Friday, November 1, 2013

The HorrorDads Carrie On, And On...

If you're like me, you might be bummed to wake up today to find yourself on the other side of Halloween for another year. To blunt those blues, why not join myself and the rest of the HorrorDads for a lengthy discussion of all things Carrie?

Head HorrorDad Richard Harland Smith recently reassembled the gang - Dennis Cozzalio, Greg Ferrara, Paul Gaita, Nicholas McCarthy, and myself - for a roundtable talk about not just Brian DePalma's 1976 horror hit but also King's novel, the 1999 sequel The Rage: Carrie 2, the 2002 TV miniseries starring Angela Bettis, the new theatrical remake, and Carrie's precursors in film and literature.

It was a discussion so sprawling, it had to be split into two parts.

Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2. Give it a read, won't you?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Prince of Darkness (1987)

Oh, what a trailer this is - what I wouldn't give to see something this promising coming soon to theaters! Also, why can't every trailer have the movie's title smashing through glass at the end?

If they did, I'd see a lot more movies, I'll tell you that!

By now it's probably not fair to describe John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness as underrated as its reputation as one of John Carpenter's finest films seems well established. In 1987 I remember being soooo excited for Carpenter's return to horror. This was the first Carpenter horror film I was able to see in theaters and it did not disappoint.

Released on October 23rd, 1987, this was not the sleeper hit that Halloween had been but it did respectable business and it marked a commercial bounce back for Carpenter.

For me, this is in the very upper ranks of Carpenter's films. I love the mood, the gonzo ideas, the funky, truly ghastly gore, and the amazing score by Carpenter and frequent collaborator Alan Howarth (not as iconic as Halloween's but every bit as good). A great cast here, too, with Carpenter reuniting one last time with both Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong.

Being that it's Halloween and I have many things to do, I don't have time for a long post. Then again, after 31 posts this month I've probably already said too much! To anyone who's stuck around with me this October, I hope it was a kick to spend time reminiscing about the Halloween releases of years past - some of them classics, some of them, ehhh, not so classic, but all were fun to look back on.

Here's hoping for a great crop of new horror next October!

Have a happy and safe Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

The fact that this year marks the 35th anniversary of John Carpenter's Halloween has been just cause for celebration. However, the fact that this year also marks the 25th anniversary of Halloween 4 hasn't gotten nearly as much notice. Subtitled The Return of Michael Myers, this was an effort on the part of Moustapha Akkad to save the series, after the Michael Myers-free Halloween III: Season of the Witch had been roundly rejected.

From a commercial standpoint, going back to basics was an excellent call on Akkad's part and while subsequent entries might've made fans wish that Michael could be permanently retired, 4 was a very good effort all around. For me, it's the pinnacle of the Myers sequels. Director Dwight Little is no John Carpenter but he did an admirable job just the same. The atmosphere is dead on, the suspense is effective, and there's a clear reverence for the original.

Alan McElroy's script picks up where II left off, building on the familial aspects that Carpenter's screenplay introduced in II, but without burdening his screenplay with the kind of mystical mumbo-jumbo that 5 & 6 went for. And the cast is terrific, populated with a set of genuinely likeable young protagonists (why Ellie Cornell's career never took off, I don't get) and topped by the irreplaceable Donald Pleasence.

I'm predisposed to having fond memories of 4 because it was the first installment of the series I was able to see in the theater but I think by any objective standard this remains the gold standard of the series. If they were going to continue the saga of Michael Myers, this showed how to do it right and bringing back Pleasence as Loomis was the real masterstroke. While it would've been easy to leave the character dead, having Loomis miraculously survive an explosion that should've reduced him to ash was the smartest decision anyone involved in this film made, giving it a stamp of legitimacy. As soon as you saw Pleasence ranting about Michael in the trailers and TV spots for this, you knew Halloween was on again.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Halloween II (1981)

It's funny to look at this trailer and remember a time when sequels were still a novelty. Now they're so common but in the early '80s, it was actually something of a surprise when slasher sequels started to arrive because as far as horror goes, sequels were usually reserved for the likes of blockbusters like Jaws, The Omen or The Exorcist.

I hadn't seen the original Halloween by the time II came out but I remember being excited that they made another one as it just seemed like a big deal - and the trailers and TV spots successfully terrified me.

Somehow I had missed seeing much in the way of promotion for Halloween when it was first released. My only exposure to the marketing to that film was through posters and newspaper ads. Really, what creeped me out the most to do with Halloween was the cover of the novelization.

But when Halloween II came out, maybe because it was a heavily hyped major studio release, it was impossible to avoid previews. As a kid, it was the shot of Michael Myers walking down the stairs that really stuck with me for some reason.

The low angle, the way the mask looked, it all just freaked me out.

In some ways, they screwed up Michael's mask in this movie; they just weren't able to recreate the original look but I still like what they came up with. Michael's mask has changed much throughout the course of the Halloween films but I'd rank this look just behind the original's.

Most would say the same about the movie itself but personally I don't think it's the next best Halloween. If anything, I hold something of a grudge against it as I feel like it started the franchise on the road to ruin by making Michael into Laurie's brother and then introducing all the Samhain nonsense. Those developments opened the door to all the ways the series would continue to go wrong.

The ads for Halloween II promised "More Of The Night He Came Home" but as much as I've enjoyed many of the Halloween entries, I think this movie proved that, in the end, sometimes less is more.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Trick or Treat (1986)

Here's a film that could've only been spawned in the '80s, at the height of heavy metal hysteria. Two of the most popular scapegoats parents and authorities turned to when looking to assign blame for bad behavior among teens were heavy metal and horror movies so why not make a horror movie that revolved around heavy metal?

Of course, the problem with Trick or Treat is that it made metal out to be the bad influence that it was accused of being - even going along with that corny old cliché about discovering hidden messages by playing records backwards. So right from the start, Trick or Treat was tone-deaf to the audience it was trying to appeal to.

Released on October 24th, 1986, Trick or Treat failed to make undead rocker Sammi Curr into a household name, even in houses with FANGORIA subscriptions. What the makers of Trick or Treat didn't realize was that in 1986, horror already had a huge rock star on the rise - and his name was Freddy Krueger.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Paranormal Activity (2009)

People often ask whether today's horror movies can ever have the seismic impact of a movie like The Exorcist (1973). In fact, just the other day Badass Digest was asking that exact question in this post.

First, you have to ask if any movie in general could ever have the same impact as movies once did. There are still popular movies today, obviously, that have a "can't miss" quality to them but it's different now. A movie like Gravity is huge by today's standards, most everyone who sees it raves about it, and it's maintaining its hold at the box office but had it been released in the '70s, or even into the '90s, however, it'd be a true phenomenon with lines around the block.

Our culture is just too splintered now for a movie - or, really, I think anything - to be such a focal point anymore. Not only is there so much out there pulling people's attention in different directions but specifically with films, the way we watch them has changed so much. I'm old enough to remember a time before cable and VHS when, if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to the theaters.

When I was a kid, once something like Raiders of the Lost Ark had left the theaters, that was it - you couldn't see it again until it ran on ABC or something. And that would be a few years down the line, pan and scan (not that most knew what to call it then), and cut up with commercials. Even then, that would still rate as a big deal and you knew that on the schoolyard the next day, everyone would have watched it.

Now, if you don't see a movie in the theater, you know you can get through Redbox or Netflix or whatever just a few months down the line. Of course, that's if you haven't downloaded it illegally while the movie's still in theaters. There's more access to movies, from multiple venues, so the need to see them on the big screen and be a part of a cultural moment, is not the factor that it used to be.

Also, even if people were still going to the theater in the same volume they used to, digital projection means that theaters can have multiple screenings in a way that didn't used to be possible. During the '80s, I remember standing in long lines for every single big movie that came out. As much of an imposition as that was, it always made them all seem like true events - every Indiana Jones, every Star Wars, every Star Trek, Ghostbusters, you name it.

That's because my local theater had just one print of a film, maybe two. Usually it'd be one print that would have to be interlocked between two houses so the screenings would be set ten minutes apart so things would always be mobbed for blockbuster films. Today, sold out shows are practically unheard of because if they think a movie's going to be big enough it's booked into four or five houses with showings spaced every half hour or forty five minutes.

But back to horror - can a movie still wipe people out like The Exorcist did? Eh, yes and no. The reasons why it's tougher for a movie to have that kind of impact are multifold. One, someone has to actually make a movie as good as The Exorcist and that happens very, very rarely. Two, audiences are more jaded and more sophisticated. Not sophisticated as in smart because people now are dumber than they've ever been but sophisticated in the sense that they've seen so many taboos broken by now and special effects aren't mystifying in the way that they used to be. Add to that the fact that people are just bigger douches now and less inclined to give a movie their full attention and you've got a climate where, more than ever, horror movies have their work cut out for them.

All that said, I'm reassured by the impact horror can still have. I think it's kind of a miracle, really. Over the summer, The Conjuring was a big hit and it was generally agreed to be effectively scary. For seasoned horror fans, it was kind of lightweight, yes, but what's interesting and encouraging about The Conjuring's popularity is how old-fashioned its approach was. Nothing explicit, no FX to speak of, just things that go bump in the night and I find it heartening that there's still a big audience that's receptive to that kind of fright.

In 2009, I felt similarly encouraged by Paranormal Activity's success. What Oren Peli's film proved was that you could still scare an audience with very little. Sure, not everyone will be affected equally but that's always been true. I had an uncle who saw The Exorcist in theaters back when it came out and found it laughable.

The magic of movies, horror movies specifically, is that there's a suspension of disbelief involved. For them to work, it requires that we set aside the part of our brain that tells us it's just a movie. It may be that fewer people are able to, or care to, make that leap than there used to be but when a movie like Paranormal Activity does succeed, it's because, like the best classic horror movies, it invites people to stop being jaded smart-alecks and just scream.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Saw 3D (2010)

Whether you like the Saw films or not, there's no arguing that the Saw series has earned its place in horror history. Over seven films, it became the first major horror franchise of the new millennium.

Honestly, they never did much for me - although I give credit to 2006's Saw III for actually making me feel physically ill at a horror movie for the first time in forever and 2009's Saw VI for weaving an intriguingly topical health insurance angle into the Jigsaw saga. Then there's 2010's Saw 3D, which gave the series a big 3D send off.

Saw 3D definitely had the coolest trailer for any of the Saws, pouring on some extra cheese in order to exploit the 3D. I didn't love it as much as the trailer for the My Bloody Valentine remake...

...but it's good.

Even though it was only three years ago, the content of Saw 3D has pretty much passed from my memory. Still love the trailer, though!