Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Best of Halloween 2016

I missed my intended Halloween release date, but I also forgot I was going to make this countdown, so I guess that makes it okay. Here are my 10 favorite movies I watched this October.

10. Poltergeist

The first movie we did this Halloween was Wes Craven's The Serpent And The Rainbow, which I had never seen before. This one is one I have seen at least 2 or 3 times, and is often considered something of a horror classic. Does it hold up? It's not one of the most amazing horror movies out there, but in a lot of ways, yes, it really does. One of Tobe Hooper's most popular movies, this isn't as unsettling as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or as fun as its sequel (which is probably my favorite Hooper movie), but the effects and visuals still make it a very memorable experience that is still charming and exciting.

The family dynamic in this movie is as believable as virtually any horror film, which definitely makes you care more about what's going on with the characters once things start to get a little crazy. The son is annoying (also, is it just me, or does he look kind of like Raticate?), but apart from his relatively pointless presence in the movie, the family are likable, and the actors do a good job. But it's definitely Zelda Rubenstein who gets the best material, even though she's only in the movie for like 10 minutes and doesn't actually do much of anything. Seriously, she kind of sucks at her job.

Overall, I don't have many complaints about the way this story was handled, even though it's not the kind of movie I could single out as being an incredible example of how to make an effectively scary movie. But its realistic characters, somewhat ahead-of-its-time special effects, and good blend of fantasy and horror do a good job at keeping you entertained, even if a majority of the scare scenes fall relatively flat. This is a horror movie for younger audiences, but it's still fun to watch as an adult more for the fantasy elements, or even if just because it still looks really good and you can see the influence it's had in the hundreds (if not thousands) of movies that followed it.

9. The Serpent And The Rainbow

I enjoyed it, but it definitely could have been better. Bill Pullman is always just sort of mediocre, and I felt his casting here was slightly off, considering how much fear and psychosis should have gone into this role. Instead, it just seemed like he should be delivering redundant speeches about aliens attacking, or Casper would pop up and it have it turn into a lighthearted treasure hunt. Additionally, you can call me racist if you want, but I found a lot of the Haitian characters hard to differentiate from each other. So much so, that I forgot who were supposed to be the bad guys until they started cracking bones and putting spiders on people's faces. Still, I eventually sorted this stuff out, and this made me feel that a rewatch is definitely in order sometime in the future. Thankfully, we own this on DVD; it's on a collection with Funhouse, Phantasm II, and Ssssssss (arguably the greatest film title in all the land).

When it comes to the look and style of this movie, 90% of what there is to love about this film comes from the atmosphere, tone, and impressive visual effects. For being made in the '80s, I was very pleased with just how believable and well-integrated the practical effects were. Had this movie been made 5 or even 10 years earlier, I doubt this movie would have been nearly as effective in this department. As it stands, this is a really cool looking movie that has aged very well in that regard.

Overall, apart from needing to develop some of the characters a little more and the bizarre casting of Pullman, my biggest issue with the movie comes from the ending itself. Sadly, this movie had the perfect ending, but decided we needed another 5-10 minutes that totally took away from the punch to the groin that this movie could have left us with. I had the chills when the screen went black, and anyone who has seen this movie knows exactly what I'm talking about. Sure, it would have left some things a little more open-ended, but the mystery and terror that would have been left would have easily outweighed the need for a straight forward resolution.

Would I recommend this movie? Absolutely. It isn't the best voodoo movie out there (Angel Heart still probably holds that title for me), but it fills a very specific niche of horror that I feel has gone mostly ignored. It has some shocking and creepy moments, awesome, unflashy effects, and enough new things to offer to keep it from being like anything else I've ever seen.

8. House of Usher

One of several Corman/Price/Poe adaptations, and quite possibly in the top 2-3 most effective.

There's a very Hammer-esque atmosphere to this film that I really enjoyed, most relying on the gothic set design and moody, emotive performances to drive the story along. Vincent Price is always great, and the whole set-up is so mysterious and eerie, it's impossible not be at least slightly intrigued by the goings-on in the history of the characters in the movie. There are so many things left unsaid, it makes for a fun puzzle to try to put together, as well as an interesting character study. Roger Corman generally makes cheesier movies, but this one (along with The Pit And The Pendulum and Masque Of The Red Death) show that the guy knows how to direct a more serious film if he wants to. In fact, I would recommend both of those movies as well, if you're in the mood for some classic '60s macabre horror -- or put on The Raven if you're in the mood for a laugh.

7. Frankenhooker

From the director of Basket Case and Brain Damage, this movie is pretty much everything you could expect from a movie called "Frankenhooker", and then some. This was my first viewing of the film, and I can say without hesitation that it is in fact my favorite of the three.

As a fan of over-the-top cheese, this movie was more than satisfactory. Though Frankenhooker doesn't make her appearance until the last 20-30 minutes, the time leading up to this is well-spent developing the lead character and offering plenty of laughs in the process. This is a surprisingly well-written movie that doesn't just rely solely on its gimmick to be entertaining. The effects, though thoroughly cheesy, work well considering the subject matter. This isn't the best, but it's certainly one of the more fun Frankenstein derived films I've seen.

6. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

I first watched this movie years ago (I would say it's been over a decade), and I wasn't a huge fan of it at the time. I always have been a fan of the old Universal monster movies, so I can't say it's because I was too young to appreciate it, but I honestly found the Spencer Tracy movie more interesting, and the silent version far creepier. But while I haven't rewatched either of those versions in a while, I will say my opinion of the movie has much improved.

Fredric March has become an actor I've learned to appreciate more over time, and watching how effectively he embodies Jekyll and Hyde makes for one of his most impressive performances. First person shots are utilized well, and several of the transition scenes are handled so seamlessly, I'm still impressed by how they were pulled off even after 85 years of technological advancements. The pacing is a little slow and some scenes can become a tad redundant, but this is still one of the most ruthless and disturbing horror movies of the '30s.

5. King Kong Escapes

I may have been amazed and flabbergasted by the Shaw Brothers/Hammer crossover The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires, but I don't think I was prepared for this one. Rankin/Bass, the production company responsible for those stop-motion Christmas specials that everyone loves to poke fun at, teaming up with Toho, the Godzilla company. Just let that sink in.

As could be expected, this movie was a glorious gem of entertainment that cannot go by unseen. I am lucky enough to be the proud owner of a DVD copy of this one, so now I can watch it again and again. This movie feels like the one that "broke" the series, being far more ridiculous than it was probably intended to be. To go into everything that makes this movie so entertaining would take up too much time, so I'll just leave you with this:if you enjoy the sillier side of Godzilla/kaiju movies, don't let this one pass you by. It's so much fun.

4. Race With The Devil

One of the most weirdly overlooked horror movies of the '70s, this one freaked me out as a teenager, and now close to 10 years later, has still managed to stick with me. So I watched it again, and yup, this is a pretty fantastic movie.

It's weird to me how certain movies stand the test of time and how others wind up being lost in the shuffle, excluded from the talk when the subject of "classics" approaches. To me, this movie holds up more than a majority of other more well-regarded '70s horror films, and manages to thrill as an actioner at the same time. One could argue the "turned down the wrong road" setup was nothing special, but it's the way this movie handles it that gives the characters and audience a trapped feeling of complete desperation. This movie is legitimately stressful to watch. You never know who to trust, or what is waiting around the next curve. I honestly can't think of any road movies that terrify me as much as this. So do yourself a favor and seek this one out, it's more than worth your time.

3. In The Mouth Of Madness

Yet another movie that I've already seen before (this was my third time, in fact), but I'm pretty much always up for watching it. There aren't many movies that take the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft's work and translate it so well, but this one really did. Not technically based on any of his books, but still very much in the vein of what his stories were all about.

John Carpenter is one of the great horror filmmakers of all time, and this is among my favorites in his filmography. While this isn't as much straight "horror", the psychological and mysterious elements of the film are what really stand out the best. It builds an unsettling atmosphere and leaves enough up to the imagination to keep your brain from committing lack-of-subtlety suicide. Sam Neill does a solid job, but ultimately just plays Sam Neill. The main female lead is a bit dodgy, but luckily the entire movie surrounding these two is as good as it is. I wouldn't recommend this to people who need everything spelled out for them, but for me, this is the kind of movie that just keeps getting better and better every time.

2. The Return Of The Living Dead

I first watched this movie several years back, and I loved it. So, I decided to make my girlfriend sit through it, and I'm pleased to say it holds up. Really well, in fact. I don't think it would be hyperbolic at all to declare this one of the top 10 greatest zombie movies ever made. And it's not just because of naked Linnea Quigley. If that were all that was required to make a movie great, her entire filmography would be considered top 100 material.

I can't be totally certain of this, but from everything I've read, this is the first to ever use "brains" in a zombie movie. And I mean that by the way the character behave, and for the fact that this is, as far as I'm aware, the first time zombies groan for brains instead of just eating flesh. In Romero's zombie films, they always just eat the flesh of humans, so in spite of the fact that this movie is an off-shoot, it still managed to change the way zombies are seen forever. How cool is that? There's an insane amount of attention to detail in this movie, and the jokes are often very well thought out and clever. It's more fun than it is creepy, which is another thing that this movie helped change about zombie movies. Yeah, it's kind of an underrated classic of the genre, but it seems to have gotten a little bigger of a following over time. Believe me when I say it deserves one.

1. Nosferatu

Probably the 5th or 6th time I've watched this movie, and also the best overall experience I've had with it. I was lucky enough to be able to watch this in an old theater with live organ music accompanying it. Not that it made the movie "better" this time around, because it's already a masterpiece, but it was really awesome watching it in this setting.

I usually try to avoid writing anything about "greatest of all-time" type movies, and though this isn't in my personal top favorites, it's hard to deny this is one of the most important and influential horror movies ever made, as well as being one of the best silent movies ever as well. It's still creepy to this day, one of the best Dracula adaptations around, and an overall fantastic movie in pretty much every way. If you haven't seen it and have an appreciation for film history, particularly horror, this is not one to let slip by.

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