Ezra’s Spooktober 2014

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Posted 29 Oct 2014 in Essay, Film Reviews, Movies I Didn't Get, Movies I Got

By Ezra Stead

Candyman is one of the all-time great horror films, partly because of its unique atmosphere. If I had to pick a favorite month, it would most likely be October. The weather is perfect and I have all the excuse I need to watch practically nothing but horror movies for a month. This year I watched or revisited 25 films of varying quality, and I’m passing along the recommendations to you. I’ve broken them down into three basic categories, with a fourth “Other” category for those that don’t fit any of the big three. The Undead includes zombies, vampires, Frankensteins, and of course the immortal curse of the Candyman; Mutants & Monsters covers genetic freaks, giant animals and other Things That Should Not Be; Werewolves is pretty self-explanatory. All films are ranked from highest recommendation to lowest, ***** being the highest rating and * being the lowest. Happy viewing! 

THE UNDEAD:

CANDYMAN (1992) – one of the all-time great horror films, partly because of its unique atmosphere: the Cabrini-Green setting, the Philip Glass score, Tony Todd’s mesmerizing performance as the title character. The haunting opening scene sets the tone for many more terrifying moments to come. I’ve probably watched this movie at least three out of the past five Octobers. The bees! *****

PET SEMATARY (1989) – one of the best Stephen King adaptations, and certainly the best that King adapted himself (he also pops up in a cameo as a priest, officiating at a funeral, of course). One of the things the film gets so right is the rural Maine flavor, part of which is owed to Fred Gwynne’s excellent performance. Unlike other King adaptations such as Cujo, this one pulls no punches from the grim source material, but it also has one of my favorite moments of dark humor in any horror film. *****

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) – another classic, but one I had neglected to see until now. It’s easily a new favorite, right up there with other ‘80s vampire classics like The Lost Boys and Near Dark. Great practical effects (especially the reverse werewolf transformation of Evil Ed), a sharp sense of humor and great performances by Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon, among others, make this a perfect Halloween movie. ****1/2

PET SEMATARY TWO (1992) – not a sequel that’s better than the original by any means, but still much better than average. Edward Furlong, fresh of his debut in Terminator 2, picks up years after the events of the original, and ends up going through similar hijinks. The real star of the show is Clancy Brown as Gus, the stern stepfather/cop who comes back from the Micmac burial grounds as a weird combination of Frankenstein’s monster and an overeager guard dog. ***1/2

DEAD SNOW (2009) – Nazi zombies. That’s a pretty great hook for a campy, gory midnight movie, and that’s what this Norwegian horror-comedy delivers. Its biggest fault is that the zombies might as well be regular old non-Nazi zombies but for their uniforms, but the creative setting (and, of course, creative eviscerations) make up for it. ***1/2

PHANTASM (1979) – another revered classic in the genre that I only just got around to. What it’s really got going for it is an intense, surreal visual style, a clear influence on later genre classics like Hellraiser. This scene is a nice example of director Don Coscarelli’s grisly inventiveness, and the imposing presence of Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man is also quite memorable. I have a feeling this is a movie I’ll like more and more as I revisit it. ***1/2

THE MONKEY’S PAW (2013) – inspired by the W.W. Jacobs short story, this “adaptation” basically jettisons everything good about the original story in favor of a generic slasher thriller. Stephen Lang, who is way too good for the movie he’s in, manages to squeeze some enjoyment out of the whole thing, but this is a safe one to skip. **

I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014) – even with sufficiently lowered expectations, this is probably the worst movie I’ve seen all year. Like The Monkey’s Paw, it takes a classic, often adapted horror story and just throws out everything good about it in favor of something far less interesting. You can read more of my thoughts on this one here, but for now I’ll just say that it’s easily the worst on this list. *1/2

MUTANTS & MONSTERS:

The Toxic Avenger is more of a comic book superhero movie than a true horror film, but it’s just as much EC Comics that influenced it as Marvel, not to mention the monster movies of the radiation-fearing ‘50s. THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984) – no respectable critic would recommend this one so highly, but if you’re a horror hound, what do you want with a respectable critic anyway? This wonderful blend of genres is more of a comic book superhero movie than a true horror film, but it’s just as much EC Comics that influenced it as Marvel, not to mention the monster movies of the radiation-fearing ‘50s. If you’ve never seen a movie by the independent film company known as Troma, this is the gold standard. They went further with extreme gore and over-the-top jokes in films like Tromeo and Juliet and Terror Firmer, but they’ve never made a better movie than Lloyd Kaufman’s first masterpiece. *****

TUSK (2014) – I’m still just surprised this movie actually exists, and I mean that in the best way possible. Kevin Smith made this wonderfully weird horror-comedy as something of a dare, prompted by a UK Craigslist ad looking for a tenant willing to dress as a walrus in exchange for free rent. Smith extrapolated this into a riff on The Human Centipede that has to be seen to be believed. Continuing in the horror genre after his also excellent Red State, Smith reenlists the great Michael Parks, who manages to top his riveting performance in that film. Even Johnny Depp, in full Johnny Depp mode (goofy hat, goofy hair, goofy accent) is enjoyable. ****1/2

ANACONDA (1997) – a camp classic of sorts, mainly because of Jon Voight’s delightfully over-the-top performance as the ambiguously accented, snake hunting Ahab character. This is an unpretentious movie that knows exactly what it is and has a lot of fun with that, plus Ice Cube’s first line of dialogue is “Today’s a good day,” and one of his last is calling a giant snake “bitch.” ***1/2

HORNS (2013) – a weird and frequently funny murder mystery adapted from a novel by Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill. The murder mystery is the least compelling part, but the warped humor of the premise and a great cameo by Heather Graham make it a demented good time. It also has a pretty damn good anchorman fight. ***1/2

THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 (1999) – this is way better than I would have ever expected from an unnecessary sequel produced almost 25 years after the original. It starts out weak, relying too heavily on flashback footage from Brian De Palma’s masterpiece, which only underscores the sequel’s inferiority. Once it gets rolling, though, it’s actually very compelling, and surprisingly well-acted. Emily Bergl is much more well-cast and convincing in the lead than poor Chloe Grace Moretz in the most recent version (be sure to read the very thorough user comment for an explanation of how the studio ruined Kimberly Peirce’s much more interesting vision). ***

Big Ass Spider! is fun, obviously, with good effects on a small budget.BIG ASS SPIDER! (2013) – the title says it all, with an exclamation point to boot. The always likable Greg Grunberg (Heroes) is the requisite unlikely hero when a huge spider is unleashed on Los Angeles. It’s fun, obviously, with good effects on a small budget. It’s also surprisingly gory for a PG-13 movie; maybe the cartoonishness of the whole thing earned it a pass. Incidentally, if you search for this movie on Amazon, it autosuggests “big assed spider,” which I like to think is the porn parody. ***

WILLOW CREEK (2013) – Bobcat Goldthwait is one of the greatest and most underappreciated filmmakers working in the genre of dark comedy today. Now, like, Kevin Smith before him, he has ventured into horror, with a found footage Bigfoot movie. Unfortunately, this is basically just The Blair Witch Project with Bigfoot (maybe) instead of an equally unseen witch. It’s not bad, just so similar to Blair Witch that it’s more tedious than terrifying, though it does have some good scares at the end. Unlike Smith, who should absolutely do more horror films, I think Goldthwait should go back to the type of dark comedies (Sleeping Dogs Lie, World’s Greatest Dad, God Bless America) that made him great. ***

TEENAGE MONSTER (1958) – this is quite an obscure oddity, a ‘50s sci-fi-Western-monster hybrid B-picture in which a young boy is exposed to radiation from a meteor, which somehow causes him to grow hair all over his face and body, and to suddenly look like he’s in his forties. He also can barely speak outside of a high-pitched, whining mutter that occasionally coalesces into actual words. Everyone keeps describing the “teenage monster” as being huge, like 12 feet tall, but he’s clearly just an average middle-aged actor wearing Wolfman makeup. It’s all technically terrible, of course, with some of the most wooden acting I’ve ever seen, but just strange enough to be pretty fun. ***

BLOOD LAKE: ATTACK OF THE KILLER LAMPREYS (2014) – speaking of technically terrible but pretty fun, you can sort of tell the relative quality of this one by the title. From Asylum Films, who brought you assorted cheap knockoffs of blockbusters they hoped you would accidentally rent, this is the “story” of a bunch of bloodthirsty lampreys (basically a combination leech and eel, for the purposes of the movie) and the people who feed them. Shannen Doherty and Scut Farkus (also known as Zack Ward, from this crazy movie) are among those people, and Christopher Lloyd steals the show in a highly undignified supporting role. The effects are very cheesy, just a few steps ahead of Birdemic. It’s all fairly entertaining. **1/2

WEREWOLVES:

An American Werewolf in London is my all-time favorite werewolf movie, a perfect blend of horror and comedy from director John Landis. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) – my all-time favorite werewolf movie, a perfect blend of horror and comedy from director John Landis, on the upward slant of his career’s decade-long peak from the late ‘70s (Animal House) to the late ‘80s (Coming to America). Griffin Dunne is hilarious as David Naughton’s undead, gradually decaying friend, and of course the first transformation scene is still the best I’ve ever seen. The porno theater scene is also a comedic highlight, balanced by the inevitably tragic conclusion. *****

WOLF (1994) – an often overlooked and definitely unusual entry in the genre, Mike Nichols’ film pits Jack Nicholson against James Spader, and get this: they’re both werewolves! That’s not even the coolest thing about it, though. Okay, it kind of is, but it’s also very interesting that minimal makeup is used, even less than in the classic Lon Chaney, Jr. Wolf Man movie, and the way the film also works as a satire of corporate back-stabbing and masculine territoriality. ****

THE HOWLING (1981) – second best werewolf transformation I’ve ever seen. What American Werewolf captures so amazingly is the physical contortions and obvious pain caused by the change, whereas The Howling’s big moment is more about the sheer terror of the potential victim, who is witness to it in the moment. Howling also has the more terrifying and visually appealing (to me, at least) completed werewolves. I feel like werewolves that stand exclusively on their hind legs are just always scarier, because the human element is more apparent. The great Joe Dante also balances humor and horror very well, as always, wielding a satirical blade at the cultural hang-ups of the time. ****

CURSED (2005) – much better than I had been led to believe by basically all the reviews. Its biggest problem is that it feels so anachronistic (a Collective Soul song plays over the end credits of a movie released in 2005, for example), and probably would have fared better had it been released shortly after writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven’s mid-‘90s megahit Scream. That and the fact that it’s clearly been edited down to achieve a PG-13 rating (always a big mistake in this genre). ***

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (1997) – another unnecessary sequel produced 20-plus years after the original. Like Carrie 2, it’s not bad while still a pale shadow of its predecessor. The humor in particular suffers, as it is just nowhere near as sophisticated or charming as that of London, and of course cheap CGI is no match for Rick Baker’s phenomenal work in the makeup department. ***

OTHER:

You're Next is smart and twisty, the characters are real and believable, and of course the deaths are creatively horrifying. YOU’RE NEXT (2011) – easily the best movie I’ve seen yet in the modern, Funny Games-influenced, home invasion slasher subgenre. The plot is smart and twisty, the characters are real and believable, and of course the deaths are creatively horrifying. The style is at times reminiscent of early John Carpenter, which is about the highest compliment I can pay a horror movie. Best of all, it has an amazing Final Girl in Sharni Vinson; I’m simultaneously very attracted to and completely terrified of her. ****1/2

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) – there is nothing supernatural going on here, but instead it focuses on the horrors perpetrated on human beings by other human beings. Vincent Price gives a chilling performance as the titular fiend, a ruthless inquisitor in the witch trials of the late 17th century. The action is heightened and melodramatic, the blood is too red, but the overall effect is nonetheless gripping and disturbing, all in the classic tradition of the old Hammer films. ***1/2

THE ABCS OF DEATH 2 (2014) – here is a sequel to which the word “unnecessary” can’t really apply, as it is another anthology of very short films from 26 different directors, all dealing with some sort of unpleasant death scenario. It’s a mixed bag, of course, and while some are heavy-handed and obvious (Dennison Ramalho’s “J is for Jesus” is a good example), there are some real gems. My favorite is probably Rodney Ascher’s “Q is for Questionnaire,” but the final short, Chris Nash’s “Z is for Zygote,” is the most unsettling, and it contains some of the best practical effects I’ve ever seen. ***

TOP FIVE RECOMMENDATIONS:

– CANDYMAN

– THE TOXIC AVENGER

– PET SEMATARY

– AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON

– YOU’RE NEXT

TWO TO AVOID:

– I, FRANKENSTEIN

– THE MONKEY’S PAW

Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper, and aspiring stand-up comic who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City.

For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com.


1 Comments

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    class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-64887">
    Mikey Rock Son!

    Well done sir! Killin Em!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0


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