Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Season's Greetings

Here we are at the end of October - the fastest 31 days of the calendar year! To celebrate the occasion, the latest Retro Shock Theater column is devoted to the dark horse of the Halloween franchise - 1982's Halloween III: Season of the Witch. For anyone old enough to remember the reception that SotW recieved back in the day, it's kind of mind-boggling to see the (still growing) fan following it commands today.

SotW was a movie I had skipped seeing for years, simply because it had such a toxic reputation, but when I finally saw it on TV in the late '80s, it really jumped out at me as being a cool little movie with a funky sensibility. The bait and switch by Universal was truly kind of bullshit but over time the movie has had a chance to be judged on its own merits.

Even with its improved reputation, however, the love for SotW is by no means universal. Some fans are still pissed that this doesn't have Michael Myers in it. Seeing as there's been, like, seven movies since SotW with Michael in them to still be upset about the one movie that didn't include him seems, um, I don't know - deranged, I guess.

Anyhow, I really dig the movie. I hope you do too.

And in honor of the insidiously addictive Silver Shamrock commercial, I'm posting some of my favorite retro Halloween spots.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Evil That Men Re-Do

So, as I'm sure everyone reading this already knows by now, the red band trailer for the Evil Dead remake was released earlier this week to mostly rapturous response. I'm sure not every fan is on board with this still because Bruce Campbell isn't starring in it or whatever but whaddya gonna do? I was all for this even before the trailer so I just feel that much more stoked now.

As remakes go, it's galling when cheeseballs like Michael Bay cash in on a much-loved property like A Nightmare on Elm Street but with The Evil Dead, not only are the original players involved (which worked out well when Wes Craven oversaw the remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left) but there is, I believe, a good reason (other than crass commerce) to bring back The Evil Dead for a new generation.

As great and as classic as the original is, it hasn't aged so well. Movies of roughly the same vintage, like Halloween or Alien, still can play for a new audience and not suffer too much from being dated. You couldn't do the same with The Evil Dead, though. Of all the Evil Dead movies, it's the one that doesn't hold up so well. It has a charm to it still but it's more unintentionally corny now than it is scary.

The thing is, that's not how The Evil Dead played back in '83. Back then, it seemed like the ne plus ultra of splatter cinema. Or, as the end credits described it, "the ultimate experience in grueling horror." It was a movie that was intimidating in its reputation and that absolutely lived up to the hype. I don't know anyone who was around back when The Evil Dead was first released who didn't regard it as a legitmately scary movie. The sequels took a different route and were great in their own right but I think a return to a truly frightening take on The Evil Dead is a good thing.

It's just such a classic set-up, such a classic horror movie premise - kids in an isolated cabin who find themselves possessed one by one by demons until only a last survivor remains - why not bring it back for a new generation and try to make the best version of that tale possible? You know, as much as Cabin in the Woods was acclaimed by some, it really didn't do much for me.

I dug the menagerie of monsters in the last leg of the movie and chuckled at the apocalyptic conclusion but other than that, I wasn't all that taken with it. I liked it, but didn't love it.

My preferences in horror generally lie in favor of movies that play it straight-up - the real thing rather than a deconstruction. And, so far at least, the new Evil Dead is looking very much like The Real Thing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The HorrorDads' Halloween Horror-Thon 2012: All Treats, No Tricks

One of these Octobers maybe I'll knuckle down and blog like my life depended on it but this year it's been just like years past where I pretty much vanish for the entire month. I always have the intention to not do that but then October happens and, hey, there's only 31 days to soak it all in! So much to see! So much to do! Anyhow, as the days counting down to Halloween quickly dwindle down to zero, the HorrorDads have been called together by head Ho-Dad Richard Harland Smith to program our individual dream Halloween triple bills.

The parameters were that the first choice be suitable for kids, the second be for seasonal, or casual, horror viewers, and the final pick be for the hardcore horror lifers.

Go visit Movie Morlocks to see what kind of Halloweens RHS, Dennis Cozzalio, Greg Ferrara, Paul Gaita, Nicholas McCarthy, and myself all have in mind!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sinister Sights

It's not often that mainstream American horror actually freaks me out. I enjoy it (well, some of it) but it's mostly junk food and I enjoy it on that level. I can't say that Sinister disturbed me in the way that recent foreign fare like I Saw The Devil has but it unsettled me more than I would've expected so I rate that as a notable accomplishment.

It's not a perfect film but its flaws fade in importance next to the ruthless approach taken by director Scott Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill. These guys were clearly out to make a serious horror movie and they succeeded admirably.

The plot is straight out of Horror 101. Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime author, has seen his career take a prolonged dip after his one big success ten years prior. Chasing another win, he moves his wife and two young kids into a house in which the previous family came to a grisly end. Ellison has neglected to tell his family that the specific house they've moved into was the scene of the very crime he's writing about but if this book pans out the way Ellison hopes, all will be forgiven. Despite these good intentions, it shouldn't surprise anyone when I say moving into the house proves to be a lousy idea.

Ellison discovers a box in the attic containing a Super 8 movie projector along with several reels of film. Ellison starts screening these films in the privacy of his office and he sees not just glimspes of family gatherings but also the horrific murders of these families. Ellison at first starts to call the police about this discovery but then opts to keep it to himself, believing that this will be his true ticket to fame.

The more Ellison delves into the mystery of these films and the history behind these various murders, the worse things get. Soon, Ellison is experiencing weird hallucinations and whatever is going on is seeping into his kid's minds as well with both his son and daughter showing signs of knowing about past events in the house.

Like I said, the story isn't much and anyone with even a passing familiarity with the horror genre won't be surprised by the basic path that Sinister takes. What elevates it is the abundance of disturbing imagery, an almost single-mindedly grim approach that's rare in US horror, and Christopher Young's striking score. As much as certain elements in Sinister are overly familiar (the movie freely cribs from various sources - the most obvious being The Shining and Manhunter) and as much as characterization is a mixed bag, my inner skeptic was continually forced to sit down and shut up by how well Derrickson mounts his shocks.

Some of the big scares are spoiled by the trailers but I'm not complaining. In fact, knowing a few moments were coming in advance probably saved me from being wheeled out of the theater on a gurney. Sinister isn't a film that gets everything right but it delivers dread with a sure hand.

If you're looking for something scary to see in the theaters this October (and if you're reading this blog, you're probably always looking for something scary to see in theaters) I don't see how you could do much better than Sinister.