October 10, 2008
As just one in a long, long line of the “end-of-the-world” genre, The Seventh Sign doesn’t break a lot of new ground. You’ve got your prophets, your plagues, your disbelieving religious leaders, your innocent victims, and your skeptic-who-eventually-comes-around. What you don’t have here is much in the way of suspense or payoff.
Demi Moore plays the mother of the first child that, according to a mysterious man renting a garage apartment from Moore and husband Michael Biehn, will be born without a soul. This birth, if it occurs, will usher in the End Of Days. Moore, of course, wants only to protect her baby, even as the undeniable signs of impending doom start appearing all around her. We’re talking really, really heavy rain and hard winds. Real wrath of God type stuff, as the Ghostbusters might say.
This somehow ties into a court case that attorney Biehn is leading involving a mentally-challenged man who killed his parents when he discovered they were, in fact, blood relations. How this figures in I was never certain, but Biehn spends the whole movie fretting about it. As a matter of fact, that’s all he does in this movie – fret. It doesn’t do a lot for the tough-guy image he built in movies like Aliens and The Terminator.
Apparently, in the end, all it takes to head off the Apocalypse is for Moore to dramatically utter the words “I would die for him” while holding her newborn. Which she does. Then the earthquakes stop and there’s a lot of light and then hey! There’s the credits!
This was about 90 minutes of muddled plot developments and religious iconography that really went nowhere. Even the immortal bad guy is stopped by nothing more than bullets from a security guard’s gun. Skip this one.
October 5, 2008
For this month’s second scary movie, I decided to revisit an old-fashioned monster favorite: Pumpkinhead. Directed by, and with creature FX by, the late, legendary Stan Winston, this movie starred Lance Henriksen, a familiar face from several big genre films of the ’80s (including Near Dark and Aliens), and some generic young victims. Henriksen essays the role of Ed Harley, a farmer and general store owner in a tiny mountain community. When his son is killed by a drunken show-off on a motorcycle, Harley tracks down a backwoods witch called Hagis and asks her to resurrect a local legend – a vengeful demon called Pumpkinhead. She does (after he digs up the beast in a pumpkin patch/graveyard even deeper in the woods), and carnage follows.
I referred to this movie as “old fashioned” for a variety of reasons: the “man-in-suit” practical effects, the Hammer-like feel of the witch’s cabin, and the unrelenting grimness of it all. Harley is the guy we’re supposed to sympathize with, and for a while we do; but once the monster goes after not only the shallow, selfish motorcycle rider who hit the little boy and ran, but also his friends who really tried to help, it’s not as easy. In the end, no one is happy.
Pumpkinhead himself works equally well when he’s kept in the shadows, as Winston does at first, and when we get lots of looks at him toward the climax. Credit not only the design of the creature but the job done by Alex Woodruff Jr., the man in the suit who brings real malice to the creature through his movements. Having this creature fully realized rather than a CGI creation added in later makes a huge difference.
The story is nothing new, and the acting, for the most part, is nothing special. But the great sets, the terrific design and execution of the monster, and some good directorial choices by Winston make this one a winner.
October 3, 2008
My first full-length fright flick this month is John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness.
I recalled bits and pieces of this movie, but I honestly don’t know if my memories come from seeing the movie before or from reading about it in Fangoria. Either way, I went into this viewing pretty fresh. Overall, it was what I’ve come to expect from Carpenter – some interesting ideas, some genuine tension, but a letdown in the end.
Carpenter puts forth some heady stuff regarding the nature of good and evil, faith and religion. But it’s as if he couldn’t decide what kind of movie he was making here – philosophical horror think-piece, or slasher film? Mixed in with the theories about particles, anti-particles and mirror images are throat slashings, beetles and vacant-eyed zombies. In the end, evil is defeated with a fire ax.
There’s a lot here reminiscent of Carpenter’s classic Halloween, particularly in the way the “zombies” act after they become infected. They appear in and out of frame, silently and expressionlessly stalking their pray – much like boogeyman Michael Myers. And it doesn’t help that Dr. Loomis himself, Donald Pleasance, is here, this time as a priest trying to come to grips with new facts about his faith.
Carpenter’s made some real dreck over the years, but this isn’t among them. I’d put it third behind Halloween and The Thing – a very distant third. Not bad, but next time I think I’ll remember enough that I won’t need to revisit it.
October 2, 2008
There was a time when horror was a television staple. You had anthology series such as Tales From The Darkside, new versions of old favorites like The Twilight Zone, and movie carry-overs such Freddy’s Nightmares and the Jason-less Friday the 13th The Series.
The F13 series followed a monster-of-the-week formula with a simple framing device: two cousins inherit an antique shop which specializes in cursed curios. The setup has the two tracking down a different item each week, making way for plenty of different supernatural situations.
After years spent as a staple of the bootleg market, the series is finally getting a legitimate DVD release. The last time I saw these were when they were broadcast; I remember it being pretty good for network TV. We’ll see how it holds up, starting with the pilot, “Inheritance.”
“Inheritance” sets up the series in quick fashion – we get a taste of what the antique shop is about, and we meet cousins Mickie and Ryan, as well as their soon-to-be-mentor, Jack. The two are quickly plunged into pursuit of their first cursed object, a doll with a killer attitude that was given to a child named Mary (played by a young Sarah Polley, who would survive her brush with Chucky Lite only to face down zombies in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead). The doll, a porcelain number with bone-white face and black eyes, is genuinely creepy, and there’s a surprisingly graphic throat slashing early in the episode. The acting is a cut above most television genre fare of the time (especially Freddy’s Nightmares), and the production values are fairly decent.
I’ll be progressing through the series throughout the month – we’ll see, now that the setup is out of the way, what, if any, surprises the show has in store.
October 1, 2008
The three-month stretch at the end of the year is always my favorite. Cool weather comes, with cold not far behind it. Football (college and pro) is going strong. And my favorite holidays are just around the corner.
First up is my favorite: Halloween. This holiday, more than any other, draws out the kid in me. Maybe that’s because as a kid I spent a lot of time watching scary movies and reading (and making up) scary stories. And I’ll be doing the same this year.
Another website I frequent is running a “13 Horror Movies In October” challenge. The goal is to watch 13 or more scary movies during the month. A lot of the participants will watch way more than that; I’ll be lucky to hit 13. But I’ve rooted around in the movie stacks at home and loaded up the Netflix queue, so I’ll have plenty of stuff to choose from over the next several weeks.
Some of the titles in consideration are:
Mother of Tears
Prince of Darkness
Tomb of the Blind Dead
Evil Dead II
Dracula A.D. 1972
C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers)
Nightmare Before Christmas
I’ll mix in some of the usual “classics” as well, including A Nightmare on Elm Street and at least one of the Friday the 13th movies. And, of course, there will be the traditional Halloween Night double feature: It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! and Halloween.
So excuse me over the next month as I get my geek on. I plan to watch a lot of movies that I haven’t seen before, and I’ll probably post a brief review of each them here.
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for the list, drop me a comment here.