Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Movie Reivew: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

It's been 13 years since the classic 1974 original, so Toby Hooper and crew decided to make a sequel but with a slightly different direction. I don't like it when certain horror movie franchises changes the serious tone of the first movie but then turn it into a horror-comedy venture for the sequels. The only good example of this is Evil dead 2 and 3.
So when I first watched this, it was just a weird experience. The tone was just all over the place. It had a good enough story that kept me interested but then the movie veered into something else and that's where I got confused. I'm okay with black comedy in horror, however, the humor just wasn't subtle enough and I wished they kept it more serious. Though since this movie was released in the mid-eighties when slasher movies became a bit campier, there was no point it was going to be dark and disturbing as the original. But later in life, I didn't think it was all that bad though it's still not good either. But overall, it's a pretty entertaining for what it is.
The Story: while working at her local radio station, Vanita "Stretch" Block is being harassed by two idiotic teenage boys, constantly calling her with obscene messages on her hotline. They do this all the while driving down a highway going on a joyride. But all of a sudden, Stretch hears blood-curdling screams of the boys being slaughtered and soon enough the phone calls stop....The next day, Stretch begins to investigate the mysterious deaths and informs Sheriff Boude "Lefty" Enright about the encrypting recording but he later scoffs at her claims but thinking it's a connection to his nephew Franklin's death and the traumatization of his niece Sally, he urges Stretch to play the recording for her next show. Later that night, Stretch plays the recording and unbeknownst to her, the Sawyer family is at her door, craving for new flesh...
The cast was actually quite good and the acting was at least decent. But it's only at the end when everybody gets a little too over the top for their own good.

Caroline Williams is a really solid actress and gave a pretty good performance. Through the strange vibe and bat-shit craziness, Caroline Williams remains serious in her role. Some may say there's nothing special about the character of Stretch, but there is actually. A lot. She is the basis of Men, Women, and Chainsaws, An analysis book by Carol J. Clover (a book I actually own). It explains how different Stretch  is from other final girls, using her wits and strategies in a unique way. In the book it explains that both the killer and the final girl are sexually repressed people, sort of separating themselves from society, Which serves their connection with each other. The difference with Stretch is, is that she's not particularly sexually repressed, rather just a single woman focusing on her career.

Once she is attacked by Leatherface and sees his attraction towards her, she suddenly begins to play up her feminine wiles as if she was a dominatrix of some sort. When I first viewed this, I thought it was kind of weird but now that I read articles and analytical reviews based on this scene it makes sense now. What Stretch is trying to do is use her sexuality in order to survive which haven't been done before in 80's horror film. And through the rest of the movie, she becomes Leatherface's love interest/victim. Instead of Sally who just screams throughout most of the first movie, in the Post-Ripley era, Stretch becomes a much more layered character using her wits and strengths to survive the movie.

And at the end, she is, of course, holding the chainsaw (which is a metaphor for penis) as a trophy.

Dennis Hopper is probably the strongest actor of the film. Him being balls to the wall over the top works as well, matching the movie's tone. He is truly an actor who has a commanding presence, whether the film is good or not.

As for the character of Lefty, yes he's cool and badass but that doesn't mean he has his stupid moments too. And might be slightly crazy as the antagonists are. Okay, for instance, when Stretch is being chased by a truck to the abandoned carnival, turns out the person driving the truck is Lefty. So yeah, why didn't he yell out "hey it's me!" any sooner? Why did he have to chase down Stretch until she fell into the trap? I mean really? Or how about this, he takes his sweet little time trying to destroy the villain's hideout while Stretch is getting possibly tortured and almost killed by the family. I mean seriously is this guy supposed to be the hero of the movie?

But let's move on to the cool moments which is the climatic fight scene between him and the Leatherface clan. He actually go so far as to sacrifice himself along with the in order to save Stretch, so he gains cool points for that.

The Sawyer family this time around is a bit on the cartoony side. The Cook Drayton Sawyer is over-the-top, along without having an indoor voice, Chop-Top (the replacement for the hitchhiker) is even more over-the-top, running around like a bunny rabbit on pep pills, and Leatherface comes off like a naïve teenage boy just learning about sex  and relationships. So yeah, they're not as scary as they were in the first movie.

The problem with Drayton is that he comes off like a Saturday morning kids villain. He's rather too goofy and slapstick to be taken seriously. What was scary about him is that he came off as a nice, normal guy, you would never realized he might be one of the psychos. It was always unexpected. In this version, he's loud, boisterous, and kind of irritating. This was Jim Sideow's last role and does his best that's all I can say but for once I wanted his character to shut up.

Chop-Top is even worse, coming off like a hyper child hooked on sugar. Some would say he's the hitchhiker from the first film but he's actually the TWIN brother of the hitchhiker, he just so happens to be stationed to Vietnam at the time of the first film.

I don't know if Chop-Top is treated as comic relief but it's very evident. You see, I thought the hitchhiker was a very creepy guy and for him to be replaced by this sort of character, it was disappointing. However, Bill Moseley does bring a sort of quirkiness to the role that makes the character somewhat entertaining.

Lastly, we have the ultimate meat basher Leatherface who is now played by an actor named Bill Johnson. Now....Leatherface isn't the big hulking ferocious killer her we always known him to be. Now, he is more than a child-like shell of himself.

Most of his story arc involves him and Stretch. It's kind of a twisted version of Beauty and The Beast, if you look at that way. This interpretation of Leatherface has a sense of nativity to him, being repressed by his family and that's sort of how he falls into Stretch's charms. So there's not much to say about Leatherface other than just being a henchman to his loud, overzealous family, and not the frightening force of nature in the first movie.

There's not only a slight swift in tone, but with the budget as well. I really don't mind this because slasher movies at the time mostly had bigger budgets, however, it's missing that raw visceral edge of the 1974 original. And the simplistic score is now replaced with blaring rock music. Most of the suspense is half-gone really.

 I would like to add the close-up shots of the grandpa's face did sort of creep me out....
and can I say this? The music score is really terrible, it's sounds like a cat play with a synthesizer. Just saying.


But I would say that the gore effects are outrageous, thanks to the mastery of Tom Savini. I guess that' why everybody loves this movie because it's the divine definition of a splatter film. You have skinning, self-mutilation, impalements, and even chainsaw vagina like wounds. It's totally insane.
Now for some trivia:
Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel originally had an idea for a sequel that would feature a town of cannibals, in the vein of 2,000 maniacs called "Beyond The Valley Of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" but never came into fruition. Though if it did, it would be a bloody campy mess.
Horror film critic Joe Bob Briggs was cast in the film and his name is listed in the closing credits but his scenes were edited out in the final version.

In the original screenplay, Stretch was going to be Lefty's daughter and also the cousin of Sally and Franklin of the original.
Out of all the sequels and remakes, this is the only film which follows the same timeline of the original film.
Although the movie was successful in it's theatrical run, it didn't make back the film's budget. Fans, at first, was totally against the film for not staying true to the original and it's rather offbeat feel. But now it has become a cult classic with many favoring this movie than the sequels and remakes after it.
But for me, I'm sort of in-between but I would say it's at least better than the later sequels. However, it's just a fun, silly, campy, over-the-top, bloody horror movie. It's definitely something you could watch late at night. And for a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel, it's surely underrated.
My last word: Although this isn't everybody's kind of movie, it's a fun, popcorn flick none-the-less.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Movie Review: Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch

After the success of the second film, Producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill decided to bring the series into a different direction. So they brought in Tommy Lee Wallace, the producer of the first movie, to write and direct a project which would eventually become Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch.
I think it was how rushed the production was is the reason why people have so many problems with this sequel. The filmmakers started the project a year after Halloween 2, which sort of hyped up audience's expectation that it will yet be another sequel involving Michael Myers. So I think that's how the movie became one of the worst Halloween sequels made.
But what's my opinion on it? Well, I don't think it's all that bad. Don't get me wrong, this movie is filled with flaws and inconsistences. There are many problems I have with this movie but nothing major.
Let me start at the beginning. When I first saw this, I was kind of confused when the title said Halloween 3 but didn't have Michael Myers in it. That's one of my few problems. If the movie was just called Season Of The Witch and would later be associated with the Halloween universe, I think people would be less harsh to it because when the fans watch a Halloween movie they would expect Michael Myers to be in it. So as I watched it, I begin to be very bored by it. I just didn't get into the plot and I thought the whole warlock with killer robots angle was just strange to me. Though, I was only a kid back then. Now looking at it with fresh eyes, I could see that the movie had a lot potential, however, if the writing would've been a bit better this could've been a cult hit.
The Story: On October 23, 1982, shop owner Harry Grimbridge is chased by mysterious figures wearing business suits. He collapses at the gas station while clutching a jack-o-lantern mask. While at the hospital, he is put under the care of Dr. Daniel Challis, while the police investigates the connection between the man and the mask. But meanwhile at the hospital, one of the malicious businessmen kills Harry with his own bare hands. So the next day, Dr. Challis, tries to put two and two together and decides to play amateur detective all the while tagging along Harry's grieving daughter Ellie. The two soon drive off into a weird desolate town from where the mysterious Jack-o-lantern mask was manufactured and runs into an established toymaker Mr. Conal Corchan, owner of the silver shamrock masks company. Once Daniel and Ellie dig deeper and uncover the town's seedy origins, the plot thickens and the silver shamrock company has a much more sinister plan beneath their grip.

The majority of the cast was great, especially given the strong performances of Tom Atkins and Dan 'O Herhily. I like how it focuses on everyday normal people instead of your usual horror movie stock characters. And I like how in horror movies when regular normal people gets trapped in a extraordinary situation. And that's how a horror movie should work. It's not about people walking into danger, it's about the situation at hand that danger comes to them.

Dr. Dan Challis played by the classically handsome Tom Atkins is a flawed character. He doesn't spend that much time with his kids, he's a bit of boozer, and he's also a notorious womanizer. There's also an indication that he was going to be much "worse" in the script. So it's a good thing that Tom Atkins was cast in the role. He just has that presence of an action hero that makes the character work for him. At first, I didn't know why he was dragged into the plot given that's he just a doctor and if he was an actual police detective it would make much sense. But the circumstances coming from the events at the hospital( the death of Harry Grimbridge, the robot henchman igniting himself in a car) It would make a bit of sense for him to be intrigued by the shamrock plot which also involves his own children who seems obsessed with the toy company's advertisements.

Overall, Tom Atkins is a really good actor and gave a much more down to earth and humble performance. He is a truly an underrated actor. And have I mentioned he has a nice ass?

Ellie Grimbridge played by Stacey Nelkin, on the other hand, does an okay job. I'm not saying she's a bad actress or anything, she just comes off bland for most of the time. As for her character, there really isn't much to talk about.

Sure, she is a plot point but from then on there's not anything for the character to do other than just being a shoe-in love interest.

Speaking of which, I didn't get Dan and Ellie's "supposed" romance, if anything it was nothing more than just a hook up. Not only have they just met each other but given that the girl just lost her father and all of a sudden wants to have sex with a man she doesn't know, is just weird to me. But seeing that Tom Atkins is a handsome man, I don't blame her.

Conal Cochran played by Dan O' Herlihy is probably one of the most scariest villains I've seen in a while. The way he gives his speeches in a cold emotionless manner will give a chill down your spine. he is an example of a corrupt cooperate executive but on a more sinister level, as he is the head of a toy company called Silver Shamrock Cooperation, but it's only a ploy to lure the children to wear the masks which has a chip that denigrates their bodies into mutilated bug infested mess in order to sacrifice for the Celtic figure Samhain.

This villain is probably much more scarier than, dare I say it, Michael Myers. It's only because of how detailed his evil plan is and it all boils down to Dan O' Herlihy. He is just perfect in this type of role because he can smile in your face in one scene and give you the evil eye in another. Even in the final scene of his defeat, it shows that the character isn't afraid of death. This shows how cold and unfeeling the villain is. He is not human or has any remorse on human life whatsoever.

And I would like to add a special note, that it was funny to see Nancy Loomis who was known as the pot-smoking, free-spirited Annie, now playing this uptight suburban mom. Cosmic.
I may not like this movie as a kid but there were certain scenes in this that creep me out.

First there was this scene where one of the townspeople discovers the missing chip from one of the masks, once she picks at it a little, all of sudden a big zap hits her mouth and her face begins to mutate. It's. Batshit. INSANE.

But the one scene that really got me was this one. The death of a child is always unnerving and I really thought this scene was really disturbing. It was just too much to handle. Plus that annoying yet creepy theme song ringing in my ears is very haunting

Speaking of the theme song, I found it to be annoying at first but seeing how the song plays plus the even creepier advertisement to go with it, can actually kill you, it kind of gives you the goosebumps.
But guys, there is one big problem I have with this film. And that is the plot twist involving Ellie.

Okay, it turns out that Ellie is actually an female android. So the purpose of her plan was to seduce Dan and lure him to Conal Cochran? If that the case how did he know of Dan? Or did Conal Cochran and his henchman killed the real Ellie and replace her with a real robot, Stepford wife style? Whatever the case, It still lives a lot of open questions for me and I think this is one of the weakest aspects of the movie.
But there's one thing to make up for the flaws of this movie and that's the atmosphere and the film's musical score, it all adds up to the sense of dread, even at the beginning with a touch of John Carpenter's classic Halloween score tweaked into ominous techno synth.
Now for some trivia:
Jamie Lee Curtis makes an uncredited cameo as a phone operator and as the voice announcer informing the town's curfew.
The whole "witchcraft in the computer age", you can just thank Debra Hill for that.
Dino De Laurentiis didn't like Nigel Kneale's first draft of the script that much and through the course of weeks, there were constant re-writes to the point where Nigel Kneale walked off  the project, later having Tommy Lee Wallace and John Carpenter taking over the writing credits, which explains why I think some of the writing is kind of weak.
This was the last Halloween movie to use the pumpkin introduction, this time with a digital computer screen.
This was Nancy Loomis (or Keyes for that matter) last appearance in a Halloween film before retiring from acting.
The film would mark the last series entry of John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Barry Benardi, and Dan Cundey.
The movie was a box office flop, ranking in 14.4 million dollars less from the two previous movies. It was universally hated by fans and critics, having problems with the weird story plot and the absence of Michael. But what some of you don't know was that John Carpenter was planning an anthology series instead of a franchise involving The Shape.
I feel like if the movie was made years later with time and care, It would've been a much better film. I'm not say this is my favorite movie or anything, I'm sort of in the middle with this. It's not bad but  it's not great either. But at least the creators tried to bring something new to the table. So in the end, this would've been a potential what could've been.
My Last word: It won't hurt to at least give a watch. Whether you like or not, it's your choice.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Movie Review: Halloween 2 (1981)

It was the dawn of the early 80's slasher craze. After the colossal hit that was Halloween, there have been a slew of movies capturing it's success. Friday the 13th, Just Before Dawn, My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, Happy Birthday To Me, He Knows When You're Alone, and even Jamie Lee Curtis' own Prom Night and Terror Train were just a few of the slashers that was released from 1980 to 1981. So it wasn't long until a sequel to the 1978 classic was in the works.
To be honest, this movie is mediocre, practically riding on the coattails of the previous slashers I just mentioned. It still has the essence of the original, but it's not as brilliant. Though I still think it's a nice continuation and probably one of the better Halloween sequels. The first half is just a lot of stuff happening, like a paranoid teenager getting attacked by Michael, Dr. Loomis running frantically trying to catch Michael, and finally Laurie's love interest getting blown away in a car accident. By the second part, this is where the story picks up, although there's not much focus on Laurie and probably too much focus on the hospital staff/victims. It's pretty much your standard slasher flick at the end of the day, although I do find it entertaining than most of that era. Nothing mesmerizing but a good enough watch, no less.
The Story: Halloween Night, 1978, a bruised and unconscious Laurie Strode is taken to the local hospital after surviving her attack from the blood-thirsty Michael Myers. But somehow, somewhere, her attacker is still alive and out there waiting for his next prey. Laurie senses that he might find a way to the hospital. Turns out....Her senses are right. With a frantic, determined Dr. Loomis searching for the vicious night stalker and the unwitting hospital staff at bay, Laurie must find a way to survive the night before Michael strikes.....

The cast is good....Well for what they work with. There is just no character development or anything interesting about the characters, they were just there for the most part.

Jamie Lee Curtis is as good as always but she has literally nothing to do here. Most of her scenes consists of either being bedridden or walking around dazed and confused from sedation.

I wish there was more time with her but unfortunately 26 minutes is all we got. Yes, I said it, 26 minutes. It's a shame really because she's actually top billing I wish there was much more to say about Laurie but there really isn't. Though there is an important plot revelation between Laurie and Michael, in which I will discuss later in this review.

Dr. Loomis is in on the action most of the time, which I appreciate because we have more focus on the character now than the first movie. Donald Pleasance is as good as always and provides the right intensity he has for the role. This time he plays more of an amateur detective uncovering hidden secrets about his long lost patient all the while trying to stop his murderous rampage. Along the way, Nurse Marion, a minor character in the first movie, pays a visit with some encrypting evidence about Michael which is a deep dark family secret....So I appreciate that Dr. Loomis becomes the action hero he's known to be.
I know you guys want to know about the BIG secret (which is not shocking to some of you anymore) but first let's talk about the supporting characters, even though there's really not much to talk about.

First, you have Ms. Alves played by Gloria Gifford, the no-nonsense head nurse who runs the hospital with an iron fist.

 Then you have innocent, shy Nurse Janet played by Ana Alicia who is endlessly paranoid by the media surrounded Michael Myers.

Then you have Nurse Jill played by Tawny Moyers....She's blonde. That's all I 've got.

Here you have the loudmouth, obnoxious Bud played by the smokin' Leo Rossi, who rather goof off and fool around with his girlfriend than care for his patients.

Nurse Karen played Pamela Susan Snoop, maybe a uptight maternity nurse but secretly has a wild side.

And lastly, we have Jimmy Lloyd played by the adorably handsome Lance Guest, who is a pseudo-love interest for Laurie. But there is one problem I have with this character. Yeah, Jimmy is cute and all but given that Laurie is injured and critically traumatized by her ordeal, I just don't think that's the right time to ask for a first date.

And here's Michael, the ultimate boogeyman and Night stalker. Nothing has changed from the first movie. Stuntman Dick Warlock did a good job copying the same robotic inhuman movements that Nick Castle did so masterfully. Even the mask looks the same.

Though the main problem I have with Michael is a certain plot thread that is controversial till this day. You see Michael so happens to have a younger sister, and that younger sister turns out to be Laurie Strode herself. I really don't have a problem with this sudden plot revelation, it's just how it comes out of the blue and how it sort of gives Michael a motive when originally that's not was intended. Since Michael killed his older sister, it now seems that his only targets are his family members and kills anyone who gets in the way. It never really gives much information and it leads to nowhere.
The scenes in here are actually suspenseful. This one scene that got me is where Michael stalks and kills the lone teenage girl, Alice, at her house. It all seems quiet and normal all the while she's talking on the phone with her friend....until paranoia creeps in and then suddenly out of nowhere, Michael stabs and kills her while there's a close-up shot of his face. Just watch it for yourself:

Then there is the chase scene with Laurie which is still very effective as it was in the first one. Just imagine being drugged and dazed and this unstoppable killing machine coming after you. It's got to be a pretty scary situation. I mean I was practically at the edge of my seat.

And yes, like any other horror sequel, the movie is filled with creative kills. It's mostly Michael killing most of the hospital staff with surgical instruments. It seems a little over the top for some, but I think the filmmakers tried to keep things fresh and original since seeing a serial killer with a kitchen knife can be a bit clichéd and boring.
I should give note that although some of you may think this a run-of-the mill slasher, Rick Rosenthal really put his heart into this and wanted to make a true Halloween movie. It definitely shows and I give him much credit for that.
Now for some trivia:
John Carpenter did not find Rick Rosenthal original cut all that scary, so he opted to amp up the film's violence and body count, which explains the random (but well-done) scene of Alice's death, which wasn't in the original script.
Halloween 2 also has an alternate version called the "TV cut", which I've seen many times. There is a scene where Laurie finds Jimmy in the ambulance wither her. Which explains that they would later get married and have Jamie in the later sequels:

Jamie Lee Curtis had to wear a wig to keep in the continuity of the movie and it's quite noticeable, sad to say.
Nancy Loomis has a brief as Annie's corpse and Alice's friend on the phone.
John Carpenter had a hard time coming up with a certain plot twist to expand the movie more, so after six cans of beer and a presumably drunken mindstate, that's when he wrote in the concept of the Laurie/Michael siblings subplot. Yes, you guys it was John Carpenter himself who came up with that.
The film debuted with a 7.4 million dollar opening weekend. A good opening  but not as colossal as the first. The critics savaged the movie calling it "another mindless slasher." Sure  you could call it that but it still doesn't deviate from being a true Halloween sequel. Though it is somewhat flawed and drags most of the time, I still think it's an enjoyable movie with it's great suspense and action-packed finale.
My Last Word: It may not capture the magic of the original but it's still a solid horror sequel.