I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Red Christmas

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

RED CHRISTMAS is new holiday horror courtesy of Australia. I saw Dee Wallace’s name on the cover and I assumed, quite reasonably I think, that she’d have a small part but was the only big name person to sell the movie. Turns out she is legitimately the lead, and gets to be a full-on heroine who faces off with a deranged killer and also with the lingering memories of traumatic decisions made in her past. She takes charge and barks orders and in a stand out scene she has to tearfully assure her adult son with Down syndrome that she still loves him while she’s creeping through a dark house with a rifle. This is a good role for her!

It’s also a really interesting movie that does enough that’s right and/or unusual to make up for its obvious flaws. Yeah, the opening abortion protest is phony as hell, some of the digital cinematography during daylight is too clean and cheap looking, the family arguments that come up sometimes feel forced and inauthentic, its point-of-view on the touchy subjects it brings up is incoherent enough that it ultimately feels like button-pushing provocation. But in my opinion horror movies are sometimes allowed – even encouraged – to make you feel uncomfortable and maybe a little offended. It’s part of the deal. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

I Am Nancy

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

These days most horror fans have heard of the concept of the Final Girl, whether or not they know where it comes from. But they at least know it’s the heroine of a horror movie, the one that’s left standing at the end, like Laurie in HALLOWEEN or Sally in TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or… the ones in the FRIDAY THE 13ths.

There are few as iconic, and almost none as pro-active, as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET‘s Nancy Thompson, played by Heather Langenkamp. She’s the all-American girl next door (or across the street in Johnny Depp’s case), she gets terrorized by a supernatural dream killer, the adults don’t believe her, not even her overprotective cop father (John Saxon, ENTER THE DRAGON, THE GLOVE). But this is not a heroine who only manages to scrape it out and survive. Nancy gets shit done. She goes to the library and researches, figures out who Freddy is, uncovers his connection to her and her friends’ parents, teaches herself to build booby traps and comes up with a clever plan to go into the dreamworld and pull him out and try to kill him. And then she figures out the next step after that. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Bits & Pieces

Monday, November 20th, 2017

BITS & PIECES (1985) is another only-on-VHS obscurity that should teach me a fuckin lesson about Slasher Searching. Like HOLLYWOOD’S NEW BLOOD it’s made in California (San Fernando Valley and Burbank, according to IMDb) but clearly not by actual professionals in the movie industry. If their goal was to prove you could make a movie as icky as MANIAC but with no single element from scripting to cinematography to acting that in any way comes even remotely close to being as good, they have succeeded wildly.

Like PSYCHO, DERANGED, DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE, etc. it’s a killer with mommy issues. Like MANIAC he abducts women and brings them to his apartment and has a female mannequin there that he pretends is alive. His name is Arthur (S.E. Zygmont, no other credits) and there is no indication that he has a job besides murder but he’s always dressed like he just got home from work, or is cosplaying the guy from THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED.

(read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Hollywood’s New Blood

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Since SLASHER SEARCH 2017 barely got off the ground, I have decided to break tradition and continue it post-Halloween. I guess the series will go on sporadically either until I’m satisfied that I found a good one or until I get sick of it.

HOLLYWOOD’S NEW BLOOD is copyrighted 1989 (IMDb says 1988) and the cover – a painting of a screaming woman reflected in the lens of a movie camera held by a rotting ghoul – makes it look like it might be a little comedic in a Hollywood satire or maybe even EC Comics RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD kind of way. Unfortunately that key art is more professional than the movie itself. It’s basically regional horror where the region happens to be Los Angeles.

A small group of acting students go out to a remote cabin for a seminar. (A pretty big nice cabin, not a spooky EVIL DEAD one.) During the course of their stay they learn that the cabin was built on the site of a local tragedy, when a drunk film crew were rigged the wrong house with explosives and blew up the Glouster family. Pretty huge error there that seems almost impossible to have gone through with without someone on the crew or in the house catching on, but hopefully they learned their lesson and were more careful on future productions. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Inferno

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

This year has brought an avalanche of well-deserved attention to Dario Argento’s popsicle-colored opium nightmare of a Nancy Drew witchcraft mystery, SUSPIRIA (1977). With a new 4K restoration playing in some cities, a Blu-Ray finally on the horizon and somebody apparently having the audacity to do a remake, the film is being widely written about, discussed and discovered by a new generation.

No big surprise here: I tend to consider it Argento’s masterpiece. The combination of its boldly colorful stylization and rocking, growling, hissing, demonic incantation of a score by Goblin (their very best, in my opinion) put me in some sort of cinematic state of delirium where normal narrative logic is not necessary, or even desirable. SUSPIRIA is creepy in some deep subconscious way far beyond the tyrannical reach of sense or explicability.

But after watching them both many times over the years, including this week, I confess I’ve become more attached to Argento’s 1980 follow-up, INFERNO. Technically part two in a “Three Mothers” trilogy (it connects to the witch from SUSPIRIA and the one from MOTHER OF TEARS 27 years later), it works as its own surreal adventure. The score by Keith Emerson is crazy and bombastic by any standards other than being compared to Goblin. Argento, his SUSPIRIA production designer Giuseppe Bassan (SUPER FLY T.N.T.) and new cinematographer Romano Albani (PHENOMENA, TROLL, TERRORVISION) elaborate on the evil-DICK-TRACY red blue and green lighting and ornate furnishings. There’s alot of beautifully textured wallpaper designs and a door handle so artsy it becomes a danger; its pointy metal fronds catch on a character’s blouse during a chase, catching her like an animal in a trap.

It is my position, though, that INFERNO has a more involving mystery than SUSPIRIA, and even higher peaks of surrealism and violence. I’m not here to argue that it’s better, but just to encourage you to see it if you haven’t, and confer with you about it if you have. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead / The Damned Thing

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Dance of the Dead is Tobe Hooper’s first episode of the Masters of Horror anthology TV show – it was the third week of the series, November 2005, airing after episodes by Don Coscarelli and Stuart Gordon. Made in the throes of the Bush years, one could argue that the wars overseas and upheaval at home subconsciously gave it its apocalyptic flavor, much as TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE has been said to have been marinated in Vietnam era angst.

Not that it’s as good. Or even close. Like all Masters of Horror episodes, its TV budget, schedule, locations and crew dull the edge of any cinematic flair or authorial vision. That’s a bad mix with Hooper’s decision to go a little Tony Scott with the Avid farts and camera shakes. That style might’ve been intended as a translation of the showy writing style in the short story by Richard Matheson (whose son Richard Christian Matheson wrote the adaptation), but I found it cheesy and forced, with the exception of a long convertible joy ride sequence, where the camera movement effectively conveys the high speeds the characters are moving at both physically and mentally. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Fright Night Part II

Friday, October 27th, 2017

FRIGHT NIGHT PART II came out three years later, in 1988. Part I‘s writer-director Tom Holland had moved on to CHILD’S PLAY, bringing Chris Sarandon with him. Makeup FX genius Steve Johnson was doing NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4. It was the year of PUMPKINHEAD, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, THE BLOB, THEY LIVE, MONKEY SHINES, MANIAC COP, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, PHANTASM II and PAPERHOUSE. Maybe the world didn’t feel the need to rehash FRIGHT NIGHT. But somebody was gonna do it, and they got William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall to come back as Charley Brewster and Peter Vincent.

In the opening, a quick clip montage (as was the style in those days) and Charley’s narration recap what happened in the first film, only for him to then say that he imagined most of it. Yes, Jerry Dandridge was a serial killer, but “vampires aren’t real.” Charley says he’s returning to “the real world” after three years so I thought he’d been hospitalized, but I guess he just means he’s mentally returning to a world where monsters don’t exist. He says he’s worried he’ll run into Peter Vincent, which is weird because in the next scene he goes to visit him. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Fright Night

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

I remember thinking FRIGHT NIGHT was pretty good in the ’80s, but honestly I was skeptical that it would hold up as well as its reputation. I should never have doubted! Writer and first time director Tom Holland (CHILD’S PLAY) revived the classical style of vampire tale for 1985, now souped up with some of the hallmarks of the era: quirky teen comedy, postmodernism/nostalgia, and most of all imaginative, gooey, wonderful creature effects. I was surprised by how much of that last one we get.

This is the age of home video and having a TV in your bedroom, so our teen protagonist Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale, ROAD HOUSE 2: LAST CALL, Justified) is very familiar with horror movies, having watched many of them as presented by the local horror host and former star of Hammer-esque vampire films Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, CLASS OF 1984 [which was written by Holland]). In the opening scene he’s got Vincent’s show “Fright Night” on in the background while he attempts to make out with his reluctant girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse, Married… with Children). Then he happens to look out his window and sees his new next door neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Jack Skellington himself, Chris Sarandon) getting it on with a woman who is found murdered the next day. After some spying Charley sees Jerry turn into a bat and have fangs and claws and suck blood, so he determines that Jerry is a vampire who is luring women to his house and killing them. For some reason nobody believes him. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

The Funhouse

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

After SALEM’S LOT but before POLTERGEIST, Tobe Hooper did a humble little teen horror movie that acts as a rickety jerry-rigged bridge between his nasty beginnings and his guy-who-works-with-Spielberg years. Filming in Florida, Hooper was able to create a vibe of sweaty southern depravity in the tradition of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and EATEN ALIVE, but bigger – THE FUNHOUSE is a $3 million Universal movie. I don’t know if it’s the sweeping aerial views from cinematographer Andrew Laszlo (THE WARRIORS, FIRST BLOOD, REMO WILLIAMS) or the ominous orchestral score by John Beal (primarily a composer for trailers), but I swear there’s a faintly classy polish on this trashy drive-in sideshow.

I suppose the influence of HALLOWEEN might’ve contributed. The opening is an obvious homage – maybe even straight up ripoff – a POV shot of what turns out to be a kid (Shawn Carson, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES) putting on a clown mask and creeping up on his naked sister (Elizabeth Berridge, AMADEUS, HIDALGO). The difference is that he’s not a psycho, just a little brat trying to scare her. This pranking and the horror movie memorabilia in his room don’t turn out to be relevant, other than that the real horror he encounters hides itself under a Frankenstein’s monster mask, and when he sees it he won’t be laughing, he’ll be crying like a baby. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Dolls

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

After Stuart Gordon’s opening one-two punch of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, he did his first non-H.P.-Lovecraft picture, DOLLS. Produced by Charles Band two years before PUPPET MASTER, it sort of invents the template for his killer doll movies. The script is by Ed Naha, the first editor of Fangoria, who’s another important figure in the history of miniature cinema, having written TROLL, DOLLMAN and (with Gordon) HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS. He also wrote the regular-sized CHUD II and OMEGA DOOM.

The story here is your basic trapped-in-a-spooky-mansion-during-a-storm yarn. A little girl named Judy (Carrie Lorraine, POLTERGEIST II and one episode of ALF), her dad David (Ian Patrick Williams, RE-ANIMATOR, ROBOT JOX, KING OF THE ANTS) and uptight step-mom Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy Gordon, RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, ROBOT JOX, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, FORTRESS, STUCK) are driving somewhere in the woods or some shit, their car gets stuck in the mud, so they go knock on the door of the nearest gothic mansion. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.