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

Bushwick

BUSHWICK is an oh-shit-what-if movie. It uses the intimate perspective of one handheld camera – mostly following one character in ROPE-style long takes edited to look like one shot – to show what it would feel like to suddenly find your neighborhood under attack. It doesn’t have the limitations of found footage, but it reminds me of CLOVERFIELD in the way it plunges us into the chaos, not really knowing what’s going on, running through hoping not to get killed, seeing and hearing mayhem going on down the street, or on the next block down. People running, screaming, cars screeching by peppering buildings with gun shots, snipers on the roofs, explosions in the distance.

There’s no science fiction here. This is a guerrilla attack. Ski-masked gunmen, other people shooting back, the factions unclear at first. The reason for the attack has been widely discussed – it was the first thing I read about the movie, and part of why I was excited about it – but since it plays as a big reveal I’ll save it for the back end of the review.

The movie follows Lucy (Brittany Snow, PROM NIGHT remake), a white girl coming to the titleistical New York neighborhood to visit her grandmother. But she and her boyfriend Jose (Arturo Castro, BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK) emerge from the subway and find themselves in a literal war zone, and he is the first casualty. Treated as an outsider in the mostly black neighborhood, Lucy is quickly grabbed by two not-well-meaning locals and dragged into a house (some rare DEATH WISH bullshit in an otherwise pro-urban movie). But then Stupe (Dave Bautista, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN), the guy who actually lives in the house, comes in to grab his things, sees them and kills them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Inferno

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…)

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

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…)

Fright Night Part II

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…)

Fright Night

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…)

The Funhouse

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…)

Dolls

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…)

mother!

mother! is the new movie! from Darren Aranofsky (THE WRESTLER) and it’s marketed as horror, because… I mean I don’t know what else you would call it either. It is in the business of exploiting our fears, but it’s not exactly a genre story, unless you count the occasional bloody wound festering in a wooden floor. Mostly it’s a heightened, surreal portrait of a marriage. And a house.

Jennifer Lawrence (AMERICAN HUSTLE) is the nameless female lead (credited as “mother”), married to an older man (Javier Bardem, PERDITA DURANGO, credited as “Him”) who’s a famous poet suffering from writer’s block while she looks after him and painstakingly rebuilds his house after it was destroyed in a fire. When some random doctor dude (Ed Harris, knightriders!) shows up at their door, the husband invites him to stay without taking her feelings into account, and this is the breeze that will become a tornado of escalation intrusions, insecurities and violations. By the end she’ll be (spoiler!) caught in the middle of huge riots and uprisings even though she will never leave the house. (read the rest of this shit…)

In the Mouth of Madness

John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is as much a vibe as it is a story. It’s bewildered paranoia, fear of an impermanent reality, and the mystique of imaginary horror books with language so powerful it alters minds and taps into an ancient evil.

It starts in an insane asylum, where insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill, DAYBREAKERS) swears he’s been brought by mistake. He’s not crazy, he says. Later in the movie (and earlier in time) the idea is introduced that reality could change for everyone else, but not you, and then all the sudden you’d be crazy without having had to go crazy. Seems like just some bullshit philosophizing when he hears it, but we’ve seen into the future.

He tells a psychiatrist (David Warner, MONEY TALKS) his story. It all began when he was hired to find the missing author Sutter Cane. Cane is a giant Harry Potter sized phenomenon, described as “bigger than Stephen King” (who he shares a font with) but his stories sound more like H.P. Lovecraft with their unleashings of indescribable evils and what not. This all takes place during a rash of riots and mental health incidents across the country, one of which Trent happened to be a victim of. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Dark Half

Hollywood George Romero is not my favorite George Romero, but he’s the most underrated one. With THE DARK HALF (1993, but shot in ’90 and ’91) he’s still filming in Pennsylvania (portraying Stephen King’s Castle Rock, Maine), but funded by Orion, with enough of a budget ($15 million) for Academy Award winning movie star lead Timothy Hutton (CITY OF INDUSTRY), three months of training for 4,000 birds, and some early computer effects. It has more of a slick, Hollywood feel than we associate with Romero, less of his hand-crafted-by-local-artisans vibe, but that’s not the end of the world. It’s cool to see how well he can do a straight-forward adaptation of a book by King (“Hoagie Man,” KNIGHTRIDERS). Better than most, it turns out. (read the rest of this shit…)