Terror Trailers: Happy Halloween!

People love their genre franchises. Jason. Freddy. Chucky. Jigsaw. People love monsters- they love being scared.

I’m not scared of monsters.

People scare me.

First time I ever saw this movie it blew me the fuck away. I’d already seen plenty of horror movies, but I’d never seen anything that captured quite the…

You know, it is hard to say what makes TCM work so well. It isn’t the director- god bless ’em- I mean, Tobe Hooper has made some terribly unscary movies. There is just something about it.

You know what it is? Unity. The idea of a single serial killer/stalker/monster: okay, we’ve seen it. Even swarms of vampires/zombies/ghouls: sure, we get it. But people- humans- who are monsters, congregating together? Preying together? Brrrrrr.

The first sequel (also helmed by Hooper) is less of a traditional sequel and more of a “Fuckit, lets have FUN” movie.

It isn’t nearly as effective as the first- it’s aesthetic is great but anyone under the age of 30 is convinced that Rob Zombie invented it- though the performances are fantastic. There just isn’t as much story- what can you do with a combative family of cannibals? How do you make them last?

Of all the horror franchises, I always wanted this one to just work. I want the studio to let the creative types go nuts and introduce a bunch of new characters that they can play with- more than a few of whom are evil fuckers.

After Tobe Hooper tried to end his own franchise, New Line (the house that Freddy Built) bought the rights and tried to reboot the Texas franchise with a couple of great character actors (Viggo Mortenson, Ken Foree, Joe Unger) and a great feel for the “saw” family- but nothing else.

Some years later, original TCM screenwriter Kim Henkel got his hands on the franchise and tried to- well, I’m still not sure what he tried to do. It had something to do with the illuminati and crop circles. It is kind of fuckin’ gonzo.

Then the franchise abated for a spell. Until Platinum Dunes resurrected it.

It isn’t bad- actually, it is pretty solid for what it is. There, I said it.

Now, you WON’T Hear me say anything nice about the prequel to the remake (cuz it is CRAP).

But there is just something about rural folk that kill folk (and eat ’em) that makes me go: “well, that there is scary”.


Terror Trailers: Halloween Countdown- #30

Why should a trailer contain dialogue?

Do you need words? No.

You also need a pulse rifle.

Jesus Christ that trailer is terrifying. And the movie itself is like a master class in building suspense.

My mother has this strong memory of my skipping school to go with her on the Million Women March in Washington DC in the early 90s- I marched along-side her, I think I wanted a sign that said “I was a choice” but my mother was worried that the haters wouldn’t get it…

Regardless, I made the entire march nose buried deep in Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the Alien. You know, the movie about the monster that makes you pregnant when you don’t wanna be? Yeah.

Don’t think I was aware of the social commentary, because I wasn’t; I was just trying to find out what happened to Dallas after the monster grabbed him.

Terror Trailers #29: Halloween Countdown

A lot of ghost stories get stuck with descriptives like “very Henry James” or “With a Jamesian twist”. They all refer, of course, to the famous “The Turn of the Screw”. Quite Jamesian, since he wrote it.

I take my Jamesons with a twist, and my Bushmills straight.

Deborah Kerr, Pamela Franklin, Michael Redgrave, Peter Wyngarde, Martin Stephens.

The Innocents

The trailer is a product of it’s time- but don’t let it fool you, it’s a great spooky movie.

Now, the much touted “Adult Horror Experience” they keep flagging in the trailer, that would be found under a different Jamesian title, maybe Return of the Screw

Terror Trailers #28: a Halloween Countdown!

Isolation is scary. Imagine you were in the middle of nowhere, miles from civilization. And imagine it was a hostile wilderness, or one that often seemed to be hostile.

Isolation is scary- physical, geographical isolation. Obviously, emotional isolation can be terrifying too (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby)- but we’re talking Middle-Of-Nowhere isolation. And not just no signal on the cell… we’re talking there aren’t phones.

In fact, take that education and that modern intelligence and lose that too. You are alone, you are afraid, you are full of misinformation and you are armed.

Nice combination. Meet The Burrowers

I’m often surprised at how few good horror-westerns there are. The problems are that a lot of people associate Westerns with a hokey, “aw shucks” John Wayne sentimentality, or they just get the trappings of the immoral and cynical Spag Westerns and add zombies… this isn’t one of those.

This is a Western- yes, like The Searchers and it proudly shows it’s colors in two scenes that reference the Ford classic. It is a horror film- not cute and self-referential and funny, but trying hard to make you care about characters before having horrible, tragic, sad things happen to them.

It is a post-modern western, it has over a hundred years worth of archetypes to play with. It has an unapologetic look at how a lot of people viewed blacks, women and indians on the frontier. It has an amazing, lived-in performance by William Mapother. It has Clancy Brown and Doug Hutchinson. Despite it being one of these modern, post The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford westerns- as in, it looks fucking incredible, beautifully shot and all and unafraid to take its time- despite that it has a very 1970s feel.

This is a terrific little movie, I enjoyed it immensely and keep thinking about it: my two favorite genres seamlessly combined for the first time in forever.

Trailers of Terror: Halloween Countdown #27

This one- well, maybe you should skip this one. If you have kids.

A young couple- he has a great mustache, she is pregnant- end up on a small island village when they have boat troubles. There are creepy children everywhere… and no parents.

The 70s were a great time for horror films- a lot, and I mean a lot of envelope pushing went on.

I’ve always wondered about this movie and Stephen King’s short story Children of the Corn, because both it and Who Can Kill a Child? appeared in 1977. When I was younger and became aware of this movie, I was all: “Pfft, dirty low-budget Spanish rip-off of the King, man…” and when I was a little older, and all cynical and “cool”, I was all: “Pfft, that poseur King ripped off some badass Spanish flick that MEANT something, man.”

Now, I mostly look back and am just curious. I’m perfectly willing to believe that the similar stories evolved seperately, it happens all the time. I wonder if King saw the movie at some weird second run theater and was all: “GodDAMN! They did it creepier than I did!”

I saw a bootlegged VHS- god knows where it came from- back in the early 90s. It kind of freaked me out- oh, we laughed about the premise, but I think we were more than a little creeped out by it.

Killer Kids are scary- there is no denying that. Part of the fear in this film isn’t in the vicious behavior of the children, it is in the quandry faced by the hero and his pregnant wife: can they fight for their lives against children ranging from 4 to 10 or so? And that is where the title comes from.

The ending – oh, WHAT an ending- is wonderfully twisted, foreboding and eerie as can be.

Netflix has it.

Who Can Kill a Child?

Trailers of Terror: Halloween Countdown (#26)

I love Larry Cohen- I really do. In my opinion, Cohen is the undisputed master of social commentary horror. He always played it straight, no matter how absurd, which makes his movies a lot more funny (intentionally, even!) than a lot of “comedies”. He worked fast, hard, and on miniscule budgets- almost always in New York City- and he tended to cast ahead of the popularity curve and used a lot of actors before they went big.

The Stuff. Are you eating it, or is it eating you?

If I were teaching a class on horror film appreciation, there would be an entire section devoted to Cohen’s work- or, if you will, his stuff.

If you don’t know Cohen’s stuff, or are only familiar with his early Blaxsploitation movies (which are definitely worth visiting) or his recent output (which isn’t bad, but isn’t as jaw-droppingly great as his early work), ake sure you check out his God Told Me Too, Q: The Winged Serpent, It’s Alive and Full Moon High (Courtney, don’t see that last one).

Trailers of Terror: Halloween Countdown (#25)

Halloween is a tricky beast. Not the film franchise- but the holiday itself. What it meant long ago, what it has come to mean, urban legends, crass sexualization, fun costumes and – can you balance all of that in one movie?

Bless him, writer-director Michael Dougherty gives it a college try with his debut feature, Trick ‘r Trear– we watched it last night, for the first time.

Completed in time for an October 2007 release, this darkly comic set of interweaving tales was shelved- repeatedly- but got tons of strong buzz from various film festivals and special screenings. Finally released on DVD, it is a welcome respite from the dreary studio horror that we’ve become used to in the last ten years.

By no means a perfect movie, it is nonetheless a fun little Halloween romp. Brian Cox and Dylan Baker both bring their A-Games, and the rest of the cast doesn’t falter- including a few turns from younger thesps.

I really enjoyed Baker- his monologue on the nature of Halloween is so wonderful, and delivered with a fantastic combination of menace and nostalgia. Anna Paquin is also good as the “shy” girl with a bunch of “Woo!” party girls, hoping to find her “first” guy…

The stories are woven together nicely, with some overlapping moments where various characters pass each other en route to or from their own Halloween destinies- and each vignette has a haunting appearance from the same shabby little figure…

The central figure of the movie’s mythology, the eerie little Trick ‘r Treater listed in the credits as “Sam” (yay!) is a wonderfully creepy design- dirty orange footy pajamas, fingerless gloves, and a burlap mask with button-eyes covering his pumpkin shaped head. The idea of Sam as a sort of mischievous harbinger was exciting to us- though we found the reveal as to how hands-on he/it was to be a let down.

On the one hand, I LOVE a mythology based on rules, especially one where the “monster” has to follow them (or chooses to… hmmm) though I feel like Sam works better in the shadows and background than at the foreground- hopefully, the planned sequel won’t cause the usual over-familiarization of a potentially haunting character.

As well as the creepy little guy, there is a vampire (whose finale/reveal I was disappointed by), werewolves (Courtney must’ve hated it; but I am a HUGE fan of the old-school “wolves in human skin- literally” style monster) and water-logged vengeance-bound dead straight out of an EC Comic- the use of EC style art during the credits helped set the town.

Oh, and we totally loved “Rhonda”, the pumpkin carving girl who understands the “rules” of the holiday.

Overall, fun, worth a look- even if it wasn’t quite the home run we had hoped for.

Trailers of Terror: A Halloween Countdown (#23)

Talk about a polarizing movie…

There seem to be two very loud schools of thought on Ti West’s 80’s throwback House Of The Devil, “OMG SOOO BORING LOLZ” and “This is Smart and Atmospheric and if you want Gore and stupid studio remakes, go watch Rob Zombie’s Hallobortion, you fucking noob”.

I guess, to be fair, if you are used to the high-speed, goretastic contemporary horror films, HOTD is gonna seem pretty boring- and I actually spent a good 30 minutes of it thinking: “Ok, so now is something gonna happen? No? Ok, howzabout now?”

Had I seen this with a good audience, in a theater, I would doubtless be deeply in love with the movie- but I watched it on a rainy afternoon on a loading dock. Is it “scary”? Not really.

Is it unsettling? From time to time.

Does it lovingly craft a mood and milk it for anticipation and build up to a logical, predictable, but absolutely right-for-the-material finale? You betcha.

So really, Ti West has made a movie that makes me incredibly excited to see what he does next. Seriously, this guy is a writer/director whose stuff I want to see A LOT more of.

Visually, it’s perfect: the cinematography, set design, costuming, hair… it captures an era and a style and does so vividly- The movie is set in the early 80s- but why?

Partially, I think, to capitalize on the long memories some of us have of the weird moral panic that was going on, the anti D&D and Heavy Metal condemnations, and those weird trials in SoCal that claimed entire Day Care centers were staffed by Devil Worshiping Child Molesters (seriously, this actually happened, there was Satanic Panic).

But also, I think West is guilty of nostalgic love for the cheapie 80s horror flicks he grew up on. As far as crimes go, this ranks far lower on the “kick his ass” meter than not cleaning up after your dog.

The cast is perfect- Greta Gerwig can seemingly deliver ANY line and make it seem entirely spontaneous and natural and real. No wonder the mumblecore directors all love her. Dee Wallace shows up in a nice cameo. AJ Bowen is solid, as is lead Jocelin Donahue- and it is a tricky roll, since she mostly doesn’t do much until the finale. We watch Donahue’s Samantha wander around a strange house eating pizza, listening to 80s pop, and being a college-aged kid for a good chunk of the movie- but once it gets going, it gets going.

Now, some detractors cry “too-little-too-late” and, “if yer gonna have weird shit happen, it needs to be WEIRD”. Both camps aren’t wrong, but I don’t think West was trying to knock the audiences socks off with the last ten minutes- he wanted the build to be what we remembered, the slow, exquisite build.

Oh, and the REAL stars of the movie: the great Tom Noonan, and the awesome Mary Woronov- oh my, West lets them shine. Nobody can make earnest and awkward more threatening than Noonan- and Woronov can be so nice that you are deeply uncomfortable. I don’t mean the “Oh, have some cookies, dear” like if Bettie White was the bad guy.

Actually, the entire cast is very, very natural- maybe that is what West will do- dare I hope? Make natural, emotionally honest horror movies? Jesus… what a beautiful, scary thought that is.

Trailers of Terror: Halloween Countdown #22

Look, I never said that I’d just do movies from the 60s and 70s (and 80s).

Even I am not unaware of contemporary horror, both good, bad, and cultural garbage.

Behold, Dance Of The Dead

And that ain’t garbage- oh no.

2008’s Dance Of The Dead is a fun little movie. It isn’t mean-spirited, and you can tell that the writer and director genuinely like the characters- and yeah, some of the jokes are obvious, but some of the set-pieces are really inspired and the movie tries hard, and isn’t just “Shawn of the Dead in high school”- it doesn’t always hit it out of the park, but it surely doesn’t strike out.

I know nothing about football- that was a football metaphor, right?

My Sister In Law will complain about a flick having “Caricatures, not Characters”- and I agree with her. Except with this flick, they aren’t caricatures, they are archetypes: the nice guy, the hot geek girl, the heavily armed redneck recidivist senior (and a handful more) and they are all wonderfully played by some young, “who was that guy?” low budget and indie actors- Randy McDowell and the awesome Justin Welborn are stand-outs in a solid, funny cast.

If you aren’t entirely burned out on zombies, this is a fun movie to catch when you are looking for some light entertainment.