Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

Thanks for reading everyone, I try my best to help people find movies and other things they'll enjoy. Hopefully next year I can include a wider variety of stuff like video games or something. Here's some stuff I thought might be helpful for Halloween. 

Lore Podcast

I don't listen to podcasts very often but I fell in love with Lore. Each episode is about a real-life scary story and the truth behind it. Almost like listening to that show Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, only without the fiction. Definitely check this out:

Horror Shorts

There's no shortage of creepypasta and other scary stuff to check out online. Here's a random assortment of shorts:

Selfie from Hell - "A girl's just taking a selfie for her boyfried when something really creepy happens..."

Army of Darkness (1992)

Army of Darkness (USA, 1992) - Color, Director(s): Sam Raimi
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 15]
Approx. 81 min.

Z-rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Cheese Factor: 3 out of 5 stars

Following the end of Evil Dead II where they successfully open the portal to send the evil away, Ash is hurled back in time to the Middle Ages. Once again, the ending doesn't match up with the opening to the sequel. After arriving in the past, he kills a Deadite and all the knights hail the prophesied hero from the sky. At the beginning of Army of Darkness, Ash is in chains as a slave and has to prove himself to the people which isn't too hard when you've got a chainsaw arm and a boomstick. Sam Raimi had already directed the financially successful Darkman by this time and had a production deal with Universal Studios, which gave this film a significantly higher budget the previous two. The film was dedicated to Irvin Shapiro, who passed away during production in 1989. Shapiro was the one who allowed Raimi to screen the first film at the Cannes Film Festival, which drew the support of Stephen King and landed them a distribution deal with New Line Cinemas. Shapiro would also suggest the title of Army of Darkness which was used in place of 'The Medieval Dead' title that Raimi originally wanted.

This shot is actually from Evil Dead 2 but I thought it was funny how that's obviously Ash

As the Promised One, Ash must quest for the Necronomicon in order to get home. Before removing the Necronomicon, Ash must recite the magic words (Klaatu, Barada, Nikto from The Day The Earth Stood Still) but being a goofball, he forgets the words and screws everything up. That's the appeal of Ash, he's an imperfect hero. Sure, sometimes he can be bad ass but he's a relatable everyman who works as a housewares clerk at S-Mart that just happens to also the savior of mankind. While he's not a total idiot, he does make stupid decisions like when lets a book bite his left hand even though he has a new metal hand that can apparently crush goblets.

"Fuck yeah! Now let me touch dangerous things with my other hand"

The mirror gag makes a return in this film, eventually leading to a separate entity known as Bad Ash splitting away from him and becoming the main antagonist for the film. When Ash screwed up the words, he unleashed the evil and awakened the titular Army of Darkness that they must defeat in the final battle. I think James Rolfe of Cinemassacre said it best, "Since the days of Ray Harryhausen, stop motion skeletons are always awesome!" I find it interesting that Landmark Entertainment Group attempted to launch a Skeleton Warriors franchise a couple years later complete with comic book and video game tie-ins and a line of action figures. Coincidence?

Army of Darkness has the least horror of the Evil Dead films and is more of a slapstick action comedy mixed with sword-and-sorcery Fantasy elements. You can see the influences of Arthurian legend, Harryhausen films like Jason and the Argonauts and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, and The Three Stooges. The tone of the film is silly, almost to a cartoonish level, with gags like eye poking and sound effects that sound like they came out of a Looney Tunes episode. Ash's double-barreled shotgun consistently fires 3 or more shots. Despite being slightly incompetent, Ash's personality is that of a loud-mouthed wiseass. He's got some endlessly quotable lines of dialogue like "I've got news for you pal, you ain't leadin' but two things, right now: Jack and shit... and Jack left town" and "Hail to the king, baby!" which Duke Nukem rips off lovingly references.

Nudity: None

Gore: Aside from the geyser of blood at the beginning when they toss a guy into the pit, the rest of the movie is relatively bloodless. A radical departure from the gore-fest of the previous films, this one could totally pass for PG-13. There are some great special effects though from the KNB EFX Group with Greg Nicotero.

Awesome: Despite being financially successful at the box office, many people don't appreciate this installment as much as the others. I admit that I didn't much care for this film initially but its definitely grown on me after repeated viewings. In fact, I'm one of those fans who LOVED the over-the-top splatstick gore of Evil Dead 2 and was disappointed to find that Army of Darkness wasn't more of the same. If you watch it as a comedy though, it's a total laugh riot. My favorite part was always the trunk of his car filled with supplies including a bottle of Coca-Cola Classic, an issue of Fangoria, and a Chemistry book. The original ending had Ash oversleeping in the cave and waking up to a post-apocalyptic world but Universal wanted it to end on a brighter note. The most common ending has Ash back in his own time, working at S-Mart. Most of the comics and other media pick up from this timeline. In addition of Freddy and Jason, Ash has had a bunch of crossover adventures in the comics with the likes of Raimi's own Darkman, Re-Animator, Hack/Slash, Xena: Warrior Princess, and even Marvel Zombies.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Evil Dead II (1987)

Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (USA, 1987) - Color, Director(s): Sam Raimi
MPAA Rating: Unrated
[UK: 15]
Approx. 84 min.

Z-rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cheese Factor: 4 out of 5 stars

This is the film most people think of when talking about The Evil Dead franchise. A bigger and better sequel that features more over-the-top gore, slapstick moments, and memorable one-liners. This is also where Ash really comes into his own as the bad ass hero of the franchise with a chainsaw arm and his trusty boomstick. There has been some confusion, even among fans, whether this is truly a sequel or a remake of the first one. Ash burns the book at the end of the first The Evil Dead but this one opens with him driving up to the cabin, finding the book, and playing the recording all over again. Technically, this is both a remake and a sequel. The opening sequence of Ash arriving at the cabin with his girlfriend is just a recap of the events from the original film, he even decapitates her with a shovel again. Originally, the script had all five characters from the first film returning but the others were cut to save time and money. When the unseen force moving through the house pushes Ash through the forest, this is a continuation of the final shot of the first film.

The Evil Dead was originally titled Book of the Dead but Irvin Shapiro, the man responsible for distributing Night of the Living Dead among other famous horror films, suggested Raimi change the title because it made the film sound boring. Raimi's interest in H.P. Lovecraft was the inspiration for the film's original title, which might explain why they immediately establish the name of the book as the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis at the beginning of this film. Ash takes even more abuse this time around as he battles the demons that possess damn near everything including his hand, the cabin, and even inanimate objects like lamps and a mounted deer head.

Things only get worse when the daughter of Professor Knowby, the archaeologist on the tape recorder, comes to the cabin looking for him. At first she assumes that Ash murdered her parents so he gets dumped in the cellar but then the other people she brought with her just serve as fodder for the evil spirits. From there, it's (much) more of the same chaos from the first one only with better effects. Some of the best gags include Ash's reflection jumping out of the mirror and choking him before the camera pulls back to reveal his own hands around his throat, an eyeball flying out of a demon's squished head into someone's mouth, and of course the infamous scene where Ash cuts his own hand off with a chainsaw. In order to stop the spirits, they have to collect missing pages of the Necronomicon and read the correct passages to send them away. This is one of those films that's hard to explain why it's so great, you just have to see it for yourself. Where the first Evil Dead is more of a straight horror, this one perfectly balances the slapstick elements with the ridiculously over-the-top gore and genuinely creepy moments. 

Nudity: None, which is a shame cause Kassie Wesley who played Bobby Joe was smokin' hot. The trees are still up to no good but they don't rape or molest anyone this time around.


Gore: Tons. This is on the same level as Peter Jackson's Braindead a.k.a. Dead Alive as far as splatstick horror comedy goes, although not quite as much fake blood is used. Much of the gore in both films are used for gross-out comedic effect rather than to disturb audiences.

I'll let you guess what's happening here

Awesome: to the MAX! This movie is balls to the walls insane. Raimi's trademark inventive camerawork puts us in the perspective of the unseen evil force moving through the woods and the cabin. We never see what it is but it chases Ash through the cabin at one point. Ash's personality is fleshed out more and he becomes the hero most people know from the comics and video games. There aren't any rules for how the evil spirits possess you and like the first film, the only way to kill anyone possessed is to completely dismember the body. There are some interesting easter eggs like Freddy Krueger's glove can be seen in the tool shed and the basement, this was in response to Wes Craven putting The Evil Dead on TV in A Nightmare On Elm Street. What's interesting about this is easter egg is that the Necronomicon appears briefly in Jason Goes to Hell, where Freddy's glove also pops up at the end and pulls Jason's mask down to Hell. Many years later, there would be talks of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash as a sequel to Freddy vs. Jason. The movie fell through but fans would eventually get to see the three horror icons face-off in the comics. Overall, this is my favorite film in the franchise but all of them are worth a look if you haven't seen them. There's a reason this franchise remains so popular among fans.

Check out the trailer here:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead (USA, 1981) - Color, Director(s): Sam Raimi
MPAA Rating: NC-17
[UK: 18]
Approx. 85 min.

Z-rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Cheese Factor: 1 out of 5 stars

Ah, Evil Dead. What can I say about this movie that hasn't already been said? This low budget horror flick is almost legendary in its cult status, yet is often considered to be one of the greatest horror movies as well. Infusing elements of black comedy with shocking splatter effects supported by innovative camerawork helped build an intensely frightening horror film that is still fun to watch. Director Sam Raimi, unconcerned with censorship, made it as violent and gruesome as possible which led to an X-rating despite lacking any pornographic content. In the UK, the film was labeled a "video nasty" but was never outright banned. At its premiere, Sam Raimi went all out and hired ambulances as part of a William Castle-esque gimmick to promote the film which had a surprisingly large turnout. This resulted in Raimi deciding to tour the film to build hype and eventually screening it at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, where horror author Stephen King was in attendance. King was extremely impressed by the film and gave it rave reviews, calling it the "most ferociously original film of the year", which attracted the attention of critics and New Line Cinema, who picked up the film for distribution.

The isolated setting of a cabin in the woods is still referenced in movies today like... well, The Cabin in the Woods. Five college students on Spring Break find the 'Naturom Demonto', roughly translated to the 'Book of the Dead', along with a recording of incantations that release demonic spirits being read aloud. This movie goes more for a creepy and atmospheric feel than its over-the-top splatstick sequel (No, I did not misspell 'slapstick'). Most people probably think of Bruce Campbell's character Ash as a one-liner spewing bad ass but he doesn't actually start out that way. In fact, there are a couple times he's pinned under shelves that look so flimsy IKEA would reject them for inferior quality and his buddy had to save his ass. Regardless, anyone who's possessed can only be killed through bodily dismemberment and both male protagonists share in the dirty work. There's a great scene with Ash holding a chainsaw over his girlfriend, debating whether or not to chop her body up into pieces. Another of the girls wanders out into the woods and is raped by a tree! (There's a subtle reference to this scene in The Cabin in the Woods when they're placing bets on how people will die, Angry Molesting Tree is on the board)

Nudity: One breast is visible for a couple seconds

Gore: Plenty. We've got dismemberment with an axe, impalement with ancient daggers, decapitation with a shovel, and a particularly cringeworthy scene involving an ankle and a #2 pencil. As Joe Bob Briggs put it, "hands, arms, legs, and of course... heads will roll!"

Awesome: Very. The Evil Dead trilogy are probably the most famous cult films of all time. They made Bruce Campbell a cult icon and spawned a franchise of films including a remake, video games, comic books, merchandise, and even an off-Broadway musical. If you've never seen it before, now's the best time to do so. Even if you've seen it before, the new Ash vs. Evil Dead series premieres on Starz this Halloween at 9P and it's a good time to revisit the original films in preparation for the new series! Here's the trailer for the series:

Check out the trailer for the original film here:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dead Silence (2007)

Dead Silence (USA, 2007) - Color, Director(s): James Wan
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 15]
Approx. 89 min.

Z-rating: 3 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

With all the evil doll movies coming out lately, this seemed like an appropriate time to review this movie. Between Curse of Chucky, the Annabelle spin-off of The Conjuring, Slappy from the Goosebumps movie, and next year's The Inhabitant a.k.a. The Boy, creepy dolls seem to be making a comeback. Director James Wan proved himself to be a tour de force in the Horror genre after knocking it out of the park with The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2 in 2013. Wan is perhaps best known for creating the Saw franchise along with writer Leigh Whannell, with Wan only directing the first installment before taking an executive producer role for the remaining films. In 2007, Wan would once again team with Whannell for Dead Silence which received mostly negative reviews from critics and was barely able to earn back its production cost at the box office. You rarely hear this movie mentioned in the same breath as the others and it's almost as if everyone wants to sweep it under the rug like a dirty secret. But is it really that bad?

The movie opens with the origin of the word 'ventriloquist' followed by a haunting music box-like score playing over the intro credits, effectively setting a creepy atmosphere. Cut to a couple, Jamie and Lisa Ashen, who receive a mysterious package containing an old ventriloquist dummy. They comment on an old urban legend from their hometown before Jamie heads out to pick up some Chinese take out.

Seriously? Ka Ka Seafood? Whatever you do, don't eat at Yummy Du Du down the street!

While he's out, Lisa plays around with the puppet before getting creeped-out and covers it with a sheet. (anyone that watches horror movies knows this is definitely a bad idea!) Suddenly everything goes silent, from the whistling kettle to the clock, signifying that something bad is about to happen. She's attacked by the sheet covering the dummy, the camera shakes violently as if the person holding it was having a seizure, and the sound effects imply she's being attacked with a knife or blade. When the camera finally stops shaking, something knocks her 10-feet across the room like she got kicked by Bruce Lee's ghost. After coughing up a pool of blood, she's dragged screaming back into the bedroom. There weren't any cuts resulting from the knife sounds, so I can only assume that nothing was actually happening when the camera was shaking and the only damage she took was from the dragon kick. Jamie comes back to find her with Ring-face and her tongue ripped out. The police obviously suspect Jamie but he believes the answers are related to the urban legend from his hometown.

So the story goes that Mary Shaw was a famous ventriloquist who was heckled during a performance by a little boy claiming to see her lips moving. Although it's never explained whether the dummy was actually possessed and it was offended or she personally took offense to the accusation but the little boy disappeared. A few weeks later, Mary Shaw was murdered and she asked to be buried with all 101 of her dolls. Mary's final request was to be turned into a doll herself and after she was buried, "death plagued the town." Whenever she appears, everything gets silent like someone hit mute and she'll rip out your tongue if you scream. She can also steal your voice and pretend to be you. Basically, everyone could survive if they just shut the hell up. I will admit the movie is filled with clichés but it sets a wonderfully creepy atmosphere. A hearse pulling up on a foggy night, a crazy old lady has important information but gets pulled away before she can pass it on, walking through a foggy cemetery at night, cobwebs everywhere, spirits passing by in the mirror, doors closing behind someone, and the "we don't say her name around here" cliché. They're all here, even a clown puppet for good measure! Call me old-fashioned but a fog machine at the cemetery is the perfect setting for ANY horror movie. That's something I don't think I could ever tire of seeing. Easter Egg: The puppet, also named "Billy", from Saw can be seen on the ground near all the other puppets. 

Nudity: None.

Gore: There are a couple scenes with some blood, the aftermath of the tongue ripping is shown (with Ring-face!), and some people are hollowed out and turned into puppets. Actually a pretty tame movie overall and didn't really deserve an R-rating

Awesome: Alright... this isn't the most original movie, but it feels like a horror movie. In fact, Mary Shaw's origins are similar to that of Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. She's a child murderer who was killed by the parents of Ravens Fair and now the children are paying for their sins. Shaw even has her own poem like Freddy's nursery rhyme:

"Beware the stare of Mary Shaw,
She had no children, only dolls.
And if you see her in your dreams,
Be sure you never, ever scream."

(Although I like the one from the trailers better!) In fact, her story technically makes a little more sense than Freddy's because she's a spirit that possesses her own ventriloquist dummies. Freddy was a child molester and after being burned alive, he can haunt your dreams because reasons? I'm not trying to sell anyone on how groundbreaking this movie was or praise it as an underrated gem. I just think this movie is often overlooked because it didn't perform as well in theaters and has less-than-spectacular reviews. Just because it uses clichés, that doesn't mean the movie is ineffective. The reason they're clichés to begin with is because they worked so well at one point that everyone started using them. And I don't think they're unaware of how old-fashioned it may seem because at the beginning of the movie, they use the old black-and-white Universal logo as if they were letting audiences know they're in for some old school horror. Fog machines, cemeteries, cobwebs, creepy dolls, all of those things represent horror and even Halloween to me. While it might not stand out as anything special right now, I think this is a future cult film. This movie also has Donnie Wahlberg instead of Mark and he's constantly shaving for no damn reason. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Howling (1981)

The Howling (USA, 1981) - Color, Director(s): Joe Dante
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 91 min.

Z-rating: 3 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

Although werewolves may seem like a pretty mainstream movie monster nowadays it wasn't too long ago when, with the exception of maybe Universal's Wolf Man, they were typically reserved for lower end B-movies. That forever changed in 1981 when a trifecta of werewolf movies would cement them in popular culture. Beginning first with The Howling from director Joe Dante (Gremlins), followed by Wolfen, and finally John Landis' An American Werewolf in London. The highlight of any werewolf movie is a solid transformation scene and advances in special effects allowed these movies to really stand out. Rick Baker was originally handling the special effects but left to work on An American Werewolf in London, leaving Rob Bottin in charge. Both films would be praised for their spectacular makeup effects and go on to gain a strong cult following. The Howling even spawned a franchise that added seven sequels. That's crazy considering if you went back and checked out the promotional material, even in the poster above, they tried to avoid any mention of it being a werewolf movie at all because Dante was afraid audiences would think it seemed old-fashioned.

Dee Wallace (The Hills Have Eyes, The Lords of Salem) plays Karen White, an LA news anchor who helps the police lure a psychotic stalker/serial killer by the name of Eddie Quist out to a porno theater in the red light district. Eddie refuses to reveal his face at first but when he finally tells her to turn around, what she sees is so terrifying that her mind immediately blocks it out. Karen is so traumatized by the whole experience that her therapist, Dr. George Waggner, brings her to a secluded retreat known as the Colony, where he treats his patients. After her husband is mysteriously attacked by a wolf, she calls her friend Terry Fisher who had been following up on Eddie Quist's case. Shortly after arriving at the Colony, Terry notices some of the landscape matching photographs taken from Eddie's apartment. The connection to Eddie is more than just coincidence when her investigation reveals a sinister secret hidden by the people living at the Colony.

That pile of bloody fur is a severed werewolf arm in case you're wondering

The Howling is filled with tons of references and "in-jokes" which is typical of Joe Dante's films. Terry and Chris are watching The Wolf Man on TV when Karen calls about her husband Bill getting bitten by a wolf and an old cartoon featuring The Big Bad Wolf is on TV at one point. The names of certain characters are references to other directors of werewolf movies like George Waggner, the director of The Wolf Man. Others include Terry Fisher being a reference to Terrence Fisher (The Curse of the Werewolf), R. William Neill (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man), Freddie Francis (Legend of the Werewolf), Erle Kenton (House of Dracula), Sam Newfield (The Mad Monster), Charles Barton (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), and Lew Landers (The Return of the Vampire). There are plenty of recognizable faces such as James McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Dick Miller, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, and plenty of others. There are even cameo appearances from Forrest Ackerman, founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland, seen with a copy of his magazine and legendary B-movie producer/director Roger Corman.

Ugh... that is the least appetizing burger I've ever seen. And why are coroners always eating in this movies?

Nudity: After meeting Eddie at the porno theater, Karen is forced to watch a video of a topless woman getting raped. There's also a sex scene where we get a glimpse of some full frontal nudity before they turn into cartoon werewolves and bone in the darkness.

Gore: A severed werewolf arm changes back to a human arm, a werewolf gets a face full of acid right after the big transformation scene then shows up later in human-form looking like he just finished making out with a wood chipper, a decapitated cow's head is shown, and various people are attacked by werewolves. Nothing too gory but the special effects are top notch!

Probably the goriest scene in the movie

Awesome: Very. I think the movie had a solid foundation rather than just being a werewolf movie. They specifically mention Guyana in reference to cult leader Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre, the incident which would also serve as inspiration the 2013 film, The Sacrament. You could substitute werewolves with the Devil and have a movie about a Satanic cult. At its core, the story was very much about a cult-like community at the Colony where the people also happened to be werewolves as well. The solid story with the fantastic makeup effects just made for a home run film. In fact, it was the amazing job Joe Dante and producer Michael Finnell did on this movie that landed them the opportunity to make Gremlins.