Jaws

Dir: Steven Spielberg, 1975. Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw. Horror.

The summer of 1975 saw a decline in beach activity and beach resort profits, not because of anything that happened in real life, but because what happened in the cinemas that summer. It was a little film, by a twenty-something director, that due to technical problems was barely able to get out of the water. At the time of its release Jaws may have been the biggest cultural blockbuster since Gone With The Wind. It was all the talk, all the rage, and its effect on beach life and the reputation of sharks is still felt today. But more importantly, hype aside, Jaws is also some good old-fashioned filmmaking, and is still one of the greatest adventure, horror films ever.

In the mid '70s it was rare for a director of a major studio movie to only be in his 20s, but after a string of acclaimed TV movies, including the landmark thriller Duel, Steven Spielberg was called a wunderkind. His first go at the big screen, The Sugarland Express with Goldie Hawn, was a well done road picture. Though it was steeped in '70s rebellion, it didn’t come close to revealing just how in touch with the pulse of audiences Spielberg would prove to be.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Apr 29, 2011 7:21pm

The People Under the Stairs

Dir: Wes Craven, 1991. Starring: Brandon Quintin Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J. Langer, Ving Rhames. Horror.

The People Under the Stairs is absolutely bonkers. It's as if David Lynch and Wes Craven took a field trip to the ghetto and came away with an outrageous idea for a thriller/horror movie. Everett McGill and Wendy Robie of Twin Peaks take on another strange domestic role as a brother and sister who never seemed to grow out of playing house and who like to steal children. The movie shares the same violent color schemes and unsettling (yet somehow humorous) dialogue that you find in practically every Lynch film.

Following the newly 13-year-old Poindexter “Fool” Williams (Brandon Quintin Adams), the story opens up with a tarot reading from his older sister Ruby that warns of a year filled with death and ignorance. The two siblings are struggling to make ends meet as their mother is slowly dying of cancer. They're the only tenants remaining in a building that their landlord wishes to tear down in order to make room for condos and tenants who aren't predominately black. Ruby's boyfriend Leroy (Ving Rhames) is a petty criminal who's tired of seeing families thrown to the streets and offers Fool an alternative in making the payments they need to stay there. He's come across a map of the landlord's home and plans to rob it. Rumor has spread across generations that the steep rent and poor conditions of the ghetto has led to a ton of profits for the landlord. This money, thought to be a mass hoard of gold coins, is said to be inside and Leroy wants to get his hands on it.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Apr 18, 2011 12:34pm

Intruder

Dir: Scott Spiegel, 1989. Starring: Elizabeth Cox, Renée Estevez, Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi, Eugene Robert Glazer. Horror.

Could you imagine what it would be like to finish an exhausting shift at a retail job, only to find upon closing that there is a killer who wants to use the abundance of box cutters and deli knives to expose your innards? Well, that's where this slasher movie begins, and that is just the beginning of its craftiness. Slasher films are usually really good about having slaughter come in the most inopportune times: swimming, camping, love making, eating and so forth. I think this adds that special tension that comes along with horror films—the old “don't go up the stairs” warning you try to tell the characters by squirming in your seat. Intruder lacks this tension at first because you're not exactly sure what's going on, and with the large cast and lack of character background with any of them, it's hard to decipher where everyone is and who is still alive. Perhaps that's a good thing. Surely when the movie's awesome kill scenes surface, you really don't care who gets the ax; you just want to see how many horrible ways someone could be murdered within an hour at a supermarket.

As mentioned before, the cast is considerably large for a slasher, and they are killed rather swiftly. I couldn't really catch most of the characters' names or tell Ted and Sam Raimi apart, but it really doesn't matter. Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox) and her coworker Linda (Renée Estevez) are the only two employees at the registers when it comes time to close at their supermarket. Meanwhile, all the male workers are busy cleaning, butchering meat, and adding numbers in various parts of the store. The last customer to be rung up is Jennifer 's ex-boyfriend who was recently released from prison. Their breakup has left him a little disgruntled, and he picks a fight with her. When the fight turns physical, all the male workers attack and kick the brute out. The police are called and can't find him, so everyone goes about their routine closing, which seems to take much longer than it normally should. They all get together and one of the veterans there expresses his disappointment that the store will be closing and the property handed over to the government. A little more prep work is done for the following day, but when it comes time for everyone to leave, no one is able to make it out of the front door. Using meat hooks in the cooler, table saws, box cutters and various knives, a mysterious killer has infiltrated the store and intends on leaving no one standing. But is Jennifer's woman-beating boyfriend the culprit or does someone else have a score to settle?

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Mar 17, 2011 6:38pm

The Hand

Dir: Oliver Stone, 1981. Starring: Michael Caine, Andrea Marcovicci, Annie McEnroe, Bruce McGill. Horror.

A half decade before his breakthrough films Salvador and Platoon would make Oliver Stone a major director with a political conscience, The Hand proves to be an odd film for Stoneaphiles. It’s his second following his unwatchable low budget horror flick, Seizure, and it works well as a suspenseful psychological horror thriller, but more importantly it proves that no matter how ridiculous the material Michael Caine makes anything worth watching.

Caine plays a successful comic book artist in Vermont. He and his younger wife (Andrea Marcovicci) are having marital problems - his wife wants to go to New York City to study at a groovy yoga center, he just wants to be left alone. He loses his hand in a freak car accident, which is the worst thing that can happen to an artist. The hand is never found. He is forced to get a mechanical prosthetic glove. After his wife leaves him, he takes a job teaching at a central California college. He begins an affair with a student (Annie McEnroe) and gets a yahoo drinking buddy (Bruce McGill, D-Day in Animal House and later a respected character actor in films like The Insider). Suddenly people around him start to turn up dead (including director Stone playing a wino). They are murdered on screen by a walking hand, but it may all be in Caine’s head. Is he actually doing the killing?

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Feb 18, 2011 6:19pm

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors

Dir: Chuck Russell, 1987. Starring: H. Langenkamp, P. Arquette, R. Englund, L. Fishburn, J. Saxon. Horror.

My appreciation for the 3rd installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise skyrocketed after watching Christopher Nolan's Inception. Yes, it takes itself less seriously. Hell no, it never received any Oscar buzz. Yes, it's outright cartoonish at times, And, no, you can't convince me I've lost my mind for thinking this (if I'm insane you wouldn't be able to win an argument with me anyway). A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors is actually the more sensible, and even more creative film. Re-watching it again recently, I was in awe of its inventiveness with dream logic, and its surreal special effects and production design. It also establishes an idea within two minutes that Nolan completely fails at with 148: that death within a dream has high consequences.

Nightmare 3 ignores whatever happened in Part Two, and so it's not required viewing beforehand (though none of it will make a bit of sense to those who never saw the original Nightmare on Elm Street). The film opens with a teenage artist named Kristen (Patricia Arquette in her first feature-length role). She's mixing coffee grounds with Coke to stay awake, and building a model of a certain creepy house on Elm Street she keeps visiting in her dreams. Soon enough, we're in it with her after she falls asleep, and she's attacked by a razor-gloved, dream-stalking serial killer known as Freddy Krueger. She wakes up in her mother's bathroom holding a razor with slit wrists.

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Dec 24, 2010 12:32pm

The Sentinel

Dir: Michael Winner, 1977. Starring: C. Raines, C. Sarandon, A. Gardner, J. Carradine, B. Meredith, S. Miles, B. D'Angelo. Horror.

Philosophy, justice, and Catholic theology are blended to a pulp in this breathtaking example of 1970s horror. By the time the '80s rolled around, cinematic exploration with special effects was at its peak in terms of prosthetics and make-up. Several masters - mainly in Italy, America, and Japan - had reached new heights and dug up several techniques from the past that were introduced as early as the silent era. The Sentinel impressed me with both its story and its remarkable efforts to pull off a complicated film. It is an adaptation of Jeffrey Konvitz's novel, and during a Q&A he expressed some issues with it, as I'm sure is natural for a writer in his position. He did have a lot to do with the production and even co-wrote the script. Aside from certain things being changed for the film, it's safe to say that the other large issue he had was with the film's production, claiming that he would have wanted a different director and a slightly different cast. I'll get to why I disagree shortly.

I'm going to attempt to play down all the action in the plot because there is so much of it and to explain it all would be to give away the best parts. In the film we find Alison (Cristina Raines), a model who wants some space from her boyfriend Michael (Chris Sarandon) and seeks an apartment of her own. She finds a number of places and eventually settles on a well-furnished and roomy place in an old building. The landlady (Ava Gardner) seems more than eager to get her to move in, dropping the price from $600 to $400 in order to seal the deal. On top of the fact that she is not willing to settle, she has other troubles on her mind when she hears the news of her father's death. Her feelings for him are cold due to a shocking revelation about his character that caused her to practically denounce her Catholic faith as a teenager and led to her first attempt to commit suicide. In her building she finds two people who sort of symbolize other father figures. Seen facing from the highest window of the complex is Father Halliran (John Carradine), a blind, reclusive priest. The other is Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith), an overbearing old man who invites himself in on occasion and talks to his animals as if they were people.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 26, 2010 4:09pm

Sorority House Massacre

Dir: Carol Frank, 1986. Starring: Angela O'Neill, John C. Russell, Wendy Martel, Pamela Ross, Nicole Rio. Horror.

You've got your good slashers and you've got your bad ones, but when you really think about it, there is no such thing. It all boils down to a matter of taste. If you go to the movies for a good shock or scare, you probably think that movies like this are terrible. If you're going to see dimwitted or annoying people get killed and laugh at one-liners, then you'll love Sorority House Massacre. Before I mention the plot, if you know anything about this movie, you know that it has to do with a brother coming back to kill his sister after slaughtering the entire family. Many think of Halloween, just as you might have heard about its relation to dreams, which is linked with A Nightmare on Elm Street. If you've looked up this movie, or other slashers, only to find that people down it because it has elements of other horror movies, don't believe the hype. Every single genre in cinema will have elements of some other film, work of art, pop culture, you name it. Not that you shouldn’t praise what has been established as original, but don't get too hung up on it. This movie is terrible and it means to be. Everything is so over the top, particularly the fashion. The fact that nothing in the plot is believable and that there are so many pointless scenes only adds to how perfectly cheesy it is. The fact that the woman on the cover/posters is not even in the movie also adds to the cheese factor.

The plot is pretty straightforward: crazy older brother slaughters parents and three of his four sisters. Beth (Angela O'Neill), who was five years old at the time, escapes, is raised by others, forgets the incident, and joins a sorority in college. She does find a disturbing connection between her new sorority house and her childhood home where the murders happened. Of course, we discover that it's the same house. Meanwhile, her brother Bobby (John C. Russell) spends his time strapped to a bed in an institution. The center of the plot, besides people getting murdered, is her dreams. It is speculated earlier in the movie that brain waves can be transmitted through space just like waves of light and sound. Apparently her brother has got some pretty powerful brain waves and has filtered his way into her sleep. She begins to feel that he is after her and he eventually escapes - with stupendous ease - out of his mental institution. Thus, she and her sorority sisters are in for a big surprise when he comes home.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 19, 2010 4:38pm

Bad Dreams

Dir: Andrew Fleming, 1988. Starring: Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Richard Lynch, Dean Cameron. Horror.

"O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."

-William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Oct 19, 2010 4:21pm

Horror Express

Dir: Eugenio Martín, 1972. Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Telly Savalas. Horror.

This early '70s British/Spanish co-production is more interesting than most of the other horror/sci-fi flicks its countrymen were putting out in its day. It’s also the best Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee flick of the '70s. Horror Express plays like a mad mesh-up of The Thing, Murder On The Orient Express, Night Of The Living Dead, and Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass series. It may be a wacky low-budget affair, but it’s actually an eerie little genre masterpiece.

Anthropologist Alexander Saxton (Lee) boards the Trans-Siberian Express in 1906 with a crated fossil of what he believe to be the "missing link." A mad Rasputin-like monk (Alberto de Mendoza) becomes obsessed with it, declaring it the devil and waking it from its deep slumber. When it escapes and starts killing passengers, Saxton must team up with his rival, Dr. Wells (Cushing), to destroy it. The scientists study its retina and learn that it came to ancient Earth from outer space a la The Thing. And also like The Thing it seems to be able to take the form of the people it mind-melds with, causing the killing to continue.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Oct 13, 2010 4:47pm

The Innocents

Dir: Jack Clayton, 1961. Starring: Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins. Horror.

Were you to ask me to recommend you a good horror film at Amoeba I would invariably direct you to the Val Lewton section and I would try explaining why the films that he did for RKO in the 1940s are some of the most astonishingly sophisticated and genuinely haunting movies ever made. The reason I would rely on Lewton’s films for a good horror recommendation is twofold—they’re really that good and I haven’t seen that many horror films because I think a lot of them look really gross. Psychological thrillers are the tops but when a film involves the removal of intestines and the liquefying of brain matter - and worse when it takes place in the 1970s (I hate those even more for some reason, I think because of all the excess body hair) - I know that a film is not for me. Suffice to say the oeuvre of Rob Zombie is pretty much off my radar. I can’t help it! But sometimes I come across a horror film with real emotional depth and a captivating escalation of dread and tension and I remember how excellent a horror film can be if it meets my weird aesthetic criteria. The Innocents is the kind of film I’m talking about. It’s one of the most unsettling films ever made. The horror is there but it exists in such an ambiguous, queasy realm of anxiety and when it’s over you will question what you really saw, but you will not stop thinking about the film for a long time.

The Innocents is an adaptation of Henry James’s novel, The Turn of the Screw, though apparently the movie adheres closer to the play that was spun off of the book (also called The Innocents). It’s interesting to note that Harold Pinter was one of the authors who worked on the screenplay. It’s an English gothic horror story set at a country estate, but while the repressive atmosphere of a Victorian setting is ever present the shades of nuance in the psychology of the film is startling even for the early 1960s. It’s hard to imagine the same film being made in the United States. Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, a governess hired to look after the orphaned niece and nephew of a London playboy who has no intention of living with them in the country. She is our guide as we descend into a very weird state of affairs at the house.

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Posted by:
Jed Leland
Jul 23, 2010 5:36pm
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