Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Trick or Trailers: The Exorcist (1973)


I'm not a big fan of "Best Of" lists. Either they'll annoy you by including titles that just don't belong or they'll put all the right ones on but in doing so, simply tell you what you already know. Well, let me bore you now (or annoy you!) by reminding you that The Exorcist is the greatest horror film ever made.

It just is. Nothing else comes close.

Speaking of not coming close, I think this trailer for The Exorcist leaves pretty much every horror trailer in the dust. It is genuinely freaky. And I firmly believe that if I had been exposed to this trailer when I was a kid, it would have broken my mind. How could it not?



Like the movie itself, that trailer is an example of how The Exorcist was a case of a major studio going all in on destroying an audience.

I don't know if The Exorcist will be a part of my Halloween viewing today as I actually think that trailer gave me all The Exorcist I can handle for the moment. But whatever movies you watch today and however you spend your Halloween, I hope you have a happy one!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Trick or Trailers: Deadly Blessing (1981)


I don't recall ever seeing the trailer to 1981's Deadly Blessing prior to its release. It just never played in front of any movies I saw at the time. But I can tell you this, I sure as shit saw all the TV spots for it.

One damned commercial in particular always seemed to know when I was alone in the house and it would ambush me every time and every time I was convinced this movie was far too evil for me to deal with.

Someone had gone and made a movie that was the devil personified.

Check it out:



See? Pretty evil, right?

Well, maybe you can't see it but when I was twelve, I sure saw it!

I saw it and I couldn't unsee it. Pure evil burned into film.

Oddly enough, the actual theatrical trailer - you know, the one that typically screened before grown adults who were ready to handle it - isn't nearly as ominous as that TV spot that any innocent pair of eyes could be exposed to.

For comparison's sake, here's the trailer:



Ok, pretty scary. But the TV spot is so much worse!

I didn't even have to watch the commercial to be scared by it. And believe me, many times I didn't watch it because I would run out of the room when it came on. But could hear it! That evil background music playing under the equally evil narration was enough to have me shaking.

"More chilling than nightmares. Blacker than the darkest corners of your mind. There is the unholiest terror of all. Deadly Blessing. Rated R."

The fact that it ended with "Rated R" is really what sealed the deal for me. That was back when I was genuinely intimidated by R-rated movies (what can I say, I was a very fragile young person). Some R-rated movies didn't automatically cause me to cower in fear at the mere thought of them but Deadly Blessing sure did. It seemed to be operating on a whole other level than, say Friday the 13th Part 2.

I think the main thing that threw me about Deadly Blessing is that, unlike most horror movies at the time, it wasn't a slasher movie. I couldn't immediately wrap my mind around what it was even about.

When I would see a commercial or a trailer for a slasher movie, I instantly got what it was. Someone in a mask and carrying a knife or an axe was chasing someone. And that's pretty scary, sure, but I can comprehend what I'm being scared of. I didn't have that luxury with Deadly Blessing. The fact that the commercial was so vague as to what was going on made it so much worse. I just got the impression of an unseen evil force stalking people and I couldn't handle it, man!

Another year or so down the road, though, and the spell that horror movies could cast on me was broken. I became old enough to still be excited for them, to still expect to be scared at times but they were now...just movies, you know? But in 1981, I was still young enough and naive enough to feel like a movie could be more than a movie, that it could be something crafted in a dark place by wicked hands, capable of taking you somewhere you didn't want to go.

I kind of miss that feeling. We all get jaded eventually, it's just the natural course of things. You can't say wide-eyed forever. But that brief time in your life when you were, that's a blessing to remember.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Trick or Trailers: Freddy vs. Jason (2003)


Two titans of terror coming together in one historic, long-awaited death match. Winner take all! How easy is that to sell? Even in as commercial a genre as horror, some movies still present a marketing challenge but not this one. No, once you put that vs. between Freddy and Jason, your job is essentially done. You barely even need to have a trailer.

That said, this trailer was met with a special sense of excitement:



Hard to believe that Freddy vs. Jason celebrated it's fifteenth (!) anniversary this year but when you look at the trailer, it certainly reminds you that it was from a different, distant time. First of all, it was from back in the day when New Line Cinema was still a thing. I know we still see that logo pop up here and there on new movies but it's not like it was when a movie was specifically a New Line Cinema film. That logo conjures such a sense of nostalgia for me. During the '80s and '90s, when times were sometimes lean for genre films, when I would see the New Line logo come up on the front of a trailer, I got pumped because I knew it was a good chance it'd be a horror trailer.

Either that, or a House Party sequel.



Either way I was happy!

And thank God Freddy vs. Jason came out during an era where FANGORIA was still a robust presence. It would have been a crime had this movie, a film for the Fango crowd if there ever was one, had come out with no accompanying Fango cover story to mark its arrival.

Awwww yeeeah!


For a movie that had so many expectations to live up to, I feel like Freddy vs. Jason mostly satisfied. Mostly. But while I'm grateful that they made this before Robert Englund aged out of the Freddy role, I feel like had this been made in the late '80s, at the commercial peak of both franchises, whether the movie was good or bad it would have been - I don't know - more pure. Well, as "pure" as a shameless cash grab can be. But hey, what they came up with in the early 00's was just fine. By now, this movie has its own retro-charm going for it.

With Michael Myers killing it at the box office again, Robert Englund donning his Freddy make-up for a guest spot on The Goldbergs, and LeBron James rumored to be getting a new Friday the 13th going, you've got to wonder if another big slasher vs. might be in the cards.

Given how hard it was to make Freddy vs. Jason happen in the first place, I'm gonna guess no. Seems like a real long shot. So until the day should ever come when another movie attempts to bring two or more icons together in bloody battle, Freddy vs. Jason will continue to wear the crown as the uncontested champ of slasher throwdowns.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

More Of The Night HE Came Home


With the release of Halloween (2018), the various makers of the many assorted sequels and reboots to John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween are now officially 9 and 0 when it comes to successfully matching the singular, elusive magic of the original (for the purposes of keeping this Myers-centric, we're leaving Halloween III: Season of the Witch out of the discussion). That is not to say the new movie isn't good or that none of the other films in the franchise have been devoid of merit either, only that all of them have tried, in their own ways, to do what Carpenter did and yet all of them have fallen short of achieving that specific goal. That doesn't mean it hasn't frequently been fun and intriguing (if sometimes frustrating) to watch them try.

If anything, seeing how so many filmmakers have struggled to replicate what seems like such a basic model is what makes these films fascinating and it only increases the impenetrable mystique of the original. The whole reason that Carpenter's Halloween spawned a whole sub-genre was, besides the enormous amount of money that it made, was that it seemed so damned easy to copy.

Hellraiser (1987), for example, was a hit but yet you never saw a wave of Hellraiser clones afterwards because who the hell knows how to make more of those? Even making actual sequels to Hellraiser was a difficult task, never mind unrelated copycats. But with Halloween, everybody looks at it and says "Oh, I can do that!" only to find out that they really can't. Halloween seems like the simplest of movies to make endless copies of as Carpenter put the perfect blueprint for the slasher film right there for all to see. And yet it's proved impossible.

It's like a chef who walks you slowly through their recipe, step by step, listing every ingredient and showing you exactly how they created their dish, down to the last pinch of salt, and yet whenever someone else tries to recreate it for themselves, the taste is always noticeably off. Why is that?

Well, I think one big issue is that when people make a Halloween movie, what they're really doing is making a Friday the 13th movie - or at least a movie that attempts to split the difference between the two franchises.

Beginning with Halloween II, the thinking became that Halloween would have to get with the times. What worked in 1978 was already considered passé and Halloween had to play catch up with the slasher competition in order to remain relevant.

To put it simply, Halloween was a movie that said less was more. Friday the 13th said nah, More is more and that's what's become the accepted wisdom. The outrageous sleeping bag kill from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1987), for example, would not be out of place in the new Halloween (or in any other Halloween besides the original, for that matter) whereas any of the original Halloween's kills would be very out of place in any Friday film.

Another aspect of the original Halloween that separated it, and the character of Michael Myers, from all the imitators to come but was lost in the other Halloween's was the fact that Michael is playing a game in the first film. He may be evil and he may have the devil's eyes but yet there is a child-like element to him and to his pursuit of his victims in the first film.

The way that he follows people, stalking his victims, always risking being seen (like when he accidentally knocks over the flower pot and quickly moves away before Annie spots him) and sometimes allowing himself to be seen, as part of the game (like when Michael stands in plain view by the hedges when Laurie is walking towards him). As the night goes on, he could kill Annie and Lynda and Bob - and even Laurie - at any time but he chooses to prolong the game he's playing.

He waits, he watches, he chooses just the right time to surprise his victims. Like a child, he hides and then pops out. He hides in the back seat of Annie's car. He waits for Bob to open a closet door so he can spring out like a jack in the box. He puts a sheet over himself to disguise himself when he enters the bedroom to kill Lynda (the fact that Michael doesn't just put a sheet over himself but also takes the goofy step of putting Bob's glasses on in order to "complete" his disguise is a clear sign that this is something that is playful to him).

In line with that, Michael's indestructible nature is also portrayed differently in the original. In Halloween, it's akin to when kids play cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers and one kid will pretend to shoot another and the other kid will fall down and "play dead."

In the first film, Michael can't really be hurt but he pretends to be. Whether he's jabbed in the neck with a knitting needle or stabbed or shot point blank, he goes down the same way every time - flat on his back, unmoving.

In none of those cases is he the least bit injured. He's just trying to fool Laurie, and then Loomis, into momentarily thinking that they "got him" only so he can surprise them by getting up again. In all the films that followed, his unkillable nature becomes more of a robotic thing. When he gets put down, he's really down, no "fooling" about it. The underlying sense of mischief is gone.

But having talked about how the other Halloweens have strayed from the spirit of the original, how is the new film on its own terms? Well, it's a mixed bag but I give it favorable marks. It's just a solid slasher film. There's no back story, no mythology for Michael, no Druid cults, no celestial constellations to guide Michael, and no Busta Rhymes.


I'd say it sits well along side the other anniversary entries - 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and 1998's Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later - as being a well-meant, game attempt at getting the franchise back on track.


Of those three, 4 is still my favorite. Aside from the fact they had to work with the unfortunate familial element from II, director Dwight H. Little and scripter Alan B. McElroy simply got Michael and got the Halloween vibe just a bit better than anyone else has. That film wasn't perfect, but it was the closest I think I'll ever get to what I really want out of a Halloween sequel. And it had Loomis, an aspect of the series that was so essential to Halloween that any Halloween without it is playing at an automatic disadvantage. No disrespect to Jamie Lee Curtis but Donald Pleasence was, to me, the real glue that held Halloween together. When he passed, he left a void in the series that has yet to be filled. And, well...that's that.

With this latest film, though, you've got an absolutely fantastic soundtrack, courtesy of Carpenter, his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, that expertly, effortlessly resurrects the classic Halloween sound while also bringing in surprising new layers. You've got Jamie Lee Curtis, giving it her all forty years after the original, and you've got Michael Myers stripped of the barnacles that have clustered onto the character over the years. To my mind, just with all that you've already got yourself a worthwhile entry in the series. And that's what Halloween (2018) is.

So what's not so good about it? What keeps it from being a real gem rather than just a fun slasher pic? Well, first of all let me say that while I applaud the idea of finally freeing the franchise from Michael and Laurie's sibling attachment, I also feel that this movie's Laurie Strode desperately needs II as part of her history to make her story here work. In a weird way, the Laurie of H20 (all references to Michael as her brother aside) is the one that could have believably only endured the events of the original and be living the life she was.

She was a woman still haunted by her experience but yet had compartmentalized it enough where she could function and be a successful adult. The Laurie of 2018's Halloween, however, seems like far too much of a mess to have only lived through what she did in the first one. Not to diminish her trauma but, come on. A very scary thing happened to her but I don't think it's anything that someone couldn't - if not "get over" - then just deal with in a normal fashion.

But if you say the events of II happened to this Laurie, well then - now you're talking! You don't build a isolated compound fortress for the sake of some random psycho who once killed a couple of your friends and tried to put you down too, even as traumatic as that is.

But if you're talking about your psycho brother who wanted you dead so bad that he killed your friends, then slaughtered his way through a hospital staff and then, even after being blown up and engulfed in flames from head to toe, was STILL COMING AT YOU - yeah, that's a guy you're going to spend the rest of your life believing that as long as he's breathing you're not safe. You'd be right to think "I'm probably not done with this guy. Dude's determined. Better be ready for Round Two."


So, as much as II had some unwanted baggage attached to it, for the Laurie of this movie to be what director David Gordon Green and his co-scripters Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley wanted her to be, she really needed to have the events of that movie as part of her story.

But, they aren't and she doesn't and so you just have to go with it. But yet it does create a plausibility problem (outside of wondering how the hell Laurie could have realistically afforded to build her tricked-out fortress and her stockpile of weapons - but on that count, whatever. I don't even know how most TV characters can possibly afford to live in the kinds of houses and apartments they do so I can let Laurie's situation slide). I feel like everyone involved in this movie had a last act in place they knew was killer and just wanted to do whatever it took to get that last twenty minutes or so on screen but unfortunately everything leading up to it is just a little undercooked.

Chief among those undercooked elements is the left-field plot mechanism, involving Michael's psychiatrist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), that gets Michael from the streets of Haddonfield to Laurie's compound. If you've seen the movie, you already know how ridiculous this is. I honestly don't know what to say about it except to say that it needed a lot more work. As is, it brings the movie to a screeching halt just when you want it to be hitting the gas. Once everything is in place for the big final showdown, you can kind of say "Fine, whatever it took to get us here!" but it's just a clumsy turn of events that I don't think subsequent viewings will smooth over.

Speaking of events that subsequent viewings won't smooth over, I don't think I'll ever think it was ok for Will Patton's deputy sheriff to drive his police vehicle head on, with killing force, into someone who he suspects is Michael.

Yes, it actually is Michael but at the time, Patton's character is simply taking the word of a traumatized teenager that this masked figure that she's pointing out on a dark street, from the vantage point of a moving vehicle, is 100% the guy they're looking for. I feel like Patton's character really needed to seek out that extra level of identification before gunning his vehicle straight into someone who literally could be anyone. You can't have someone just say "that's him!" and immediately plow your fucking car into someone. Seriously, what the hell is up with the law enforcement in Haddonfield?

Another issue with the new Halloween would be that it has far too many characters that it doesn't know what to do with. Interesting characters will appear and then mysteriously vanish (like Omar Dorsey's Sheriff Barker). The podcasters, for instance, who get the movie's story rolling, really could have been used more. I feel like one of them should have made it to the end somehow (the guy, at least, looks like he could have believably survived Michael's assault in the gas station bathroom) to bookend the movie. Whichever one lived could have echoed Laurie's line of "It was the boogeyman" with Laurie giving the Loomis reply of "As a matter of fact, it was."

Too many characters feel like they're there for no purpose than to facilitate a plot point or to add to the body count (or both). Again, a very Friday-style slasher movie move rather than a Halloween one.

But while all these issues might hold Halloween (2018) back from greatness, it doesn't mean that it isn't fun. For anyone to be a slasher aficionado or a fan of the Halloween franchise - or both, as most fans checking out this movie would be - you have to be someone who has learned over time how to go into a movie with a set of realistic expectations. You're someone who already knows all too well what it's like to be sorely disappointed by a movie and by any measure, this is way better than what usually arrives under the Halloween banner.

Walking out of the new Halloween, all gripes aside, I was still able to say I can't wait for the next one and that hasn't been the case for me for thirty years. Everything after 4 has been a case of either "I hope they get the next one right" or "Best to let it die now" but never "I can't wait to see what they do next!" Speaking of what's next, if nothing else this movie gave Curtis a far better exit - if she wants this to be her finale - than the limp goodbye that Resurrection provided.

Whether or not Curtis returns, it's a given that this movie won't be the last Halloween and that Michael will be back. One thing I will say about further sequels is that they have to re-establish a new Loomis-type character. The suggestion that I'll put out there and hope the universe will hear is that I'd love to see Robert Englund as Michael's new psychiatrist. He's the perfect age now, he's got the perfect look with the white hair and beard. And you need someone in that kind of role that's going to have the charisma and the character actor clout of Pleasence. Even if the new role isn't Loomis per say, it has to carry that same weight. You don't necessarily want Michael to keep going after the same victim movie after movie, but you want the same guy doggedly chasing him and telling anyone who will listen that the Evil has escaped. I'm telling you, Englund should be that guy. Maybe it's just the fanboy in me that wants to see Freddy being Michael Myers' psychiatrist but can you honestly tell me that wouldn't be awesome?


Answer: No, you can't! Don't even try!

Whatever comes next for Halloween, here's hoping it'll break the trend of only the anniversary installments being the decent ones (and before anyone says "But II was good!" - no, it really wasn't). It'd sure suck to have to wait until 2028 for the next good one to come along.


For now, though, The Shape is back in fighting shape.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Trick or Trailers: Halloween H20 (1998)


Oh my god, this is really happening!! I've got my tickets ready for a new Halloween movie tonight! And even better, I've got every reason to believe it's actually gonna be good. Woooo!! As any follower of the franchise knows, that has not always been the case. In fact, it's rarely been the case.

But anniversaries have been good to Halloween. 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers brought the boogeyman back with style and reestablished the Halloween brand. Then in 1998, after that brand had fallen on hard times again, it was time for Jamie Lee Curtis to reclaim her Scream Queen crown in Halloween H20.

Coming twenty years after the first Halloween, but two years after Scream (1996) had revived the slasher genre, one has to wonder what a seventh Halloween would have looked like without Scream making slashers - and horror itself - hot again. Rather than reboot the series to accommodate Curtis' return, would they have just soldiered on from the convoluted continuity of 4, 5, and 6 and brought back Paul Rudd as Tommy Doyle to have him carry on as the new Loomis? Who knows? I definitely don't think that Curtis would have been attracted to the idea of coming back to Halloween had Scream's success made that prospect suddenly not seem like an embarrassing back step.

When the trailer for H20 was released, it definitely made a new Halloween movie seem like an event again, even though I will never get how anybody ever thought it was a good idea to start putting Halloween movies out in the summer. I mean, come on. When your movie is called Halloween and your tagline is "This summer, terror won't be taking a vacation" how does that not immediately strike you as being wrong?

But anyhow, the trailer:



That trailer is so late '90s it hurts. Everyone looks so young, even Curtis - even though at the time it seemed like so much time had passed where we were now seeing Laurie as a middle aged woman and a mom to a teenage son.

Back then, it seemed that H20 underlined so dramatically how many years had passed since the original (I mean, it was part of the title!) but looking at that trailer now is to really feel the passage of time.

It definitely brings back memories of horror in the late '90s. H20 may be a Halloween movie but it's wholly of the Scream era. That may be why I've never totally warmed up to H20. Even with the presence of Curtis, it felt less like a true Halloween film to me than just another generic late '90s slasher chasing the success of Scream. That feeling was not helped by the fact that H20 was also a Dimension Films production and that its poster was in the same Scream mold of "floating heads" that was the go-to style for horror one sheets then.

And I've gotta say, the big thing that takes me aback watching this trailer is to realize just how freaking white the Halloween movies were. We think back on the '90s as being such a progressive, PC decade but jeez, you'd be hard put to see a movie today with such a lack of diverse faces.


You've got LL Cool J in a supporting role, sure, but yet the main group of teens and the rest of the adult cast are white across the board. Today I think that'd be an instant eye-brow raiser. Times were different then, though - from seeing this trailer, more different than I remembered!

Even though having an experienced horror director like Steve Miner (Friday the 13th 2 and 3, House) at the helm gave hope that H20 would be a better sequel, it hit a competent note rather than an actual strong one. But competent sure beats atrocious, am I right?

It's just a shame that the best part of H20, Laurie's abrupt beheading of Michael, was immediately undone in Resurrection. That last scene in H20 was a legitimate gasp getter, even if the most naive horror fan already knew that it wouldn't stick. I expect the makers of Halloween (2018) are canny enough about the genre to not even pretend that this movie will be the end for Michael Myers. The only thing more undying than evil are horror franchises that keep bringing in the cash.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Trick or Trailers: Prom Night (1980)


With Halloween inching ever closer, we're sticking with the Jamie Lee Curtis slasher theme here. Next up is 1980's Prom Night. The trailer for this is so great, let's not waste any time and just get to it:



If I could pick one early '80s slasher trailer as being the most emblematic of the sub-genre, it'd have to be Prom Night. That is the slasher genre's golden age, right there, encapsulated in all its cheesy glory. No kid who saw this trailer back in the day wasn't 100% sold.

Thanks to a speedy turnaround that gave Prom Night its TV premiere a scant seven months after playing theaters, when excitement for the movie was still fresh, underage kids like me who missed out on Prom Night on the big screen got to watch it in the comfort of home!

For anyone who wasn't there, let me tell you - it was a big deal!



I believe it's the fact that its network TV airing put it in front of so many impressionable eyes, many of them in pre-cable, pre-VCR households at the time, that gave Prom Night such a foothold in the consciousness of Gen-X horror fans. Fans of a certain age will swear to you that it's a good movie, maybe even a horror classic, but in fact it's pretty lousy.

I've got all kinds of affection for it, sure, but it's bad. And it's such a weird Jamie Lee Curtis horror film in that her character, being the beloved sister of the killer, is never actually in any jeopardy. You'd think that Curtis should have been one of the kids whose thoughtless behavior leads to Robin Hammond's death. Ideally, she should have been the "good girl" of the group who carried remorse for her actions.

She should have been the character of Kelly that Mary Beth Rubens plays but, obviously, have her not die early on but instead survive to be the Final Girl and confront the killer in the climax. But they didn't do that so Prom Night stands as the one Jamie Lee slasher film in which she's never in any real peril, making it low on actual suspense.

Then again, I kind of think Prom Night's tepidness played in its favor to a younger audience. It was just scary enough for kids to feel like they were watching a "real" contemporary horror movie like Friday the 13th but it wasn't hardcore enough to actually traumatize them.

It was like a slasher movie version of an underhand pitch. It's a softball movie that gave a lot of young kids their earliest taste of a grittier type of horror before they were ready to graduate to the next level. Although its protagonists were high schoolers, I believe that Prom Night's greatest admirers were strictly of the less jaded junior high set.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Trick or Trailers: Terror Train (1980)


It's kind of crazy to think that in just a week, the new Halloween will hit theaters and we'll get to see Jamie Lee Curtis facing off with a masked maniac again. But as nostalgic as it is to think of Jamie Lee returning to the Halloween franchise in particular, just seeing her return to horror period conjures fond memories of her early '80s Scream Queen heyday. Laurie Strode may be her most iconic horror character but the rest of Curtis' genre legacy is also worthy of note.

My favorite JLC slasher, outside of the original Halloween, is definitely 1980's Terror Train. The most curious thing about its trailer, though, is how little it hypes the presence of Curtis herself.

You'd think that any slasher movie that had the star of Halloween would go out of its way to advertise that point but, no, based on the trailer you get the feeling that the studio thought audiences would be showing up to see the train. Weird, right? But check it out:



Maybe it was just inconceivable to studio marketing types that a horror actress would have an actual fanbase. Or maybe the thinking was that the slasher audience only cared about the body count. Whatever the case, the trailer for Terror Train doesn't even bother to play up the movie's biggest selling point, treating the movie like any generic slasher - indistinguishable from any of its many competitors.

Speaking of which, watching this trailer fills me with memories of the days when it seemed like a new slasher, that would always look like a carbon copy of the previous slasher, would open every weekend. I was too young to see R-rated movies in the theater then so I never got to see these trailers on the big screen but every time I would put on the TV between the years of around 1980 to '83, there'd be a new TV spot in heavy rotation promoting the latest slasher pic and for the longest time it seemed like it was a deluge that would never end.

Of course the slasher trend did eventually dry up - almost perfectly timed for when I was finally old enough to see slashers in the theater on my own. But it's ok, I'm not bitter!

If anything, I attribute my fondness for the slasher genre to the fact that, when it was at its peak, it was always just a little out of reach - like a train I was forever running after, desperate to hop on, but just too fast to catch.