Archive for October, 2010

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Posted: October 29, 2010 in Movie Review
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The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Directed By: Wes Craven

Starring: Janus Blythe, Russ Grieve, Virginia Vincent, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier, Dee Wallace-Stone, James Whitworth, Michael Berryman

Sub-genre: Survival, Cannibals

For the younger generation, Wes Craven is the man that brought us Freddy Krueger, Scream and a slate of recent subpar horror genre entries.  Wes Craven’s directorial career actually started with two very gritty, very brutal movies; The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes.  Both have been remade since the 1970’s, and although each remake has its merits, I much prefer the originals.  Craven would make a sequel in 85, which he regretted, and even disowned.  It’s easy to understand why if you have ever suffered your way through it.

We get an early glimpse of the antagonists as an old man who owns a gas station interacts with Ruby, a rather tattered looking girl who wants to trade some “treasures” for food.  We soon find out that Ruby is a member of a family that lives in the hills.  The conversation is broken up by a family pulling into the gas station on their way to California.  As a side trip, they are looking for a silver mine.  Fred, the old man, pleads with them to stay on the main road.

Being a horror flick, the family ignores Fred, and later wrecks their car, leaving them stranded in the middle of the desert, admidst the hills, where we know Ruby and her family lives.  Bob, the father, decides to walk back to the gas station for help while Doug, the son-in-law heads the other direction.  We quickly learn that the family is being watched and a nefarious plan is being hatched for that night.  The family wants the baby, and not to raise as one of their own.  They want the baby for dinner!  Why they would want a baby to eat, and not any of the other family members is beyond me, perhaps it is the meat of choice for Hillbilly Cannibals out there.

The family members, named after Roman Gods (Mercury, Pluto, Mars and Papa Jupiter) are terrifying.  Kudos to the makeup and costume departments and a special mention to Michael Berryman, you are one scary looking man. 

The Hills Have Eyes plays on your fear of hoplessness.  There doesn’t seem to be anything the family can do, as they are stranded in a strange place with no chance of rescue and being picked off by a foe that knows the area.  This fear is escalated when the baby is stolen, especially to those of us that are parents. 

Compared to Last House, The Hills Have Eyes isn’t quit as brutal, but it still ranks up there.  It has the same look and feel as Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that gritty 70s feel that makes you feel like you are at a drive in or some seedy theatre on 42nd Street.  Fans of 70s horror cinema should check this one out.  Skip the sequel, but give the Aja remake a shot as well.

Near Dark (1987)

Posted: October 25, 2010 in Movie Review
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Near Dark (1987)

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: Lance Henricksen, Bill Paxton, Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Jenette Goldstein

Subgenre: Vampires

The late 80s were a good time for vampire flicks.  You had The Lost Boys, Fright Night and this gem, Near Dark.  Kathryn Bigelow, recent Academy Award winner for The Hurt Locker, wanted to make a modern western, but one that differed from standard conventions.  She found that this idea was not all that popular in Hollywood, and that made securing financing almost impossible.  It was suggested to her that they intertwine their western idea within the horror genre, specifically vampires.  It doesn’t happen very often, but somewhere, someone in Hollywood had a great idea.

Near Dark tells the story of Caleb, a bored young cowboy in a small Oklahoma town, as he meets a beautiful drifter who just happens to be a vampire.  Mae resists her urges all night, but eventually bites Caleb, turning him into a fellow bloodsucker.  Caleb realizes this when his skin starts to burn upon sunrise, which is never a good sign.  He is gathered up by an RV with the windows blacked out before he burns to a crisp.

Within the RV, we get to meet the rest of the vampire gang.  Bill Paxton plays his usual over the top character as Severen, easily the most cruel and sociopathic of the gang.  Lance Henriksen delivers yet another dynamite role as Jesse Hooker, the leader of the roving gang of vampires, and a vampire that has been around for quite some time.  We also meet Homer, a “child” vampire that struggles with being so old, yet looking so young, and Diamondback, the matriarch of the group that sports some of the worst hair in cinematic history.

Caleb has no choice but to embrace his new lifestyle, but cannot bring himself to kill, even to save his own life.  Mae takes care of him the best she can, but the other members of the gang are ready to dispatch the freeloader.  Caleb does manage to buy himself some time by saving the group during a daylight raid by the police (even though the police showed up because of him.)

Eventually, Caleb’s father and sister find him and narrowly escape the rest of the gang in a daring dawn retreat.  An all too easy blood transfusion brings Caleb back to humanity and it appears they will live happily ever after.  Obviously it can’t end this easily, as Homer has taken a liking to Sarah, Caleb’s young sister, and wants to make her his eternal companion.  Mae helps distract Caleb while the rest of the gang nabs Sarah.  Caleb is forced to chase them down on horseback and the final showdown is on!

Near Dark blends the western and vampire genres fabulously, and even throws a bit of that 70s biker movie feel in there as well.  It stands as one of the best vampire flicks of the last 30 years or so, and really sticks out as an individual piece as well. John Carpenter mimicked Near Dark’s feel to some degree with Vampires, but was not nearly as dark or romantic.  It is quite the unique addition to the vampire mythos and not something to be passed over by horror fans.

On a side note, I was saddened by the DVD cover for the re-release.  Talk about trying to ride teh coat tails of that glitter infested tween trainwreck Twilight.  The movie is better than that.  Check it out and see.

Braindead/Dead Alive (1992)

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Starring: Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin

Subgenre: Zombies, Gore & Shock, Horror Comedy

Long before Peter Jackson was reeling in awards for his work in Middle Earth, he was bringing us some of the most insane horror movies put to film.  Braindead, or Dead Alive this side of the pond, is easily his most well known (others include Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles).

The prologue of Braindead begins with an expedition to Skull Island in search of the dangerous Sumatran Rat Monkey for an exhibit at the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand.  One of the explorers, who happens to get scratched by the Rat Monkey, is quickly dispatched by the natives, leaving the viewer to only guess what may happen to victimsf the Rat Monkey.

Astute viewers will take note that Skull Island is also the home of King Kong, which Jackson would go on to remake in 2005.  Jackson would also return to this filming location for a scene in Return of the King (I guess New Zealand is only so big).

We are quickly introduced to Lionel and his rather domineering mother and his budding romatic interest, Paquita.  Not alot of time is spent on character development, as you could tell Jackson wanted to get into the action as soon as possible.  While spying on her son and Paquita at the zoo, Mother is bitten by the Rat Monkey, and we finally get to see what happens as she slowly turns into a puss oozing zombie.

Lionel’s attempts to care for his mother become a comedy of errors, and his zombie collection starts to grow as Mother kills a nurse, some hoodlums, and a Priest.  The scene where the Priest is dispatched features the epic line “I kick ass for the Lord!”

Things only get worse when Lionel’s leacherous Uncle Les moves in and decides to throw a party.  The zombies obviously break free from the basement and all Hell breaks lose.  What follows is one of the goriest sequences ever put to film.  The gore is so over the top it is comedic.  This isn’t comparable to flicks like Hostel or Martyrs, which can be painful to watch at times, but some of the shit you see is pretty crazy.  Think animated intestines, a zombie baby, Mother turned into a giant zombie with a gaping womb, and Lionel attacking a room full of zombies with a shoulder mounted lawn-mower.

If you fancy yourself a fan of zombie flicks, Dead Alive is on the must-see list.  Dead Alive is a fun little flick and a great look at the early work of a major Hollywood director.  Peter Jackson’s career path is very similar to Sam Raimi, and I personally would love to see Jackson come back to the horror genre.  Hopefully any return would come off better than Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

Directed by: Anthony Hickox

Starring: Terry Farrell, Paula Marshall, Kevin Bernhardt, Doug Bradley

Subgenre: Demons & Possession

When we last saw Pinhead, he had just been defeated by Channard and become part of a carved pillar (The Pillar of Souls).  Hell on Earth starts with J.P. buying the pillar from a suspicious looking art dealer for his nightclub, The Boiler Room.  We are also introduced to Joey, a young and ambitious reporter who just can’t seem to catch her break; that is until she witnesses a young man getting ripped apart by some very familiar looking hooked chains.  She eventually tracks down Terri, the lone witness to what happened and learns of the Lament Configuration.

Pinhead is resurrected from the pillar thanks to a tasty little morsel from the club and convinces J.P. to bring him more victims.  This is a recurring theme in the Hellraiser movies, the need for victims, either for their flesh and blood, or for their very souls.

We also learn that the current incarnation of Pinhead is even more dangerous than before, as he is no longer under the control of Hell, and is out to create destruction and chaos.  He kills everyone in the club in a rather gruesome onslaught and creates himself some new Cenobite cronies.  It is during this scene that I think the movie went away from what made the Hellraiser movies different than standard horror fare.  A few of the deaths were a bit campy, and the new Cenobites are just too hokey to be demons.  I mean you have a flame throwing bartender carrying a bar shaker, the DJ that shoots deadly CDs out and the camera man with the news camera implanted in his head.  Add in a few misplaced one liners and you have a different formula than the one that led to the success of the first two movies.  It still works to some degree, but in more of a campy, slasher-like way, not in the Hellraiser way.

Joey must find a way to defeat Pinhead, and finds a rather unlikely ally in Eliot Spencer, the British Officer that would become Pinhead.  Apparently, his soul and Pinhead’s are no longer connected.  Joey obviously solves the puzzle box just in time to send Pinhead and the new Cenobites back to Hell, at least until the next installment.

There are far worse movies then Hell on Earth, but there is also a lot of hate out there for the third movie in the franchise as well.  Check it out and see for yourself.  There are a lot of ways that it differs from the previous entries, but we are still talking about Pinhead here.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Director: Tony Randel

Starring: Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham, William Hope, Imogen Boorman, Clare Higgins, Doug Bradley

Subgenre: Demons & Possession

Hellbound takes place shortly after the events of the first film, but not before we get to see just how Pinhead got his unique look.  Kirsty is in the Channard Institute, a mental hospital, after recounting just what happened in her Father’s house (really, you can’t blame them for putting her in the loony bin).  There she meets Dr. Channard and his assistant Kyle MacRae, as well Tiffany, a troubled girl with a knack of solving puzzles.

We quickly learn that Dr. Channard is obsessed with the Lament Configuration and with Hell in general.  He claims possession of the mattress from the first movie and sacrifices some of his patients to bring back Julia, much the same way the Frank was brought back in the first film. 

Channard and Julia bring in Tiffany to open the box, and the gateway to Hell.  Pinhead and his entourage show up, taking Channard back to Hell to join them in the Cenobite ranks.  Now Kirsty must venture into Hell to save Tiffany, and just maybe, her Father.

As they try to escape, there is a confrontation with the Cenobites in which Kirsty weakens them by making them remember that they were once human.  In their weakened state, they are destroyed by Channard.  This could have (and should have) been a massive fight, but Pinhead and the gang went down like a five dollar hooker. Disappointing.   With the Cenobites down for the count, it is up to the ladies to defeat Channard.

As the movie ends, we are treated with the mandatory sequel hook as the some poor moving guy gets liquefied by the mattress, thus producing the pillar that becomes central to the third movie.

Hellbound is a solid sequel, but pales in comparison to the first.  Barker was back to produce, handing over the directorial reins to Tony Randel, who was heavily involved in the first movie.  Randel did a decent job, but I prefer Barker’s directorial vision a bit more. 

I thought, much like everyone else, that Pinhead was defeated much too easily, but at this point the producers still had no idea how hugely popular Pinhead was, and would be become.  They had planned on Julia being the figurehead going forward, and Pinhead being put to rest.  Sounds a lot like the story of Michael Myers. 

While not an absolute “must-see,” Hellbound makes a great double feature with the first Hellraiser.  Enjoy.

Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker

Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Doug Bradley

Subgenre: Demons & Possession

Clive Barker was anointed as the “future of horror” by none other than Stephen King some years ago.  While Barker’s cinematic success has not exactly mirrored his writing success, he has given us a few gems, none brighter (or darker, as it were) than the world of the Lament Configuration and the Cenobites.

Hellraiser was the first of his movies to be based on The Hellbound Heart, and to this day there have been seven sequels with the eighth on the way, as well as the obvious remake.  Honestly, I stopped watching the Hellraiser series when they sent the Cenobites to space (Bloodline).  I have caught bits and pieces here or there, but for my money, I stick to the first two in the series, and unabashedly admit that the third is a guilty pleasure of mine.

The movie centers around two very different brothers, Frank and Larry.  Frank is a dark, dangerous man, looking to push the envelope.  At the very beginning of the movie, he solves the puzzlebox, summoning Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobites.  Frank spends the rest of the movie as a regenerating skinless meat puppet.  Frank’s bitchy wife, Julia, is helping Frank regenerate by seducing victims back to the house. 

On a side note, are there any guys out there that think Julia is at all attractive?  I mean, come on.  She seems to have no problem at all picking up guys at the bar to bring home.  Must be saying something about how easy we are.  Still, I would have to be hammered off my ass to go home with her.

Kirsty, Larry’s daughter, ends up with the puzzle box and also summons the Cenobites, but promises to lead them to Frank in exchange for her soul.  Everyone knows you can’t trust demons, so they obviously go for the two-for-one deal and try to take her as well.  She solves the box just in time to banish them back to Hell.

The real stars of Hellraiser are the Cenobites, decked out in their sadomasochistic inspired outfits.  It shocks some people to realize just how little screen time these monsters actually get.  Pinhead is played masterfully by Doug Bradley.  Bradley has played Pinhead in every Hellraiser film to date, although he will be replaced in the upcoming sequel and/or remake.

Hellraiser is an absolute classic piece of horror cinema, and if you have somehow missed out on the original, see it.  Now.  Put it at the top of your Netflix Queue, order it from Amazon, do whatever it takes, you won’t be sorry.

Welcome to my Nightmare

Posted: October 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

Welcome to my rambling thoughts on the genre that I love, generally delivered with a bit of sarcasm or humor, depending on my mood.  This time of year, I watch what may be deemed as an unhealthy amount of horror movies, so check back often and feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment.