Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick Or Trailers

Every Halloween, fear fans schedule their own movie marathons to celebrate the occasion (if you're stuck for ideas, by the way, feel free to check out the HorrorDad's recommendations). But as nice as it sounds to curl up with a line-up of your favorite frights, the sad truth of adult life is that there isn't always time to devote six hours or more - anything less than that can't be properly called a marathon - to watching movies. Often times if you get a chance to crash in front of the TV for just one movie at the end of the night, that's an accomplishment. But while you may not be able to enjoy every movie you'd like to before All Hallow's Eve is over, there's always time to fill up on horror trailers.

Whether you're taking a break from your Halloween horrorthon or you're just looking for a bite-sized, Halloween candy version of one, here's ten of my favorite horror trailers.

10. White Noise (2005)

Any time you put ghostly audio recordings into a trailer, you're gold. The movie itself was a ho-hum affair but I love the spooky In Search Of vibe of this trailer.

9. Of Unknown Origin (1983)

It was a curious decision on the part of Warner Bros.' marketing department to have the brownstone home of Peter Weller filled with an unearthly light at the end of this trailer. The movie is about Weller's character's life or death battle with a rat but all that light leads you to believe that something supernatural or even extraterrestrial is afoot. But I love it when horror trailers mislead the audience for no apparent reason so this one rates as a favorite with me.

8. Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

If you want to know why I'm so sour on the majority of contemporary monster movies, look no further than this trailer for Larry Cohen's Q: The Winged Serpent. This quirky low budget offering shows more cool monster action in its trailer than most mega-million productions show in their entire film.

7. Nomads (1986)

This is the first movie from Die Hard director John McTiernan and it's one of those movies that I still only know through its trailer. I hear that Nomads isn't so good - one reason why I've never made a point to see it - but every time that I watch this trailer, I think I'm missing out on something great.

6. The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)

I know for a fact that The House Where Evil Dwells is lousy but whenever I see the ghostly samurai in this trailer, I'm tempted to give the movie another shot.

5. The Boogeyman (1980)

I miss the days when a horror trailer would leave me thinking "what the hell was that?" The Boogeyman definitely fits into that category of making the movie look like an incomprehensible hodgepodge of weird shit. Naturally, it terrified me to no end back in the day.

4. Silent Scream (1980)

I recently went looking through my collection to see if I could find my VHS copy of this little-known slasher gem. No dice, so I can't verify whether it holds up after all these years but the trailer is terrific. Overwrought narration has sadly gone out of fashion in trailers but this one has it in spades.

3. Dead & Buried (1981)

Any horror trailer that markets a tale about an idyllic small town hiding an evil secret scores an automatic win. It just happens that this is one movie that lives up to - and even exceeds - the expectations set up by the trailer. Bonus points for the few frames of animation at the end.

2. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Even though I'm not at all religious, I think this trailer is supremely freaky. The brooding tone, the sensationalistic assertions that it's based on a true story (complete with "authentic" audio recordings), and all the glimpses of people with demonic black goo running down their faces, make this trailer a winner to me.

1. The Beast Within (1981)

Horror movies used to be sold with full-on hyperbole and few did it better than this trailer for The Beast Within. You probably will find that you're able to remain seated during the last thirty minutes of the movie, despite the warnings of this trailer, but you won't be able to say that the filmmakers didn't pull out every stop to make this the horror experience of a lifetime.

And if your heart can stand the terror, here's my Trick Or Trailers posts from '09:

The Shining (1980)

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

Magic (1978)

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

When A Stranger Calls (1978)

The Manitou (1978)

Motel Hell (1980)

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Alien (1979)

The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966)

Suspiria (1977)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Paranormal Pros And Cons

Back in September, I wrote about how I felt the Paranormal Activity films were a good thing for the genre, with their reliance on old-school, gore-free scares, and now having seen the third film in the series, those opinions still hold - even if the early hints of franchise fatigue are starting to appear. To be fair, a lot of people feel that PA 3 is an improvement over PA 2 but I'd say the two are about about even, with PA 2 having a slight edge in some ways. I liked the bitter twist that PA 2 offered, putting the events of the first film in a cruel context of familial betrayal. PA 3 gives us even more sinister backstory information but it doesn't have quite the same kick as the revelations found in PA 2. What we discover in PA 3 seems more like a standard horror movie villain reveal, a little old hat.

As with any long-running horror series, the PA films are starting to feel ham-strung by their own mythology. Some franchise fans - of whatever franchise it may be - thrive off of that kind of stuff but it always brings a series to its tipping point, in my opinion. You know, the first Halloween was so terrifying because it was a scenario that you felt could happen to you or to anyone else but the sequels only served to dilute that. Even sharks, the most random predators of all, had to be given a personal agenda in the Jaws sequels, pursuing the Brody family to Jamaica or where ever. PA isn't off the rails yet but the ghostly handwriting is starting to appear on the walls.

For the bulk of PA 3, directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost hit every beat perfectly, nailing every scare and ramping up the tension to a crescendo, but PA 3's final moments could've benefited from an additional moment - one more scare, another line of dialogue.

You can feel the different vibe in a theater between an audience that's waiting for a little more from a film and when they go out on a high note and PA 3 is more the former than the latter. That said, I thought the scares in PA 3 were generally more inventive than those of its two predecessors.

Part of the fun of the PA movies is seeing how the filmmakers use their ingenuity to pull off jumps scares and FX shots while making such moments appear as invisible of artifice as possible and in PA 3, Schulman and Joost, under the guidance of PA mastermind Oren Peli, deliver some of the most satisfying scares of the series - some of them loud, some of them elegant (a quiet moment involving a sheet being my favorite). I continue to find it interesting that Peli doesn't do any kind of sucking up to the horror press, he doesn't sell himself as a hardcore genre aficionado and create a following for himself, but yet he clearly has a better handle on what makes horror films work than "fan-friendly" directors who always say the right things in interviews and nostalgically pine for a return to the good old days of the '70s and '80s but whose films never quite deliver.

Whether you're a fan of the PA films or not, the success of this latest entry is a heartening reminder that, yes, audiences still want to see horror movies. Even if a horror movie looks awful, I'll still see it but for the average person who doesn't live and breathe this stuff and who isn't able to convince themselves that, hey, there really is a good chance that The Rite won't be atrocious, it's about waiting for the right movie to come along. As someone who doesn't pick and choose, someone who just automatically shows up on opening day for any horror movie, it's always interesting for me to see what brings everyone else into the theater. At the end of the day, the answer is always as simple as "something scary." There's an obvious reason why a movie like the Fright Night remake failed and why a movie like PA 3 succeeds. Or why The Blair Witch Project was a hit and The Haunting remake wasn't. Sometimes a really scary movie will still flop but more often than not, if a movie works, word gets out.

The only downside to the success of the PA films is that studios might take it as a sign that audiences only want "found-footage" horror but that's an avoidable side effect of any successful film - a market flooded with copycats - but hopefully the success of PA 3 will help more horror films of every type make it to theaters. The real lesson to be learned is that - in or out of October - scary movies are always in season if they're done right.

Friday, October 28, 2011

When There's No More Room In Whitewood, The Dead Will Walk The Earth

At the climax of 1960's witchcraft thriller The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel), things don't look too sunny for the forces of good. The witches that have ruled the secluded town of Whitewood, Massachusetts for centuries have gotten the best of our heroes.

Richard Barlow (Dennis Lotis), brother to slain college student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson), is in the clutches of Whitewood's evil coven, along with local librarian Betta St. John (Patricia Russell).

As the two struggle in the town's cemetery with their black robed opponents, Nan's brother Tom (Bill Maitland) arrives - much the worse for wear, having experienced a supernaturally-induced car wreck on the way into Whitewood.

Staggering among the gravestones, half dead already, and in no condition to fight a coven of witches on his own, Tom is quickly dealt a fatal blow by a dagger thrown by the coven's wicked leader, Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessell).

The coven then turns their attention back to Richard and Betta but Tom isn't taking his death lying down. He gets to his feet, rips a cross out of the ground and uses its shadow as a holy weapon to torch the members of the coven. But the movie never answers the question of whether we're watching Tom use every last bit of life in his body to vanquish the witches that murdered his sister (even though he dies not being aware of the details of Nan's death) or whether he died before he even hit the ground and we're seeing Tom as an undead avenger.

I like to think it's the latter. But look and decide for yourself:

Living or The Living Dead? Only Tom's undertaker knows for sure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Get Your Halloween Horrorthon On!

With Halloween approaching, the HorrorDads - Richard Harland Smith, Dennis Cozzalio, Greg Ferrara, Paul Gaita, Nicholas McCarthy, and myself - have taken a break from sewing our costumes and carving pumpkins to program our dream horrorthon.

When you watch horror nearly every day of the year, it's hard to single out a few films that deserve a prime spot on a Halloween playlist but I think we've come up with a line-up that will keep any fan shivering and shrieking from dusk till dawn.

Sadly, time, money and distance prevents the HorrorDads from renting out an old theater for real, serving up popcorn, sailing plastic skeletons over the audience, and insuring patrons against death by fright, but if you include any of our picks among your Halloween viewing this year, we'll surely be with you in spirit.

Read our entire talk at TCM's Movie Morlocks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Magazine That Bleeds!

As someone who owns the entire twenty-six issue run of GOREZONE, the recently released compilation THE BLOODY BEST OF GOREZONE wasn't an opportunity for me to rediscover lost memories but yet the many reminisces this issue includes from GOREZONE alumni - including editor Tony Timpone, managing editor Michael Gingold, and contributor Tim Lucas, along with a fond appreciation of the late Chas. Balun from new FANGORIA editor Chris Alexander - couldn't help but put me in a reflective mood about what GOREZONE meant during its tenure on the newsstands and how different the cultural climate is today from what it was in the late '80s/early '90s. It also couldn't help but make me feel too old, but that's another story.

For those who may not know, GOREZONE was the sister publication to FANGORIA, launched in 1988 by Fango publisher Norman Jacobs as a means to block any upstarts who might be looking to cut into FANGORIA's dollars. GOREZONE was essential meant to cut Fango's competition off at the curb and was effective at doing so, with Fango wannbes like Slaughterhouse never establishing an audience. But although GOREZONE was hatched with mercenary intentions, Fango head honcho Tony Timpone made sure the magazine was something special in its own right.

While Timpone had inherited a successful template for Fango from former editors Bob Martin and Dave Everitt when he came aboard that mag as editor and wisely stuck with that template, making his own tweaks along the way, GOREZONE was Timpone's from the start and it arguably represents an even more important genre legacy on his behalf than his long-lasting reign as Fango's editor-in-chief. A magazine that felt like a more muscular fanzine, GORZEONE was rowdier, more opinionated, and more personable than Fango. Fango was - rightly so - more even-handed in its coverage and more focused on mainstream offerings while GOREZONE was made for the more discerning, hardcore fan. When GZ's run was finished, its influence inevitably - and appropriately - bled into its parent mag, bringing more eclectic coverage into the pages of FANGORIA itself.

Embodying GOREZONE's style (almost single-handedly) was Chas. Balun. A writer who inspired many but remains unmatched by any, Balun practiced a more gonzo brand of genre journalism, creating a niche all his own with self-published books of reviews like The Connoisseur's Guide to The Contemporary Horror Film (1983). Although he had contributed to Fango, it wasn't until his "Piece O' Mind" column in GOREZONE that he really reached his apex. It's no exaggeration to say that Piece O' Mind changed the way many horror fans felt about the genre - or more specifically, it validated the way they felt about it and articulated that passion in a revolutionary way.

Equally revolutionary - maybe even moreso - were the contributions of Tim Lucas, whose Video Watchdog column was given space to grow in the pages of GOREZONE, eventually leading to Lucas launching his self-published magazine. Prior to those early Watchdog columns, I had never encountered anyone who looked at genre films with that kind of exhaustive attention to detail and it's no exaggeration to say that Lucas' writing permanently changed the mentality with which fans regarded films and also, in time, changed the way that films themselves are treated by studios. Most of Lucas' GZ columns focused on the ways that films were mistreated in their home video incarnations, suffering inexplicable edits and shoddy transfers. Today, people who were influenced by Lucas when they were younger now run specialty video labels like Blue Underground and Synapse. And, as Lucas notes in the new interview included in this BLOODY BEST compilation, "...we've also had longtime readers who were able to get into major companies like MGM and Sony and make a difference." Every time you see a DVD of a classic genre movie in which that film is in the most complete and pristine condition possible, some measure of thanks for that is owed to Tim Lucas.

But while Balun and Lucas were GZ's most famous contributors, the GZ masthead included plenty of other luminaries, like Psychotronic author Michael Weldon, Broken Minds/Broken Mirrors author Maitland McDonagh, and Swamp Thing artist and Taboo publisher Stephen Bissette. Given the amount of talent that was represented in GZ's pages, editor Chris Alexander has done a heroic job of compiling a proper Best Of. Like any fan would, though, I have my own personal nitpicks concerning pieces that I believe ought to have made the cut but didn't - such as Bissette's preview of Alejandro Jodorwky's Santa Sangre (1989) or McDonagh's review of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (both examples of the way that GZ shined a light on fringe films well before any other publication).

Regardless of a few missing favorites, though, THE BLOODY BEST OF GOREZONE is a more than worthy representation of GZ's greatness. And the new content from Timpone, Lucas, Gingold, and Alexander puts a welcome sense of context onto these old pieces, looking back on what was once a very different world for horror fans.

Part of Chris Alexander's stated intention with publishing THE BLOODY BEST OF GOREZONE is to test the waters for a relaunch of the magazine. I hope he can pull it off but looking back on GZ, and the ways in which the culture has changed since the magazine closed shop in 1993, one has to wonder what a new GOREZONE's function would be in today's world.

As Timpone notes in his BLOODY BEST recollections, "audiences today don't know how good they've got it; no way a Saw film or a Hostel would have escaped with an R rating in the late '80s/early '90s." And that, in a nutshell, is why GOREZONE was so vital during its run. GZ was a magazine that was desperately needed by horror fans who were suffering through a restrictive, reactionary era. Even more than Fango itself, GOREZONE was a magazine that connected fans to the beating heart of horror at a time when the MPAA was doing its best to squelch it. Even TV shows like Freddy's Nightmares and Friday the 13th: The Series were being chased off the air by the Religious Right. Horror was fighting for its very existence back then and in the face of that, GOREZONE represented the voice of the unbowed horror masses.

Now cut to today. Just yesterday when I was shopping for Halloween decorations, right next to the kiddie costumes was a rack of horror movie DVDs, stocked with multiple copies of The Human Centipede (2009). No one who wrote for, or read, GOREZONE back in the day could've conceived of a day when a movie like that would be so readily available with barely a peep of outrage. Compare the kinds of films and shows that concerned parent groups would once lose their shit over with what gets released to no response today and, jeez, it's enough to make you wonder what happened to society. Bullshit controversies still erupt here and there but if you took any angry protester from back in the late '80s and timewarped them to today, their heads would explode. And if you took the MPAA panel from that time to now, they wouldn't believe what had become permissible just a few decades down the line.

It's a pretty low point for the genre at the moment, with the latest string of horror offerings getting lukewarm receptions at the box office (mostly with good cause) but yet it's still a more booming time than it was when GOREZONE was around. In the late '80s/early '90s, if you had maybe five genre films get a wide release in theaters in the entire year, you were lucky. But just in the past three months, Final Destination 5, Fright Night, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Apollo 18, Shark Night 3-D, Creature, Straw Dogs, Dream House, The Thing, and - coming this weekend - Paranormal Activity 3 have all hit screens across the country (with films like The Woman, The Human Centipede Part 2, and The Skin I Live In playing in limited release). And on TV, there's the return of Supernatural and The Walking Dead along with the premiere of new genre fare like American Horror Story and Grimm. There's so much horror product out there, I can't keep up with it all (granted, some of it I don't want to keep up with).

Not only is there a surplus of genre product, but it's not watered down. Aside from the fact that some of these films and shows are duds, it's not due to censorship but due to creative shortcomings. When I read about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in GZ, I had to legitamately wonder if I'd ever get to see that movie. Most of Tony Timpone's GZ editorials back then were about the struggles that filmmakers (especially indie filmmakers) faced with the intractable, and frequently small-minded, judgements of the MPAA. Today, not even the likes of A Serbian Film has to worry about distribution.

Honestly, as much as I appreciate filmmakers having more freedom and viewers having more access to movies, I miss those earlier days. GOREZONE was a magazine for an "Us Against Them" kind of time and that's, unavoidably, a romantic sort of thing. Horror fans were joined together in the trenches, railing against the imperious rule of the MPAA. Now, the MPAA pretty much lets everything skate by - we're not oppressed by any "Them" anymore. Not enough to care about, at least. I mean, Shark Night 3-D would've had to have been cut to earn an R in 1989. Today it gets a PG-13, with no pleas to the MPAA required. So things are better now, yes, but it's hard not to feel nostalgic for what once was and a huge cornerstone of that nostalgia will always be GOREZONE.

Best wishes to Chris Alexander and co. if they go ahead with a new edition of GOREZONE. The challenge, of course, will be to make it as relevant to the current genre scene as its predecessor was to its day but if any mag deserved a second chance, it's GOREZONE.

To see about getting a copy of THE BLOODY BEST OF GOREZONE while they last (if they're not gone already), visit Fangoria's website.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Some Thing Old, Some Thing New

I was all prepared to love - or at least like - the hell out of the new Thing. Unlike a lot of genre fans, I happily support big budget Hollywood horror. It might not always produce the best results but I always enjoy seeing big money thrown at horror projects. If you can make a kick-ass horror movie with a bunch of no-name actors in a farmhouse or a cabin in the woods, great. But I also like to see bigger scale horror projects realized with state-of-the-art craftsmanship. Movies like The Birds (1963), The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), The Shining (1980) and, well, John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) weren't done on the cheap. It took Hollywood's deep pockets to make them happen. So whenever major studios decide that they want to pony up for a horror project, I'm game to see how it turns out.

And sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots - fans generally hate them but I'm mostly all for them. When they're bad, they don't spoil the originals for me. Given my level-headed attitude, I was certain that The Thing (2011) would score a passing mark from me. I even scoffed at some of the early reviews that panned it for a lack of character development and an over-reliance on FX. I mean, come on. Anyone who knows anything about Carpenter's Thing knows that those were the exact same criticisms that were levelled against that classic. So I wasn't about to be that guy and say the same shit about this movie.

Except, now having seen The Thing '11, I kind of have to say them.

As reported, the characterizations are dead on arrival and the FX are both overused and under realized. Even if I didn't know Carpenter's film chapter and verse, this movie still wouldn't play well in my eyes.

It's a shame, too, because it starts off so well. The first half had me hooked. It wasn't headed for a four-star rating but it was, at least, solid. So much so that I was even willing to overlook the curious fact that it starts off with an old-school version of the Universal logo but the wrong old-school version. You'd think they would have pulled out the early '80s Uni logo - like the one that ran in front of Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell (2009) - but instead it's the logo from the early '90s.

Pretty much this one:

Now, I do like that logo - it's attached to some of my favorites, like, um, Dr. Giggles (1992). But it's an odd choice to put on this Thing. Who knows - maybe Universal is just dusting off that old logo for all their movies these days. If so, I hadn't noticed.

Anyhow, a much bigger issue than an oddly chosen studio logo becomes apparent early on in this new Thing: they fuck up the alien spaceship. I mean, everybody who's seen Carpenter's film remembers how the alien spaceship was originally found by the members of Outpost 31 - in an giant open crater, having been revealed by the Norwegians after being buried for God knows how long.

When the men of Outpost 31 watch the video footage of the Norwegians standing in a circle around the buried alien ship, that was Carpenter's nod to the discovery scene in Howard Hawk's 1951 The Thing From Another World (even down to the footage being in black and white). On the video, we see the Norwegians set off their nitrate explosives and later, when MacReady, Norris, and Doc Copper fly out to investigate the site, they stand at the edge of the crater and look down on the exposed ship.

The Thing '11 doesn't bother to match any of this up. At all. In fact it flat-out contradicts it. Kind of a giant fuck-up, if you ask me.

There's no scene of the Norwegian crew standing in a circle to measure the circumference on the saucer, much less anyone videotaping it. There's no setting of explosions to get past the ice to the ship. Instead, they enter through cracks in the ice to find the ship underground.

When a huge selling point from the makers of this film to the fans of Carpenter's film was that this was going to put the pieces of the puzzle together and be a seamless match with the '82 version, well, this is the kind of sloppiness that you just can't forgive. It makes the fact that they take pains to explain the backstory behind such lesser incidents as the the axe embedded in a door that much worse. You know...making sure that the discovery of the spaceship wasn't entirely different in this film from what Carpenter showed probably should've merited more attention. I'm just sayin'.

But even with that colossal gaffe in place, I was still willing to enjoy this Thing as long as the story was involving and the monster action was cool. But on both counts, it comes up short. I bet the original version of the Thing screenplay, by Battlestar Galactica scribe Ronald D. Moore, was pretty good. But the version that director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. ended up working with - a rewrite by Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5) - is definitely not so hot. I like the actors - especially Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton - but there's only so much they can do to bring their characters to life. And the monster action...well, it's better than anything in this year's Super 8 or Creature, at least, so I'll give it some credit. But what FX artists Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. of Amalgamated Dynamics came up with is ultimately kind of piss poor. With all the advance talk of the film's FX being largely practical and the finished product showing almost no practical FX work, it leads me to think that plans went awry at some point.

I'm not a hater when it comes to CGI but when it's bad, it ought to be called out as such and - outside of a couple of nicely hideous moments - it's pretty bad here. It's not Fright Night bad but it's still not good. Or maybe it'd be more accurate to say that it's badly used. When we see the Thing in full-body action scuttling down hallways after victims, it just looks goofy. Maybe you could objectively study the animation and say that it was a competent job but it's not good for the movie. For the '82 film, Carpenter had a climatic scene of the "Blair-Monster" version of the Thing in action created via stop-motion - by animator Randy Cook - but cut it because it just didn't fit the film. That showed judgment on Carpenter's part. He knew what looked right for his film. Heijningen Jr. - like too many modern directors - doesn't have a clue when it comes to that.

I won't go on and on about how bad this movie is because it isn't terrible so much as it is mediocre. I didn't go in it expecting it to be great but it drops the ball in too many key areas for me to give a favorable nod. Funnily enough, watching this try and fail to successfully imitate Carpenter's film didn't immediate put in the mind to rewatch Carpenter's classic but rather 1989's underwater alien tale Leviathan. That cheeseball Thing rip-off is much more my cup of tea than The Thing 2011. The cast for that - Peter Weller, Daniel Stern, Richard Crenna, Ernie Hudson, Hector Elizondo, Amanda Pays, Meg Foster - has personality to spare and the old-school practical effects by Stan Winston (who famously lent a helping hand to Rob Bottin on The Thing) remain vividly gruesome. That's as much as I wanted out of The Thing '11.

When you set the bar so low (no offense, Leviathan) that a movie can't possibly fail to meet expectations but it does anyway - well, all you can do is sigh and move on. A satisfying prequel to Carpenter's paranoid classic? Eh, looks like some Things just aren't meant to be.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Worshipping At The Altar Of October

If I went back and checked, I bet I'd find that - year after year - my lightest month of blog posting is always October. While other horror bloggers kick it into high gear in the days ramping up to Halloween, I tend to slack off.

Mostly I'd chalk it up to being preoccupied by the season itself - in greedily trying to soak up all the sights and sounds of October, I don't get on the computer as much. And if I'm going to be able to cram in all the horror movie watching I want to in thirty-one days, there's not much time to write as well. So, October always ends up being lean on content here.

Still, I'd like to give a mention to one of the movies that I always revisit at this time of year - Michele Soavi's The Church (1988). Something about The Church has always marked it as a fall film to me. Eagle-eyed viewers can spot a Halloween decoration on a window in one scene (see photo below) but it's not specifically a Halloween movie.

I don't know what fall looks like in Rome (or Budapest or Hamburg, where location shooting for The Church was done) but what we see of the outside world in The Church doesn't look much like the falls I know here in my home turf of New England. But yet every October I feel an urge to go back to The Church.

Originally conceived as the third Demons movie, director Michele Soavi dropped most of the references to the previous two Demons films when he came onto this project after making his debut film - the underrated slasher Stagefright (1987) - and after serving second unit directing duties on the Terry Gilliam fantasy, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). As an inspired Soavi told Cinefantastique at the time regarding his artistic intentions on The Church: "I didn't want to make a cheap special effects picture after my involvement with Baron Munchausen." Soavi rewrote the existing script completely (which had been developed under the project's original director, Lamberto Bava) before the start of shooting. Producer Dario Argento gave Soavi the leeway to tailor The Church to his own vision. As Soavi told CFQ, "I turned what was conceived as schlock pizza cinema into a strong essay on karma and the ambiguous inner conflicts we all face at some time in our lives."

That might seem like a headier agenda than is reflected in the actual film but I love that The Church is a mix of the kind of graphic gore that fans of the Demons series would be looking for (with FX presided over by Makeup Supervisor Sergio Stivaletti) and the kind of poetic visuals that displayed just how quickly Soavi was advancing as an artist. I get the feeling that this film is too slowly paced for a lot of fans but even though things don't really get rip-roarin' until the fifty minute mark or so, I love the leisurely build-up and deliberate pace of the film so I don't feel any restlessness while watching it. A lot of that might have to do with the fact that I just enjoy listening to the synth-driven score by famed composer Philip Glass and Keith Emerson (of the '70s rock band Emerson Lake & Palmer) so I find it very easy to be patient with The Church.

Once events conspire to seal the film's characters (including a young Asia Argento as Lotte, the rebellious teenage daughter of the church's sacristan) inside the walls of the gothic Cathedral, The Church becomes an usual entry in the siege film subgenre in that its embattled characters are trapped inside with evil forces and unable to make their escape to the outside world. The characters are all thinly written (as well as being too numerous to get a handle on - even late into the film, Soavi is still bringing more people into the storyline) and its story is whatever but it's all just a hook for Soavi to hang his rich, baroque visuals on and on that level, The Church is irresistible to me.

A nostalgic reminder of a now long gone era of Italian horror, The Church is one of those movies that's purely cinematic, with almost every frame being interesting in some way. It's also a testimony to old-school FX ingenuity with rubber monsters getting their share of screen time and a climatic image of a writhing, intertwined mass of bodies - a visual that would be instantly CGI'd today - accomplished with wholly practical means.

It's moments like that that make me a true believer in The Church.