Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Movie Review: Halloween

This movie is one of my all-time favorite classic horror movies. I know I said that with Friday The  13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street, but this movie pretty much tops it for me. The suspense is spine-tingling, the thrills hit you instantly, and the jump scares are actually done right. This is what I call the ultimate slasher movie to it's finest.
It has all the specific tropes to make a slasher film: The isolated setting, the drug-using promiscuous teenagers, the innocent final girl, the masked silent killer, the old man who knows the truth, etc. Some of these tropes might be cliché now but it blends well with this movie, especially at the time it was made. The simplicity of the directing and the feel of the movie, makes the suburban setting much more authentic, especially once Michael arrives, like an erupting black cloud over a safe and domestic environment. It may not have any blood or guts like any horror fan would crave, but the suspense is so chilling it could turn your skin tight. Build-up, tension, atmosphere and suspense is what makes a horror film. I can say that so many times until anyone gets it. And I'm proud to say this movie does.
So without further ado, I would like to present one of the most successful horror movies of the 70's and a legacy that would change horror forever.

The story: in 1963, Haddonfield, Ill. There is a brutal murder in the Myers home. 17 year old Judith Myers is found naked and bloodied on the floor, being stabbed repeatedly by an unknown assailant. A shocking turn of events soon unravels when the unknown assailant turns out to be her seemingly innocent 6 year old brother, Michael. After spending years in a mental institution and primarily under the care of Psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis, Michael escapes  in a flash, prompting Samuel Loomis to go on a desperate search. Meanwhile, Michael Myers begins his rampage by returning to his hometown and stalking three teenage girls, including the introspective Laurie Strode. As the day goes on into Halloween night and the girls do their usual babysitting duties and other indiscretions, Michael, the shadowy figure who quietly creeps at any moment, will see forth his next prey, satisfying his violent urge to kill.....

The cast is phenomenal. Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, and P.J. Soles are quite the likeable bunch. I just enjoy seeing them together because they actually seem like best friends. It's that connection and chemistry that brings out  the best in the actors. But I would like to introduced to you one of the best of the best in Final Girl history and who paved the way for them ever since:

Laurie Strode played by the enigmatic, charismatic, and the always magnificent Jamie Lee Curtis. She's the one who give Laurie her strength. I mean this woman can act in anything from Comedy, Drama, Action, Fantasy, and especially horror. That's how versatile of an actress she is. The way she portrays Laurie is relatable and captivating. I feel like she was born to play this role. How they build up Laurie is very rich and investing. She's not just some girl who's in the background most of the time and screams and cowers through most of the film, we know her as a person. We identify with her, we relate to her, we feel for her. And that's how you write a heroine in a horror movie. Well, any person who takes a screenwriting class would know that.

She's a typical teenage girl with goals, dreams, and insecurities like the rest of us but in there, somewhere, we see a strong capable heroine who is willing to use her wits to fight for survival. And trust me, Laurie is like the MacGyver of Final Girls. Anyone who could stab an attacker with a knitting needle and make a wire hanger out of a weapon is a true badass in my book. Although Michael is the driving entity of the story, Laurie is the really truly the main character.

Then we have Lynda and Annie. They're you're typical promiscuous, pot-smoking, beer-guzzling teens but what makes them standout is that they're likeable, funny, charismatic, and seem like really good friends. And they're treated with respect unlike most horror movie victims later on in the slasher genre. They're not caricatures, they're characters meaning real people. And it's a shock when you see them die.

Annie is probably my favorite of the two. She's funny, blunt, and a blast to hang around with. Actress Nancy Loomis brings  a lot to the character and I think she did fairly relatable performance. Because, hey, I had friends like that. She's also a character I actually cared about.

Lynda, on the other hand, may come off like a typical blond in a horror film but she had a relatively perky, quirky side to her that was really enjoyable and entertaining. She is known as the "totally" girl because she's use to saying totally a lot which people would find funny and for some annoying. As Laurie would make a name for herself as the first Final Girl, Lynda would make a name for herself as the first valley girl. It has a nice parallel actually.
Here I would gladly introduced to you our hero of the movie:

Dr. Sam Loomis wonderfully played by the legend himself Donald Pleasance. Dr. Loomis is sort of the Van Helsing To Michael's Dracula, going through any lengths to stop the murderous psychopath.

Donald Pleasance gives such a good performance, in fact, he gives a sort of eloquence to the character that makes him much more memorable. The speech he gives about Michael is probably the best performance I've seen in Donald Pleasance's career. Dr. Loomis is like a Shakespeare hero in my mind. Intelligent, brave and willing to stop at nothing to save the people who are in danger, him and Laurie are indeed one of the best characters in this movie.

Now last but not least, here he is, The Shape himself, Michael Myers. There isn't exactly any development about him, which is a good thing. He is a sort of mystery, an entity that hides in the shadows. The way he moves, the way he projects is almost robotic and inhuman.

It all goes back to that pivotal scene where he stabs and kills his sister. Once his parents find him, knife in hand, the look on  his face is almost tragic. It's a blank look of shock, not having any recollection of what he'd done and through the years of maturity and basically having no childhood, his descent into being this evil remorseless serial killer has been set.

He soon becomes this manifestation of the grim reaper. This angel of death that creeps over your every move without knowing. That's what makes Michael Myers such a unique slasher villain.

All the way down to his iconic outfit. but it all goes to the infamous William Shatner mask:

The way the filmmakers mold it into something so eerie and fascinating make this the ultimate slasher movie mask. Yeah, there have been some imitators albeit some lame ones I might say, but this would be at the top of the Halloween memorabilia chain.
However, the one question that boggles everyone's mind is: Why does Michael kill? Well, why do people kill in general. It's the kind of question that could never be answered. That's what makes this movie so different than most slasher movies. It's not some mindless teen horror movie, it's actually a well-crafted psychological story of a man hell-bent on violence. It's something that could be analyzed on a film's studies class, that's how great it is.
What this film also masters is subtly. Subtly is the key, people. There are two scenes that I think are very memorable. First there is the opening scene:

The way it's shot, the way it's handled is very ingenious. You think it's an unknown intruder as you step into the mind of the killer. Once the killer is finally unmasked, it's really shocking. You would never expect a 6 year old to do a brutal murder like that. Though, there is one problem I have with this scene. The parents' reaction is kind of, well....dull. They just stand there for at least a minute, the mom casually putting her hands in her pockets. If the parents reacted in a more realistic way, the scene would've had a more powerful impact.

The second one is Bob's death scene. Once Michael closes in on his prey, he impales him instantly against the wall. He then examines the corpse in a odd, fascinated way. What makes it so creepy is that Michael has a sort of thrill in this, he sees how easily he could murder these people in one second. And that's a pretty scary notion.

Suspense is this movie's specialty. Just I mentioned in these two scenes, the build up to the climax holds up well. The way the camera moves slowly and reels in on a key scene is mastered wonderfully.
Now for some Trivia:
As you all know, the mask is a William Shatner mask. It was clearly inspired by the movie, The Devil's Rain, A 70's B movie he starred in.
The name Laurie Strode came from John Carpenter's first girlfriend.
Dr. Sam Loomis was named after the character in Psycho, the movie in which this inspired from.
Halloween was shot 21 days in the springs. As you can see, there are palm trees in the background and the feeling of the fall season is quite hard to contrast since it's head close to summer.
In the opening scenes, the hands of 6 year old Michael is Producer Debra Hill herself.
John Carpenter plays Annie's boyfriend, never seen but heard on the phone.
Actress Annie Lockhart, From Lassie fame, was the first choice to play Laurie Strode.
The first film in history that the steadicam was used.
It is the fifth scariest film by Entertainment Weekly. And rightfully so.
Halloween grossed over 47 million at the box office making it the most highly successful independent film to date. And through the years it has made it's territory as one of the most classic horror movie of it's time. It should be right beside the classic universal monster movies of the 1930's and 40's. It's that monumental. This movie is also known for creating movie monsters in our generation. It made Jamie Lee Curtis a star and Donald Pleasance a legend. I love everything about this movie. The characters, the acting, the suspense, and especially the classic theme music.
This will forever remain a slasher movie of it's time.
My Last Word: Yes! Go Watch it right now!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Movie Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Wow....This movie is insane....and there were moments in this where I literally cringed. And yeah, these scenes are pretty hard to watch. But let me set the record straight before I dive deep into this review. During the early stages of my blog, I was reviewing the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I sort of said that the original was like any other slasher film. I would like to take account of what I said and take it all back. Sure, Texas Chainsaw is a slasher but it's not a typical slasher at all. It's dirty, grimy, and unsettling to ever be noted as "just a typical slasher." I would think the REMAKE is a typical slasher to me than the original. You see the difference is the remake is more psychological horror where as the original was pure horror at best. And it sure is, this is a grindhouse cult classic that can hit you in way that you can't imagine.
It all boils down to how it's directed and how it's crafted by using every specific detail in each scene by that logic, this is why it is helmed as one of the most creepy and unsettling horror movies of the 70's.

The Story: Sally Hardesty and her friends decide to spend their idyllic summer road trip to visit her grandfather's grave where her old homestead used to be. There have been recent reports of grave-robbing and vandalism, so by the curiosity of Sally and her brother Franklin, they figure out what's what and to see if their grandfather's grave have been tainted. but little do the five friends know, the real terror of what's hiding behind the graves. And a certain skin-wearing, chainsaw-wielding maniac is at play.

There's not really much to say about the main characters. But I would say this, I like how they are portrayed realistically and is treated with much respect than any other modern horror films these days. They're not going on a trip to party, have sex or do or find drugs, they're there to learn and explore one friend's family history. And even though it has a by-the-numbers plot, it makes it interesting that the cast are more into studying and figuring out a landscape than the their own selfish endeavors.

Again, I don't know anything about Sally, but her will to fight for survival is very effective.

we see fear through her eyes and Marilyn Burns genuinely harbors that fear into her character. and judging what she endured on the set, I could definitely tell that is real terror.

From what she experiencing and the mental and physical torture she goes through is what keeps us invested and scared for the character.

Now let's talk about Franklin. Ugh....Why?....He is probably one of the most despicable, annoying character in this movie. He is loud, obnoxious, kind of dumb and a bit of whiner. I was just counting the hours for Leatherface to do the deed. I know the guy is in a wheelchair and it's quite upsetting to see a handicapped person get killed in a horror film, but you can feel Sally's and the audience's annoyance while dealing with this character.
Now let's focus on Leatherface and his insane, cannibalistic family. But mostly Leatherface.

The Hitchhiker chillingly played by Edwin Neal is the more observant and chaotic of three. The moment where he describes "how to make headcheese" in such graphic detail is really unsettling. And how the hitchhiker tells it in such childish glee along with the other weird stuff that he does, would make you think this guy is definitely not sane. He could strike you at any second which makes the character that much creepy.

Drayton Sawyer AKA The Cook played by Jim Siedlow is sort of the leader of the clan and is the "cook". At first,  you may think he's a nice normal guy especially since the group has encountered a couple of creepy locals but once Sally is attacked by Leatherface and is supposedly "saved" by Drayton, you sort of sense that something sinister is going on when Sally inspects the place as the camera slowly close in what's he's cooking in the barbecue. it's pretty suspenseful. When she decides to escape the place, however, it's all too late and Sally is captured under his whim. It's unexpected moments like that that keeps the tension rising in horror films.

Last but not least, we have Bubba Sawyer AKA Leatherface who is the head honcho of the family, doing all the killings, sawing, and skinning to provide for his family. You never see what he does in his secret hideout and maybe you don't need to see it. Just the thought of what horrors he does to these people is enough to make anyone sick.

But as I always do, I would like to talk about the aesthetic of his appearance. And boy, is it a creepy appearance. A mask made of his victims' skin, a raggedy, dirty suit under a bloody apron, and any specific tools including his trusty chainsaw to slaughter his victims. Yeah, he's a pretty scary guy. He doesn't do this on his own though and it's pretty much at the whim of his family, who seem kind of demeaning towards him. He kind of has a mind of child. A disturbed, psychotic child but a child none the less. Killing and mutilating people is all he knows, it what he's born into and that's....kind of sad. Not that I feel any sympathy for him but all in all, it's pretty messed up analogy.
This is known to be one of the most violent, goriest horror movie without showing a drop of blood. Just the implication of it makes it so. There are some pivotal yet violent and disturbing scenes to showcase how brutal this movie is.

First there is Kirk's death scene which is visceral and aggressive. To the build up all down to the bone-crushing sound effects will make you jump out of your seat and squirm at the same time:

Then there's Pam's death scene not so soon after once she discovers a room full of skeletons, some of it from animals but most from humans scrapped from the bone.

The close-up shots of the skeletons and Pam's reaction is a very uneasy, skin-crawling sequence.

But here's the real kicker. When Pam escapes the room, she is instantly captured by Leatherface and is hung on a meat hook from her back while Leatherface prepares to dismember her boyfriend while she watches. It's probably those scenes in horror movies that cut you deep. You always expect the unexpected:

But the dinner table scene is the vilest and horrid of sequences. To the close-up shots of Sally's reaction to the cackling laughs of the crazed cannibals, it's very disturbing and unpleasant and it's too much to just go on any further.

The climax of the movie is possibly the most intense I've seen in a horror film. Just look at the film clip:

The behind the scenes stories is a horror movie of itself. BLOOD, SWEAT and TEARS were put into this and I don't see how the actors even went out alive after this. It's truly horrifying let me tell you. Terri McMillan was actually hung up from meat hook by an apparatus with a nylon cord, causing her a lot of pain. Ouch!
Gunnar Hansen actually had to cut Marilyn Burns' finger when they couldn't get fake blood.
John Dugan was actually a teenager at the time, being put under pounds of makeup that took 36 hours to make. So to endure those agonizing hours, he was drunk through most of the movie shoots.
The actors had to shoot the dinner scene 27 hours straight. With no air conditioning, no venting machine, no fans, no nothing. All this time, they had to breathe in a horrible stinch coming from the dead animals and rotting food all while under a 100 degree heat. So in that scene, the actors were not ACTING crazy, they WERE crazy, hallucinating from the smell.
Franklin's actor was pretty much a pain in the ass in real life.
And lastly there was the climax where Sally is drenched in blood. And yeah, some of that is real blood you guys. Marilyn Burns actually cut herself running through the branches. Wow...just wow.
This movie was so terrifying, in fact, that many people couldn't watch the rest of it in the movie theaters. And it is also named one of the most scariest movies besides The Exorcist.

So there was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A movie so bone-chilling it could make the hair on your skin go up. Of course with a movie like this it was warranted for sequels but not for another 13 years or so. But I just don't see a movie like this need any sequels, maybe one or two should be fine I guess. But all in all, the original frightfest stands on it's own as a highly remembered classic.
Last Word: Yes, go watch it!
This review is also dedicated to the courageous Marilyn Burns who will live on as the slasher film's first final girl.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Halloween Texas Chainsaw Massacre

It's that time of the year. So yet again, we are going to focus on two film franchises that left a mark in horror. Last year, we did the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street series. Now it's the time to review the movies that started it all: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. These are the movies that catapulted the slasher genre. These are my favorite classic horror  movies besides Alien and of course the aforementioned Friday and Nightmare movies. But to be honest you guys, these two movies don't make the best franchises. Yes, some of the sequels are at least watchable and entertaining but MOST of the them are terrible. There is an entertaining factor with the Friday and nightmare sequels, whether or not how good or bad there are, but with some of the Texas Chainsaw and Halloween sequels there pretty hard to watch at times. And no, just like the last time I am not going to showcase the remakes. Maybe at another when I'm ready, and boy do I need to be ready....Just talking about the Halloween remake.....just saying...ugh...I'm even growing headache right now. But anywho, there are three things the two original succeeded at: Subtly, Suspense, and atmosphere. Which are the special key ingredients in a horror film. So feast your eyes on these timeless classics as the night of Halloween creeps by.....

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Movie Reivew: Stage Fright

Guys, I have a confession to make....I used to watch the show Glee. Before you throw in insults and point in laughter, it was at the time the show was really popular and I was still in high school, still watching cheesy teen dramas. Plus, I'm not even into musicals like that. So now that Glee has disintegrated into scrutiny, there is a new genre to uphold: The Horror Musical. Now the only ones I ever heard of was this obscure 1991 B-movie called Nudist Colony Of The Dead and an off-Broadway show called Camp Blood. But now it has come to this, a horror musical titled Stage Fright. and no it's not the remake of the 1987 Giallo classic as some of you like to think. Now some people would say this movie was a middle of the road for them, however, I think it's quite an enjoyable, entertaining movie. Finally! a fun slasher for once. And you know what else? the characters are actually likeable in this movie. Yeah, you have a few jerks here and there but not too much is focused on them and they get killed off rather quickly too. Although, I'm not a fan of musicals, I thought the songs were kind of catchy, matching the flow of the film. And freakin' Meat Loaf is in this! THE Meat loaf. And he sings too! how awesome is that. You also have the lovely Minnie Driver, who I haven't seen in a while. She too has a marvelous singing voice.
So like I said, I enjoyed this movie for what it is and there were times where I genuinely laughed. It's just too much of a fun time to be wasted.
The Story: Ten years after the brutal death of her mother, teenager Camilla Swanson, though still traumatized  by the memory, dreams of following her mother's footsteps. She convinces former producer and current guardian Roger McCall, who is the owner of a musical theater camp that is currently under bankruptcy, to have the lead in a kabuki revival of The Haunting Of The Opera, the Broadway play her mom famously starred in. She gets no support from her brother Buddy, who's the most affected and bitter over their mother's death and has an overall hatred of acting in general. Once the show is in progress, a series of murders start plaguing the upcoming opening night after the death of the stage director. Now that everybody's in a panic, Roger tries desperately to keep the show afloat, ignoring the danger that's about to come. But little does the audience know that this particular night would be a bloody welcome.

The acting was top-notch and the cast is an adorably likeable bunch. You have kids of all ages here and the actors actually look like kids, even though some of them are past the age limit. And yeah, there are your usual jerks in the movie but their selfish actions comes more out of desperation. But at least they're not a jock or a cheerleader. And that is refreshing as hell. That's what I like about the cast, they're not stereotypes, they are just happy go-lucky kids who are passionate about reaching their dreams and goals. That's why I relate to the cast more.

Actress Allie McDonald  gives a very genuine, heartfelt performance as Camilla. You can just tell how honest her portrayal is by the look in her eye.

Camilla's story arc is more like a Disney movie as if it was horror. The character comes across like this little girl lost but suddenly finding her way by harboring a talent in musical theater. I was invested in the character and in the end, you really care about her.

Buddy played by Douglas Smith was also a solid actor. Most of the time, his character comes off as very anti-social and surly but it stems from the fact that his life revolves around acting, which resents to the core. Witnessing the death of his mom at a young age really scarred him emotionally and he's been troubled ever since.

I liked the relationship between him and Camilla. They don't have a clear understanding of one another but all that they have is each other now and Buddy is just trying to look out for her. Being emotionally damaged by the traumatic event is what makes the character sympathetic.

Brandon Uranowitz  was quite funny and charming as the arrogant stage director Artie. You would almost forget how slimy the character is just by the likeability of the actor. Some may think Artie is this slick director who has his way with the ladies but in all honesty, he is just as insecure as everyone else.

Melanie Leishman was really funny as Liz. She comes off like this alpha bitch type but from her end it's mostly out of petty jealous and trying to prove herself. Her comeuppance comes from being humiliated on a live stage, which is more justified than anything.

The gay stage producer (sorry, don't remember his name) is probably one of the more funnier characters in the movie. The actor really gives an enjoyable performance and he has just the right amount of charisma and improve to give the character more flare.

And I just have to mention this adorable hottie. He plays the guy that's not gay (yeah, right) but who's into musicals. I never said this about a guy but he has some good leg work going on. Very nice calves. he says he's not gay but you could totally see he is crushing hard on the gay stage producer. If this was a different movie, I totally would like to see how their relationship would go. Very interesting.

Last but not least, we have the legendary Meat Loaf bringing in a quite hammy performance as the camp owner Mr. McCall. You may think he's this unlikeable, money-grubbing asshole....which he is, but his actions comes from trying to save the camp and trying to accomplish his once failing career. There is a moment where he is willing to risking these kids' lives just to open a live show. Yes, it's a selfish, horrible thing to do but it's more out of desperation than anything.

 How the film is directed is very lush and stylish. I really thought the cinematography was beautiful and the filmmakers put a lot of effort in it. What I like most about the directing is that you feel like you're in two different movies. You have the happy sunny existence of the campers contrast to the dark, angry psyche of the killer.

Speaking of the killer, I like the whole look of him. Sure the whole white mask thing have been done before but I like the artistic choice the filmmakers went with matching the theme of the movie.

There were times where he came off as over-the-top but knowing what type of movie this is, it works. He's sort of an antagonistic villain with a metal-rock edge and it definitely adds some originality to the killer.
Now it has come to this. There is a twist in this movie, I just can't resist to spoil. So guys watch this movie because things are about to get crazy:

Buddy is revealed to be the killer and the reason for his psychotic break is that he witnessed Roger killing his mother in a jealous rage once Roger found out that the mother was having an affair.

Soon he catches Buddy, threatening him and permanently scarring him for life.

Now at this point, Roger is a little nutty himself and after killing Buddy with no remorse, he goes off to the deep end. After he chases Camilla to the shed, she manages to kill Roger, rather graphically, with a buzz saw. So through all the craziness and the hilarious finale, all is well and Camilla reaches her dream of becoming a Broadway star just like her mother was.
*spoilers end*

So I really liked it. I liked how it wasn't just your typical slasher and manages to go a mile away. Finally, a slasher movie with some originality. Maybe over time people could see how enjoyable this movie is. And in the long run, it might be helmed as an underrated classic one day.
My last word: with catchy songs, a likeable cast, and an extremely gory kills, this should be one entertaining popcorn movie.