Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Halloween Movie Countdown: #31 - A chatty severed head and a spiked ball from hell...

I used to work in various video stores in Seattle, Boston and New York. For 8 years. Some people go to film school at USC, UCLA or NYU - I was born into white trash so I could never afford such high and mighty schooling. No, I worked in a video store for $7 an hour for years.

And let me tell you, I saw a lot of movies. A LOT of movies. Thousands.

As employees, we would always gleefully put horror movies on the monitors in the stores to freak people out. Over the course of the next month, all of the movies I'll highlight for Halloween were movies which, when played on the TV's, freaked people out every_single_time.

They would gasp and scream and cover their eyes but they would never, ever turn away.

That is my goal in recommending movies to you. I'll only list movies which survived the Video Store Test...

...movies you can't turn away from.

Because life is to fucking short to be wasted on lame ass, boring movies.

On that note...

Stuart Gordon meet Don Coscarelli. Don meet Stuart. What do you two have in common?

You two made four of the sickest, most vile, inventive and truly hysterical horror films of the late 70's and early to mid-80's and...nothing quite as creative since.

You want to scream, cringe, throw popcorn at the TV, gag, hit the pause button and rewind button again and again and again?

Then I dare you to watch these four classic movies back to back. Make it a Halloween weekend marathon. These guys went balls-to-the-wall in a way we simply do not see anymore in movies.

Let's take a look at their minor masterpieces...

When I first saw Re-animator I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The lead actor, the unbelievably peculiar Jeffery Combs, was shockingly funny and horrific at the same time. And the violence! It was stylized, offensive, hysterical and deeply disturbing. My kind of movie!

The movie is very, very, very loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's story Herbert West, Re-animator. But make no mistake - the movie is entirely Stuart Gordon. In France, there was a style of grotesque and violent theater entitled Theater du Grand Guignol. It was all the rage in Paris at the turn of the century. The violence was operatic and shocking. It was obscene but stylized and beautiful...and funny.

The plot of the movie doesn't need to be explained. It's a simple revenge tale.

I mean, please...the text for the poster is:

Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders...

And another one in a dish on his desk...

You get the idea.

What Stuart Gordon did so well in Re-animator is take violence to such a level to make it vile and then absurd, and as he stripped it away, made it revoltingly hysterical.

It would ruin the experience if you've never seen it, but with Combs as his thematic muse, the movie goes into places few American horror movies had (and still don't have the balls to do).

I' m a huge fan of horror movies which are genuinely funny and shocking. These kinds of mixes are hard to find. They're normally from filmmakers who take the story and scenes in a direction where you constantly find yourself covering your mouth and saying, "Oh, no. He didn't do that" but yet find the humor in the grotesque.

A great ride of a movie, Stuart Gordon's Re-animator still stands the test of time as one of the all time great 80's horror movies.

Rent it, but the desserts for after. This one is not an 'eating while watching' flick.

WARNING: As with many of these Halloween recommendations, there are edited and unedited versions of the movies. You must always try to find the unedited version if you can.

Trust me, what Herbert West does with the head on this desk and the naked girl on the's edited out of some versions and you really want to see it. Its so shocking as to not be believed.

The other movie Mr. Gordon made which we used to love playing on the TV's (to the horror of little kids - I know, we were awful) is this little known gem:

This movie is a twisted sexual mind fuck.

Again, Mr. Gordon 'adapted' a short story of H.P. Lovecraft's and gave the lead to his muse, Jeffrey Combs. Together, they plunged into a story involving whips, chains, dildos, monsters that look like dildos, monsters that look like pussies, brain munching, pulsating mind bending machines, monsters which ate women from the inside out and one of the most creatively unsettling engorged pituitary gland in all of American cinema.

Again, to tell you the story is moot - a mad scientist tries to find clues to helping people unlock their deepest desires, but things get out of hand and the result is a bloody mess.

Combs must have been sniffing glue during this one. His scenes are simply unreal. He's manic, channeling some inner demented horror god on caffeine. Some are turned off by his weird 'acting'; I love it and find it the perfect Halloween concoction.

If psych-sexual horror with enough unrated gore to make you upchuck your dinner is you thing, then dive into this hearty dish. It is fairy spectacular.

Now, onto Don Coscarelli's mini-masterpieces -

And his fucked-up sequel:
Unlike Mr. Gordon, Mr. Coscarelli didn't want to give you a fun thrill ride so much as scare the living crap out of you and make you squirm.

And he succeeded.

The original Phantasm came out in 1979 and from the moment it hit the theaters, it was an underground hit. Like a lot of people, I heard about the movie from friends who told me about this amazing Tall Man and a flying ball and yellow blood.

Of course, I had to see it.

The movie is a weird mix of sci-fi and old-fashioned horror scares and one hell of a mean ass demonic ball with spikes. It was a heady mix which worked perfectly. The Tall Man scared the shit out of me and the ball fascinated me.

It's a great, scary Halloween movie with just the right amount of blood, guts and satanic plot holes. The entire thing doesn't really hold together, but the central mystery is pretty good and the special effects for the time were great. And, Coscarelli directed, wrote, edited and shot the movie by himself. True independent filmmaking.

Very cool.

Barbaric, scary and inventive, Phantasm is one of the best and most original horror movies to come out of the late 70's (and Variety posted a story saying a remake is in the works this winter.)

It's about the portal to hell and weird demons chasing two brothers across a barren landscape...blah, blah, blah.

It took ten years for him to make Phantasm 2, but it was well worth the wait. The first one was a big enough of a hit for Universal to give him a big budget and he didn't waste a penny. In the 80's and 90's, Universal put up money for some big, glossy thrillers and horror movies which they don't do anymore. Most of them were clunky, thundering money machines with no energy and soul.

Not Phantasm 2. It fucking ROCKED. It's a balls-to-the-wall action movie and a great, big budgeted horror movie in one.

With more money and lots of time between the first and second movie, Coscarelli crafted a great sequel. He directed and wrote it and the producing was left to others so he could concentrated on making a killer sequel.

The movie starts years after the first and continues the brother's quest to find out how to access the portal to hell, the secret behind the Tall Man and what the demonic, spiked ball is REALLY about.

A very young James LeGros starred in the sequel, as well as his white trash brother and the Tall Man. But the real star of the movie was the ball. Or, I should say three balls.

Fuck me. The balls in this movie were so bad-ass. There is one scene where they burrow into a guys back I can't ruin it. It will destroy the impact.

Suffice to say the scene is inventive and brutal. It's so bloody and sickeningly smart it's more than a bit upsetting Phantasm 3, 4 and 5 sucked. I can't recommend the sequels. You have much better uses of your movie viewing time.

Watching Phantasm and Phantasm 2 back to back would be the perfect Halloween fright fest. Pop these in and watch the evolution of a great horror story.

Until next time...

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Countdown to Halloween Begins...

The year is 1962.
The place is Willowpoint Falls.

No one knows about
what happened
in the school

classroom ten years ago.

Now, in the dead of night,

Frankie Scaroltti, is going
to find out why.

For the next 31 days, until the dawn of Halloween, I'm going to countdown each day by paying homage to 31 of the greatest scary movies of all time (with extras thrown in for good measure).

My list comes from having seen countless 'frightful' movies over the years. I have no idea why, but I've always loved suspense movies (which makes no sense - I'm the most anxious guy I know!).

My love of all things scary runs more to the suspense and thriller side then strict blood and guts horror...but I do appreciate a good gut spilling like anyone else (as long as it's done with wit and style).

Each day I'll highlight one movie I feel is superior in style and substance, and list a few others which are obscure and unknown but worth you time.

Go to the video store.

Turn the lights out and pop some popcorn.

Snuggle up on the couch and get ready to get the living crap scared out of you.

Without further ado, let's start off with a nice old-fashioned ghost story.

Frank LaLoggia's 1988 curiosity, Lady In White...


For me, this movie is like one of those great, old-fashioned ghost stories, but with a nice social commentary in the center. The filmmaker, LaLoggia, has since disappeared off of the film radar. Not sure where the hell he's gone, but he was a talented filmmaker who also made a nifty little 80's thriller called See No Evil.

Lady In White boasts a fantastic original soundtrack that is both inspired and cheeky. The lead actor, Lukas Haas, was a few years fresh from Witness and was ideal for the part. He didn't possess any of the sarcastic and grating style of so many child actors of the time. He was centered and down to earth.

I am LOATHE to tell you much about the story except it's a fun ghost story that is rather lurid and mean spirited - but that's not what makes the movie. What makes the movie is a subplot concerning an old man in the town who is after the character played by Lukas Hass and a cameo by Katherine Helmond during the over-the-top finale which has to be seen to be believed.

The stairs...beware of the stairs!

Cheesy and great, ridiculous and cinematic, touching and well-made...this is the perfect start to your Halloween movie watching.

Give Lady In White a shot and you won't be sorry.

(Extra credit (if you dare)....

If you can find a copy on VHS or set your TIVO to tape it when it comes on late at night, watch The Haunting of Julia aka Full Circle with Mia Farrow, based on the book Julia by Peter Straub. And excellent thriller from the 70's that unfortunately has yet to appear on DVD...and the ending? Dear God...the ending haunted me for years as a child. Superb ghost story AND book.

Many feel The Changeling from director Peter Medak is a great ghost story. It was made in 1980 and had a wonderfully demented George C. Scott in the lead role. While I don't feel the movie as a whole is that good, the suspense does have a very nice build and dear Lord, what director Medak could do with a bouncing ball and a staircase will make you scream bloody murder.

And one cannot forget The Innocents from 1961. A sublime exercise in suspense with poor Deborah Kerr. Much spooker than you'd expect for 1961. It's playing this month on TCM. Tape it!

If you dare...)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

BLU-RAY DVD REVIEW: Disney's EARTH (or, how to enjoy the effects of acid without acting taking the shit)

This is my uncensored opinion of anyone who watches this on Blu-Ray and is not at least partially stunned into emotional submission - you are heartless.

No, no, no. Of course are you are not heartless. That's cruel. However, you may want to get your empathy checked...

I know most people have absolutely no interest in films about nature. I used to be one of those people. I used to think they were so boring. My sister has always been into the glories of nature and how wonderful this planet can be. I was like, How very lesbian of you. Haven't you got a real film to watch?

Then I grew up. And started watching nature shows. I did like some of them, but most were the same shit. Nature is pretty but nature is shit. We are born, we get eaten, we love, we frolic, we die. End of story.

Like I need to pay to see this? I live it every day in NYC.

So it was with great reluctance I rented Earth from the new line of Disneynature films. I really had no great expectations of it. I thought it might be good in Blu-Ray but I didn't hold my breath.

Well, fuck me with a chainsaw. This movie is brilliant. I mean brilliant.

I won't even tell you how the colors on Blu-Ray are like colors I've never, ever seen, not even on a Blu-Ray Pixar disc; I won't tell you how many times I stared at the TV, my mouth hanging open at some of the footage I was seeing; I won't tell you how many times my husband said to me the graphics and footage was so stunning it had to be a digitally animated movie; I won't tell you the feeling of utter awe and wonder and you've got to be kidding me I felt watching this movie.

Yes, the center of the film does sag as there is no real narrative to speak of. The throughline to the story is the earth. That's it. On the land, under the sea, anywhere life exists this film went. There is a structure to the film, but it's mostly geographical with only a few loose story lines batted around and ones which come full circle, but that isn't the reason to see this.

The reason to see this is to see the splendor of nature's amazing power and grace and inspired beauty and to be humbled and grateful you are lucky enough to live on this planet.

The only quibble is Disney loves their soaring music and Mr. James Earl Jones really MUST chill out with his Darth Vader impersonation during his thundering voice over, but not even his over-acting can hurt the stunning visuals.

See this on Blu-Ray. Don't have a player? Find a friend who does. See it.

It's truly amazing.

Mikey Movie Madness - 4.5 overall - minus a .5 due to the silly music and the lack of any real narrative.

Oh, whatever you do, watch the credits at the end for a fun 'making of' reel.

Yours in movie obsession...