In Dreams

Welcome to the month of October. Our theme this month is looking back at the films of Wes Craven. I have always been a fan of his work. Wes was a film maker who wanted to explore things in his stories. Social problems, family conflict, politics…he came from a religious background, as I did. And we both found ourselves leaving that faith…but drawn to storytelling.

Wes Craven

I won’t be cover Nightmare On Elm Street, New Nightmare or People Under the Stairs as I already have written about them. I will be covering the rest of his horror and thriller releases right on up to Scream 4. I will also be including his TV movies and the remakes of his work.

Tomorrow we begin with the Last House on the Left.

Blood On Screen (Kolobos, 1999)

Kolobos_coverSo, in the early 90’s, MTV decided they needed to expand their programming. One of their first greatly successful experiments was an “unscripted show” that put a bunch of young people from all over the country into a single house that would film the events. The Real World became a phenomenon.

In the late 90’s, three young filmmakers were trying to make their first film…their original idea was a road movie which was then ruined by weather that would have made outdoor shooting really tough. The filmmakers came up with a horror movie idea that could be set in one location and mostly indoors.

The result the thriller Kolobos. Several reality show wannabes seeking fame show up at a home and goof around, but then things get serious. Not like on the Real World, where personalities clashed-not that clashes don’t happen- but rather the sudden terror that they are trapped in the house and it has a who lot of traps meant to kill them.

At the center of the film is Kyra, a withdrawn artist, who keeps seeing faceless killers. Has Kyra lost connection to reality? Is she the killer? Or is there someone else? Is the hulking scarred man real?

Long before Saw, Kolobus explored the potential of watching people suffer horribly for entertainment (and honestly, are less preachy about it, the filmmakers do clearly have fun coming up with crazy death traps).  The film has decent gore effects, and the acting is passable for the horror genre.

So, why does nobody talk about the film? One of the first to toy with the idea of reality-TV based horror? Well, it got released directly to DVD…right before this little movie called the Blair Witch. Blair Witch ushered in the era of found footage and steam rolled right over Kolobos.  Arrow films recently re-released the film on Blu-Ray (for the first time in HD, it had been out of print for some time otherwise).

I recommend the disc and the movie, it deserves wider recognition.  A lost indie horror film from the late nineties, you really should check this one out.

Welcome to October!

Well… the last couple of Months got away from me. It seems every August tends to slip away and my Septembers go silent.  This year I have started trying my hand at selling art and August and September saw me run into some crunch. I was at the Crypticon Minneapolis Convention. I had some prints to sell and some original art.

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Doug Bradley and Me

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Ashley Laurence and I

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Caroline Munro, Joshua Kennedy and myself

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Insert “Floating” joke here.

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Christopher Mihm’s table…

Here is some samples of artwork I had.  There were prints…

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some original art…

I am going to GalaxyCon here in Minnesota next month and I am trying to get a few more prints ready to go.

Add to this, Christopher Mihm (a local film maker and friend) cast me in a supporting role in his film that is in Post Production, the Phantom Lake Kids in the Beast Walks Among Us. I am also going to be appearing his film that follows, That Which Lurks in the Dark. If you want a refresher, I went through Chris’ films back in 2017.  I have held back on reviews since I have gotten more interconnected to Mihm’s film making.  I may do some write ups to talk about experiences and feelings on the films, but as Chris is a friend, I want my bias to be clear.

So, what is the plan for October? I probably will not be having quite the same past output as previous Octobers.  But there will be more than one review this month.  One of my themes will be “Less Talked About Gems”. Good little horror films I rarely see talked about.  I also am going to get some reviews of recent films (Ready or Not and Haunt, for example) and a few…non-gems.

 

The Night He Came Home 40 Years Later (Halloween, 2018)

Halloween_PosterIt has been forty years since the rampage of Michael Myers in Haddonfield, IL.  And Michael Myers absolutely was caught and has been institutionalized ever since. He totally did not massacre a hospital or anything else.

The trauma had a profound effect on Laurie Strode, who is totally not the sister of Michael Myers. When Myers is being transferred to a tougher facility, the bus crashes and Myers escapes.  He goes on a new and bloodier rampage, while Laurie tries to protect her estranged daughter and her family.

Myers is not driven to find Laurie because he is her sister, he just is a big believer in finishing what you start…? So, much has been made of the fact that this film is a direct sequel to the original John Carpenter Classic.   There is a throwaway line that pretty much pushes all the other films into the realm of “urban legends” which…I guess works.  Admittedly, it makes some of this feel less personal. But at the same time, the portrayal of Laurie as a survivor of a brutal event who became fueled by her fear and paranoia to never be a victim again (shades of Terminator 2 here, including the pained relationship with her daughter who was taken away from her by the state, as she was training her to be a warrior) is really pretty exciting here.  Curtis is really great in the role.  And she shines each time she is on screen. There is a lot of meat for her here.

The film has some great callbacks to the original with little moments and visual cues. It also has some beautifully lit shots.

The film is really overloaded with characters, and this results in characters you kind of expect to matter more suddenly are just out of the story.  Now granted, some of the characters kind of stand out as victims. But Laurie’s grand daughter is a huge focus and then she disappears for nearly the entire sequence where Michael and Laurie are stalking each other through Laurie’s house. Granddaughter Allison’s boyfriend seems like he will play a pretty big role and literally just drops out of the film, never to be seen again.

There is at least one twist that seems to be either super predictable or totally out of left field depending on who you ask…but…oh well…

Is this a new classic entry in the franchise?  Well…not really.  Is it bad? No.  I actually really did enjoy the film. It can be uneven, but it is still an enjoyable ride. It does rise above a lot of the previous films in the franchise.  Again, Curtis is really good (really, the core cast of Curtis, Greer, Will Patton and Matichak is great).  Plus, the new Carpenter soundtrack is just killer all the way through.  I kid you not, that was almost worth the price of admission alone for me.

October: The Dead, Martians and Atomic Brains

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Welcome to the month of October.  As with every year, it will be scary movies all month.  Themes for this month include the films of George A. Romero and Tobe Hooper.

I had started doing a zombie theme for the month, but the death of Romero in July prompted an exploration of his films, as I really had only seen a few.  And I had not seen some key parts of his older work, so it was interesting to take a look at films like Martin and Season of the Witch (one I find myself generally thrilled with and the other…well…).

Only a month later, Hooper passed.  Now, I have covered a few Tobe Hooper films in the past so I will not be creating new entries for those.  For Lifeforce, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and the Funhouse…click the links). I confess Hooper’s films start to take a sharp turn after the Mangler (which is more a crazy mess than a classic).  I am going to also include his Masters of Horror episodes Dance of the Dead (which seems like it would be a Romero title for a zombie movie set at a rave, oh wait, that was one of the Return of the Living Dead films) and the Damned Thing.

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Also, later this month, I will be going through the entire filmography of Christopher R. Mihm, a local Minnesota filmmaker.  He has a new movie coming out this month, the Demon with the Atomic Brain.  His films are loving odes to the horror and sci-fi films of the fifties and sixties.  His Mihmicerse is populated with ghosts, mutant animals, and Nazi Killing Weresquitos.  I will expound more as we get to the films later this month.

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Hope you have as much fun reading these as I have had writing them.

Carving a Niche

As part of my October Horror Movie Madness, I am going to explore the films of John Carpenter.  I will start at the beginning with Carpenter’s Student Film and work my way up.

Noticeably absent will be Halloween, as I covered the entire Franchise last year.  Also, I am leaving the TV movie Elvis aside for another time.  Although, at the same time, though not horror films, I will be covering Assault on Precinct 13 and Memoirs of an Invisible Man.   I have long admired Carpenter’s work.  Not just as a  director, but also as a writer and songwriter.  He has recently released two fabulous albums of music called Lost Themes and Lost Themes II.

Carpenter has written and directed more than one classic film, and I look forward to exploring his work in the days to come.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Night He Became a Zombie (Halloween, 2007)

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.

The Night He Jumped the Shark (Halloween Resurrection, 2002)

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.

The Night He Goes to School (Halloween H20, 1998)

halloween_h_2_o_posterBy 1997, slashers had almost seemed like a dead genre. Frankly, Halloween 6 could have been the death bell. Yet, 1996 was also the year that slasher pics got a shot in the arm. A little movie called Scream-a satirical look at the genre was a major hit that had people talking. It seemed to poke fun at the conventions of the slasher film, while following them quite a bite (though taking opportunity to turn some of them on their head). Scream proclaimed Halloween the grand-daddy of them all. And that got producers talking.

There were, as I recall, talks to bring back Carpenter (which I thought was exciting). Then there came talk of involvement from Kevin Williamson, writer of Scream (both one and two). This also excited fans. But the thing that really got people talking? Jamie Lee Curtis was back in the game. This brought about an interesting turn.

A few facts. Donald Pleasence was dead by the time they were writing this. Laurie Strode was dead according to previous films. So what did they do?

Spoilers ensue…

The filmmakers took an approach that both wiped the slate clean and yet adhered to some film continuity. It’s clear that none of the events in 4-6 happened now. As far as H2O is concerned? The series started with Halloween and the story had ended in Halloween 2. And now, the story was continuing 20 years later. For some this was upsetting, to others? It was a bit of relief.

The director Steve Miner (a veteran of the Friday the 13th series) had taken quite a task. Dimension was giving a big push to this new film. The end result is satisfying. I would say that it is one of the best of the sequels. The story is told at a fast pace, and they make sure not to confuse the audience. It’s clear from the start that Dr. Loomis has passed. And we rapidly learn Michael is still alive and still obsessed with his sister…a woman the world thought dead. But it turns out she has gone underground to avoid the pressures of the fame. And to avoid Michael. She’s now pretty much a functional alcoholic single mom. She is the head of a prestiges private school in the middle of nowhere.  She is haunted by images of Michael.

Her life of paranoia is driving an ongoing wedge between her and son John (Josh Hartnett) -What?  Not the family name?!  At first she is prohibiting him from going on the school camping which aggravates him as he was looking forward to being with his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams).  But as slasher films tend to go, Jon and Molly slip aside and stay at the school with their rebel friends Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) and Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd, whose career pretty much halted after this film-apparently to go to college).

So this leaves the school empty, except for Laurie, her boyfriend (and fellow faculty member) Will (Adam Arkin) and the security guard Ronny (LL Cool J) .  The kids, of course are hiding out and decide to have a night of romantic fun and reckless sex (or reckless fun and romantic sex, I don’t know). Michael is quietly stalking the grounds by this time, not quite as carefree in his slashing as the earlier films.  Sarah and Charlie are clearly knife fodder and Michael dispatches them quite ruthlessly.  These are some of the most intense sequences the franchise has seen in a long time, with some genuine discomfort and suspense.

John and Molly seek out Laurie, who is not to excited at the sight of her big brother.  Getting John and Molly off the campus, she turns back and decides this must end.  Grabbing an ax she starts to stalk Michael.  We get a very solid cat and mouse sequence that finally appears to result in Michael’s death.  But Laurie is no idiot, after Michael’s body is loaded into an ambulance in a body bag, she steals the vehicle, waiting for what she knows is going to happen.

Michael rises from the body bag, so Laurie intentionally crashes the ambulance.  Michael is pinned between a branch and the ambulance.  There is a somewhat touching moment, where Michael reaches out to Laurie in an almost child like fashion.  And for a moment?  Laurie hesitates, ax in hand.  Then she swings the ax and takes Michael’s head off.

All in all, Halloween:H20 works extremely well.  Easily the best of the sequels.  And as sequels go, it makes sense without having seen the original-without relying heavily on “plot exposition” guy.   The actors all do fine jobs and the direction and cinematography is good, with a great use of shadow.  Really, this film works well.  And had this been the last movie?  It would have ended the series on a high note. Of course, it was not the last, so the really high note they could have ended on?  Squandered.  But I still like this one.  It offers closure to the story, and Laurie comes out heroic and on top.

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