While Saturday Night Live has been a talent generator for the last forty-something years, as a sketch show it usually sticks with the obvious and the more tried and true formulas. On the fringes of television (usually cable) is where one finds the sketch shows that truly innovate and surprise: Mr. Show, Kids in the Hall, Chappelle’s Show, and The Ben Stiller Show, to name a few. But for my money, Comedy Central’s Key & Peele is the best sketch show since the era of SNL. Besides the outstanding and committed performances the two actors Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele give, the skits always seem to go down the least obvious route. Interestingly, the biggest influences on the show don’t seem to be the golden age of television’s Your Show of Shows or England’s Monty Python, but instead The Twilight Zone.
There’s an eerie element to the humor of Key & Peele and often an M. Night Shyamalan-like twist at the end of each bit. So it’s not surprising that for Peele’s directing debut (which he also wrote), he would make a proto-horror flick. Get Out is definitely less Lorne Michaels and more Rod Serling -- and even more Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, Deathtrap) with a sprinkling of Blaxploitation’s most outrageously paranoid thrillers (Ganja & Hess, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus and especially J.D.’s Revenge).Continue Reading
What makes a film quintessential? I’ve tried to organize the factors and often come up short. However, I do know that the films of John Hughes are considered quintessential '80s classics and the majority of films starring Sylvester Stallone are considered the same for the action genre. So what about horror? More specifically, that nugget-filled core called '80s Horror? Well, I’ve seen and mentally processed a vast range of horror -- from J-Horror to Giallo -- and can honestly say that I’ve yet to see a more perfect example of the genre from that period than Demons.
Director Lamberto Bava is the son of Mario Bava, world-famous for his films and cinematography -- most of which are Giallo horror. (In fact, the Bavas are a big family of cinematic greats.) Demons was also produced by the legendary Dario Argento. It’s no surprise, then, that the beginning of the film starts out very much like a Giallo; a fresh-faced young lady, Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), is on the subway and finds herself isolated, with the ominous sensation of being followed. There’s a pursuit (with that splendid synthy Itallo-rock in the background) which ends up providing her with a literal ticket to a righteous nightmare at a local theater.Continue Reading
Dan Curtis is an unsung television legend. He cut his teeth as the creator of the beloved spooky soap opera Dark Shadows that ran from 1966-1971. He also wrote and directed it. Then he produced the two classic TV movies The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler (directing the second) which eventually evolved into the cult series Kolchack: The Night Stalker. He went on to direct more '70s horror films for the small screen that today are looked back on as seminal and groundbreaking, including The Norliss Tapes, Trilogy of Terror, Dead of Night and Dracula (with Jack Palance). By the '80s he would also make his mark producing the enormous WWII miniseries The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. But surprisingly, other than a pair of quickie Dark Shadows spin-off movies made to cash in on the success of the show, he only directed one theatrical film, his own adaptation of Robert Marasco’s 1973 best-selling horror novel Burnt Offerings. Seeing it today, it is hard to believe it was a theatrical film, with its washed out colors and fade-outs after each act as if commercials are about to come on. It looks just like one of Curtis’ '70s TV movies -- and that’s just one of the reasons I love it.
Marasco’s novel and Curtis’ film predate two massive books and movies with similar threads, The Shining and The Amityville Horror, by a few years. In fact, along with titles like Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, The Legend of Hell House, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, The Sentinel and (from Japan) Nobuhiko Obayashi‘s House, as well as countless TV movies, they help make the '70s the golden age of haunted house flicks. One of the many points that gives Burnt Offerings the edge over its competition is its cast made up of all-time scenery chewers; as the nice family in peril you have Karen Black, Oliver Reed and Bette Davis. Yes, Bette Davis! And she’s fairly contained compared to the other two. As the kid you have perennial '70s TV kid Lee Montgomery. (At this point, the fifteen-year-old was already an on-set veteran and probably ready for Reed’s mugging, having acted alongside George C. Scott in his self-directed vanity ham-off The Savage is Loose).Continue Reading
Dawn of The Dead
The original Dawn of the Dead from ’78 is still best viewed at a midnight show in an afterhours crappy mall multiplex, the way most people saw it in the pre-VHS domination era. George Romero’s first and best sequel to his seminal, groundbreaking zombie flick Night of The Living Dead came out ten years later, with a much larger budget and an even grander eye for detail. (Hereafter the film will be referred to on this page in its shortened form, the way most Romeroites refer to it, as just Dawn.) Dawn owes more to 1970s post-apocalyptic films like The Omega Man and No Blade of Grass than the old school setup of victims trapped in a house waiting to be picked off one after the other, which the first film employed. Much of Dawn’s well earned reputation among gore-aficionados comes from the film's opening prelude, which is truly nasty, with many head explosions (Romero exploring an FX path he first ventured into earlier in the decade with his under-appreciated shot-gun-to-the-head epic The Crazies). The beauty of Dawn is though the draw may be the zombies (now in glorious color!), unlike the wave of imitations to follow, this is actually an existential, character-driven drama where the threat of the undead becomes secondary and humans prove to be much more dangerous (a concept finally realized again years later in the too-talky TV series The Walking Dead).
It was Night that gave us the zombie movie rules that have been followed like a bible ever since: the dead, now lumbering mummy-like bores, have come back to life to eat the living. The only way to stop them and send them back to a bag-of-bones state is to destroy their one-track brain. Apparently pretty soon after the first film ended, Dawn picks up. The world has plunged into anarchy. Two SWAT team officers, Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree ) become fast friends while trying to clear a zombie-and-resident-filled Philadelphia apartment building. (One guy is black, the other white--without vocalizing it--it continues some racial themes brought up most credibly in the first film.) Again the majority of the film’s gore content really does happen in that first scene. (The film was released without a rating to avoid the X it was threatened with.) Roger invites his new pal to join up with his buddy Stephen (David Emge, who later popped up in the under-seen horror masterpiece Hellmaster) and his girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross), two television station employees who have a plan to escape town in the station’s helicopter--after all, Stephen is known as “flyboy.” As pandemonium takes over the ground, the foursome take to the sky, eventually landing on the top of a suburban mall. Easily breaking in through the roof, they do a little exploring of the huge shopping mall to look for supplies; the place has been untouched so it’s complete with all supplies needed, including gun store and an ice rink!Continue Reading
Let the Right One In
Aside from being regarded as one of the best vampire movies to date, Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In is also one of the most apathetic and emotionally involving coming of age films. Its ability to paint a literally frozen portrait of Sweden post-Red Curtain while zoning in on the woes of childhood issues ranging from bullying to first love goes beyond the confines of a genre and allows the work to reach a rare platform of relatability that is truly a pleasure to behold.
Taking place in a small suburb of Sweden in the early '80s, the film is told through the experiences of Oskar (Kare Hedebrant)—a lonely pre-teen whose friendless existence and somewhat helpless position of a bullied youth has instilled in him a fascination with morbidness while simultaneously nurturing his eccentric personality. When a middle-aged man and his daughter move into the flat next door, Oskar takes a chance at befriending Eli (Lina Leandersson), the little girl.Continue Reading
The Seventh Victim
The best Val Lewton movie not directed by Jacques Tourneur, The Seventh Victim is an almost perfect summation of the famed producer’s themes of loneliness, alienation, urban paranoia, and romantic fatalism, just without some of the visual poetry that Tourneur brought to his own Lewton films (Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie). But it’s pretty haunting all the same. The plot is so sinister. A naive but determined teenage girl named Mary (a plain Jane named Kim Hunter) leaves her upstate boarding school to look for her missing older sister, Jacqueline (played by Lewton regular, Jean Brooks) in New York. Once in New York Mary acts as a Nancy Drew sort of detective, piecing together the clues of her sister’s disappearance before arriving at the conclusion that her sister is under the control of a group of Greenwich Village devil worshipers.
Mary’s only guardian is her older sister Jacqueline, a New York sophisticate with a sort of Egyptian art deco haircut who owns her own perfume company. Mary traces her previous whereabouts, discovering that before her disappearance Jacqueline mysteriously deeded her company to some of her co-workers. Various friends and lovers of Jacqueline, equally concerned about her, help Mary in her quest but nothing seems to quell the overarching feeling of doom hanging over the character of Jacqueline. She’s a different take on the Laura Palmer mystery, a beguiling woman no one could save.Continue Reading
“Goodness is only some kind of reflection upon evil...that's all it is.” --Anna, in Zulawski's Possession.
Possession, the feverish and mesmerizing masterpiece from Andrzej Zulawski, is a drama about a failed marriage that unexpectedly turns into a horror film; a bad trip that you sometimes wish would end only because you feel disturbed, or at the very least unbalanced, for enjoying it immensely.Continue Reading
You're Next is a near-perfect little film that plays on two very exhausted genre points and still manages to be fresh and an all-around good time. Most everyone has seen John Hughes' much-loved holiday movie, Home Alone, which, if pondered on, shadows a pretty horrifying concept. Lesser-known but still popular home invasion films include Haneke's Funny Games, Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, and even Them and The Strangers. These latter examples have the unfortunate place card as being “game changers” within the thriller genre and several can hardly be considered horror films due to the lack of an impenetrable bogeyman. Some were also taken a little too seriously at the time of release. A perfect example is Straw Dogs—made and released during wartime when paranoia and sensitivity to violence were exceedingly high. So how, one might ask, can you revitalize the theme? The answer is quite simple; add the ghoulishness of a mask and give tons of nods to both slashers and home invasion films and you've got yourself a refreshing oddball that is actually a parody to all the above.
Following a supposedly agonizing two-year wait for a theatrical release, filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett recently attended a Q&A for the film and spoke about said wait, the inspiration behind the plot, and casting choices. The plot, they admit, is not necessarily anything to harp on. A well-to-do family comprised of mom (Barbara Crampton), dad (Rob Moran), three sons and a daughter have agreed—after a supposed estrangement—to gather for mom and dad's anniversary in a recently purchased massive house in the middle of nowhere. Dad's new “retirement project,” as it were.Continue Reading
Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers
After both the box office failure and predominantly negative (and unfair) critical reviews of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, the future for the Halloween franchise seemed unsure. Original creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill never intended or wanted to do Halloween II. They would have preferred their Michael Myers story be a single film and instead they wanted to continue the franchise as a series of stand alone horror tales that all took place on Halloween. But when Halloween III failed to launch this version of the franchise, producer (and Godfather) of the Halloween franchise Moustapha Akkad decided it was time to go back to the basics and bring back Michael Myers.
The opening of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is not only one of the most beautiful introductions of the entire series, but it perfectly captures the odd underlining uneasy feeling of the fall season. It’s a series of primarily landscape shots setting up Halloween, the holiday. Decorated pumpkins are set up at stoops, a gust of wind blows through the fields and the overall sense of dread that comes with the Halloween is palpable.Continue Reading
It’s pretty interesting to look back now in retrospect at Halloween II knowing what we do about other successful horror franchises and realizing that at the time of its release there had never really been any previous attempt in horror history to continue a story involving a modern day bogeyman. Back when John Carpenter unleashed the original Halloween into theaters in 1978 to an unsuspecting audience, it became not only the most successful independent feature of all time (and held that record up until The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999), but also became easily the single most influential film of the entire '80s “slasher” craze that would follow. (Even if Carpenter did lift quite a few bits from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, the predecessor to Halloween). No one, including the filmmakers, the producers or investors could’ve ever predicted just how vast the success of Halloween would be, and so, they never, ever intended on doing a sequel.
But just as the '80s came, suddenly sequels didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Hell, Jaws had a sequel just a few years shy of the start of '80s and that did really well, so with the new crop of baddies showing up in such films as Friday The 13th, The Burning and My Bloody Valentine, why wouldn’t the studio want to bring back Michael Myers? And so, much to the reluctance of John Carpenter and Debra Hill who instead wanted to turn the Halloween franchise into a series of unrelated horror stories that took place around the famed holiday (and which they would attempt to do with Halloween III: Season Of The Witch), instead Halloween II became a direct sequel to their original, picking ...