Friday, October 31, 2014

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (USA, 1973) - Color, Director(s): William Friedkin
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 122 min.

Z-rating: 5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

Often called the "scariest movie of all time," The Exorcist is based on the book that's based on the real-life exorcism of a 14-year-old boy. Roland Doe, a pseudonym given to protect the child, was allegedly possessed by the devil and had as many as nine Jesuit priests involved in his exorcism. As an only child, he was particularly close to his Aunt who was a spiritualist and introduced him to the Ouija Board. After she passed away, they began experiencing strange disturbances such as furniture moving and objects levitating across the room. Some believe the child may have attempted to contact his aunt using the Ouija Board. When the child began acting strangely, he was examined by medical and psychiatric professionals who found nothing wrong with the boy. Turning to the church, they got approval and the boy received a number of exorcisms. During one of the failed exorcisms, the boy's hands slipped free of his restraints and used a bed spring to slash the priest's arm. The details of the exorcism vary from one account to the next, some saying that the words "evil" and "hell" appeared on his body. Others say the word "hello" appeared on his chest and the face of the devil appeared on his leg. Scratches, seemingly made by claws, were also said to appear on his body.

This almost never leads to anything good...

The story made it into the papers where it inspired William Peter Blatty to write a novel based on the exorcism, he also wrote the screenplay for this film adaptation. In it, a 12-year-old girl named Regan becomes possessed by the devil after playing with a Ouija Board. Her mother, who is an actress, takes her to doctors and psychiatrists but they are unable find anything wrong with her. At the same time, a priest named Damien Karras is shaken by the loss of his mother and his faith begins to waver. Father Karras is the one who collects evidence of Regan's possession and presents it to the church. The bishop green lights the exorcism and brings in Father Merrin, who has experience with exorcisms. As it turns out, Father Merrin has previously "defeated" Pazuzu, the demon possessing Regan.

Up until the exorcism, we're just watching this innocent little girl plan for her birthday party. The first half takes its time slowly setting up for the second half, things get completely out of control when the exorcism begins. Some things were obviously exaggerated for the movie, for example, I doubt Roland Doe's head turned completely around. In real life, some people suspect that Doe may have either suffered from a mental illness or that he might've been faking the entire possession. In the end, they were able to "successfully" exorcise the child, who supposedly went on to live a normal life. There have been documentaries that explore the story of Roland Doe, In the Grip of Evil is supposed to be a good one.

Nudity: None. Although Regan spouts some really vulgar things while she's possessed like "Let Jesus fuck you!" while repeatedly jamming a crucifix into her crotch. Then she screams "Lick me!" while pushing her mother's face into her bloody crotch. This is one of the most disturbing things in any horror movie ever.

Gore: There isn't much blood or guts but the special effects are really disturbing. Regan's make up is horrific and her head spins around on her body. She vomits on the priests performing the exorcism, which is famously known to be pea soup. The famous spider-walk scene, performed by a contortionist that was suspended by wires, was originally cut from the theatrical release because the wires were visible. In the later home video releases, the wires were digitally removed and the scene was added back into the movie.

Awesome: When I first heard the reputation this movie had for being the "scariest movie ever" I just had to see it for myself. I rented this and watched it with my mom but was disappointed when it didn't scare me so hard that I pooped a duke. I've definitely grown to appreciate this movie since, especially after having seen more films in the genre. Every exorcism film has pretty much tried to copy this movie with limited success. This is still the granddaddy of all exorcism movies, with its chilling atmosphere and haunting special effects. There's no denying the massive impact this film had, everything from Scary Movie 2 to Futurama has paid homage to this film. I know full-grown adults that still refuse to watch it to this day because of how much it traumatized them as a child. The Exorcist (hell)spawned two sequels, one of which was written and directed by William Peter Blatty himself, and two prequels. None of which would even come close to capturing the creepy and truly terrifying imagery of the original. Don't let this movie's reputation build your expectations up too high to where you'll be disappointed though. Just let your guard down and watch this with an open mind. This film will undoubtedly have a stronger effect on those with a religious background but if you believe there's even a slight possibility the devil exists, this movie will chill you to the bone!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Alien (1979)

Alien (USA/UK, 1979) - Color, Director(s): Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 15]
Approx. 117 min.

Z-rating: 4 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

What the hell are all those lights for?

When talking about the Alien franchise, most people think of Aliens, the action-packed sequel by James Cameron. Most of the video games based on the franchise have been shooting games, so it's easy to see where the association comes from. The original is much more of a slow, atmospheric horror that takes its time building up tension. Set designs and special effects are mind-numbingly detailed and look fantastic, even by today's standards. Much of the look is due to the work of H.R. Giger who designed, among many other things, the alien creature. Anyone who's seen enough Roger Corman pictures can tell you that a set can be quickly and cheaply built to look like the interior of a space ship, but they look so realistic here that it's easy to forget you're watching a movie.

We start with the Nostromo, a commercial towing vehicle with a crew of seven people, on its way back to Earth. The crew is awakened from stasis by the ship's computer after it intercepts a transmission of unknown origin from a nearby planetoid. They're ordered by the company to investigate the source of the signal, so they land on the planetoid. A member of the team accidentally gets a face-hugger attached to his... well, face that they can't remove. Every time they try, the tail wraps tighter around his throat. When they try to cut one of its legs off, it bleeds acid that burns through 3 levels of the ship. The crew is stumped about what to do when the thing just falls off and dies. The guy whose face it was on just gets up like nothing happened, so everyone just forgets about it and they have their last meal before returning to stasis. During the meal, something bursts out of his chest and runs off. The crew goes after it but it rapidly grows to over 6 ft. tall and starts killing off the crew one after another.

This movie is often referred to as a slasher in space because the alien creature, eventually dubbed "xenomorphs" in the the sequels, stalks the crew around the spaceship like Jason stalks teenagers through the woods. There are also some false scares like when they think they found the xenomorph using a motion tracker but it turns out to be the cat. Ripley, as the final girl, is the only one who wants to follow protocol when the face-hugger is attached to the guy's face. Ultimately, she's the one who figures out that the company wanted the xenomorph, a "perfect organism" they want to weaponize, brought back even at the expense of the entire crew. 

Hug me, dammit!

Nudity: At the end of the movie, we see Ripley strip down to her panties and an undershirt. The panties are so skimpy that we see some plumber's crack when she leans forward.

Gore: There's the famous chest bursting scene, which is probably the most famous scene of the entire movie. There are also splatters of blood each time someone is killed by the creature. The part where they beat the crap out of the android and all that white, milky stuff comes out doesn't really count.

Awesome: Very. The confined setting creates a suspenseful atmosphere and the crew being so helpless is what makes it terrifying. They aren't prepared to fight this thing and can't use conventional weapons because it bleeds acid. I think this movie is a masterpiece but the action-packed sequel is what really put this franchise on the map. I have to admit that I've always preferred Aliens because it's more exciting and has more than one alien. Even though it's more of an Action/Sci-Fi film, it's still scary as shit to know they were actually prepared to fight these things and still got their ass handed to them. Alien 3 had Ripley on a prison planet where another alien is running amok, killing inmates. Also, she finds out that she has an Alien Queen growing inside of her. Alien Resurrection takes place 200 years later with a Ripley clone. Obviously, they were trying to breed the aliens and end up letting them escape. Eventually, we got two Alien Versus Predator movies that were really lackluster. Much like Freddy vs. Jason, we were promised a crossover between the two franchises for many years. There was a comic book crossover way back in 1989-1990, a bunch of toys were released during the mid-90's, but we didn't get a movie until 2004! Unlike Freddy vs. Jason though, the AVP movies did not live up to expectations and many fans were disappointed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hellrasier (1987)

Hellrasier (UK, 1987) - Color, Director(s): Clive Barker
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 94 min.

Z-rating: 5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

The Lament Configuration

Clive Barker directs this adaptation of his own novel entitled, "The Hellbound Heart." From the very beginning of the film, you know you're in for a hell of ride! A man is shown paying someone off to get his hands on a cube that turns out to be some kind of puzzle box. In the next scene, he's kneeling in a dark room lit only by the candles arranged around him in a ritualistic manner. Once opened, chains with hooks shoot out from the box and tear into his flesh as he cries out in pain. The room is suddenly transformed into a nightmarish torture chamber with chains dangling from the ceiling as creepy, gothic S&M monsters dig through his remains. A mysterious figure picks up and closes the puzzle box and all of it disappears. The entire sequence sets a creepy atmosphere for the rest of the film and is incredibly violent. There's no dialogue except for the exchange over the puzzle box but the visuals paint a powerful picture.

Frank, the man that was killed, has traveled the world in search of the ultimate sensual experience. After having experienced every sexual pleasure known to man, Frank has become jaded and seeks more extreme stimulation. During his travels, he hears rumors about something called the Lament Configuration (the puzzle box) that opens a portal to a dimension of limitless pleasures. The monsters that come through the portal, called Cenobites, are so extreme that they don't differentiate between pain and pleasure. Larry and his wife, Julia, are moving into his mother's old house. During the move, Larry cuts his hand on a nail and bleeds onto the floor of the attic. The blood revives Frank, who was killed at the beginning of the film, but he's not whole yet.

I've talked about regeneration scenes before when I reviewed Child's Play 3 and Jason Voorhees has a good one in Freddy vs. Jason but this may be the best one yet. The blood seeps through the floorboards and we see Frank's heart starts beating underneath the floor. Bones push up through the floor and his brain reforms from a pile of goo, it's one of the most disgusting regeneration scenes ever witnessed. Frank slowly regenerates over time and gets his skin last, so he's walking around with his muscles and intestines exposed. Larry's daughter, Kirsty, manages to get ahold of the puzzle box and releases the Cenobites. Frank has killed her father and taken his skin but Kirsty must now prove that Frank escaped the Cenobites and get out of the house before she is taken herself.

Nudity: We see Julia and Frank fully naked in bed together but no gentials are shown.

Gore: Some of the best I've ever seen. The scenes with the Cenobites are so gruesome, people are torn apart by their hooked chains. The Cenobites are sadomasochistic monsters that modified their bodies in horrific ways to achieve some sick level of pleasure. A lot of the effects still hold up today.

Awesome: to the MAX! This is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, it perfectly blends creepy supernatural elements with being violently gruesome gorefest. This film spawned a series that would eventually become a direct-to-video franchise. The sequel was still decent but the rest of the series strays way off course, eventually going into space and a cyber world within a video game. Doug Bradley's Cenobite is now known as Pinhead and he reprises his role in all of the sequels with the exception of the remake. Most of these sequels do not live up to the original, in fact, the remake was released just to retain the rights to the franchise. Ignoring the sequels, the original is still one of the most truly terrifying and twisted horror movies ever made.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead (Italy/USA, 1978) - Color, Director(s): George A. Romero
MPAA Rating: UR
[UK: 18]
Approx. 127 min.

Z-rating: 5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

Dawn of the Dead? Why Dawn and not Night of the Living Dead? There's absolutely no denying the monumental influence of George A. Romero's classic, Night was the birth of the modern day zombie. Before that, cinemas only featured voodoo zombies but George Romero made them undead flesh eaters. Well, I'm saving Night for something else I'm doing, so I decided to review Dawn instead.

The second film in Romero's legendary Living Dead series, Dawn of the Dead was also a hugely influential film. This was first one in the series to be in color and the first to feature special effects by Tom Savini, this movie became an international sensation. In Italy, where it was released until the alternative title Zombi, it spawned its own Italian spin-off series of zombie movies beginning with Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2. Not to mention influencing a slew of knock offs like Hong Kong's Bio-Zombie and a ton of Italian-made zombie films like Hell of the Living Dead.

Following the outbreak of undead flesh eating corpses in Night of the Living Dead, it has now become a nation-wide epidemic. A couple that works for a TV station plan to escape using the network's helicopter, meanwhile a SWAT team is raiding an apartment building where the tenants are hoarding their dead. Two members of different SWAT teams decide to join the news couple in their escape and the four are off. They fly around for awhile before finding a shopping mall to hole up in while they gather supplies. Some people have interpreted the mall setting as social satire on consumerism but it makes a great setting for a zombie movie. They eventually find a way around the mall through the heating ducts and start the painstaking process of blocking off the entrances. Once everything is finally set up, that's when the real fun begins! They get to run around the mall trying on clothes, playing games at the arcade, and going on an endless shopping spree. For awhile, it seems like the ideal situation, until a biker gang shows up to loot the place and turn everything upside down. Everything the original group worked so hard to build is left in shambles after a matter of minutes.

Nudity: None that I can think of

Gore: This movie features the early work on Tom Savini but any time that Savini is involved, you're pretty much guaranteed a ton of gore. From the very beginning of the movie, you can see how awesome the bite effects look when a zombie bites a woman in the apartment building. There's also an awesome headsplosion effect when one of the SWAT guys goes apeshit and blasts a tenant with his shotgun. Tom Savini is actually in the movie as one of the bikers, he's the one that puts the machete into the zombie's head during the mall raid.

Awesome: to the MAX! George Romero's original Living Dead trilogy are some of the best zombie movies around. You can still see the influence of these movies today. Dead Rising was a game for the Xbox 360 that paid homage specifically to Dawn of the Dead, taking place entirely in a mall during a zombie outbreak. Call of Duty: Black Ops was a first-person shooter that featured a Nazi Zombie mode. In an expansion map pack, George A. Romero himself was featured as a non-playable enemy boss character. Dawn of the Dead is also the only one of the original trilogy to be made successfully remade. The original was followed by Day of the Dead, which also featured Tom Savini's special effects. In fact, it arguably has the best special effects of any zombie movie to date. Zombies have become extremely popular in mainstream with comics, video games, movies, TV shows, events, and merchandise of all kinds devoted to them. All owing George Romero and his original Living Dead movies for inspiring what has become a sub-culture all its own.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (USA, 1982) - Color, Director(s): Tobe Hooper
MPAA Rating: PG
[UK: 15]
Approx. 114 min.

Z-rating: 5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

Fun fact: Did you know the PG-13 rating wasn't introduced until July 1984? That would explain how this movie gets away with a PG rating despite some pretty graphic and intensely frightening scenes. Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is at the helm of this movie that's co-written and co-produced by Steven Spielberg. Due the fact that real skeletons were used as props, it is believed there is a curse associated with these films because a few people involved with this film died prematurely. There's no denying how significant this film's influence has been. The first ever Simpson's Treehouse of Horror ("Bad Dream House") episode makes a couple references to this film, the house was built on an Indian burial ground and the house implodes at the end like the one in this movie. Family Guy had an entire episode dedicated to parodying this movie (Season 4 Episode 26 - "Petergeist"). Troma Entertainment produced a movie called Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead that obviously references this movie, a fast food restaurant is built on top of an Indian burial ground that causes the spirits to manifest as chicken zombies. Scary Movie 2 also makes a few references to this movie.

Craig T. Nelson plays Steven Freeling, a real estate agent whose house was built on top of a cemetery. Now the spirits of the desecrated graves are pissed off. The disturbances start out small like chairs stacking on their own and things moving around by themselves. They actually seem pretty excited about it at first, that is until a tree breaks through the window and takes their son! While the family is busy getting the son down from the tree, their youngest daughter (Carol Anne) is sucked into another dimension through the closet. A team of parapsychologists are called in to investigate. You can tell the movie has a sense of humor when one of them is bragging about how he captured a hot wheels car moving across the floor over a span of seven hours. Craig Nelson opens the door to Carol Anne's room and everything in the room is levitating through the air. Those funny moments lull you into a false sense of security because the next thing you know, a fucking steak is crawls across the kitchen counter and a drumstick that someone was eating is suddenly infested with maggots.

Nudity: None

Gore: There's a scene where one of the paranormal investigators starts ripping his face off and we see chunks of flesh fall into the sink. Even though it's a quick scene, it's pretty disturbing.

Awesome: Very. From what I understand, the premise for this movie was based on the history of Cheesman Park in Denver, Colorado. Originally a cemetery where vagrants and criminals were buried, a crooked undertaker landed a government contract to relocate the graves when they decided to turn it into a park. Instead of ordering new coffins for the bodies, he was ordering child-sized coffins and chopping the bodies into pieces to fit. Sometimes it would take up to three child-sized coffins to fit a body. After the undertaker fled with the money, a lot of bodies were left behind. There are an estimated 2,000 bodies still buried beneath the park. Supernatural occurrences have been reported every since. This is one of the most terrifying supernatural horror movies ever made. I know someone who still refuses to watch this movie to this day because of how much it scared them as a child. Zelda Rubinstein was fantastic as the paranormal medium, she will be greatly missed. There were two sequels and a TV series that followed, none of which were as successful as the original. There's also a reboot in the works, slated for a 2015 release.

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