Tag Archives: horror

Vampires

Vampires

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Today’s feature is John Carpenter’s 1998 movie, Vampires.

Vampires is based on a 1990 novel called “Vampire$” by John Steakley, with a screenplay written by Don Jakoby (Evolution, Double Team, Death Wish 3, Philadelphia Experiment II), who also served as a producer on the movie.

Vampires was directed and scored by John Carpenter, one of the living legends of the horror genre. His credits have included  Halloween, The Fog, Big Trouble In Little China, They Live, Escape From New York, In The Mouth of Madness, The Thing, Christine, and Assault on Precinct 13 over his storied career.

The cinematographer for the film was Gary B. Kibbe, who also shot the movies Double Dragon, RoboCop 3, and John Carpenter’s films Prince of Darkness and Ghosts of Mars.

The editor for the film was Edward Warschilka, who cut such films as The Running Man, Big Trouble In Little China, Escape From LA, In The Mouth Of Madness, and Child’s Play 3.

Outside of writer Don Jakoby, the producers for the movie included Sandy King (Ghosts of Mars, They Live), Barr Potter (Omega Doom), and David Rodgers (Double Team, Total Recall).

The special effects crew included Gene Grigg (Rush Hour), Jason Gustafson (The Green Mile, Jarhead), Scott Kodrik (Mortal Kombat, The Faculty), Corey Pritchett (Space Jam, Showgirls), Darrell Pritchett (Die Hard, Fright Night), and Wayne Toth (Army of Darkness, Wishmaster).

The makeup effects for Vampires were provided by a unit that was made up of Howard Berger (The Faculty, Sin City, Evil Dead II), Robert Kurtzman (It Follows, Maniac Cop 3), Greg Nicotero (Intruder, Maniac Cop 3, The People Under The Stairs), Jill Cady (Weeds), Chris Hanson (S. Darko, Hellboy, The Faculty), Monica Kenyon (Suspect Zero, Phone Booth), Douglas Noe (Van Helsing, From Dusk Till Dawn), Scott Patton (The Mangler, Pick Me Up), and Janna Phillips (Hook, Batman Forever).

The cast for the film was made up of James Woods (Videodrome, Best Seller, Casino), Daniel Baldwin (King of the Ants, Car 54, Where Are You?), Mark Boone Jr. (Sons of Anarchy), Sheryl Lee (One Tree Hill, Winter’s Bone), Thomas Ian Griffith (xXx), Gregory Sierra (Papillon), Tim Guinee (Hell On Wheels, The Good Wife), and Maximilian Schell (Deep Impact).

vampires5Apparently, Vampires suffered a massive studio budget cut before filming began, cutting the initial production estimate by roughly 2/3.

John Carpenter was reportedly initially attracted to the prospect of directing Vampires because the offer allowed him to design the film to be a sort of horror-western, with non-traditional, savage vampires instead of the suave ones in vogue in the popular mindset.

The screenplay, according to John Carpenter, was entirely rewritten by himself based on a combination of the book, another screenplay by Don Mazur, and the one written by Don Jakoby. However, Jakoby ultimately received sole credit for the screenplay.

Vampires features a number of similarities to other popular vampire films in style and tone, including 1998’s Blade (which predated the Vampires release by two months), 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, and the television show Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which ran from 1997 to 2003.

Russel Mulcahy (Highlander, Highlander II: The Quickening) was originally on board to direct Vampires in the early 1990s, but dropped out after the production dragged out too long. His vision apparently had action star Dolph Lundgren in the lead role. After he left the project, the studio approached Carpenter with the opportunity to lead the movie.

Vampires ultimately spawned two low-budget sequels: 2002’s Vampires: Los Muertos starring rock star Jon Bon Jovi, and 2005’s Vampires: The Turning. Neither film was particularly well-reviewed or publicized, and both released straight to video.

Vampires was made on an estimated budget of $20 million, on which it managed to gross $51.3 million in its theatrical run. Even though this was certainly profitable, it was eclipsed by the similar movie Blade, which raked in over $131 million worldwide after releasing two months prior.

vampires6Vampires had a mixed reception from critics and audiences alike. It currently holds an IMDb rating of 6.1, alongside Rotten Tomatoes aggregated scores of 36% from critics and 48% from general audiences.

James Woods is fantastic as always in Vampires, bringing his mixture of humor and sleazy grit to his vampire hunter character. While his attitude is right, he doesn’t have the sort of physicality you would expect from a top vampire hunter, but I think that is a pretty minor and unavoidable gripe that is more than made up for by his performance. Daniel Baldwin, on the other hand, is weird to see in a key role outside of a b-movie. His performance is good enough, but I can’t help but wonder if the role couldn’t have been better cast. I assume the budget cuts impacted the production’s options, but it is hard to believe that Daniel Baldwin would ever wind up on the top of a pack for this role.

vampires3The opening vampire hunting sequence in the film is undeniably fun, and reminded me a bit of the moments in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness when Bruce Campbell was on top of his game. However, there isn’t a whole lot of action to be had in the film, likely as a result of the budget being pressed. Still, the film never quite feels boring in spite of the long periods without action, which is a testament to how well shot, scripted, and acted it is.

The release of Blade clearly really hurt this movie, because the creatures in that film seem to be the sorts of rough and tumble vampires that Carpenter wanted to have here, but couldn’t execute. The fact that it had a higher budget and a bigger push behind it made Vampires look all the smaller by comparison, and it is nearly impossible to talk about Vampires now without bringing up its big brother blockbuster. However, at the end of the day, Vampires isn’t nearly as good or memorable as Blade, and is a pretty weak effort from Carpenter considering his body of work. That said, it certainly isn’t bad, but it is somehow the weakest of the wave of late 1990s vampire flicks (the others being Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn).

Overall, Vampires is worth checking out for horror fans and anyone who appreciates the works of John Carpenter. However, it is definitely one of his lesser efforts, and marks the beginning of a serious career slide for the lauded horror icon. Woods is solid, the action is fun, and the film is generally appealing visually, but it pales next to Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn for one reason or another.

The Mangler Reborn

The Mangler Reborn

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Today’s feature is the last in an unnecessary trilogy of horror movies about a killer laundry folding machine: The Mangler Reborn.

The Mangler Reborn was co-written and co-directed by the duo of Eric Gardner and Matt Cunningham, who have worked on such films as Decampitated, Altered Species, and Starship Troopers.

The cinematographer for the film was Thaddeus Wadleigh, who shot the acclaimed documentaries The Invisible War and Who Killed The Electric Car?.

The editor on The Mangler Reborn was Matthew Cassel, who also cut Cheaper by the Dozen 2, and served as an assistant editor on such movies as McHale’s Navy, Judge Dredd, and Street Fighter.

The team of producers on the movie included Barry Barnholtz (Leprechaun, The Mangler 2), Mark Burman (Piranha Sharks), Melvin Butters (Bundy: An American Icon), Dan Golden (Sharktopus, Supergator), and Scott Pearlman (Birdemic 2).

The effects work for The Mangler Reborn was provided by Nicole Dome (The Dread), Elizabeth Fox (Bikini Pirates), Brian Hillard (Seven Psychopaths, No Country For Old Men), Amy Mills (@midnight), Lara Salzano (Spike), and Richard Miranda (Monster High, The Running Man).

manglerreborn3The cast for the film was made up primarily by Aimee Brooks (Critters 3), Reggie Bannister (Phantasm), Weston Blakesley (Pleasantville), and Juliana Dever (Castle),

Before The Mangler Reborn, two previous entries were made into the franchise: The Mangler and The Mangler II. The movies have been far from loved by audiences: none of them have managed to accrue over a 4.0 rating on IMDb, and The Mangler Reborn is no exception at an abysmal 3.1.

The first thing I noticed about The Mangler Reborn is that it looks very cheap, almost like it was someone’s home video project. While The Mangler certainly isn’t good, there is no mistaking that it is clearly a movie made by professionals.

There is also very little in the way of meaningful connections to tie this fairly generic serial killer movie to The Mangler, apart from the establishment that the killer is apparently possessed by the spirit of the machine, and feeds his victims to it. I wouldn’t honestly be surprised if this screenplay existed in some form before there was any plan to make it a sequel to The Mangler.

If there is anything positive to say about The Mangler Reborn, it is that Weston Blakesley plays the possessed serial killer, Hadley, very well. His character is partially terrifying just because he is such an everyman, but there is also an understated creepiness to Blakesley’s rigid physical performance. He looks and sounds like a person being controlled, which is effectively off-putting in an otherwise shallow and uninspired movie.

manglerreborn2The plot structure definitely doesn’t help the slow, dull pace of the film at all. For most of the story, the audience are presented with a series of characters who are presented with the identical challenge of escaping from Hadley’s murder-house. Ultimately, they all fail in very similar ways, providing no sense of progress or variety. The way this film is executed only has the material to really fill out a short movie, but to make a feature, the same actions are repeated multiple times. To say the least, it makes the film very tiring to sit through.

Overall, I was immensely disappointed with The Mangler Reborn. I expected more nonsense folding machine murders, but instead got a crappy serial killer movie with the iconic evil folding machine awkwardly wedged into the plot. Unless you are deathly curious or are determined to complete The Mangler trilogy (but why would you?), there’s no reason to spend the time watching through The Mangler Reborn. If there’s anything this film did do for me, it effectively reminded me how much fun the ridiculous original The Mangler was by comparison, so I recommend people dig that one up.

From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter

From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter

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Today’s feature is the concluding entry into the From Dusk Till Dawn trilogy: From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter.

From Dusk Till Dawn 3 was co-written by original From Dusk Till Dawn director Robert Rodriguez with his cousin Alvaro Rodriguez, who has served as a writer on the From Dusk Till Dawn television series and Machete.

The Hangman’s Daughter was directed by P. J. Pesce, who also helmed Smokin’ Aces 2, Lost Boys: The Tribe, and worked on television shows like Tremors, Fringe, and Supernatural.

The cinematographer for From Dusk Till Dawn 3 was Michael Bonvillain, who also shot the films Zombieland and American Ultra.

The editor on the film was Lawrence A. Maddox, who has worked extensively on the television shows Raising Hope and Life on Mars, and also cut the film American Kickboxer 2.

The musical score for From Dusk Till Dawn 3 was provided by Nathan Barr, who also did the music for Beerfest, True Blood, Club Dread, Hostel, and Hemlock Grove.

hangman3The team of producers for The Hangman’s Daughter included original From Dusk Till Dawn director and co-writers Robert Rodriguez (The Faculty, Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained, Kill Bill), Meir Teper (Crazy In Alabama, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), Gianni Nunnari (The Departed, From Dusk Till Dawn), Michael Murphey (Dredd, Trick or Treat), Lawrence Bender (Intruder, Reservoir Dogs), and Elizabeth Avellan (The Faculty, Desperado).

The makeup effects work was provided by Howard Berger (The Black Cat, The Faculty, Maniac Cop 3), Michael Deak (Pick Me Up, From Beyond), Chiz Hasegawa (Tremors 4, Scream 2), Greg Nicotero (Intruder, DeepStar Six, From Beyond), Robert Kurtzman (It Follows), Melanie Tooker (Legion, Wishmaster), and Bill Hunt (District 9, Scream).

The special effects team for The Hangman’s Daughter included Andre G. Ellingson (Criminal Minds), Giuliano Fiumani (The Core, Waterworld), Chris Hanson (S. Darko, The Faculty), Albert Lannutti (Fright Night), Wayne Toth (The Faculty, Spawn), Janek Zabielski (The Mangler), and Eugene Botha (From Dusk Till Dawn 2).

The visual effects crew for the film was made up of Jim Carbonetti (Simon Sez, The Faculty), Scott Coulter (It’s Alive, Shark Attack 3, The Faculty), George Johnsen (Dogma, Foodfight), Laurel Klick (Wolfen, Bordello of Blood, Mortal Kombat), Greg Nelson (The Faculty, Torque), Patrick Perez (Speed Racer, Stealth), and Jeremy Yates (Simon Sez).

The cast of From Dusk Till Dawn 3 was made up of Michael Parks (Tusk, Red State, Django Unchained), Danny Trejo (Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, Breaking Wind, Anaconda), Marco Leonardi (Cinema Paradiso), Temuera Morrison (Speed 2: Cruise Control), Rebecca Gayheart (Urban Legend), and Orlando Jones (MADtv, Evolution).

hangman4The name of the film, The Hangman’s Daughter, is taken from a short story written by the real author Ambrose Bierce, who is fictitiously portrayed as a lead character in the movie.

Much like From Dusk Till Dawn 2, From Dusk Till Dawn 3 released straight to video, and was similarly poorly received. It currently holds a 4.8 rating on IMDb. which is still very low, but is notably better than From Dusk Till Dawn 2‘s 4.0.

Michael Parks is fantastic, as he always seems to be. the movie vastly improves whenever his character is on screen. However, he typically appears in conjunction with a couple of bible salesmen, who are a bit excessively cartoonish in the first section of the movie.

The Hangman’s Daughter has a pretty interesting story before the vampires pop up, which is a big improvement over the second movie. The characters (for the most part) are compelling and given some degree of depth, including even the bible salesmen couple as the movie goes on.

hangman1I personally like that the setting of the movie is in the past, rather than another story set in the present day. The lack of the familiar “Titty Twister” bar makes it feel more like a departure from the first movie, which I think is a good thing in this case to keep things fresh.

As was the case with Texas Blood Money, The Hangman’s Daughter definitely looks notably cheaper than the first From Dusk Till Dawn, but I found that the gore and makeup looked much better here than in Texas Blood Money, which relied a bit too much on visual effects rather than practical ones.

A handful of decisions that are made throughout the movie are thoroughly confusing to me, like the clairvoyant inebriation of Ambrose Bierce, the sepia dance sequence that comes on without precedence, and the really disappointing conclusion. However, I think there were far more good things going on in this movie than bad, which is more than I anticipated from the film. I would go so far as to say that this movie is a pretty decent sequel for From Dusk Till Dawn, when you take the budget differential into account.

Overall, I think The Hangman’s Daughter is definitely worth checking out for fans of the first movie, or for anyone who enjoyed Michael Parks’s recent work in Kevin Smith’s Red State and Tusk. He is definitely the primary draw here, though there are plenty of other positive things to enjoy in the movie. It isn’t great by any means, but it is serviceable for what it is.

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money

From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money

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Today’s feature is the reviled straight-to-video sequel, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money.

From Dusk Till Dawn 2 was directed and co-written by Scott Spiegel, who was also behind the cult classic slasher flick, Intruder. His co-writers on the film were Boaz Yakin (The Punisher, Prince of Persia) and actor Duane Whitaker (Hobgoblins, Pulp Fiction).

The cinematographer for Texas Blood Money was Philip Lee, who provided camera work on such films as Best Seller, Hoosiers, and Jurassic Park III, and was cinematographer for the horror flick Route 666.

The editor for the film was Bob Murawski, who also cut the films Gone With The Pope, Army of Darkness, The Hurt Locker, and Drag Me To Hell, among others.

The musical score for From Dusk Till Dawn 2 was composed by Joseph Williams, who also provided music for The War At Home, Roswell, and Windfall.

The team of producers for Texas Blood Money included original From Dusk Till Dawn director and co-writers Robert Rodriguez (The Faculty, Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained, Kill Bill), Meir Teper (Crazy In Alabama, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), Gianni Nunnari (The Departed, From Dusk Till Dawn), Michael Murphey (Dredd, Trick or Treat), Russell Markowitz (Wishmaster, Suicide Kings), Lawrence Bender (Intruder, Reservoir Dogs), and Elizabeth Avellan (The Faculty, Desperado).

The makeup effects crew for From Dusk Till Dawn 2 included Greg Nicotero (The Faculty, Scream, Maniac Cop 3), Chiz Hasegawa (Tremors 4, Scream 2), Howard Berger (Trancers, Intruder, Troll, Ghoulies), Kamar Bitar (Sin City, The Cell), Michael Deak (Pick Me Up, Demonic Toys, Arena, From Beyond, The Dentist), and Robert Kurtzman (It Follows, Intruder, The Faculty, Vampires, DeepStar Six).

fromdusktillsawntwo2The special effects for the film were provided by Mark Byers (Leprechaun 3, Epic Movie), Jason Collins (Firefly, Ghosts of Mars), Steven Ficke (Cellular, Snake Eyes), Chris Hanson (S. Darko, Vampires), Scott Kodrik (The Faculty, Mortal Kombat), Antony Stone (Jungleground), and Janek Zabielski (The Mangler, From Dusk Till Dawn 3).

The visual effects work for Texas Blood Money was done in part by Jamison Goei (Whiplash, Dracula 2000), Phillip Giles (The Prophecy, Guardians of the Galaxy), Gina Di Bari (Red Planet, Wishmaster), Dave Gregory (Contact, Poison Ivy), Eugene Jeong (Watchmen), Shant Jordan (Bats, Street Fighter), Laurel Klick (Wolfen, Mortal Kombat), and Patrick Perez (Stealth, 2012).

The cast for the film was made up of Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, The Faculty), Bo Hopkins (Midnight Express), Brett Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt), Raymond Cruz (Breaking Bad), Danny Trejo (Machete, Desperado, Anaconda, Breaking Wind), James Parks (Red State, Death Proof), and Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2).

fromdusktillsawntwo3Texas Blood Money was the second of three original movies in the From Dusk Till Dawn franchise, followed closely by The Hangman’s Daughter. The property has since been rebooted as a television series that started in 2014 on Robert Rodriguez’s El Ray network.

From Dusk Till Dawn 2 was reportedly made on a budget of $5 million, but ultimately went straight to video with no theatrical release. Reviews of the movie were overwhelmingly negative, raking in a 4.0 rating on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 9% from critics and 20% from general audiences.

Texas Blood Money is very slow to get started, which isn’t helped by the fact that the criminal set up in the first half isn’t nearly as compelling as the one from the original From Dusk Till Dawn. Even when the action does get going, it isn’t shot or paced particularly well, making the whole film feel much longer than it actually is.

The significant budget constraints on the production mean that the sets and effects look visibly much cheaper than the original film, but they don’t look awful for what they had to work with. The most distracting thing I noticed were the bats, which look really terrible depending on the scene. For instance, in the Psycho-esque shower scene, which is filmed in close confines, the bat looks nothing short of comical. However, in outdoor sequences, it doesn’t look nearly as bad.

fromdusktillsawntwo1A lot of the shots in Texas Blood Money strike me as if the director and cinematographer were trying a bit too hard to be original and artistic, which is sort of a unique problem for a horror movie. The problem is that many of the shots are distracting, and draw the audience’s eye away from the action. For instance, there are a few shots that are done from various obscured points of view, which while interesting, don’t serve much of a purpose. At worst, they are jarring enough to pull the audience out of an otherwise tense scene.

Overall, Texas Blood Money is disappointingly dull above all else. If there is anything that can be said of the original From Dusk Till Dawn, it is that it certainly wasn’t boring. Texas Blood Money totally missed that sense of fun that was captured so well with the original film, which turns it into a bit of a slog. Unless you are a die hard fan of the first movie, there’s not enough here to even justify a casual glance.

The People Under the Stairs

The People Under the Stairs

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Today’s feature is a cult classic from the filmography of the late Wes Craven: The People Under The Stairs.

The People Under The Stairs was written, directed, and produced by the late Wes Craven, who was behind such films as Scream, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Last House On The Left, Shocker, The Hills Have Eyes, and Vampire In Brooklyn.

The cinematographer for the film was Sandi Sissel, who served as a second unit director of photography on such movies as Cellular, Daredevil, and Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World.

The editor on The People Under The Stairs was James Coblentz, who also cut the films Final Destination and Species III, as well as a number of episodes of The X-Files.

The makeup effects team for The People Under The Stairs was made up of Greg Nicotero (Maniac Cop 3, Pick Me Up, DeepStar Six, From Beyond), Robert Kurtzman (Maniac Cop 3, It Follows, Tremors), Earl Ellis (Captain America, Star Trek: Enterprise), Michelle Bühler (Communion, Swordfish), Howard Berger (The Black Cat, The Faculty, Pumpkinhead, Ghoulies), and Mark Maitre (Night of the Creeps, The Cell).

The special effects work on The People Under The Stairs were provided by a group of people that included Peter Chesney (The Ladykillers, Waterworld), Robert Clark (Mimic, Cocoon), Mark Goldberg (Robot Jox, Evolver), Camilla Henneman (Cocoon, The Blob), Timothy Huizing (It’s Alive, Smokin Aces, Small Soldiers, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), James McLoughlin (DeepStar Six, Wolf), Dean Miller (Suburban Commando, Fright Night), and J.D. Streett (Waterworld, Men In Black).

peoplestairs3Outside of Wes Craven, the producers on The People Under The Stairs were Stuart M. Besser (Scream, Scream 3, Need For Speed), Dixie Capp (Young Guns II), Shep Gordon (Cool As Ice, They Live), and Marianne Maddalena (Red Eye, Dracula 2000).

The musical score for the film was composed by Don Peake, who also did the music for the earlier Wes Craven film The Hills Have Eyes, as well as for the television series Knight Rider.

The cast for the film included Brandon Adams (The Mighty Ducks, The Sandlot), A.J. Langer (Escape From L.A.), Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), Sean Whalen (Tammy and the T-Rex, Twister), Kelly Jo Minter (The Lost Boys), Conni Marie Brazelton (ER), Wendy Robie (The Glimmer Man, Twin Peaks), and Everett McGill (Silver Bullet, Dune).

Eventual Academy Award winner Hillary Swank auditioned for the role of Roach in The People Under The Stairs, which was ultimately filled by Sean Whalen. At the time, Swank had only appeared in a handful of television series.

Noted film composer Graeme Revell (Sin City, Daredevil, Spawn, Tank Girl, Suicide Kings) put together a score for The People Under The Stairs that was rejected by the production, and replaced by the one composed by Don Peake. He still has a credit on the movie as a composer of “additional music.”

The concept for The People Under The Stairs was inspired by a real news story about children who were locked in their rooms by their parents, and were discovered during an investigation of a break-in. Craven was known for pulling horror plots out of headlines, which is also how he formulated the concept for A Nightmare On Elm Street.

The People Under The Stairs had a reported production budget of $6 million, and grossed just over $24 million in its lifetime domestic theatrical release.

The reception to The People Under The Stairs was mixed: it currently holds an IMDb rating of 6.3, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 59% (critics) and 58% (audience). That said, it has become a bit of a cult classic among horror movie fans.

The parents in The People Under The Stairs, played by Wendy Robie and Everett McGill, are incredibly creepy, and they sell their abusive, evangelical, overbearing characters very well. Honestly, their couple is more terrifying than most movie monsters I have seen.  However, as with many Craven villains, they rapidly devolve into comic book hamminess, and lose their sense of menace when they start trotting around in full body leather wielding shotguns.

peoplestairs2One of the most surprising things to note in The People Under The Stairs, however, is the fact that there is some really good child acting. That is quite a rarity for any movie, let alone a horror film.

This film has an impressively tense and slow-burning buildup in the first act, which is helped a bit by putting the audience in the innocent point of view of Fool, who is thrown out of his element very quickly. The eventual reveal of what is going on in the mysterious house is done slowly, which allows the uneasy atmosphere to build through the set design, acting, and music, rather than the writing revealing anything straight-out. However, once the situation is revealed, the atmosphere is quickly dissipated by a lot of hammy acting and action.

As far as negatives go, the attempts at humor really didn’t work for me in The People Under The Stairs, and felt a bit unnecessary and forced in an otherwise unfunny scenario. Some horror films lend themselves easily to humor, but a film about captive children, torture, and child abuse isn’t exactly a laugh mine like an Evil Dead movie can be.

Overall, I can definitely see how The People Under The Stairs has become a cult classic, but I can also see why a lot of people aren’t particularly fond of it. It definitely isn’t one of Wes Craven’s more noteworthy works, but it is still worth checking out for horror fans. It isn’t nearly as fun or violently goofy as Shocker, and certainly isn’t as intriguingly meta as New Nightmare, but The People Under The Stairs might be a more solid movie all around than either of those bordering Craven features. At the same time, I don’t think it is as memorable as either of those movies, which is definitely a weakness.

Shocker

Shocker

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Today’s feature is one of the popularly-regarded missteps in the storied career of the late Wes Craven: 1989’s Shocker.

Shocker was written, directed, and produced by the late Wes Craven, who was famously behind movies like Scream, The Last House On The Left, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and The Hills Have Eyes.

The cinematographer for the film was Jacques Haitkin, who is best known for shooting such horror features as Wishmaster, Maniac Cop 3, Evolver, The Ambulance, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and Galaxy of Terror. The editor for Shocker was Andy Blumenthal, who also cut the films Waiting…, Waiting For Guffman, and Five Corners.

The team of makeup effects artists for Shocker included Lance Anderson (Wild Wild West, The Thing, The Island of Doctor Moreau), David LeRoy Anderson (Spawn, Waterworld), Suzanne Sanders (Surf Ninjas, Critters 3, Critters 4), A.J. Workman (Communion, Arena), Roger McCoin (Darkman, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie), Dan Frye (Creepshow 2, Shaun of the Dead), Jeffrey S. Farley (Evil Bong, Wolf, Carnosaur, Arena, Kingdom of the Spiders), Scott Coulter (Garbage Pail Kids Movie, The Mangler, Arena, It’s Alive), and David Atherton (Face/Off, Maniac Cop).

The special effects team for Shocker was made up of Robert Phillips (Volcano, Maniac Cop 3), David L. Hewitt (It’s Alive III, Willow), Joe Heffernan (The Ladykillers, Waterworld), Christopher Gilman (Watchmen, The Blob), and Larry Fioritto (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Prophecy),

The visual effects work for the film was done in part by Alan Barnett (Spawn, Volcano), Roger Dorney (Spaceballs, Ghost Dad), Jeffrey A. Okun (Red Planet, Deep Blue Sea, Suburban Commando), Allen Blaisdell (Theodore Rex, Red Planet), Joshua Cushner (Critters, Ghosts of Mars), and Samuel Recinos (Masters of the Universe, Big Trouble In Little China).

shocker4Outside of Wes Craven, the producers on Shocker included Shep Gordon (Cool As Ice, They Live), Peter Foster (The People Under The Stairs), Marianne Maddalena (Red Eye, Dracula 2000), and Robert Engelman (Foodfight, Mortal Kombat).

The music for Shocker was provided by the combination of rock star Alice Cooper, band-mate Michael Owen Bruce, and William Goldstein (Fame).

The cast for Shocker included Peter Berg (Collateral, Corky Romano, Going Overboard), Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files, Sons of Anarchy, Supernatural), Michael Murphy (White House Down, Nashville), Sam Scarber (Over The Top), and Ted Raimi (The Midnight Meat Train, Intruder).

Reportedly, it took Shocker 13 submissions to the MPAA rating board, each with new cuts, in order to get an ‘R’ rating instead of an ‘X’, which would have made wide distribution to theaters nearly impossible.

shocker3Shocker was designed to be the beginning of a franchise, but it didn’t ultimately make enough money to justify further installments. That said, it was a profitable feature: in total, it grossed roughly $16.6 million in its domestic theatrical release, on a budget of $5 million.

Despite the positive gross, the film was poorly received by both critics and audiences: it currently holds a 5.4 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 12% from critics and 30% from audiences.

The first thing that is painfully evident watching Shocker today is that the visual effects (particularly the various ghost and electric effects) have not aged particularly well over the years. I’m sure they looked perfectly passable at the time, but now it is a bit distracting and jarring to see cartoonish lightning bolts pop up in every other scene.

The villain of the film, played primarily by Mitch Pilleggi, is way over the top, and chews up the scenery in every scene he appears in. However, because of the nature of his power, he isn’t actually on screen a whole lot, which is a real shame given how entertaining he is.

In general, Shocker looks and feels a little too similar to the later incarnations of A Nightmare On Elm Street, with lots of one-liners thrown about and the surreal dread put on the backburner. Pilleggi seems like he is doing an impression of Kruger throughout the film, which doesn’t help with the existing parallels of an ethereal undead serial killer villain. As entertaining as he is, Pilleggi isn’t Robert Englund.

Overall, Shocker is plenty of fun as a cheesy horror movie, with acting and effects that are well over the top. However, it lacks Wes Craven’s typical vision and style, which made him one of the most lauded figures in the genre. It is worth checking out for its entertainment value, but it is a bit disappointing as a work from Craven.

Intruder

Intruder

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Today’s flick is 1989’s Intruder, a slasher film known for briefly featuring Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi.

Intruder was written and directed by Scott Spiegel, who also directed From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money and Hostel Part III. He is also a longtime fried and collaborator of Sam Raimi, and has appeared in the background of such movies as Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Spider-Man, The Quick and The Dead, and Drag Me To Hell.

The cinematographer for Intruder was Fernando Argüelles, who has worked extensively shooting the television shows Prison Break, Grimm, and Hemlock Grove.

The editor for Intruder was King Wilder, who was a post-production editor on Men At Work and Dark Angel (aka I Come In Peace), and cut Cannibal Women In The Avocado Jungle of Death.

Intruder was the first producing role for Lawrence Bender, who has since become a frequent collaborator with Quentin Tarantino, producing his films Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill. Charles Band, who is best known for helming Full Moon Pictures and Empire Pictures, also served as an uncredited producer for distributing the film through Empire.

The effects team for Intruder included Howard Berger (The People Under The Stairs, Evil Dead II, Maniac Cop 3, In The Mouth of Madness, The Faculty), Robert Kurtzman (It Follows, Tusk, The Faculty, Maniac Cop 3), Greg Nicotero (Day of the Dead, From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City), and Sean Rodgers (Glory, Child’s Play 2, Deepstar Six).

intruder2The cast of Intruder included Elizabeth Cox (Night of the Creeps), Renee Estevez (The West Wing, Heathers), Dan Hicks (Maniac Cop, Evil Dead II), Sam Raimi (Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2, Miller’s Crossing), Ted Raimi (The Midnight Meat Train), Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness), and Eugene Robert Glazer (La Femme Nikita).

intruder4Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi, who were childhood friends and frequent collaborators with director Scott Spiegel, both appear in the film. In spite of their small roles, both men were marketed as leads due to how recognizable they were from the Evil Dead franchise.

Reportedly, Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist, The Mangler) was at one point approached to direct Intruder early in the project’s lifetime, but decided to work on something else instead.

The original title of the movie was intended to be The Night Crew, but was changed in the hopes that a more generic slasher title would help the movie’s marketability.

The original VHS cover for Intruder hilariously spoils the identity of the mysterious killer, effectively ruining the suspense built throughout the film.

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One of the first things I noticed when I first saw Intruder was how solid the effects looked. Honestly, the gore effects are fantastic for the movie being as low budget as it is, even if they are way over the top. It is kind of astounding to see how far the effects workers on this movie have come: all of them are now in demand makeup artists, with Nicotero and Berger leading the lauded effects team for The Walking Dead.

Likewise, the cinematography in the movie is way better than it has any right to be. The shots are generally creative and well constructed, and tense when they need to be. There are a few that are a bit too distracting, but the fact that there was effort and thought put into the shots at all puts this flick above most of its low-budget horror peers.

The acting in Intruder is almost certainly its weakest element. Most of the line-reads are painful to listen to, outside of one or two decent performances in the cast. However, you can’t argue that it isn’t honest to the genre.

For all of the flaws with the plot and acting in Intruder, the movie does have a good, well set-up red herring. The truth of the actual killer is very well concealed, and far overshadowed by the allusions to the more obvious, explicitly creepy antagonist.

Overall, Intruder is about as entertaining of a low-budget slasher movie as you are likely to find. It has a bit of a cracked sense of humor, great effects, and the sort of awful acting you would expect from this kind of movie. If you are looking for a horror film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, this is one that is worth checking out.

DragonCon Independent Film Festival 2015

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This past weekend, I attended the massive nerd event DragonCon, which is now a cultural staple of Atlanta, GA. There is a lot to say about the conference as a whole, but I first want to spotlight the DragonCon Independent Film Festival, which I spent most of my conference time attending. Unfortunately, due to the crowds, it was impossible for me to see all of the films in the lineup. That said, here are the selections I did manage to catch, with my brief thoughts on each.

Younglings
Younglings is a Star Wars fan film that closed out the Fan Films block of the festival. It gives a snapshot of a distant future in which the series has branched out to multiple trilogies (unimaginable!), and the original fans are now well into their twilight years. It all takes place around a table in a diner, where a group of old friends come to blows regarding Star Wars fandom and the value of Boba Fett. It is worth checking out if you can get a hold of it.

Writer’s Cramp
I have a lot to say about Writer’s Cramp, one of the few feature-length entries in the festival. It has a solid enough concept behind it, but it is really only enough to fuel the content for a short film. The movie gets slow and repetitive quickly, as it relies almost exclusively on malapropisms and spoonerisms for humor, which gets hokey and tired very fast. Unfortunately for everyone, this movie clocks in at over 100 minutes. To make matters worse, there are unnecessary segments scattered throughout the run-time that really should have been cut, so the run time total was certainly not all essential viewing for the story. Most of the characters in the story lack any sense of realism or voice, particularly the child whose only characteristic is verbosity. That said, there is good costuming and style at times, and the acting is pretty solid given what they were working with.  Judging from the information offered by the director/writer/editor/producer/etc (?) at the festival, this appears to be a case where people were ousted from the production quicker than in a George R. R. Martin work. Apparently an editor quit, the initial director was dismissed, and the writer took on both roles rather than fill them in with someone else. The result is something that reeks of creative control without reasonable checks: a one-trick pony feature that runs far too long on a premise that would have suited a short film at best, and had a creative force behind it that was never forced to kill her darlings.

Victim
Victim takes place entirely in an interrogation room, where two cops are interviewing a woman who was found at the scene of a brutal and mysterious decapitation. Overall, it is an ok flick. It suffers from being a bit too predictable and having a really terrible anticlimax, thought (a cringe-y one-liner that doesn’t land).

A Tricky Treat
A Tricky Treat is simple, gory, and has just the right amount of humor involved to make it work. To say anything more about it would serve to spoil the twist (which is predictable, but worth seeing). I’ll just say that it makes for a classic Halloween tale.

SuperBob
SuperBob was one of the few feature-length entries in the festival, and the only one I saw that I liked. It is an interesting film that tackles the serious ethical implications of super-heroism while also staying a romantic comedy throughout. Catherine Tate is solid in her supporting role, and was far less grating and obnoxious than I was used to. There was also good casting for the lead role: a guy who at once strikes as a wholesome every-man, but is also nondescript enough to be your boring neighbor. He also deals with a wide range of emotions throughout the story, as it twists from serious drama to dark comedy to romance at the drop of a dime. Typically that would be an issue for me, but this flick manages to blend political satire, romance, and dry humor in a way that builds some really identifiable characters in the chaos of it all, and you see real growth in them as it moves along. The biggest flaw lies in the documentary perspective of the film, which goes in and out without consistency. However, it wasn’t extremely distracting for me. The movie is a long way from being Big Man Japan or Man Bites Dog, but it is more than worth giving a shot. If you want a more approachable fictional documentary along the lines of those two acclaimed movies with a welcome injection of dry British humor, then seek it out once it is released.

Tenspotting
Tenspotting is kind of an unbearable fan film, even for a Doctor Who fan. The plot in summary is that an obsessive and elitist fan is seeking out an equally dedicated loyalist at a Doctor Who convention, and has unwavering standards for knowledge of the franchise. She eventually learns that there is more to life than Doctor Who minutia, but the fact that was a necessary lesson for her should point out a pretty serious flaw: you simply can’t identify with her, let alone like her.

Sharkasaurus
Sharkasaurus feels like any given movie in The Asylum’s filmography, but boiled down as far as it could go. There is a bit of a culture war element to it between science and religion, but nobody wins in the end (except for the Sharkasaurus, of course).

Slut
Slut is a serial killer flick with a solid, identifiable heroine. She has a curious charm in her awkwardness, which reminded me a little of Carrie, though this short goes in a very different direction. There is definitely a message here about the skewed sexual ethics of horror movies which is pretty fantastic, and something that the genre deserves to be put to task for. The film holds on to an odd sense of humor throughout, despite the serious suspense and dark tone on the whole.

Prelude to Axanar
Holy cow, this was awesome. Apparently this movie is a pretty big deal, and raised over half a million dollars over the course of an IndieGoGo campaign. Word is that they are working on a full-length version of this short, which I am now eagerly awaiting. Essentially, this is a historical documentary about an event from the Star Trek universe that is entirely fictitious. The re-enactments are fantastic, the acting and cinematography of the interviews are stellar, and the whole film has an incredibly professional appearance. This one is available on YouTube, and is absolutely worth checking out.

Return of the Zombie Lawyer Commercials
Return of the Zombie Lawyer Commercials is exactly what it sounds like. It is what it is, and that isn’t a bad thing. It was clearly a back yard production, but the concept is really fun and there are some solid laughs to be had from it.

Postpartum
Creepy acting made this one stand out a lot for me. A woman loses her mind after a failed pregnancy, believing her child to be alive. This leads her to kill anyone who enters her home who would challenge her delusion, which makes for quite a creepy collection of skeletons in her closet after a while.

Kragos the Dishonored
I get what they were trying to do with this silent Star Trek fan film, but it just didn’t work at all if you ask me. The story is very poorly conveyed (even for a silent flick), and I don’t think the appeal extends much outside of Trek fandom. It stands in pretty sharp contrast next to the other Trek fan film in the fest (Axanar, which I mentioned previously).

Knock, Knock…
This is one of the few shorts in the festival that I had seen before. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about it, but it is certainly a good short, just perhaps not as memorable as some of the others in this particular lineup. I do recommend showing this to any young children that you want to terrify forever.

Invaders
Invaders is a funny flick with a lot of gore and some twistedly inspired cinematography. It is very brief, but manages to have some great banter and effects over its short run time. It is also one of the only flicks I recall from the festival that hilariously runs through its own credits.

I Dare You
I wish I had more positive things to say about this movie. The production design looked pretty ok? The zombie makeup is…adequate? At the end of the day, I Dare You looks and feels like a Hollywood-generic zombie movie, but shorter and without the money. Before I saw the movie, I attended a panel that featured the director of this film, which sent me some red flags before going into it. First off, he said that the most influential dystopian film on him and his work was Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil. That film isn’t totally without value, but that is hardly the future vision of Brazil, or Minority Report, or Children of Men, or Blade Runner, or A Clockwork Orange, or just about any other non-generic zombie movie in the entire genre of dystopian films. Even Repo: The Genetic Opera has a more interesting and well-fleshed vision of a dystopian future than Resident Evil. The second thing that he said on the panel that bugged me is that he specifically noted that he didn’t think about any social meaning for his work when he was creating it. Dystopian fiction, to be frank, requires some social criticism to even be watchable. The idea is to take a current social ill and exaggerate it over time to point out what it could ultimately do to society. For example, overreach of law enforcement in Minority Report, Corporatization in RoboCop, censorship and anti-intellectualism in Fahrenheit 451, and the unreasonable reign of bureaucracy in Brazil. Even I Dare You sort of says something about unethical scientific experimentation, though that seems to have been something of an accident. In any case, the twist is way too predictable in this movie, and it feels in totality like a collage of previous works that has been lightly reheated and labelled as something new, like a hot dog made from butcher scraps.

Grave Shivers
Grave Shivers is a short film that functions as a compilation of even shorter micro-films that are all pretty great. The highlight of the bunch is probably the Satanic Girl Scout troop, but all three of the shorts are entertaining. They are worth giving a watch, and the whole thing is available to check out on Vimeo.

Evercare
Evercare is a horror-comedy psuedo-documentary that is absolutely made by the performance of the lead character: a home care nurse who has adapted her skills to the world following a zombie apocalypse. As she explains in the introduction, the old folks weren’t able to make it through the incident (effectively eliminating her job), but that many families had loved ones who were turned into zombies. She discovered that the needs of zombies were similar to those of the elderly, and started a program for in-house zombie care. The setup is unique, the acting is great, and the jokes are consistently funny, making this a short that is more than worth checking out.

Dread
Dread has a good concept behind it (a child haunted by a mysterious spectre), but the style just didn’t work for me. It looked like a J-horror in many ways, which I have never really been on board with personally. Also, the title doesn’t really match with the content, and feels a bit tacked-on for dramatic effect.

El Mano vs. Japanese Zombie
Even seen the classic short Bambi vs. Godzilla? Same thing, but with an El Santo analog.

Downstairs
Downstairs is a rare horror-comedy where the comedy honestly takes a back seat to the horror elements, but the synthesis works great on the whole. The movie displays top notch timing for both the humor and the scares (which are hard things to balance). I did think it suffered from a bit of an anticlimax, but the ride was definitely fun.

Directors on Directing
Directors on Directing is as hilarious as it is simple. The movie exists to poke at self-aggrandizing film-makers in a spectacular, explosive, and gory fashion, and it nails that biting tone perfectly. The setup is that of a fake documentary featuring directors talking about “the power of film-making,” which seems clear enough at first, until it is revealed that the “power” is the ability to cause dramatic cranial explosions.

Devil Makes Work
This was a visually striking film for sure, but there isn’t a whole lot to say about Devil Makes Work when it comes down to it. The acting is solid and the images are creatively synthesized, but I had a hard time remembering anything about this short until I watched the trailer. It just failed to stick with me at all, which probably says something about the film as a whole. Apparently I’m not alone in regards to those feelings, so I’ll just post the following from MJ Simpson’s blog post on the film, which says everything I could and more:

[Devil Makes Work] is a great showcase for the director and, frankly, if I was looking for someone to direct a big budget music video, I’d be knocking on his door. We can see that Soulsby has a very strong visual sense, that he has a masterful camera eye, that he has a strong worth ethic and that he has the organisational skills to lead a team of a hundred people and craft something amazing.

A feature film is more than a succession of stylish images…There is certainly a trend in Hollywood to make awful, empty movies that are rammed to the gills with vast amounts of special effects: all style and no substance, all sizzle and no sausage. Films that jump from one set piece explosion or alien spaceship or car chase to the next without any concern for making sense or appealing to anything but the most visceral emotions…Films which cost obscene amounts of money and, let’s face it, sometimes make obscene amounts of money back. Maybe that’s the gig that Guy Soulsby is pitching for here.

But films – good films – are about stories. And characters. And relationships. Devil Makes Work is a beautifully shot and edited sequence of vignettes but it’s not a narrative piece.

Dead Hearts
Dead Hearts is a well-shot, cute, and excellently-narrated dark romantic comedy: one of the finest entries into that sub-genre that I have seen. I was also shocked at how good the fight sequences are, and how well the visual design of the whole production comes off. It genuinely looks and feels like a cracked storybook, which is impressive to say the least. This might have been my favorite of the whole festival, which is not something I expected going into it.

The Case Of Evil
The Case of Evil is a sort of follow-up on the classic Robert Johnson tale. The film has a traditional, Twilight Zone-esque tone and look to it, which I really appreciated. I’m a little surprised how rare it is to see that nowadays, as there is such a long history to horror shorts with that appearance. In any case, it is somewhat predictable, but builds tension pretty well none-the-less.

The Bloodline
There were certainly good things stylistically about The Bloodline, but the Sin City / graphic novel look has just been done too much at this point, and didn’t really work here. The story also proved a little too predictable for my taste, and the writing and acting left a lot to be desired out of this one.

Bad Guy #2
Bad Guy #2 is a gory skewering of an old action movie trope: the volatile hierarchy of fictitious criminal organizations. The eponymous character takes his place just below “The Kingpin” and “The Right Hand Man,” but just above “Bad Guy #3.” His newly appointed position, however, is famously the first to be killed off when things go awry. This flick is definitely fun and filled with impressive effects, and is one of the films I most want to watch again out of the shorts lineup.

The Amazing Rondini
The Amazing Rondini is an entertaining spin on a “deal with the devil” story. A failing magician is recruited by a man who appears to be the Devil to execute a number of wayward souls in exchange for otherworldly magical powers. To the demon’s surprise, the magician is totally down with the idea, and proves to be a pretty efficient killer after working the kinks out.

600$
600$ is fantastic, and was undoubtedly one of my favorites of the festival. It had a number of good twists as the truth behind the plot is slowly revealed through flashbacks, and is funny in a broken sort of way. The story follows a hitman who has to change professions after the market for hired assassins drops out. His new job proves to be similar to his old: he gets paid to usher people into the next world, but this time via well-plotted assisted suicides.

It Follows

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)

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Movie:
It Follows
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Pitch:
“This movie actually got me. Supernatural horror flicks don’t usually freak me out, but this one did. The way it just sort of slowly walks towards you…”

Background:

It Follows was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, whose only previous feature film was 2010’s The Myth of The American Sleepover, a teen-focused romantic comedy.

The cast for It Follows is made up of a handful of young actors, none of whom have a lot of film experience: Maika Monroe (The Guest), Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto (Beneath), and Kier Gilchrist (United States of Tara) make up the mainstay, with a handful of others filling in depth roles.

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The special effects work for It Follows is credited to Krisz Drouillard, whose most recognizable credit is likely on Kevin Smith’s 2014 foray into body horror, Tusk. The makeup team included Robert Kurtzman (Bubba Ho-Tep, The Faculty, Spawn, Maniac Cop 3, DeepStar Six, From Beyond, Army of Darkness) and Tom Luhtala (Late Phases, John Dies At The End), and the visual effects crew boasted Ed Mendez (Sin City, The Ladykillers, Catwoman, The Road, Spider-Man 3), Alessandro Pepe (Kung Fu Panda 2, Happy Feet), Greg Strasz (2012, White House Down), Raffaele Apuzzo (Nightcrawler), and Andrea Marotti (Getaway, Dracula 3D).

The distinctive and memorable music for It Follows was composed by Rich Vreeland, an electronic and chiptune artist who uses the moniker of ‘Disasterpeace.’ This was his foray into scoring films, though he provided the music for the hit indie video game Fez in 2012, and has a loyal following.

Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis has a long history of shooting short films, but his only other standout feature is the 2012 cult hit John Dies At The End, which was directed by Don Coscarelli, and also featured a number of common effects workers with It Follows.

It Follows received numerous awards and accolades, gaining praise throughout its festival run. nominated for the Audience Award at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Critics Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, among many others.

It Follows currently holds a rating of 7.0 on IMDb. It also has an astonishing 96% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, though it stands alongside a much lower audience score of 66%.

The film was made on an estimated budget of $2 million, and managed to gross a profitable $17 million in its total theatrical run. However, it was undoubtedly a much bigger critical hit than it was a financial one, and is primarily the darling of critics and horror die-hards.

Review:

I saw this film in theaters, knowing it already had immense acclaim behind it. There is certainly a lot interesting going on in this movie, not the least of which is the fact that it manages to create an effect of unease with both its audio and visual components. I think the score is probably the most distinctive aspect of the movie, and essentially creates something new by delving into something old: the iconic horror scores of John Carpenter. You can tell that the score is a sort of synthesis between Carpenter and the modern electronic drone of Kavinsky, which was popularized in Drive.

Creating ‘new’ out of ‘old’ is more or less the whole gist of the film’s style: the anachronism is even built interestingly into the set design and the background details: characters have modern mobile phones and electronic devices, but all of the televisions are ancient CRTs, the cars are vintage, and the movie theater has a live organist. In many ways, you could argue that we are living in a nostalgia generation, defined by its lust for the past. In that way, It Follows is the perfect encapsulation of our status quo.

I once had a jazz teacher who always gave the advice to his students to listen to and imitate great musicians. “But won’t I start sounding like ‘Bird’?” a student might say. He would respond: “You’ll never sound like Bird. You’ll sound like someone trying to sound like Bird, and that will be you.” It Follows is, as many have pointed out, a mockingbird of John Carpenter, and specifically Halloween. The music, the posture of the creature, the setting, and the shots all function as modernizations of that classic film, arguably more faithfully than the actual reboot of the franchise. However, I don’t think anyone would confuse this movie with a product from John Carpenter himself, in the same way that a saxophone student won’t be mistaken for Charlie Parker. It Follows feels, looks, and sounds like a movie trying to be a John Carpenter movie, and the resulting imitation is something that is both faithful and unique.

When it comes to problems with the movie, I found that the creature lost a lot of its intimidating ability one it was made clear that it was physical and definitively mortal. In general, monsters become less scary as characters discover their weaknesses and boundaries, like sunlight with vampires or silver with werewolves. However, “It” really needed to be unstoppable to be intimidating. Making it susceptible to bullets and electricity took a little too much away from its mystique. I also expected some sort of clever trap for the creature rather than a killing blow, which would have made more sense and kept the monster from losing its edge.

I also wasn’t particularly enthralled with the first kill of the movie, in which a young woman is discovered grotesquely contorted on a beach after fleeing from the creature. The way she was bent around struck me as a bit too comical, and I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of bendy-straw pretzel-making shenanigans the creature had to go through to get that effect. I imagine it wasn’t unlike making a balloon animal.

Back to a positive: I loved the way this movie used the underlying sexual anxieties of youth as a way to tap into a latent social fear. I think the best horror movies always do that to some degree, and it helps the film get a foot in the door to the viewer’s psyche, which makes it more effective at being genuinely horrific and unsettling. That is one of the biggest shortcomings of most Hollywood horrors made nowadays if you ask me.

Likewise, It Follows is very deliberate and creative in its use of color and light, particularly when it comes to shadows and water. Both the back yard pool and the finale municipal pool are shot in ways that are visually striking, and the blues always find a way to pop against the surroundings. All of the interior shots in the various are kept dark and are shot tightly, giving a distinct sense of claustrophobia and discomfort.

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Recommendation:

I can’t recommend It Follows highly enough. For many horror fans, I think It Follows and The Babadook have served as beacons of hope for the genre, and counterpoints to lazy Hollywood horrors like Ouija and Annabelle. I’m a little surprised that audiences haven’t been more receptive to It Follows on the whole. My guess is that the slow build of tension didn’t work for a lot of general audiences, who aren’t accustomed to atmospheric horror, and are more conditioned for jump scares and a simpler horror formula.

Bloody Birthday

Bloody Birthday

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Today marks my 26th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, I decided to surround myself with close friends and family, and take a little break from the world of awful movies. Just kidding! I watched a shitty movie with a birthday theme.

1981’s “Bloody Birthday” was co-written and directed by Ed Hunt, whose credits include a documentary called “UFO’s Are Real” and an episode of “Greatest Heroes of The Bible.” Sounds like just the sort of person I try to avoid in my daily life. The other co-writer on “Bloody Birthday” is one Barry Pearson, who primarily producers television programs that I assume no one has ever seen.

The music for “Bloody Birthday” was done by Arlon Ober, who provided scores for such horror films as “Incredible Melting Man,” “Q,” “Child’s Play,” and “House.”

The cinematographer on “Bloody Birthday” was Stephen L. Posey, who might be best known for his work on the much-maligned “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning.”

The special effects on “Bloody Birthday” were provided by Roger George, who worked on films like “Blacula,” “The Terminator,” “Saturday the 14th,” “Chopping Mall,” “Ghoulies,” and “Repo Man.”

The cast of “Bloody Birthday” includes Lori Lethin (“The Day After”), Susan Strasberg (“Scream of Fear,” “Picnic”), Billy Jayne (“Cujo”), Julie Brown (“Plump Fiction,” “Earth Girls Are Easy”), Jose Ferrer (“Dune”), and Michael Dudikoff (“American Ninja”) in a background role, the same year as “Enter The Ninja.”

bloodybirthday4The story of “Bloody Birthday” centers around three children who were born on the same day, and are apparently ravenous killers due to the astrological situation at the time of their birth. Around their 11th birthdays, they decided to go on a spree, picking off parents, teachers, and local teenagers. One of their classmates and a babysitter start to catch on, but the town refuses to believe that children are behind the string of horrific murders.

bloodybirthday5“Bloody Birthday” went by a number of alternate titles in foreign markets, including “Killers of the Eclipse” and “Children of the Devil,” which are both easily more appropriate names for the film. I assume “Bloody Birthday” was chosen because of the trend of naming horror movies after assorted holidays, despite how tangential the birthday actually is to the story.

“Bloody Birthday” currently has a 5.7 score on IMDb, as well as a 38% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, it does have a little bit of a cult following among horror aficionados, but it is still a bit of an obscure film. I couldn’t dig up any financial information on the film, but I assume that the budget was plenty low and that it didn’t receive any kind of wide release, given that the production company behind it has no other credits.

There are certainly plenty of things to criticize about “Bloody Birthday.” First off, the trio of evil children aren’t exactly stealthy killers, but the small town is apparently incapable of hearing gunshots ring out in the night. They also kill in broad daylight on a couple of occasions, giving little mind to the fear of witnesses.

Speaking of which, how strong are these children supposed to be? It could be argued that they are cursed by their astrological destiny, but that doesn’t really excuse their ability to beat a grown man to death. I happen to know that there are plenty of scientifically accurate studies out there about how many 5th graders grown adults can take in hand to hand combat, and this film doesn’t seem to fit with those findings.

bloodybirthday3I don’t think I need to go into the problems with the astrology-based mythos behind this movie’s plot. Basically, the alignments of planets do not affect people’s personalities. Also, why aren’t there thousands of maniacal children in this movie? Surely there were more than three kids born on the astrologically significant day in question?

To the credit of the child actors in “Bloody Birthday” the killer kids are genuinely creepy in this movie. I usually dread any movies that rely on children in key roles, but this trio is absolutely passable here. The rest of the acting in the film is your typically b-movie mixed bag, but it is all serviceable enough in my opinion.

bloodybirthday2Overall, “Bloody Birthday” isn’t a great horror movie. It has a few creative deaths that are worth watching, and the evil children keep it interesting, but this is more of a copycat of other horror movies than anything unique to itself. There also isn’t a very satisfying conclusion, which brings it down a peg.

As far as a recommendation goes, you could certainly do a lot worse. The movie is paced well enough, and never quite felt boring. If you want to watch an obscure horror movie or are itching to watch children murder people, “Bloody Birthday” will satisfy you.