Monday, October 31, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #1 Halloween

Why I like it: Whew...finally all done. It's been a long month of fun and more hard blog-work than I ever expected but it was a blast! As I get ready for November Novel Month (no, I'm not going to count down my favourite novels I'm getting into high writing gear) I give you the much anticipated #1: Halloween.

John Carpenter skillfully directed a script written by Debra Hill and himself into, what I obviously consider, a perfect masterpiece.

From the very moment the Halloween theme kicks in with its eerie minor fifths and its 5-4 time (the timing of a quickened heartbeat) you are instantly drawn in. The pumpkin close-up that splits open to reveal a skull is one of my favourite opening sequences.

Very quickly the scene is set with a young Michael Myers who unexplainably loses it and repeatedly stabs his sister to death on Halloween. It is something that always sort of fascinates me when his parents return home to find him standing in the front yard with a bloodied knife before they know full well what has occurred. What is truly fascinating with this scene is the killer's eye-view camera shot done throughout (utilised wonderfully in this film and again in its sequel).

Tragic backstory involving a young man with issues with women: check!

Enter Dr. Sam Loomis (played by Donald Pleasence, incidentally, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing both said no) who has tried to cure/get inside Michael's mind. 15 years later he has uncvered nothing except the fact that the boy is the embodiment of evil. The scene with him and the nurse in the car at the gates of the asylum has always freaked me out. All those mental patients outside in the dark, rainy night and at least one of them is totally homicidal. Michael steals the car and drives (which is what he likes to do most besides killing people, right Stacie?) back to Haddonfield, Illinois. October 31st, 1978: the night HE came home.

Premise set up including lots of mystery: check!

Back in Haddonfield, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in her first movie role) is a high school student who goes about her daily business. We discover that she's rather normal and that she has to babysit on Halloween. She is being stalked by someone in a white Captain Kirk mask driving a station wagon. When she sees him standing across the street its absolutely invigorating.

Initial scares as well as some interesting casting choices (Jamie Lee Curtis was unknown other than the fact that her father was Tony Curtis and her mother, Janet Leigh of Psycho fame): check!

What follows is a slew of scenes involving Laurie and her friends walking home, making plans for the evening and doing chores. Myers passes them in his car and when one of them shouts at him he stops the car in a very tense few seconds. What comes next is my favourite cinematic scare of all time. When Myers steps out from behind the hedge to look directly at Laurie and her friends. Of course Laurie is the only one who sees him and when the shouting friend investigates he is gone. Christ! That scared the shit out of me when I was a kid and still does.

Laurie gets a similar scare when she looks out the window and sees Mr. Myers once again. And the film moves at a rather quick pace from this point: when Michael begins to kill.

Carpenter creates terrifying scenes (getting in the car and noticing the steam on the windshield) with such proficiency that many of them are still emulated (most notably pictured at the top when Laurie believes Michael dead and he slowly sits up). Emulated poorly but emulated nonetheless.

It's cold, dark and morbidly engrossing. This is the only film that really terrified me as a child. The confident and non-chalant way in which Myers walks towards his prey is chilling. The white mask is infinitely more terrifying than Jason's hockey mask. It walks out of the darkness much better than any other monstrous image.

The grim ending is signature Carpenter and set the high watermark for horror films as well as created the sub-genre of the slasher film (for good or bad and with apologies to Psycho).

Some great usage of the horror geography thing I won't shut up about this month. Haddonfield is set up as the perfect upper middle class town. It looks normal. The houses are nice, the lawns are cut and the teenagers are horny and mischievous. The geography is taken farther with the scene in the car, the walk home from school, the closet scene and-most effectively-when we see Myers crossing the street behind Laurie as she bangs on the doors of houses. The killer and victim in the same shot getting closer and closer is a beautiful scare tactic.

What puts this in the number one spot, besides all of what I mentioned above, is the fact that it remains current although it was filmed in 1978. The teenagers seem real even today and, barring a few haircuts and dubious fashion choices, could double as a modern set.

I have seen this film over forty times at current count and am watching it again this evening.

Thanks for coming and Happy Halloween!

Check these out:
-John Carpenter's entire filmography-They are all worth the watch. The Thing comes more highly recommened than any other but Pleasence is back in Prince of Darkness.
-Halloween II-The almost brilliant sequel starts 2 minutes before the end of the first film. The way it ought to be. While it goes too far to explain Myers and stretches things for story purposes (the whole sister thing) it still has sme wicked scares. Most notably when Myers steps out of the darkness to administer a hypodermic needle into a nurse's eye socket and injecting air. The scene with him walking through the glass door is a doozy as well. Incidentally, the "Samhain" message written on the chalkboard said more to me that he was Irish than Satanic, Stacie ;) Or maybe he's just a Danzig fan.
-Halloween III: Season of the Witch-The departure film that was originally intended to be the first in a series of anthology-type films switching directors and stories as it goes along ended up being the only one of its kind as foolish fans wanted more and more Myers.
-Other Halloween films-Pap.
-Every other slasher flick since 1978-Influenced solely by Halloween.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #2 Psycho

Why I like it: I need to explain myself? Very well. I'll keep it short.

Alfred Hitchcock. The man is certainly one of the greatest filmmakers to every sit in the canvas-backed chair. He was perfect at keeping his audience in the dark as much as the victims and adversely he was awesome at letting the viewer know upcoming events before the victims. These are two very important things in horror. Often done poorly, Hitchcock uses these conventions and his own added tricks to make movies that are enjoyable.

I must mention Robert Bloch who wrote this originally as a perfect novel of psychological suspense. Bloch was quite a screenwriter as well contributing scripts to Rod Serling's Night Gallery and a few of the better Star Trek episodes.

Marion Crane (the beautiful Janet Leigh) has embezzled money from her boss and is fleeing West. She decides to stop at the tiny Bates Motel for a night's rest as the visibility on the road is minimal due to the torrential downpour. The scene is set.

The Motel is run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) a young man slightly dominated by his mother. He also seems to have a fascination with taxidermy. It is very clear by the time this movie gets going that Bates has issues with women. His portrayal is mesmerizing and iconicly uncomfortable. Chilling.

I won't say much more about this movie because I don't want to ruin it for somebody who hasn't seen it (and if you haven't: SHAME ON YOU!) but I am sure that everyone is aware of the shower scene and Bernard Herrman's awesome theme with the high pitched "ree ree ree" of violins. The song itself has become synonymous with stabbing. No other film except perhaps Jaws has cemented itself into the human psyche. An this is probably because this was the first time where a mass appeal movie delved directly into the human mind for the source of horror.

All subsequent horror films (especially slashers) owe a major, major debt to this one.

Check these out:
-Psycho II-IV: The Beginning-If only for Anthony Perkins. The second film is quite amazing as well.
-North by Northwest-Hitchcock directs Cary Grant being chased across America becuase everyone thinks he's a spy. Tense.
-Vertigo-One of Hitchcock's best. Jimmy Stewart has a fear of heights and an unhealthy obsession with Kim Novak. Who doesn't?
-Rear Window-Stewart again stars as a wheelchair-bound voyeur who is convinced his neighbour has been murdered. My second favourite Hitchcock film.
-The Lodger-What Hitchcock considers to be his first true film. A 1926 silent film about a serial killer in London.
-Strangers on a Train-Tense and quick moving Hitchcock murder mystery.
-The Birds- I don't like it but it was the precursor to effective animal horror films.
-Touch of Evil-An Orson Welles film but has a Hitchcock feel. My third favourite movie of all time.
-What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?-Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in an amazing film about jealousy and revenge. Upon further thought this should have made the list.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #3 The Night of the Living Dead

Why I like it: "They're coming to get you Barbara."

Not a lot of movies could be almost universally regarded as legendary. George A. Romero's first film, 1968's Night of the Living Dead, is one of those. It was a critical and box-office success and spawned an entire genre of horror films.

Romero will forever be remembered as the master of the zombie film. There is something about him and his ability to reproduce the same scene over and over and still have it pack a whallop. I'm speaking of "the hero battles the zombie to the ground and continues to batter it while another sneaks up behind him" scene. Look for it. It's in every Romero film.

There were even different branches of the zombie film family tree this film grew. There were the "Return of the Living Dead" films, the excessively gruesome Italian "Living Dead" Lucio Fulci-type films and the "Dead" films by Romero. They include: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead (1990), Land of the Dead and a sub-par Dawn remake as well as a Day remake in pre-production.

Romero's "Dead" films follow the Rio Bravo plot device with the heroes holed-up somewhere fighting off a horde of bad guys. In the first film it is used to explore human interraction between people in a confined space during a high stress situation.

You see, it has been mentioned elsewhere, Romero's zombies aren't really that scary. They are slow, intensely stupid and have low-to-no motor skills (unless of course they grab you, then they're really strong). Romero uses them to make a point about humanity. I don't really want to comment on that point for those who haven't seen it (an shame on you if you haven't).

As far as performances go: Duane Jones is pretty solid as Ben especially considering the fact that there weren't that many leading black male actors in the 60s. I have often wondered how this film would have been received in the South. Scenes of a strong black man repeatedly punching a white Capitalist fella and saying "I'm in charge up here!" might not have been received very well down there. And I think this is the problem with this first film. Romero knew the risks of putting a black manin the lead and in doing so decided to go over the top with it. Ben becomes some kind of backwoods Superman. He is in charge and things only really go wrong when others try and challenge that leadership.

Maybe he is saying that race is a concept only relevant in a society concerned about such things. Which makes it quite interesting when society comes crashing back into the film at the end.

Overly strong male lead? Add a weak and ineffectual female lead: Barbara. Judith O'Dea plays the fragile Barbara who spends almost the entirety of the film nuts. Cuckoo as a clock I tells ya. I was not impressed.

Look who's coming to dinner.

The remake rectifies the original's glaring problems with characterisation. It keeps the same premise, plot and damn near everything except for the ending which is slightly changed. Tom Savini directs a film overseen from a script by Romero.

1990's Ben, played by my personal favourite Tony Todd, is a strong black male lead with some slight humanity infused. He cries and makes mistakes. He seems frantic most of the time and that seesm to be the calmest a strog person could be in the given situation. That and the fact that he makes zombies go splat.

Patricia Tallman, a stuntwoman, remakes Barbara as an emotionally shattered woman who gets over it and comes through on some zombie-killin'! Stacie made the point that this was Romero's way of making up for having such a weak woman in the first film.

The remake delivers with a different and more resonant for the current era but hits us over the head with a shovel made of the point of the movie. Its ending is slightly happier but still grim.

Check these out:
-Martin-In my call to internet-dom for other great vampire movies the other day I stupidly forgot to include Romero's 1977 vampire film. It attacks vampires from a sociological perspective and leaves it up to the viewer to take meaning out of. Great.
-Dawn of the Dead-Second in the Dead series satirizes American mall culture and consumerism.
-Day of the Dead-In the third film of the series, we're as bad, if not worse than the zombies. Nazi-like experiments are done on zombies that are herded and then confined. Bud shows up as a zombie who learns how to shave and shoot a gun. Bud dislikes brushing his teeth.
-Land of the Dead-Rather forgettable even with Dennis Hopper. But still an enjoyable zombie romp. "Zombie romp" is fun to say out loud. Try it at home.
-Return of the Living Dead series-Funny and violent.
-Orgy of the Dead-An Italian/Spanish film set in Scotland . Very cheesy but still rather gruesome.
-Let Sleepig Corpses Lie-The best of the Italian zombie films. Very graphic and also set in Britain. Weird.
-Zombi 2-Lucio Fulci's sequel of Dario Argento's Italian re-edit of Dawn of the Dead. Confused? Me too. It's pretty good though. Really disgusting zombies.
-28 Days Later-Shock! A zombie film set in Britain not made by Italians. It is really good. It's got a Dawn of the Dead feel to it with fast zombies and genuine scares.
-Shaun of the Dead-Still a really good zombie movie even though it's a comedy.
-Serpent and the Rainbow-
Real zombies.

Friday, October 28, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #4 The Bride of Frankenstein

Why I like it: This has got to be the best example of a sequel. In so many ways it outdid its predecessor (1931's Frankenstein in case you didn't know). It took the mythology of the Universal monsters universe and cemented it into the minds of movie fans forever.

James Whale really went to town on this sequel mixing 19th century and 1930s technology and fashion to create the distinctive Universal monster movie look.

Boris Karloff's status had solidified so powerfully in the American psyche that Universal was now billing him by last name only: Karloff! God! I wish I was named Karloff.

Elsa Lanchester, who plays both Mary Shelley and the Bride, was also quite a movie star in her own right. Colin Clive again starred as Dr. Frankenstein in this film as it was the original that jetted him to stardom (7 films in 1935 is a lot even for the 30s).

The story, setting the watermark for millions of sequels to come, explains the ludicrous survival of the first film's two main characters. As you recall, Frankenstein ends with a burning windmill and the doctor and his creation burnt alive inside it. Right?

Nope. And since it is actually Mary Shelley who tells the story to Byron and her husband she knows the real story. Since she wrote the book they're adapting so faithfully...(putting the irony away for a while).

Dr. Frankenstein survives a fall from the windmill and, being forgiven by the angry mob for creating a murderer, plans his wedding. The monster has an even more spectacular story. He not only survived the fall from the windmill but ended up landing in an underground river! Well, better wander the countryside and kill people again.

Dr. Frankenstein is blackmailed by an even madder scientist (Dr. Pretorius) to create a mate for the creature and does so. When the female creature is created and brought to life she too rejects the hideous monster in one of filmdom's classic scenes.

What makes this better than the original is the fluid way in which Whale mixed classic terror, intense images and humour both campy and sophisticated and dark.

Check these out:
-Mad Love-Colin Clive in a supporting role in this movie that has Peter Lorre starring as an insane sugeon who replaces the wounded hands of a female pianist with those of a serial killer. Awesome!
-Frankenstein-The original is still good.
-The Son of Frankenstein-Another good Franie sequel. The monster is reduced to unthinking abomination but that's okay because Lugosi shows up as Igor and steals the show.The last time Karloff plays the monster.
-Frankenstein 1970-Karloff's back, playing the descendant of the mad doctor who purchases his own nuclear reactor to create another monster.
-The Black Cat and The Raven-Two Poe tales starring Karloff and Lugosi.
-The Mummy-Another classic Karloff flick.
-The Ghoul-Ditto.
-The Terror-Karloff meets a young Jack Nicholson in this underrated film.
-Gods and Monsters-Ian McKellan stars as James Whale in this interesting biopic.
-Mary Shelley's Frankenstein-Kenneth Branagh and Rober DeNiro in this movie that's a bit closer to the novel but not very good.
-Frankenstein Unbound-Roger Corman's awesome Frankenstein movie!
-The Curse of Frankenstein-Peter Cushing as the Doctor and Christopher Lee as the Monster in Hammer's first horror film and only really good Frankenstein movie.
-Young Frankenstein-Mel Brooks' best film. It is hilarious but often considered part of the Universal canon of Frankenstein films. Gene Wilder is the Doctor, Peter Boyle is the monster and Marty Feldman channels part Lugosi and part Peter Lorre as Igor.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #5 Audition

Why I like it: A few years ago I was overcome with an intense love for Japanese horror (or J-Horror as the geeks call it). I ate it with a spoon worshipping Hideo Nakata and lamenting the poor state of Western horror. It was great until I hit the wall. I was getting bored: Ju-On, The Ringu series, Dark Water. They are all great movies but there's just something about them that is too similar.

Added with the fact that I don't like ghost stories I began to find even these Japanese cinematic saviors boring. Until I came across 2 words and 5 syllables that would forever change my life: Takashi Miike.

If one were to make one Western comparison to the great Japanese shock directer it would have to be David Lynch for reasons I will leave to personal viewings of one of the films mentioned in this post.

One Miike film in particular grabbed me. It was the first of his that I saw. Audition deals with a middle-aged widower raising his teenage son by himself. Everyone but him seems to think that he needs a woman in his life. When he is finally convinced his friend at a television station cooks up an odd way of meeting women: auditioning them.

It starts out with the premise of an American reality show (don't believe me? check this out) setting the tone for an odd film altogether. It starts out as a romance between an older man and a younger woman (not uncommon in any culture) but is slightly distorted in its morose tone and long, sad stares. You begin to care deeply about the characters in the film so much so that you begin to overlook the strangeness of Asami Yamazaki (played beautifully by Eihi Shiina) and genuinely get into the idea of happiness coming for her and her older lover (played by Ryo Ishibashi).

Once you care enough for her, Miike then shows us in small bites how terrible things actually are for her. I don't want to say much more about this film as I believe it is something every horror fan should watch for themselves.

But the bag, the "tiki tiki tiki" sounds and the needles make this an entiely unforgettable film.

tiki tiki tiki

This better not be remade into an American film. It wouldn't work. The sensibilities of the culture would be way off. I will drink hemlock if Gore Verbinski tries to remake this movie.

Check these out:
-Suicide Club-Ryo Ishibashi stars in another slice of crazy Japanese culture in a film about teenage mass suicide cults.
-The Happiness of the Katakuris-Miike imagines claymation interludes mixed into a film that is itself a mix between a Romero zombie film, a disaster movie and The Sound of Music. Yes...I did just type that. The musical number when the Katakuris find the first body is monumentally, pants-wettingly funny.
-MPD Psycho-Miike directs the Japanese version of Twin Peaks. This six part television series (collected in three vehemently expensive and censored DVDs) has a personality changing detective, people with barcodes tattooed under their eyelids, and a cult hero who is never depicted but has gained a huge cult following herself. I dare type the name Lucy Monostone again as it accounts for 1/3 of my entire keyword search on this blog to date. No lie.
-Ichi the Killer-Think you've seen the most disturbingly violent film ever made? If you haven't seen Miike's "Ichi the Killer" then you certainly have not. Not for the faint of heart.
-Ju-on (The Grudge)-Much better than the American version but probably only for its exclusion of Sarah Michelle Gellar. Scary ghosts for once.
-Dark Water-Slow moving and sad. This ghost story is a must-see for any fan of Japanese horror or ghost films. I haven't seen the remake and that is probably a good thing.
-Ringu-Good. Better than the remake, although not by much.
-Cube-A great Canadian movie with a very Japanese sensibility.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #6 Dracula

Why I like it: It is the best film baring the title "Dracula." That is certainly an honour. According to The Guinness Book of Records (2005) Dracula has been portrayed in film over 160 times. Bela Lugosi was the best.

Lugosi reportedly stared into the mirror repeating the words "I am Dracula" in order to get into character. His piercing gaze, eastern European good looks, heavy Hungarian accent and light, almost floating movements forever linked him with the role. He almost didn't get the role as it was promised to Lon Chaney Sr. until he died a year before filming in 1930.

In fact, most actors try desperately not to get typecast. Lugosi embraced it and was even buried in full Dracula costume upon his death in 1956. He was a legend of stage and screen before even coming to America playing the stage role of Jesus in his native Hungary and countless film roles in Hungary and Germany.

It's quite sad to think that it was his drug addiction that forced him to sign on to Ed Wood's so awful they're good films like Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Tod Browning directed what will probably be forever considered his masterpiece (although Freaks is the better film by leaps and bounds) and almost was not able to make it. After Bram Stoker died his widow was so protective of the film rights to his movie that the previously reviewed Nosferatu (#31 in my list) went by dubiously changed details in character and setting. Browning and his producer sought the film rights to Hamilton Deane's 1927 play which rightfully claimed the rights to Dracula (as film was not considered an art form in the 20s and 30s) and incidentally starred Bela Lugosi as the title monster.

Where Nosferatu took the monstrous road of vampire films, Dracula stayed truer to the novel and portrayed the Count as a sexy, suave predator. The image that most popularly endures today.

This was, I believe, the first of the long line of Universal horror films. And by that I mean the stylish and atmospheric movies that all seemed to inhabit the same universe and had at least one of the following actors in it: Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff or Claude Rains. Sometimes in combinations.

Check these out:
-Bram Stoker's Dracula-Francis Ford Coppola adapts Stoker's novel rather faithfully but the film suffers from too much Keanu in my opinion.
-Vampyr-1931 film adapting a few of Le Fanu's "In a Glass Darkly" stories.
-M-Fritz Lang film based on the real life serial killer Peter Kurten "The Vampire of Dusseldorf" played by Peter Lorre.
-Frankenstein-Universal horror.
-Bride of Frankenstein-The best of the Universal films.
-The Wolf Man-Lon Chaney Jr. as the cursed Larry Talbot.
-Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman-Universal films shows the first in a series of very unnecessary sequels with Chaney as the Wolf Man and Lugosi this time donning the Frankenstein mantle.
-Nosferatu-Silent German vampire film.
-The Corpse Vanishes-A great Lugosi horror where he stars as a murdering mad scientist stealing gland fluid from young virgins to keep his ancient wife alive. Yum!
-White Zombie-Lugosi's best role: Murder Legendre the twisted zombie-maker.
-The Black Cat and The Raven-Lugosi and Karloff star in these Poe adaptations together.
-Mark of the Vampire-Tod Browning and Lugosi return for another vampire film. Subpar.
-Son of Dracula-Terrible and set in the American South, Lon Chaney Jr. tries desperately to be seen as a character other than the Wolf Man.
-Horror of Dracula-Hammer films pits Christopher Lee against Peter Cushing in this classic.
-Blood and Donuts-A great Montreal-based vampire film.
-The Lost Boys-Come on! Corey Haim and Corey Feldman? Add Kiefer Sutherland and it's a triple threat!
-The Monster Squad-Can't mention Lost Boys without this fun little romp. The Universal monsters homage film where Dracula unites the creatures of the night to take over the world or something and only a group of 12 year olds can stop him. Most important lesson learned in this film: Wolf Man's got knards!
-Last Man on Earth-Vincent Price fighting a legion of zombies.
-Ed Wood-Tim Burton directs the odd life story of the B-movie director starring Johnny Depp in the title role with Martin Landau who won an Oscar for his portrayal of an aged Bela Lugosi.
-Salem's Lot-An eerie Stephen King adaptation.

Let me know which great Vampire films I forgot to mention...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #7 The Vanishing

Why I like it: I mentioned before (I think during the Night of the Hunter review) that the sign of a good horror film is its ability to stay with you. Few films can do this as well as 1988's The Vanishing. It is a Dutch film directed by George Sluizer originally titled "Spoorloos" in the Netherlands and "L'homme qui voulait savoir" in France (translated as "the man who wants to know").

I almost had a heart attack when Meg and I were in Belgium last Spring and she had gone into the train station to get information on the trains we were supposed to take. I stayed outside with our friends and guarded the bags. Time passed and I started to get a little worried. More time passed and I started to freak out. I walked into the train station and looked frantically for her. It was a sea of people going from train landing to train landing, smoking cigarrettes, drinking coffee and meeting friends. After 5 or 6 terrifying minutes Meg appeared with our directions.

Irrational? Probably. In fact I believe that this movie is entirely to blame for that incident. Before the movie I would probably have sate and got fed up over having to wait so long. The movie stuck in my mind and didn't just play on a fear as many horror movies do, it created a fear.

What's it about, Des? Well...let me tell you:

First, let me posit a situation and then ask a question. Suppose you and a loved one are on a road trip. A vacation somewhere far away and you begin to have a heated argument (as road trips bring people together for long periods of time and fighting is only natural). You stop at a gas station/snack bar on the highway to cool things off and have a refreshing drink. You split up for a few minutes because, well, you get the chance to do so and when you return your loved one is nowhere to be seen. It's okay, they probably just wandered off, right? Sit and wait. Hours pass and it becomes evident that she just hasn't wandered off. She's gone.

Rex, the man who has just lost his girlfriend Saskia, spends the next three years looking tirelessly for her. He goes on television pleading to just know what happened to Saskia. When all hope seems lost and Rex seems about ready to move one he gets postcards from a man promising to let Rex know exactly what happened to Saskia.

Enter: Raymond. Played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu Raymond is one of the most chilling and terrifying characters ever put on celluloid.

What's really brilliant about this movie is that part of it is told from Raymond's perspective. We get peaks at his family life with his wife and beautiful children with very little information as to what is actually befall Rex and indeed Saskia. It's nail-biting and downright aggravating how they make you wait. When you finally find out you wish that you hadn't known.

You would want to know what happened, wouldn't you?

Don't EVER Check this out:
-The Vanishing-The 1993 American remake also directed by George Sluizer and starring Kiefer Sutherland, Sandra Bullock and Jeff Bridges is like a Disney movie compared to the original. It terribly distorts the ending and had me asking why Sluizer would remake his own movie so poorly.

Monday, October 24, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #8 Hellraiser

Why I like it: You probably already know why: I love Clive Barker. I fully and rightfully believe him to be the greatest writer of my generation. And this is his cinematic swansong.

In fact, after my initial little ramble I figured I'd treat Hellraiser with the exact same respect as I did Friday the 13th a few days ago and give a little rundown of each film in the series.

First of all, the monster is never the focus of the Hellraiser films. It initially began as a bit of an investigation into the relationship between pleasure and pain and the depraved who no longer find pleasure in the normal world. And of course it covers the whole Pandora's Box/Curiousity killed the cat theme. The monsters, Cenobites actually, come along as a bit of classy window dressing. They are almost like Hell's bureaucracy: "well, sir, you did open the box and release us from our stasis and now you must be carried back into Hell for all of eternity under the scrutiny of chapter 6, paragraph 7. Sorry, it's the rules."

Of course, Pinhead (the most notable of our Cenobites) says these things in a much grander fashion. Some of my favourite Pinhead quotes:

No tears, please. It's a waste of good suffering.

We have such
sights to show you!

We will tear your soul apart.

suffering will be legendary, even in hell!

We have eternity to know your

What you think of as pain is a shadow. Pain has a face. Allow me
to show it to you. Gentlemen, I... Am... Pain

Unbearable, isn't it? The
suffering of strangers, the agony of friends. There is a secret song at the
center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh...I'm here
to turn up the volume. To press the stinking face of humanity into the dark
blood of its own secret heart.

Cheery fellow that Pinhead. Speaking of Pinhead, I thought I'd let you know he is portrayed masterfully by Doug Bradley in each film of the series. He is the only constant in the series. He is what you'd call the franchise. But, unlike Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, he takes the back seat.

Hellraiser films are about one person's journey into depravity, redemption or insanity. It's about reaping what you sow. And the Cenobites are around to help you reap.

The films:

Hellraiser- Clive Barker himself directed this film from a screenplay that he wrote which adapted one of his own novellas (The Hellbound Heart if you're interested). Still following? Good. Larry Cotton has just remarried a woman named Julia after his wife's death. Kirsty (Larry's daughter) doesn't necessarily like Julia but she deals and in a very eighties fashion broods like all teenagers do. They move into an old house and begin to fix it up.

Unfortunately, Larry's brother Frank (who also happens to be Julia's former lover) shows up to everyone's surprise. Frank has disappeared and been believed dead. But he is running from demons that must make him pay for opening the box. Turns out he is dead and he sucks Julia into his depraved plans to bring him back to life.

Dark and fast-moving this is the best in the series.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II- I saw this in the theater when I was eight! I just looked at IMDB and it came out in 1988 and I was there opening night with my parents. Crazy.

Tony Randel directed this one. You know...Tony Randel of "Power Rangers in Space" fame? Oh well...Def-Con 4 was pretty good.

This one, while paling in comparison to the original, adds a back story to the Cenobites. They are from Hell. And Pinhead has a lot more screentime.

Kirsty from the first film (now you know she lived!) is in a mental hospital but no one believes what has happened to her family.

Julia's also back, without skin.

All in all it is a little confusing for those not familiar with the mythology but it features skinless people having sex! Come on!

Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth- Terry Farrell (Dax from Deep Space Nine) is here this time as a reporter who uncovers a plot to bring Hell to Earth for the entire population's eternal suffering, back to you Jim.

It is a little weak and lacks some of the visceral aspects of the first two films but at least it jaunts out into a new plotline with a newer version of the box (inside a very cool rotating art installation).

Even more backstory to Pinhead is revealed as is a bit of his humanity. I personally don't really enjoy him as a human being.

Worthy third film in a series.

Hellraiser: Bloodline- Whoa! It took Jason 10 films to go into the future.

What's interesting is that it attacks the mythology from several generations in one film spanning 400 years. A scientist in the 2100s is the last of his bloodline and must close the gates of hell by using a reverse puzzle box.

It, I think, is the first film to use the term "Lament Configuration" for the puzzle box and that is a wicked band name if I've ever heard one.

This one is surprisingly good and has a lot more screentime for Pinhead and many of the other Cenobites. And some new Cenobites, including Cenobite Dogs baby!

Hellraiser: Inferno- Back to present day. Craig Sheffer (from Nightbreed) plays a crooked cop who finds himself over his head in a weird world of sadism and murder. He chases a serial killer known as "The Engineer."

I'm pretty much alone in my thinking that this is a good movie. It seems a bit more of an ultra-graphic Twilight Zone episode with Pinhead playing Rod Serling. He only gets 3 minutes of screentime! But I think it works. This is the departure film.

Hellraiser 6: Hellseeker- Ashley Laurence returns to play Kirsty Cotton! Now she's married to Trevor (Dean Winters from OZ). After a car crash leaving Kirsty dead, Trevor goes on a quest to find the truth. Of course, this is a Hellraiser movie so the quest involves hooks, chains, kinky sex and an appearance by Pinhead.

Enjoyable but nothing new in the series.

Hellraiser: Deader- A bit of an old foray into the Hellraiser mythology. Kari Wuhrer (who can't seem to rise above the level of B-movie starlet no matter how hard she tries) plays a reporter who uncovers an underground cult called the Deaders who can apparently bring people back to life.

Sounds good? is. It's just too bad they had to introduce it as a Hellraiser movie. the Cenobites are barely there and rumour is it wasn't originally written as a Hellraiser movie.


Hellraiser: Hellworld- okay...this one is the departure. I just watched it for the first time and I've got to tell you it's the best one since Hellbound. Lance Henriksen seems to be having so much fun as the odd party-throwing benefactor.

Hellraiser isn't real. It's a movie, a scary story. And in this universe it's spun off into an on-line role-playing game. Only one guy took it too far and got way more involved than he should have. His friends are paying the price.

I like it because it's got some earmarks of my favourite Hellraisers: very little Pinhead, lost of rhetoric and vile, depraved imagery. Although it didn't contain many hooks and chains like the first one. Just ask my pal Frank:

Frank: Cheeesssee!!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #9 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Why I like it: This film may be the most visceral and raw horror movie ever made. That's why.

Banned in several countries for decades Tobe Hooper's 1974 masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre pulled a Blair Witch Project 25 years before that movie existed: they made people believe it was true.

BWP only did this for a very short time to very gullible people. While most people in their right mind knew that even if a crazy witch was killing people in the backwoods of Pennsylvania (or wherever) and that if 3 film students made a documentary about it that no one would ever be allowed to see it. Unless of course you were a juror in the upcoming trial (witch trial hehee) as it would be evidence. The straw that broke the camel's back was the soundtrack being released (no music in the movie) was labelled as "Josh's Mix." Being the songs on the tape he left in the tape deck of his care that they found. Funny how Josh made mixtapes of bands that all appear on the same record label, huh? What a funny guy.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre outright tells you that it's a true story. In fact the following introduction to the film almost makes you think that you should already know about the strange happenings in backwoods Texas:

The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which
befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid
brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had
they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they
have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day.
For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of
that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the
annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

I enjoy how he's referred to as the "invalid brother." Definitely pre-PC on this one.

What really makes this film appealing is that the killer is not a single madman or a monster bent on destruction, it's a family of deranged cannibals in Texas. Rednecks who don't give a shit about anything except causing pain. There's something there that sheds light on a darker part of America that just caught on to people and still catches on to this day.

Leatherface is not a maniac. Leatherface is the product of his environment. He cries. He screams in anger and shame. He acts out his frustrations with a chainsaw. His family are the maniacs.

The Hitchiker is downright fucking nuts! From the knifeplay and the voodoo thing with the photograph in the van to the howling at the dinner table he is a pure nutter.

The Cook seems to be the older brother/father figure fella who seems most rational and even likeable at first. One of the funniest moments in a movie I've ever seen is when the Cook comes home and scream at Leatherface for "chainsawing" the door to shreds.

It uses other humour for scare tactics. At the dinner table when Sally begins to scream, the three crazed brothers begin to mock her by screaming and crying even louder than her. It seems a little childish when typing this and I suppose that's why it is so scary. Ever been hurt as a smal child and cry only to have others do the whole "boo0hoo" thing while you cry. It doesn't feel nice.

The geography of "Texas Chainsaw" is quite important in its own right. The dusty unforgiving landscape is filmed quite a lot with an occasional skeleton or roadkill for thematic accents. But where the geography really kicks in and impresses me is in the cinematography when Leatherface is chasing Sally (which seems to be the last third of the film) there are several shots of them running solo adding doubt as to where they are in relation to each other. Then, "BOOM," a new angle shows that Leatherface is directly behind Sally with chainsaw roaring. Tobe Hooper does this geography quite well. The "center of the screen scare" in The Toolbox Murders is another impressive example. Texas Chainsaw is hard to beat in the horror geography department.

It's grim, vile, nihilistic, grand guignol at its best and the part where Leatherface slams that steel door shut still loosens my bowels to this day.

Check these out:
-Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2-A really over the top sequel with more violence and terrible humour throughout. Still, it's got Dennis Hopper in it!
-The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)-Approached with low expectations this remake actually impressed me. Still, it's unnecessary.
-Poltergeist-Feelgood horror from Hooper about a girl who communicates with the ghosts from the Indian burial ground their house is built on. A cliched mess but Craig T. Nelson's in it!
-Eaten Alive-Hoopers first foray into horrror.
-The Toolbox Murders-A little over the top in plot when it could have been much better as a simple slasher. Still enjoyable.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #10 The Thing

Why I like it: Top ten baby!
Originally a sort of dark sci-fi film from 1951 about an alien vegetable. John Carpenter directs 1982's version of The Thing with as much masterful skill as many of his other classics.

The theme of isolation that Carpenter digs so much is smashing you over the head in this one. A groupd of American researchers are based at a camp in Antarctica. They encounter some crazy Norwegians and investigate. As it turns out: the Norwegians unearthed (un-iced?) an alien that can become anything it kills. It takes them over.

What follows is a beautiful and terrifying horror/sci-fi 10 Little Indians story where you don't know who the alien is and who is human.

The dog scene is a little heart-wrenching for animal lovers and the autopsy scene is classic. Rob Bottin's special effects are a masterpiece to behold and still hold up today.

Kurt Russell is slightly wooden in his role but still evokes the heroic nihilist that Carpenter seems to do so well. Wilford Brimley does his best role since that arthritis medication commercial as the suspect doctor. But Keith David is my favourite in this movie and adds lots of subtle depth that you need when Kurt Russell is around.

Back to the idea of "horror geography." Here it's a little different. Many characters placed very close in proximity and adding stress which ignites some amazing character development. The geography becomes an important part of the film not just through setting but through themes of coldness and isolation. Isolation is a definite check for the researchers but coldness is something they have in common with the Thing. The Thing is looking to survive and cannot do so in the cold. In fact it is in extreme danger of reverting back to its pre-film cryogenic state. A fate the surviving characters themselves face.

I won't go on too much about this film besides saying that I have seen it over 25 times. I still love to watch it and still get chills at certain parts. The ending still hits pretty hard: is it a grim victory or a living infection?

If you don't like this movie then it is very possible that we can't be friends.

Check these out:
-Halloween-Carpenter's masterpiece. More later.
-Assault on Precinct 13-more isolated Carpenter stuff but this time it's a police station undersiege from a gang. Recently desecrated by a remake.
-The Fog-An adaptation of James Herbert's ghost story. Soon to be desecrated by a remake.
-Prince of Darkness-Carpenter does the Devil.
-In the Mouth of Madness-Sam Neill goes insane in this Lovecraftian tale.
-They Live-The human race are cattle being secretly dominated by an alien race and our only hope is...Rowdy Roddy Piper? Oh yeah!
-Big Trouble in Little China-Not horror but it is a must see.

Friday, October 21, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #11 The Shining

Why I like it: For sheer cultural impact this movie deserves a tip of the hat. It took the most famous introduction in the world ("Heeeeere's Johnny!") and made it sinister, violent and insane. This kind of transposing impresses me. Like the lullaby in Rosemary's Baby it undercuts what we are meant to feel about something and, if it's done right like it is here, ruins it forever.

Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick. How could you not like a collaboration between these two? In fact, I think the ony person I've ever heard not liking The Shining was Stephen King himself. Weird.

I could write an essay on how my life has changed because of Stanley Kubrick (and it may yet be part of the My Life With... series). He is the greatest director who ever lived in my opinion. Barring his involvement in A.I. (which I thoroughly believe was desecrated posthumously by Steven Spielberg) his every film has struck a chord with me. But I could go on and on about Kubrick so I'll stop right there.

Part of my initial terror involving this movie must have come from the fact that Shelley Duvall was Olive Oyl in Popeye. I was around 5 when I saw this movie with my parents and had even seen Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. So this seemed like a safe movie for me. How wrong I was.

I think it has more to do with the experience of the creepy son that I was frightened. The creepy twins and the tidal wave of blood. It's all a little too scary for a little kid. I loved it. I've seen it about fourteen times and refuse to believe that the TV miniseries endorsed by King can hold a candle to it.

My old boss's son looked shockingly like the kid (Danny) that I taught him to bend his finger and groan "Redrum" at the same time while his dad was in the back. He got a scare when he came back. Muhahahahahaha!!!!

If you want a plot summary click on the movie name and scroll down. Otherwise I'll leave you with an amusing link I've posted before. This will only be funny if you've seen The Shining: The Shining Redux Trailer.

Check these out:
-Carrie-Brian de Palma directs the ultimate tale of teen trauma with Sissy Spacek as the young and fragile but extremely powerful Carrie.
-The Dead Zone-More psychic powers in this one but it's got Christopher Walken so that kicks all kinds of ass.
-Misery-Kathy Bates terrifies me in this one. The sledgehammer scene still makes me cringe when I think about it.
-Apt Pupil-see #27 in this countdown.
-Salem's Lot-not a great movie but that one scene had me shouting at the TV as an eleven-year-old: "Don't open that door!"

Thursday, October 20, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #12 Dead Man's Shoes

Why I like it: Those who know me kow that I like Nietzsche and a revenge drama. 2004's Dead Man's Shoes is a Nietzschean revenge drama. The byline is: "He's in all of us" and I'd have to agree.

It stars Paddy Considine (probably best known as the father from In America) as a soldier who returns home to Northern England only to find that his mentally-challenged brother has been absolutely brutalized by a group of lowlifes.

That's only the background of the story. In fact it begins in medias res and seethes with anger and outrage the entire time. Considine's character is the hero (no doubt about that) but by the end you begin to feel dirty for rooting for him. That's the kind of movie I like. It brings out a visceral reaction and touches something deep in the human psyche.

The film shows that there are some things that can't be let go and can't be forgiven. I refuse to go further into the plot as to save its intricacies from being unraveled but it's a tightly woven nugget of modern realist horror.

Considine turns the brutality on the tormentors in a series of terrifying scenes. Terrifying because you are enjoying what is happening a little too much. Mind games and scare tactics galore.

It twists and winds down to a jaw-dropping ending I simply adore. In part this is a revenge drama but it is the morality tale end of it that is most interesting. Nietzsche once wrote (and don't complain that it's not verbatim the book's in storage):

Those who stare into the abyss should beware for the abyss gazes also.
Those who hunt monsters become monsters themselves.

And never has this been truer than this film. It certainly has found its way into my top 5 of all time list funnily enough. Watch it now.

Check these out:
-Switchblade Romance-realist horror with a crazy ending.
-The Vanishing-Double ditto.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #13 Rosemary's Baby

Why I like it: Charles called it. Here you go Charles. You had to know that some kind of dalliance with the devil had to show up in this list and 1968's Rosemary's Baby is it.

Its director Roman Polanski's first American film and one of his best. It's adapted from an equally wonderful novel of the same name by Ira Levin. Oddly enough Polanski's wife was murdered a year later by the Manson Family: another little cult.

In it, a young couple of newlyweds move to an apartment building in New York to begin their lives together. Not long after they move in a friend tells them of the building's bad reputation for witchcraft and cannibalism.

Soon enough chanting is heard through the walls and a neighbour's suicidal jump from a high window confirms that things aren't quite hunky dory. The dead woman's roommates (an elderly couple living in the building) explain her depression and fear that this was inevitable.

That night Rosemary (my all-time favourite role for an actress performed by the awesome Mia Farrow fresh off a divorce from Frank Sinatra and soon to marry Woody Allen-giving us reason to question her sanity) begins to hallucinate about her bad experiences at Catholic school. This is only furthered by an incendiery anti-Pope remark over dinner by their neighbours (the roommates of the ill-fated suicide).

Rosemary's husband Guy gets an acting job and begins to become withdrawn, vain and self-centered. Good time to decide to get pregnant right? Wrong.

She is drugged and then surrounded by Satanic cultists led by their neighbours as Guy rapes her while turning into the Devil. Whoa!

What follows is a film that my wife most certainly should not watch. Playing on the fears involved with pregnancy Rosemary gets paranoid. She starts losing weight (not a good thing in pregnancy I'm told)

Through a series of several deductions she figures out the nasty pastime of her neighbours and everyone begins to think she's gone insane. She wakes up from giving birth to find her baby is gone and accuses everybody of being baby-stealing witches. When she finally sees the baby my favourite line in a horror movie is uttered by Rosemary:
What have you done to it? What have you done to its eyes?

I like it because it doesn't hammer you over the head with the devil and you are never actually sure whether or not to believe Rosemary. Is she a little wacko? Whether or not she is the ending is fantastic. The lullaby that turn into the theme music is beautiful at the beginning and haunting by the end.

Check these out:
-The Exorcist-A decent horror film owing much to Rosemary's Baby
-The Prince of Darkness-Carpenter directs Donald Pleasance fighting Satan...from spaaaaaace!
-The Omen-More child of the Devil goodness.
-Twin Peaks-Bob is the Devil folks! Believe it!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #14 Friday the 13th

Why I like it: First off let me preface this by saying that I won't say much about the Friday the 13th Series. If you want a more in-depth analysis and a better one at that go to Final Girl. If you want flippant, short, erudite comments about each movie read this first then go there. By the way, I commend you for your mind-numbing 11 movie experiment Stacie.

Excuse the departure in format...

Friday the 13th: No matter how long it has been since I've seen this movie (12 years? hmm...) I still have vivid memories of it. The stage is set for a mythology that is as big as any other horror franchise. It is a little wooden and completely overacted but the intense, unrelenting rain and far shots of the killer made it effective. The decapitation is fantastic and this is the one movie where you'll see Kevin Bacon get penetrated. But not in a good way...wait a minute! PS: If this were the countdown of favourite movie endings it would probably be higher on the list.

Friday the 13th Part 2: Jason is the killer and wears a sack over his head in an homage to the film "The Town that Haunted Sundown." The woods chase, an eerie final shot, a sweet machete in the face and the terrifying eye darting back and forth in that sack makes this my favourite of the series. PS: Count how many times characters step in puddles and you may be pleasantly amused. If you're a geek!

Friday the 13th Part 3-D: The hockey mask debuts giving Canadian children everywhere in the 80s many chances to terrify their mother in the kitchen. Not me...I swear! A lot of really bad humour mars this film. It could have been much better but the dream sequence and the final shot of Jason where you expect him to open his eyes and.......... Filmed in 3-D but every remaining print for TV, DVD and video are 2-D only making a total lame film that plays wayyy too much on the knowledge that it's in 3-D. Skip it.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter: If only that were the case. This is the best film in the series after the first two but it really doesn't take much. I made a Roman Gladiator film for my grade seven history project that made most Friday the 13th films look like they were being compared to Citizen Cane. I digress...The last scary Jason, the porno film massacre, Jason getting stabbed in the thigh and Corey Feldman make this soooooo worth the viewing.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning: Although it was the first to use the very cool "Dies Irae" theme music (and I loves me some horror theme music) this film amps up a high body count, terribly cliched characters, foul language and lots of female nudity in exchange for a likeable lead and a plot. D'oh! I don't usually spoil endings but Jason only appears in the opening dream sequence. He's a copycat Jason!!! Weak...

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives: Meh...High points-Horshak from Welcome Back, Kotter resurrects Jason and gets his heart torn out for his troubles, a crisp sharp look due to a higher budget and a rare shot of good humour in a Jason film (Jason sees the dismembered arm and doesn't know what it is). Low points-just about everything else.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood: "What are we going to do now that we've run out of ideas?" "Have Jason fight a telekinetic kid."'s allll downhill from here. Well...from earlier but the hill gets much steeper here. First Kane Hodder who pulls off the best hockey-masked Jason. The way he walks defines Jason's modern look but the make-up effects make him look laughable. Best death: whack the sleeping bag against the tree to free it of ants...ooops, there's somebody in there! hehe...

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan: They should have called it Jason Does Manhattan just for comedy's sake. It looks good and that's about it.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday: Stacie! How did you do it?! I'm having trouble just writing about these let alone watching them all in one day. Blech blech blech! This is the "explain everything" one. Only, the explanation is terrible. You see: Jason has come looking for his long lost sister. Remind you of anything? Halloween maybe? Demons, body-jumping/soul-carrying tapeworms and a terribly awful ending are only the most noticeable atrocities this one lets loose upon its audience. Steer real clear of this one.

Jason X: spaaaaaaaaace!!!!! Ugh. Like the bastard child of Leprechaun 4 (or whatever one he is on space in) and...well...other bad Friday the 13th films.

Freddy vs. Jason: Geek porn. Nuff said.

Friday the 13th, while being very responsible for my lifelong jaunt into horror, is now an aborted wasteland of terrible, terrible films. Even the Halloween sequels have retained their dignity (mostly).

Still, a guy with a sack over his head jumping through a window is one of my favourite childhood memories (thankfully it happened in a movie). Before I go, a tip of the hat to the exceedingly horny and often naked camp counselors, bumbling sheriffs, protective fathers, virginal girls who don't run off into the forest to have sex or skinny dip and cliched black characters who made these films possible.

Monday, October 17, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #15 Frailty

Why I Like it: This begins a movement in my taste in movies. I really no longer dig the monster movies. Sure they're fun but it's what is inside people's minds that is truly scary. One only has to watch the news to figure that out.

Some may argue against what I'll call "realist horror" by saying that horror is meant to be an escape. An escape to a world where the opposing force is so powerful that the only one who survives is the virginal girl. A world where the monster moves about as fast as an old age pensioner yet still catches up to the fleeing victim. And to all that I say: "you're wrong."

Horror is meant to unleash a visceral reaction. It's supposed to fool our minds to the point that even though we are watching a movie (and we know this) our fight-or-flight reaction is being oiled up. We are supposed to be made uncomfortable and helpless.

Enough exposition. Frailty does a pretty good job of tapping into these responses. Think about William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" mixed with a slasher flick and you're kind of clos to what Frailty's all about.

In this movie a man (Matthew McConaughey) confesses to an FBI agent (Powers Boothe) the story of his family and their murderous past. The tale is woven of his father (Bill Paxton who also directs it) and his relentless mission to destroy demons. He uses an axe named "OTIS." Fantastic. Dad believes that God is telling him who the demons are and also believes that he gets visions of their sins when he touches them. The only problem is: the people aren't demons, they're people. It's only made worse when Dad brainwashes the younger brother into believing him. And the end is something to behold.

It's fundamental Christianity gone wrong (as if it actually goes right) in a dark, dark look at the American South.

Check these out:
-Night of the Hunter-Religious horror only in the sense that it's a theme. Not the plot.
-Dead Man's Shoes-There's an axe in this one too. More about this film later.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #16 The Last Man on Earth

Why I like it: This entry is due to the work of one Rick Geerling alone. For he was the one that shamed me into finally reading Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. He also pointed me to the right edition (Thanks Rick!). This has now become one of my favourite stories of all time. I have always loved "last man" stories but a last man story where he fights vampires? I'm in.

Also, what Top 31 list of horror films would be without a film featuring the master: Vincent Price. The Fly, Return of the Fly, The Oblong Box, The Masque of the Red Death, The House on Haunted Hill, Journey into Fear, Madhouse, Witchfinder General, Green Hell and The House of Wax. Any of these are worth the viewing. Incidentally I was introduced to Mr. Price musically. But not through Michael Jackson's Thriller; through various Misfits songs that use his movies as titles. In fact, if you haven't seen any of them go watch a few of them now.

You're back? Good! By now you know that Vincent Price is the undisputed master of terror. However, I think 1964's The Last Man on Earth showcases his talents like no other film. He actually seems human in this one.

My one problem with Price is that he's so damn spooky and awkward looking that it's hard to take him as anything else other than "eccentric old man who knows more than he's letting on". Here, he does "normal" quite well.

Adapting the Robert Neville character to screen is rather difficult (note: he's called Robert Morgan in this fiolm for some reason) as there is very little dialogue. In fact, the only words uttered by Price's character in the film's first half hour (beside the voice-over) are calls over the radio searching for another human. He is a tortured man who has been locked into a terrifying routine.

Robert Morgan is a man who has barricaded himself into his neighbour's home at night while his former neighbours (now vampires) call for him to come outside at night. His days are spent searching for provisions, killing sleeping vampires and dumping bodies in a burning fire pit. The entire middle third of the movie tells us that he used to be a scientific researcher who tried to uncover the cure to this spreading plague as it was attacking Europe. Naturally he was unsuccessful. The grimness of this movie is shocking for an American film in 1964 and carries through to the ending.

The rest of the cast (minimal as it is) seems to be rounded out by unknowns. In fact the entire film is casted by Italian actors, and rather unprolific ones at that. Just click on some of the cast on the IMDB page of the film and you'll see that this was clearly a Vincent Price vehicle with a low budget.

While the ending is not as good as the novel's (how could it be?) this movie is almost a perfect adaptation of a perfect masterpiece of horror literature.

Check these out:
-The Omega Man-Charleton Heston fights off the "damn dirty vampires" in this 1971 adaptation of Matheson's film. Not anywhere in the ballpark of the Price film but this is still pretty good.
-Night of the Living Dead-Romero directs this ultimate classic with a similar isolationist theme. More about this one later.
-Any of the previously mentioned Vincent Price films-he really was the master of horror so anything with him in it gets a gold stamp from me.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #17 The Changeling

Why I like it: Well, it's kind of odd. I don't enjoy ghost movies. Besides The Grudge and Dark Water (and I am talking about the Japanese versions although the Sarah Michelle-Gellar version of Grudge was good but still directed by a Japanese guy, in Japan) I haven't liked any besides 1980's The Changeling.

This is not an easy movie to watch. It is a slow build. A very, very slow build. But, the payoff is there. The movie is not gory or even "cat jumping out" scary. It is eerie; it plays on visual tricks, blind corners and noises throughout a spooky house. However, it must be watched alone and with conviction. You will be scared under these strict circumstances.

George C. Scott plays the grumpy old guy. This is a role he perfected. It works. He adds a certain sarcastic wit to a film that needs it. Without his prattling the movie might actually bore its audience to death instead of scaring them.

This is a movie you have to commit yourself to watching. It takes work but it will scare you.

Check these out:
-The House on Haunted Hill-1959 version only. Vincent Price is the eccentric offering money to those who can stay all night in a haunted house.
-Exorcist III-George C. Scott battling the spirit of a dead serial killer in the body of a dead priest? Huh? It's good, trust me.
-Event Horizon-A haunted house movie, in spaaaaaaaaaace!!!!
-Dark Water and Grudge-J-Horror versions. The Japanese, Hideo Nakata in particular, are awesome at ghost stories. It has a lot to do with a rich history of ghost folktales and an entirely different view of what is scary.

Friday, October 14, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #18 Night of the Hunter

Why I like it: There are a few reasons and I should probably premise this with the fact that I saw this movie quite young (as I was when I saw a lot of slasher films). This one attached itself to me. Some movies scare you for about 24 hours. According to Hideo Nakata, these are effective horror movies. Some movies stay with you your entire life. That is what I define as effective horror.

Charles Laughton masterfully directed this 1955 thriller which has a deranged crook/preacher coming after the family of a man he was imprisoned with in order to get his money. Incidentally, Laughton was so upset with the lack of success of this movie he vowed never to direct again. And stuck by it (somewhere in here there's a Battlefield Earth joke)!

I have to admit that this is a last minute entry into the list. I had initially penned Robert Mitchum's 1962 masterpiece Cape Fear into this humble spot until I remembered this movie.

Mitchum is a more terrifying character in Cape Fear but I think Night of the Hunter is better directed and had a more lasting impact on me. We see the surreal nature of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari creeping into this film. Not overtly, but with the sharp black/white contrasts, use of shadows, over-the-top acting and painted two dimensional backdrops it is a little uneasy. It isn't made to seem real like so many other horror movies.

Mitchum is hunting this family as he knows one of them knows where a large amount of money is hidden. I can't really remember if he knows it's the boy or not but that is almost secondary to the imagery you are given in the film.

The message of "HATE" and "LOVE" tattooed on Mitchums knuckles is only another aspect of the "smash you over the head" message. In the pictured scene he is sweet-talking Shelley Winters (his ex-cellmate's widow) with "LOVE" so prominent but there is always "HATE" lurking in the picture. We see "HATE" pictured more often than not in the film if my memory serves me correctly.

Those who know me well know that I am not a religious man. In fact, I am quite distrusting of religion and its influence on society. This movie is full of it from the false Rev. Powell to every other character spewing scripture but religion is nowhere to be found in a desolate, almost hopeless, film. It is a dark fantasy that is only used to serve the minds of even the trustworthy and "good" characters in the film.

I will be the first one to say that religious horror only works if you are religious. Exorcist is only scary if you think that the devil could do something similar to you. So, this is one of the few "religious horror" movies I know that works.

I can't help but wonder if this film helped form my opinion of religion or if my opinion of religion informs this film?

Check these out:
-The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-As I mentioned earlier, this one has the same surrealist thing going for it.
-Cape Fear-The 1962 version or the remake. They have a similar theme as this one.
-Journey into Fear-Shelley Winters is in this 1975 thriller with Vincent Price about oil.
-Psycho-This film's got a very Hitchcockian feel to it so really any of the Hitchcocik thrillers will do.
-Exorcist III-Adapted for film and directed by William Peter Blatty from his novel Legion, this is the only one of the series that actually works for me as a horror film. Mostly due to the fact that it takes place in a mental asylum. Oh yeah, and it's got George C. Scott yelling a lot.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #19 Haute Tension (Switchblade Romance)

Why I like it: A lot of the movies you'll see in this list from now on are ones that play with the genre. This one does so in a few odd ways.

This movie is entirely devoid of humour. Not very often does this happen in a horror film. Laughter and fear are very closely tied at a fulcrum where sanity is fleeting. Ever laugh when scared? Ever try to make a joke when you're scared? Ever say "it's not funny" when someone laughs at a display of your fear? Yep...thought so.

Horror films, for the most part, rely on laughs to bridge scenes. Not that it's a bad thing. When the cook returns home to yell at Leatherface for destroying the front door in A Texas Chain Saw Massacre I almost piss myself laughing every time. It's hilarious. You will note later on that said movie appears higher in this list.

What makes this lack of humour (not a bad sense of humour, a lack of) interesting is it doesn't turn the audience off. The violence is brutal, unflinching and at times innovative. It offers a 500 mph movie with no breaks. At one point in this film (the bedroom scene) I held my breath. I was light-headed before I took another breath.

The twist is another way in which this movie plays with the genre. Director Alexander Aja (who is helming the remake to The Hills Have Eyes) weaves a tight little movie but drops very few clues to the outcome of the film. He takes what may be the message of the film and throws it at you like a monkey with a handful of shit. It shocks you almost to the point of absurdity. I will leave it at that and give a quick plot summary.

Two college girls go to one of their families' houses in the French countryside only to be stalked by a crazy truk driver who slays the entire family and takes Alexia (Maiwenn Le Besco) hostage. It is up to Marie (Cecile De France) to save her.

Doesn't sound like much at first but it takes a viewing to truly be able to discuss this film so I'll leave it at that.

Check these out:
-The Vanishing-aka Spoorloos, this Belgian film wrote the book on suspense and crazy endings. More about it later.
-Dead Man's Shoes-My favourite British film ever. A nice little horror gem as well. More about it later.
-Frailty-The closest an American filmmaker has gotten to something this nice. More about it later.
-The films of M. Night Shyamalan-Love him or hate him he is the American master of the twist.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #20 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Why I like it: All right, I know what you're thinking: another silent German film? Yep...

And I'd tell you why if I didn't think this film should speak for itself. If you haven't seen it then you haven't seen what a horror film can truly do. 1920's Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari continues to stand as a landmark of horror film-making 85 years after it was made.

Robert Wiene directed this film about a devious hypnotist/therapist who travels with a carnival named Dr. Caligari. Caligari (played by Werner Krauss) "awakens" his sleeping performer Cesare (awesomely portrayed by Conrad Veidt from the Man Who Laughs but probably best remembered as Major Strasser in Casablanca) who moves like a ghost from a modern J-horror film and tells the future of fair-goers. His prediction that a fair-goer has until dawn to live comes true and Cesare becomes the prime suspect when the murder is uncovered. In an odd move, Cesare kidnaps the murdered man's wife and then runs until exhaustion kills him (which is even odder considering all the guy does is sleep). There is a tacked on prologue and epilogue which is the murdered man's friend who tells the story and lightens the impact of the film. Its initial ending insinuates that authority is insane can't be trusted. That's the cut I'd like to see. There is a remake scheduled for 2006 but I tremble in fear (not in a good way) to think of how the film will be handled.

It's the look of this film that sets it apart from all others. The angled set pieces add an eerie sense of nothing being right as all of the buildings tilt and all of the doorways are crooked. It's amazing to watch. My favourite part of the look of this film is the lighting. It was a rarity as it was filmed in a studio (imagine that) and it was consistently lit from all angles. In order to get a contrast the shadows were painted on. It adds the most surreal aspect that it makes this one seem not right at all. It was the first horror film to truly twist the fear throughout its geography.
Geography is an extremely important part of a horror film. There are several ways in which geography can be used to guide a horror film and a scary setting is one of those ways. This setting goes beyond scary into the realm of twisted and brilliant.

Check these out:
-Casablanca-For more Conrad Veidt-y goodness. Not really though. I just think it is one of the greatest films ever made. Ever. You must watch it.
-Night of the Hunter-For reasons which will be explained in a couple of days.
-Der Golem-More expressionistic German silent film stuff from the 1920s. Although there is no longer a decent existing copy of this it still has a couple of good moments.
-Rob Zombie's music video for "Living Dead Girl"-A great homage to this movie in its near perfect remake of some key scenes from the film. I saw the video first and thought it was cool until I saw this movie and made the connection.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #21 The Howling

Why I like it: I laboured over which werewolf movie to include in this list because I really don’t like a lot of them. The Howling or An American Werewolf in London? The Howling wins for sheer creepiness and the amount of scares.

Joe Dante directed this 1981 film that is rumoured to have been rushed into production to be released before American Werewolf. But I see no need; the stories are so different that they could have been released on the same day. Where American werewolf shocked audiences with their entirely visual transformation scene (a landmark of horror films no doubt) I think that The Howling wins by sticking to the classic “cut away for a reaction” shot.

The story? A TV reporter (played by Dee Wallace-Stone) survives an encounter with a psychopathic serial killer and is, naturally, emotionally scarred. She decides to take some time off and recover on vacation at a California “institute.” It’s not quite a mental hospital or a halfway house but there are some good scenes of psycho-babble. It misleads the audience away from the expectations of werewolf movies (fog, torches, pitchforks, tortured victim werewolves) by setting it in this modern world of psychology. The last popular werewolf film before this was 1957's I Was a Teenage Werewolf with a young Michael Landon. A long time.

Anyway, as you’d expect things go a little crazy at the institute and the reporter discovers she is in the middle of a pack of monsters! Not only that, but this was the first film to show werewolves who enjoyed their condition. I mean, why not? I probably would. Hell, I’m hairy enough to qualify as a lycanthrope now.

Back to the movie: the sheer number of werewolves in this film (who look terrifying and awesome by the way) give zombie movie-type scares to the audience. Usually you are afraid of one monster and relieved by its destruction only to discover that there’s another one at the last minute. Here, there are so damn many you don’t even have a chance to figure out what’s going on before all hell breaks loose.

The reporter’s transformation in this movie is wayyy better than any other I’ve seen. Not due to the scariness of her werewolf (because it’s actually kind of cute) but by how it’s done. I won’t tell you as it will ruin the surprise.

The Howling spawned a litter of good sequels creating a world where werewolves are hedonists killing and having sex with each other in films more and more demented as they come out. Was it number 4 with the midget clown? That was freaky. Some of it comes across as art-house. I remember being really young and watching one of these sequels with my parents (who always supported my love of genre films) with two werewolves having sex. I hilariously pointed out that they were “making puppies.” I was probably seven or eight years old.

Check these out:
-An American Werewolf in London-It’s worth the watch. Funny and has a wicked transformation scene.
-The rest of the Howling series-because I said so. Except number three. Don't ask...okay, it is in Australia and has marsupial werewolves. You happy?
-Dog Soldiers-Another movie with a pack of werewolves.
-Wolf-Jack Nicholson peeing on someon'e shoes is worth the viewing alone.

Monday, October 10, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #22 Jeepers Creepers

Why I like it: The first two thirds of this movie could belong to the greatest horror film of all time. This one is in the list for what could have been.

What makes it so good is its initial reality. A brother and sister (played by Justin Long and Gina Philips) drive home for the summer holidays together and encounter a maniac driver. He nearly runs them off the road and pays total scary mindgames with them. Driving by repeatedly and finally ramming the rear end of their car over and over until they drive into a field is what starts the terror of this film.

What is even scarier is what happens when they finally get back on the road: they continue to drive until they drive by an abandoned church and see their friend in the freaky truck stuffing what looks like a wrapped-up body into a hole in the ground. The scene of him looking at the car as it drives by slowly is absolutely chilling and only made scarier by the fact that the truck comes from behind and chases them again!

I was under the influence when watching this and sitting in the dark but notwithstanding it is the first time I’ve been scared by a movie since seeing some of the top 10 in this countdown as a youngster.

What ruins it all is when you actually see more of the monster and it all falls into a ludicrous downhill fantasy movie from that point. Its ending is a saving grace but still not enough to bring it up from its descent into cheese-town. This one makes the list for its potential. Too bad it ended up being wasted.

Check these out:
-Jeepers Creepers 2-Not my recommendation at all but if you enjoy the ludicrosity (not a word, I know) of this film then the sequel’s for you.
-Junior-Another “road trip gone wrong” film that is equally ridiculous but still somewhat endearing.
-Wrong Turn-Faith from Buffy? Check! Car accident in the middle of nowhere? Check! Psycho inbred redneck mutant monsters? Check! Bloodshed? Check!
-Dead End-Well done "car horror" about an endless car ride.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #23 A Nightmare on Elm Street

Why I like it: Granted, this is a bit of a softcore Wes Craven film that resulted in a score of really bad sequels. And I have been complaining about softcore Wes Craven for a while but this one is too original to overlook.

During a time when the industry (horror film industry that is) was being saturated with slashers, this introduced, well, a different kind of slasher.

It starts out as a great revenge drama: Freddy Krueger, a child molester/murderer who has been attacking the children of Elm Street for a while, has been discovered by the parents of his victims before the police. In a mob scene much like the Universal Frankenstein film he is surrounded in a shed and is burned alive by the enraged parents. All is well on Elm Street for a long time until Freddy has found his way into the dreams of the children of Elm Street. He is the legend that hasn’t died.

It is the idea of this movie that makes it so good. Freddy is the boogeyman made flesh and then made legend. The revenge drama is twisted so that it is Freddy who now gets revenge on the citizens of Elm Street for what they’ve done to him.

Robert Englund plays the supernatural psychopath beautifully and takes part in all manners of terrible and over-the-top deaths. It quickly slides, however, into a game of “how to kill the bad guy” and this is where the sequels have become terribly ineffectual. They simply rehash the same old garbage. The only attempt at something new was that awful Dream Warriors garbage that comes up in the third film.

What’s best about the first one is that Freddy hardly has any screen time at all, especially in the first half of the film. This makes him more believable as the mysterious legendary killer until they pull the veil back completely.

The cast is rounded out by Heather Langenkamp (who plays Nancy, the girl no one believes) and Johnny Depp (in his first role ever!).

Check these out:
-Candyman-Another “imaginary” killer idea but this time done right.
-Wishmaster-Robert Englund again plays an “imaginary” killer but this time he’s an evil genie. There’s a whole slew of them but please only watch the first. Even so, do it without my blessing.
-Urban Legends-Englund plays the Professor lecturing on Urban Legends in a fun film.
-New Nightmare-the only sequel worth any salt. It has the Freddy myth come to life in the real world where Englund plays himself and Krueger. Heather Langenkamp returns playing herself as well.
-Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story-The most horrifying film of all! Langenkamp returns to play a different Nancy: Nancy Kerrigan! Worth it for the TV movie experience alone.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #24 The Serpent and the Rainbow

Why I like it: A realistic zombie movie? Oh yeah!

Wes Craven’s 1988 film The Serpent and the Rainbow had an American anthropologist (Bill Pullman) going to Haiti in search of a powder rumoured to turn people into zombies.

While zombies have been used as political allegory (See: George Romero films. No, really, see them!), never before have they been used as political allegory in such a real manner. It is set in the reign Haiti’s own brutal dictator Duvalier and seems as though it is even a true story. In one way or another, I’m sure it is.

Again, curiosity damn near kills the cat when Pullman gets dosed with the Voodoo powder and becomes a zombie walking the streets of Port Au Prince. Zakes Mokae plays Dargent Peytraud a very chilling Haitian villain sanctioned by the government to do damn near anything he wants.

Its ending is a little soft but the genuine scares and the buried alive scene alone makes for another rare Wes Craven film with balls.

Check these out:
-White Zombie-Another Voodoo zombie movie starring Bela Lugosi.
-Romero’s Dead series-Great Zombie movies one and all. Well, except for Land of the Dead. That was rather mediocre.
-The Vanishing-For another buried alive scenario.

Friday, October 07, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #25 Silence of the Lambs

Why I like it: Okay…I’m stretching your definition of horror film a bit and this one probably belongs on the psychological thriller rack but let me digress for a moment:

Silence of the Lambs features an immensely powerful bad guy (actually: 2 of them), a single strong female lead, lots of uncomfortable moments between hero and villain, a hunting in the dark scene (made modern by the killer’s use of night vision goggles), a very “Halloween-esque” killer’s eye view look to the previously mentioned hunting in the dark scene and a “Vanishing-esque” buried woman motif.

What makes this different is the fact that Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins) doesn’t stalk a summer camp or a dormitory with a knife. He terrifies us with his mind and eyes. He is a villain so intimidating that he actually spends an evening whispering to the man in the cell next to him and convinces him to swallow his own tongue! His brilliance is only overshadowed by his deviance and great taste in food (nyuk nyuk) and wine. He is the best movie villain ever. Period. He could talk Darth Vader into force-choking himself.

Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) has to decode Lecter’s talk and try to find the whereabouts of a serial killer not currently in custody. In many ways it’s perverse to watch Dr. Lecter deconstruct the mind of Starling in exchange for information about Buffalo Bill (said killer).

Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine-currently starring in a remake of The Hills Have Eyes) also makes for an incredible killer in the movie. His fragile mindstate is very frightening to watch. Incidentally, he has one of my favourite lines in a movie: “It rubs the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose again.”

Even better was the amount of Oscar attention it got: best actor (Anthony Hopkins), best actress (Jodie Foster), best director (Jonathan Demme), best picture, best screenplay based on material from another medium (Thomas Harris’ wicked novel), best editing and best sound. It even won an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films USA award for best horror film. It one about a trillion other awards so check them out here if you like. There! Take that!

In closing it has the best ending for a movie that has won best picture at the Oscars hands down. If you haven’t seen it then shame on you.

Check these out:
-Hannibal-The sequel was amazing. Many people disagree but any time you add Gary Oldman to the mix it can only make things better. No Jodie Foster this time but Julianne Moore competently pulls off the Starling character.
-Red Dragon-A great prequel showing how Lecter was incarcerated and how he helped Edward Norton’s character gain insight on the Red Dragon killer (Ralph Fiennes).
-Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer-Another real world horror film based on a serial killer. Not anywhere in the realm of Silence of the Lambs but still kind of creepy.
-A Texas Chain Saw Massacre-Real-life serial killer Ed Gein served as the inspiration for Leatherface and Dr. Lecter.