the best horror anthology since Creepshow.  Horror Anthologies are a mixed bag, and filmmakers get them wrong far more than they get them right.  All to often they are silly in the wrong ways, lack punch, have a lame host, are to reliant on the host, etc.  The framing device can also make or break a film.  Creepshow’s comic book framing device is an example of getting it right.

Trick’rTreat’s framing device is the small town Halloween celebration.  We are treated to a series of four stories that are loosely connected, as characters wander in and out of other stories.  The stories are also unified by the presence of Sam, the creepy childlike trick or treating creature who appears ever so randomly in all but one story, where he plays a larger role.

The cast is stellar, with Anna Paquin playing the young virgin seeking her first partner, Dylan Baker as the creepy Principal and Brian Cox as the guy who hates Halloween.  Part of what really works is the film’s dark sense of humor.  The film is clearly meant to be fun, not merely a frightfest.  It’s gory, but not like Saw, where it is a slow indulgence…the gore serves the film, not the other way around.  Oh, and pretty girls.

There have been comparisons to Pulp Fiction, mainly because the film has that whole “jumping around in time” thing going on.  But that is really part of the fun, you see glimpses of event or people wandering by, and later you discover just where they were coming from.  The way the stories are intertwined is a wonderful bit of storytelling.  Director and writer Michael Dougherty tells some great stories, and shows that he understands visual storytelling and makes the most of his visuals.  There are so many moments that are just… awesome to see (including two instances of houses immersed in pumpkins).  I really feel like I cannot say much without giving away the many great moments.  This is a love letter to Halloween, which makes it perfect for me.  Halloween is honestly my favoritest holiday.  Just let me say, rent Trick’r Treat or better yet?  Buy it.  I agree with Jeffrey Wells, Warner Brothers has a potential franchise here.  I hope Dougherty gives us at least one more.

A side note…Cox wanted the make up people to make him look like John Carpenter-director/writer of Halloween.  Dougherty was only all to happy to oblige.

The Ultimate Halloween

There have been a lot of box sets of film franchises. Often, the series is owned by one studio. This gets tougher for many horror franchises. Child’s Play is owned by MGM, the other films are owned by Universal. Paramount owned the first eight films in the Friday the 13th series, New Line had the later films. Halloween was owned by multiple studios, with the first five films settling in under Anchor Bay and the sixth film on belonging to Dimension Films.

Earlier in 2014, Shout Factory’s horror line Scream Factory announced a pretty big deal. They got Dimension, Universal and Anchor Bay to agree to allow a box set with every single Halloween film. All ten films. And you get the television versions of Halloween and Halloween 2. I watch the television version of Halloween every year. But the real big shocker? The never before released in America Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6: the Curse of Michael Myers. It has been long rumored to be vastly superior to the (admittedly abysmal) theatrical version of the film.  I addressed that earlier this week.  They also include the unrated versions of both Rob Zombie films.

2014-10-12 21.35.112014-10-12 21.35.59

The packaging is terrific.  A nice box houses ten individual cases, black instead of the traditional blue.  The cover art is the classic cover art.  The box has some really good and atmospheric painted art.

2014-10-12 21.36.38 2014-10-12 21.36.53

Every disc includes special features related to the individual film.  These are made with care and the producers  manage to get a lot of the original teams to return and discuss their experiences on the film.  If you love to dive into special features (as I do), this is a very rich set.  The set includes a bonus disc with new special features (mostly relating to Halloween’s 3-5).

Some of the special features were on previous releases (Considering Anchor Bay has released a 20th Anniversary Set, 25th Anniversary Set and 35th Anniversary set, there was a lot to use).  Considering the Halloween:H20 DVD years ago claimed to have special features that  were not actually on the disc, it is nice to finally get to see interviews and behind the scenes stuff that was promised.  In the end, I think the only thing missing from the deluxe set was the Halloween 25 Years of Terror DVD set.  And they include some of the special features from that.  Keep in mind, the non-deluxe version of the set does not have the Halloween II Television Version or the Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6.

The picture quality is great, keeping some of the grain, but the blu-ray transfers are never muddy, allowing us to never miss some of those great out of the shadow reveals.  This is how a box set should be.  I truly wish the Shout Factory had been in on the Friday the 13th and Chucky box sets…because we would more than likely have gotten a pretty sweet deal out of it.  The Shout Factory has set a standard here.  This is not that surprising, they have spent years making themselves stand out as kind of the Criterion Collection for pop culture.

h_two_ver4_xlgRob Zombie returned for the sequel to his fairly successful reboot.  My understanding is he had not intended to, but was talked into it.  And from the outset, this one is a total mess.

It opens with a bit of text regarding the psychological significance of a white horse.  It then gives us a flashback to young Michael and his mother having as loving a moment between a mother and son as you can have at a sanitarium.  This right here is continuing a wrong foot.  In the original films, Loomis talks about how Michael was quiet and interacted with no one, to the point where everyone grew complacent around him.

The film just jumps ahead fifteen years, to the end of the previous film.  In an imitation of the original Halloween 2, there is a hospital sequence, but it is only about 25 minutes long and then Laurie wakes up a year later.  Was it a memory?  A dream?  The film is unclear.

We learn Laurie is in therapy and has rage issues.  Loomis, on the other hand is now a psych-babble hack who uses Michael as his money-maker.  This is an unpleasant take on the character, which makes him far less sympathetic.  He is convinced Michael is dead, even though no body has ever been recovered.

Michael, very much alive, has been hiding out, building up his murderous rage.  He is haunted by dreams of his mother, and an avatar of himself as a little boy who speaks to the vision of the mother.  There are instances where Michael grunts as he kills that seem out-of-place.  A completely silent Michael makes for a better Michael.  Michael also spends a lot of time with no mask, which just seems wrong.

Laurie seems to have a sudden psychic connection to Michael that comes out of nowhere.  And Laurie has become an entirely unpleasant.  In fact, nobody is really likable in the film beyond maybe Sheriff Bracken and Annie.  But most everyone else is just hard to like or care about.  This is a bad thing for your lead.  It is hard for the viewer to invest our time and emotion to care about a character we cannot even really like.  And to pretty much have her cast her lots in with Michael (this is the same problem the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel had) is troublesome.

The resolution of the film is nonsense leaving this a complete (as stated earlier) mess of a movie.  It robs Laurie of any actual strength, and ultimately punishes her.  It is pretty clear that Laurie Strode was accepting Michael’s ways.  Her deviant smile before the cut to black is far to dark to be interpreted as triumph over the evil of Michael Myers.

There are some great shots, as Zombie has a real eye for framing shots, especially when going for a creepy vibe.  And there are some solid performances, especially from McDowell, Dourif and Harris.  People need to give Dourif more roles like this.  He shines in the film.  And Zombie (as usual) peppers his film with tons of character actors who clearly had a lot of fun in their roles.

But in the end, the writing and ideas are inconsistent, the characters overwhelmingly unpleasant and a Michael Myers who does not feel at all like Michael Myers.

zombie-halloween-posterAfter the failure of Halloween Resurrection, The franchise regrouped and tried to figure out their next step.  And they were stumped.  So what they decided to do?  Reboot the franchise.

Rob Zombie had two films under his belt, and while the response to House of a 1,000 Corpses was tepid, exploitation fans ate up the semi sequel the Devil’s Rejects. The producers decided Zombie could rev new life into the franchise.

The end result is kind of mixed.  To begin, the original gave us very little of Michael’s childhood.  He puts on a clown mask, kills his sister, his parents come home…BAM!  Jump to the present.  The film was more focused on Laurie and her friends, with little attention given to Michael’s past.  All that we really got was he came from a standard suburban family.

Zombie changed all that.  Instead, we were introduced to a little boy from a white trash home.  his stripper mom has an abusive boyfriend…his sister Judith is verbally abusive and mom boyfriend leer at her…and so on.  He is bullied at school, and little Mikey Myers has issues…he kills animals and gets into fights.  And he actually kills before he kills his sister.  He actually goes on a killing spree that culminates in his sister’s death.  The only person left is his baby sister and mother.

Michael continues to be creepy and violent in the hospital.  He grows up to escape, being hunted by his psychiatrist Sam Loomis.  We are almost halfway through the film before we meet the teen  Laurie Strode and her friends.  So, the film tends to be a rush to get to the end, with Michael slashing what seems to be half the town.

The most enjoyable part of the film is the cast.  It is a horror and exploitation who’s who.  Brad Dourif (Child’s Play), Malcolm McDowell, Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5), Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) among others play either prominent characters or have cameos.

This is a bloody exploitation take on the franchise, unlike prior attempts.  Depending on the version you watch, it can be potentially triggering for a viewer.  The theatrical cut has Michael fighting a bunch of guards to escape…in the unrated cut, he escapes when the sleazy asylum employees drag a girl into Michael’s room so they can rape her on his bed (?!).  It is a pretty sickening scene that was not needed.  And truth be told, I might like the film more if is was just Rob Zombie’s Exploitation Horror Movie.  But calling its lead “monster” Michael Myers and having the title of Halloween invites a lot of comparisons.

The biggest is that part of what made Michael Myers scary in the original was his ambiguity. What little we could see was he appeared to come from a middle class family.There appeared to be no abuse.  Michael appeared to lack any warning signs.  That question made him very frightening.  Rob Zombie’s Halloween gives us a view of a textbook case of the “childhood of a serial killer”.  Michael has everything working against him.  Michael should be haunting and this new back story ruins that.  It makes Michael a predictable monster, rather than a foreboding shape.

Michael kills more in the reboot…and we get more profanity.  The exploitation approach does make it stand out from the other horror reboots…rather than a glossier reboot, Zombie gives us a grittier one.

The standout for me in Rob Zombie’s Halloween films is probably Brad Dourif’s Sheriff Bracken.  He remains a good-hearted heroic type angry with Loomis for what has been unleashed on this town he protects.  Dourif does not seem to get a lot of those roles, and he is actually quite good at it.

halloween-resurrection-posterSo, if Halloween H20 tied everything up nicely and gave closure for the character of Laurie Strode, what did they do for number eight?  Why completely undo it of course!  No doubt, H20 was a strong enough success that they decided to take a couple years to create the next installment of the series.

They brought back a director from a previous film (Rick Rosenthal, who has racked up quite a decent career in directing genre shows like Buffy, Smallville and Veronica Marsas well as director of Halloween 2), which might seem like a decent start.  Then they announced that it was a Michael Myers installment and Jamie Lee Curtis was returning.  That good and bad news.  Then there was the title…”Halloween: Resurrection”.

Michael has long been lumped in with the “undead slasher” group of Freddy and Jason.  This is not accurate, as Michael Myers never died.  So he never came back from the dead.  Unkill-able slasher?  That’s accurate.  Undead?  Inaccurate.  Michael always manages to survive.  Now, truth be told, I wish they would have just brought Michael back from the dead.  He could have been like the headless horseman and carried his head in his arms.

But nooooooooooooo.  They have to undo the end of H20… (spoilers beyond this point)

In doing so, they wreck the closure the last film gave the series.  So, Laurie did not seperate Michael’s head from his body.  What actually happened was that Michael grabbed a rescue worker, crushed his windpipe and switched places.  So Laurie killed an innocent man and it made her crazy.  Laurie spends her days in an institution now.  And so the movie kicks off with the reveal that she has been waiting for Michael to return.  And being the caring big brother he is, he shows up a few nights before Halloween.  In a fight, Laurie loses.

That is the extent of it.  No one from the institution is connected to the story.  Instead, it focuses on a bunch of college kids doing a web broadcast from the Myer’s household.  Yes, web broadcasts is how they show that Halloween in moving forward.  It’s the reality programming trap, which has rarely been effective.  Outside of Series 7, it really has not worked.  It often feels like an absurd and preachy device.

So, with Jamie Lee dead…what’s our big hook to draw the audience in?  The reality show is run by Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks!  As an aside, this Halloween film has more black people than the other sequels combined.  I am actually not joking.  The Halloween series is whiter than Michael Myer’s mask.  Anyways, the other big name of the film is Thomas Ian Nicholas of the American Pie movies.  None of these are the priary characters, of course.

Our leads are Sarah (Bianca Kajlich, currently of Undateable), Rudy (Sean Patrick Thomas) and Jen (Future Geek crush Girl Katee Sackhoff), all who have won a part in a reality web cast where they search the old Myers homestead.  The house is rigged with “scary” stuff that is supposed to be from lil’ Mike’s childhood-stuff that explain why he went off the deep end and killed his sister.  People die on camera, but never when anyone is looking.  Luckily, Sarah has been chatting online with a buddy Deckard (Ryan Merriman) who goes to a Halloween party and watches the show.  So, using text messaging (uh, yeah, I can’t fathom how Busta didn’t have a “no cell phone” rule or his show) Deckard helps the survivors avoid Michael.

In the end, though, there can be only one survivor.  So Sarah, being the plucky heroine is it.  Tyra does not even get the dignity of an on screen death (see, in horror, it’s more insulting to die off screen).  But everyone else gets to die gruesome deaths… impalings, beheadings, all that jazz.  And I lied…Busta makes it out alive, allowing his character to learn a valuable moral lesson.  Because that’s what Halloween movies are really all about.  But seriously, between the weak story, run of the mill bland characters and destroying the ending of the previous film (taking away Laurie Strode’s triumph)?  This is a lackluster followup.  It’s not exciting, it does not draw you in to root for any of the characters.  While H20 was two steps forward, Halloween Resurrection is four steps back.  It’s barely better than the Curse of Michael Myers.

Lucky for all involved, this was not a career killer (pretty much everyone involved has kept trucking on).  It’s just a real step down from the heights they had achieved for the franchise a few years earlier.

Hell, maybe for # 9 we can see the return of Conal Cochran.