Most genre fans seem to cite the original Creepshow as the definitive and best horror anthology film ever made, but I’ve always had more of a soft spot and appreciation for its sequel Creepshow 2. The first Creepshow was the brainchild of famed horror author Stephen King (Carrie, Christine, Cujo, The Shining, It, The Dead Zone) and legendary horror director George A. Romero, the creator of Night Of The Living Dead and in essence the father of the movie version of the modern “zombie.” Their idea was to put together a live action anthology film which collected five unique horrific tales ala the old EC comics of the 1950s which featured Tales From The Crypt, The Vault Of Horror and The Haunt Of Fear. (Side-note: EC comics were also the creators of MAD magazine!) The segments drew in an all star cast including names such as Ed Harris, Leslie Nielson, Adrienne Barbeau and even King himself. While considered a sleeper hit at the box office upon its release, it would take five years before the sequel came to fruition.
For Creepshow 2, King provided the stories and Romero penned the script, but this time he vacated the director’s chair for Michael Gornick, Romero’s long-time cinematographer. Also, whereas the first film featured five separate segments and clocked in at 120 minutes, the sequel keeps a lean pace of three stories (plus an animated wrap around) all within 90 minutes. Famed FX artist Tom Savini (also a long-time Romero collaborator) portrays the live action version of “The Creep” during the prologue segment. Without further ado, here’s a break down of the three fiendish tales!
Imagine this daunting task—you’re a young on-the-rise Australian filmmaker & devoted Hitchcock protégé with a handful of successful low-budget thrillers under your belt and you’re eagerly waiting a big break in Hollywood. You’re paired up with an actor-turned-screenwriter who only had a few modestly successful horror films on his resume. And then you’re asked to make a sequel to one of the most influential films of all time from a director you spent your entire life idolizing. That’s the position Richard Franklin was put in when he was asked to helm Psycho II for Universal Pictures in 1982 and, thankfully, he rose to the challenge and met it with full confidence, successfully re-introducing Norman Bates to a whole new generation of film lovers.
Ignoring the radical and bizarre direction that Robert Bloch’s sequel book took, writer Tom Holland (who at the time had penned Class of 1984, The Beast Within, and The Initiation Of Sarah) opted instead to tell a brand new story, picking up 22 years after the events of the first Psycho film. The film had ended with Norman Bates being arrested after a string of murders at the Bates Motel which he committed as his alternate personality, his crazed, wild-eyed mother. Psycho II actually opens with the shower scene since this moment from the original and the character of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) play so heavily into the plot of the sequel. After a brief credit montage, we’re in the court room where Norman Bates is declared to be restored to sanity and is officially set free, much to the dismay of Lila Loomis aka Lila Crane, Marion’s sister, once again reprised by actress Vera Miles. Despite her protests and her signed petition, Norman walks out of the courthouse a free man, is escorted by his doctor, Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia) back to his house and his motel, and is set up with a job at the local diner.
Taking a cue from the infamous Twilight Zone episode “Talking Tina,” as well as the Zuni doll segment from Trilogy Of Terror, director (and writer) Tom Holland was not only able to craft a “killer doll” movie rich with mythology that is both suspenseful & terrifying, but also arguably the best of this particular sub-genre in horror. And Child’s Play wastes no time as it opens in the middle of a police pursuit with Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) hot on the trail of Charles Lee Ray (Brad Douriff), the notorious serial killer known as the Lakeshore Strangler who has just been ditched & abandoned mid-robbery by his accomplice Eddie Caputo (Neil Giuntoli). The chase ends in a local toy store where, after a brief gun fight, Ray is mortally wounded. But before he dies, he performs a voodoo ceremony to transfer his soul into that of a Good Guy talking doll. Does the mumbo-jumbo spell actually work?
Karen Barkley (Catherine Hicks) is a recently single mother who wants nothing more than to provide for her 6-year-old son Andy. And Andy wants nothing more than to get a Good Guy doll for his birthday. When a peddler out behind the store where Karen works offers to sell her a Good Guy doll for $30 bucks over the normally excessive $100 dollar retail charge, she takes advantage so she can give her son the gift she knows he so desperately wants. All seems fine at first and Andy now has a “best friend to the end”. But then, bad things start happening around Andy.
Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon
If you ever sought to find a modern day horror film that both celebrated and homaged the great "slasher" era of the '80s, while simultaneously adding something new, fresh and unique to that particular sub-genre, then you need look no further than Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon.
In the world of the film, our modern day real life boogeymen don’t exist. There’s no Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer. But the cinematic baddies that we’re all well versed in – Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers – all exist in the world of Behind The Mask. They are in fact folklore. Camp fire tales. Legends. The next great killer to join their ranks, whose name will evoke terror and fear to the small, little town of Glen Echo, will be Leslie Vernon. To document both his training and first onslaught, Vernon (Nathan Baesel) has invited a small crew of college filmmakers, fronted by aspiring journalist Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethels), to join him as he becomes the sure-to-be-legendary masked maniac. The results are both frightening and hilarious.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
It turns out that the granddaddy of torture-porn and Slasher-poitation, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, isn’t as exploitive or graphic as its reputation would make you think. It’s actually just some good old fashioned psychological horror, much closer to the economically controlled thrills of Hitchcock than the splatter flicks of Herschell Gordon Lewis. The film is kinda-sorta based on the misdeeds of serial killer Ed Gain (also an inspiration behind the book Psycho), but perhaps more of a direct result of the graphic violence from the Vietnam War seen nightly on television news. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may have a set-up that now seems overly familiar, but where it goes was wholly original and how it gets there is utterly horrifying. Shot in a docudrama style, its ultra realistic feel makes it seem even more real; it’s like The Battle Of Algiers meets The Hills Have Eyes.
The ultra low budget flick opens with a somber voice-over narration (read by John Larroquette) announcing that the film is all true (and also giving the impression that it’s deeply important). Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her group of groovy twenty-something friends in their mystery-machine like van are on their way to visit her rural grandfather’s house. Stupidly they pick up a straight razor wielding loony (Edwin Neal) who should have been the first warning that this is one part of Texas you might be advised to stay out of. Eventually they each make their way to a creepy old farmhouse nearby where they are killed off, except for Sally; as the last survivor she’s in for a long night of terror.
Trick 'r Treat
WARNING: Review contains spoilers.
Trick 'r Treat might just be the greatest Halloween horror film to date. Not only do most of the horror films that people choose to scare themselves with around the holiday not even circulate around the event, but those that do, such as the films that make up the Halloween franchise, fail to approach the mysticism of Halloween itself. Don't get me wrong, many of them are awesome movies, but they use Halloween as a crutch instead of integrating it into the plot.
Friday the 13th:The Final Chapter
Franchise films are a bittersweet realm. They stay fairly safe when they reach the prequels and sequels, but everything past that tends to get a little sloppy. The reasons are usually quite simple: either there were too many hands in the cookie jar in production, a bad team working on the film (director, casting, etc.) or, the plot just gets exhausted to the point of being tasteless and dull.
The Friday the 13th franchise is perhaps one of the most successful overall, coming in second to A Nightmare on Elm St. Up until the fifth or sixth film, you can pretty much find something amusing within each story. When you think about it, there are several films you can make about an impenetrable boogeyman who attacks oversexed (or in the case of this film, undersexed) teenagers who camp on his turf.
The Dead Zone
David Cronenberg. Stephen King. Christopher Walken. You need no other excuse to check out this movie other than the fact that it’s the one and only time that those three names shared credit space at the opening of a film; and at a time when they were all creatively at the top of their game as director, writer and actor respectively. The Dead Zone is based on King’s successful novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Boam (with a polish by David Cronenberg) and stars Christopher Walken at a time just before he became the "go-to" eccentric character actor in just about everything.
Walken plays Johnny Smith, a content school teacher who has a passion for his job, the admiration of his students and is engaged to the love of his life. But one fateful night, he’s involved in a terrible car accident that puts him in a coma. When he awakens, six years have passed, his limbs have suffered from atrophy, his job is gone and his fiance is now married to another man and a mother to a child that isn’t his. But he’s also awoken from his deep slumber with an unlikely gift; the gift of second sight. One mere touch and he’s able to not only see your past and present, but also see your future.
Let me cut right to the chase. Bereavement is a real-deal horror film in the sense that it depicts some of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen in a genre movie. But the nastiness is necessary and the payoff is earned in the delicate and capable hands of a skilled filmmaker/storyteller such as writer/director Stevan Mena. Yes, this film also acts as a prequel to Mena’s debut feature Malevolence, but it’s also a rare anomaly in the genre. It’s a film that strives to satisfy two different audiences; those that love the first film and want to learn the backstory that comes before the original. And then there are those who are simply walking into it blindly just wanting to see a new, original horror movie. In that regard, he succeeds at delivering what both audiences would want with Bereavement. The biggest difference between the two is that if you already know the previous feature, you kind of know where this story has to inevitably end in order to line-up with Malevolence; whereas newcomers will probably be shocked by the grim, dark descent that the story takes.
Bereavement opens pretty much the same way that Malevolence does; with the kidnapping of little Martin Bristol at the hands of deranged serial killer Graham Sutter. It then cuts 5 years later, and we follow Allison Miller (Alexandra Daddario), a young teen who is forced to move in with her uncle Jonathan (Michael Biehn) and his family after losing her parents in a car accident. She takes some solace in her budding new relationship with her neighbor William (Nolan Funk), whom her uncle doesn’t approve of. But William also has problems of his own. He struggles to care for his verbally abusive, invalid father with hopes of one day "getting outta this town." The great thing about the story arcs of both Allison and Martin is that they run concurrently and eventually collide. Much like Mena did with Malevolence, he’s again combining two genres in the same feature. For Malevolence, it was the action heist film that became a “slasher” movie. Here, it’s pretty much a serious, straightforward hardcore drama that eventually becomes a "slasher" flick.
One of the most remarkable things about the movie Malevolence is how much it authentically captures the vibe and spirit of the early '80s “slasher” films it tries to homage with such reverence. In fact, after I initially saw it in its limited theatrical run back in 2004, I immediately jumped online to confirm that it was in fact a recently made feature film and not a long lost gem from the '80s that was only just then surfacing. Sure enough, upon a bit more research, I discovered that the goal of writer/director Stevan Mena was to emulate the horror films that had had such a profound impact on him growing up. And in that regard, he completely succeeded.
Malevolence opens with the kidnapping of Martin Bristol, a 6-year old boy from Pennsylvania who is forced to watch the evil deeds of his deranged captor, serial killer Graham Sutter. The film then cuts ahead 10 years later where we’re introduced to Julian (Brandon Johnson) and Marylin (Heather Magee) who along with Marylin’s brother Max (Keith Chambers) and Kurt (Richard Glover) are planning a daytime bank robbery. When things don’t go according to plan and the robbery is completely botched, the criminals flee with 2 hostages to their rendezvous point out in the countryside of Pennsylvania, just next to the old Sutter place and meat & poultry slaughterhouse. When they venture out towards the Sutter property, they inadvertently garner the attention of the long dormant killer at the house and uncover the horrors that have been going on there for over a decade. From then on, it’s just a matter of trying to survive the night.