Thursday, October 31, 2019

Trick or Trailers: The Horror Show (1989)

Back when I named this blog, way back in (gasp!) 2007, I didn't put much thought into it. Truth be told, I've always kind of hated it and wish I'd taken a moment or two to come up with something better.

But what I definitely don't hate is the movie that the name hails from, 1989's The Horror Show. I mean, what's to hate about this:

Pure gold is what that is!

Originally meant to be House III (and released overseas as such), The Horror Show was re-titled in the US due to its intensity being out of step with the lighthearted nature of the first two House installments.

Casting classic character actor Brion James as horror icon in the making, "Meat Cleaver Max," was an inspired move that should have guaranteed that The Horror Show would spawn its own franchise.

Certainly, James tore into his role with all the gusto you'd expect, giving Max Jenke a signature maniacal laugh and spitting out lines like "I'm coming back to tear your world apart...I'm going to fuck you up!" with pure commitment. Brion had to be the first and only choice for this. I can't imagine anyone else even trying to out-Jenke James.

Pairing an actor as formidable as James with one as equally formidable as Lance Henriksen as the cop that Jenke torments was a masterstroke of casting. Having these two acting powerhouses face off against each other is not just rare in the slasher sub-genre, it's completely unheard of. That alone makes The Horror Show notable.

Sadly, all that talent and the name of Friday the 13th and House producer Sean Cunningham couldn't get audiences to buy enough tickets to The Horror Show back in the day and James never got the chance to be the next Freddy Krueger.

Hardly seems fair but those are the breaks. In life, you take your shots and you make the best of them. In the case of The Horror Show, Brion James made every moment count. When you've got the chance to become the next horror icon, you've got to think of it as the opportunity of a lifetime and swing for the fences. And you can't just chew some of the scenery, you've got to chew all of it.

Above all, win or lose, make damn sure they remember you.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trick or Trailers: Demons (1985)

"The preview you are about to watch is for a movie that is unlike any you have seen before. It is for a movie that goes beyond temporary fear to everlasting terror. It is a movie called Demons."

Damn, now THAT is a trailer!! Talk about giving a movie a hard sell!

And the great thing is, Demons doesn't disappoint! When you can hype a movie as heavy as this trailer does and still deliver, that's an impressive feat. In a true horror movie miracle, Demons is everything you'd want it to be.

The '80s were a robust decade for horror but it wouldn't have been half as memorable without Italian horror and its enthusiastic embrace of the splatter era.

For me, that was the trend that truly defined the '80s. Sure, I loved all the home grown horrors, like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street and so on but Italian horror was what the hardcore horror aficionado gravitated to - especially teen horror buffs. In the '80s, watching Italian horror movies like Demons was the cinematic equivalent of blasting the most raucous heavy metal you could find.

Being a teen is all about being rebellious and Italian horror felt rebellious. It didn't matter whether the movies were often ridiculous or that the dubbing sucked. You just weren't a real horror fan in the '80s unless you knew all about Argento and Fulci and Bava (Mario and Lamberto). That was like the secret handshake among horror fans. If you met someone who was into this stuff, you knew they weren't just into the mainstream shit. They had to be at least a little bit cool.

Or just a lot nerdy, like I was. I didn't have many actual friends as a teen back in the '80s but watching movies like Demons made me feel like I was part of a secret club, invisibly connected by a shared love of movies most would find appalling - if they even knew they existed.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Trick or Trailers: The Crow (1994)

Every so often movie studios are tasked with the difficult job of marketing a film after its star has passed. One of the most famous examples of which being the release of the dark comic book adaptation The Crow after Brandon Lee's tragic on-set death in 1993.

How do you promote a movie like this, given the circumstances, and not seem like a ghoul? Well, maybe you don't. All things considered, I think they did a fine job.

I know some people believe that The Crow should never have been released but I don't get that. Had Lee's family felt that way, sure, no argument. But if the family believed that the movie should be released and stand as a lasting tribute to Lee, I don't see the issue.

Certainly it's undeniable to anyone who watches The Crow how completely invested in the role of Eric Draven Lee was and, had he lived, there's no doubt that this is the movie that would have vaulted him to another level of stardom.

For it to just sit in a vault would have been a terrible waste.

Especially when the movie is as good as this.

As a fan of James O'Barr's comic, I was thrilled when I heard it was being made into a movie and I was stunned at how well director Alex Proyas brought it to life. Right from the opening shot going over a cool miniature of a decaying Detroit neighborhood, gliding up to the shattered window of Eric and Shelly's apartment, I knew that this was going to be something special. Few comic book adaptations honor their source material as well as Proyas and co. did with The Crow.

I'm surprised that The Crow doesn't get a lot more mention around Halloween time. After all, it does take place on the night before Halloween. Even though it's not a horror film, per se, it does overlap the genre and has plenty of Goth vibes to spare. It also won the Fangoria Chainsaw Award in 1995 for Best Wide Release Film - beating out Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Interview with the Vampire, Wolf, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (Ok, it didn't have much competition. But still, it won!) and Lee for Best Actor - beating out the likes of Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson (yes, cynics will say it was a sympathy win and, yes, these cynics would be absolutely right but I think Lee's performance is still worthy of sincere admiration).

The Crow spawned a number of sequels, all of 'em lousy, and a TV series, which I've actually heard good things about but have never watched myself. Every now and then, talks of a big screen reboot come up but eventually fade away. Who knows what shape a Crow franchise would have taken had Lee lived? The first movie seems so self-contained and brings Eric's story to a satisfying close, I don't see where the point would be of having Lee come back to the part.

And surely, after The Crow's success (and I do think it would have succeeded every bit as well without the morbid attraction of it being the film Lee died on) he would have been moving on to bigger things, right?

It's nice to think so. Why believe anything less?

Lee died twenty six years ago. He'd be fifty four now, had he lived. In other words, he'd still be relatively young. I mean, we don't think of Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt as old and they're both older than fifty four.

Crazy as it is to think, if Lee were alive today and passed, we'd say that it was far too soon. And yet a whole lifetime has gone by since.

I don't know what to say to that other than I think that's why The Crow endures. Beyond being a stylish, moody action/horror film, it's also a reminder that life is fragile and the tomorrow we dream about is not always the tomorrow that we live to enjoy.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Trick or Trailers: The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

I'm waiting for the day - surely in the not-too-distant future - when some horror fan born around '93 or so will write a book about the Golden Age of Horror as being from 2003 to 2007. You might find that an appalling - or at the very least absurd - thought but bear with me.

I don't think anyone would argue that the horror films that we see at an impressionable age are the ones that stay with us. That's just how it goes, right?

Being born in 1968, the years from '78 to '82 were my golden age for horror. The movies from those years are the ones that imprinted on me the most. I was old enough to see movies and understand them but yet young enough to not be jaded about them yet. It just so happens that those were very good years for horror by most objective standards but, at the time, there were also plenty of complaints from critics and adult fans about the slasher trend and the rise of splatter FX. It wasn't until fans of my generation got older that the virtues of, say, Friday the 13th or My Bloody Valentine were fully appreciated.

I think the mid-'00s are going to be a lot like that. Movies that may have seemed like forgettable junk to people my age are going to be revealed to have be defining movies for younger fans.

Which brings me to The Hills Have Eyes remake of 2006:

Boy, this movie is peak mid-'00s, isn't it?

That time just has an unmistakable vibe to it.

Everything seemed so hardcore then! Horror movies had been safe and tepid for so long all through the late '80s and the entire '90s and the 00's might well have continued on that same path but once 2003 came around with the Texas Chainsaw remake, Wrong Turn, Saw, Cabin Fever and House of 1,000 Corpses (I'm not saying all those movies are good, by the way, only that they came out around the same time!) it was like horror was suddenly back in the business of trying to hurt the audience again in a way it hadn't been in ages.

Was it due to our collective trauma from 9/11 and the Iraq War?

Maybe. Probably. I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine.

Point being, horror of the mid-'00s was all about being fucking gnarly and The Hills Have Eyes remake embraced and embodied that style.

Just as I have vivid memories of being traumatized by trailers and TV spots for slasher movies like He Knows You're Alone and Night School, I have to imagine the generation of kids who grew up in the '00s were convinced that every horror movie was a depraved orgy of violence.

How could they not be?

The generation before grew up with horror being jokey and semi-ironic. The horror films of the '00s, whatever their respective merits may be, wasn't about that. Movies like Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes were a long way from The Craft and Urban Legend.

Of course, like every trend, the appetite for torture porn faded out.

The Paranormal Activity films supplanted the Saw series as the big annual Halloween event and it was like the '00s had never happened. Kind of like when grunge got replaced by Britney Spears and 'N Sync.

When grunge was at its peak, no one thought music would ever go back to pop bullshit again but things can only stay so intense for so long, I guess. Sure, things aren't totally soft now. Some of that 00's vibe still lingers here and there but back then, it was like horror was on an united mission. There's no way the kids of that time don't think back to those days and say "man, remember when horror movies used to kick ass?"

That might seem silly to those who lived through that time as adults but, past a certain age, no one ever believes the time they're living through is going to be well-remembered. That's because the present always compares poorly to the memories of when we were younger.

You know, the good old days.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Trick or Trailers: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Sure, I hear you: "T2 isn't a horror movie!" But with positive early word coming in on Terminator: Dark Fate, I've got Terminator on the brain at the moment. Besides, T2 got plenty of coverage in FANGORIA back in the day so that alone makes this a valid candidate for Trick or Trailers! You can't argue with a Fango cover - it makes any film legit!

And as trailers go, you've got to admit, this one's pretty awesome:

This trailer brings me back to a time that doesn't really exist anymore, back when the summer movie season was THE time of year that genre fans - with their subscriptions to mags like Starlog, Cinefantastique and Fangoria - looked forward to, the months when studios would bring out their big guns and everything else would have to step aside to clear the way for this year's blockbuster behemoths.

Now, of course, that time is year round. The summer movie season no longer is confined to the summer. We live in a world where what was once nerd fare begrudgingly tolerated by the adults in the room is now the center of popular culture.

Once upon a time, a Terminator sequel represented a genuine event that the whole movie year could legitimately revolve around. Now Dark Fate is simply one of many big budget franchise films. It's a drop in the bucket. Practically small potatoes in the scheme of things.

The world has changed so much that rather than be a summer tentpole, Dark Fate is opening at the beginning of November, on Halloween weekend. That's a release date that would have, in years past, been reserved for the low rent likes of Vampire in Brooklyn, not a new Terminator movie.

In the summer of 1991, there was nothing that could even touch T2, spectacle-wise. Absolutely nothing. It was the summer of The Rocketeer, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Point Break, if you even want to try and call that a "summer," for crying out loud. Now it's a far more competitive market where spectacle is commonplace.

Of course, that does not sit well with some people.

We've all seen the recent headlines, right?

I have to think about what Joe Dante said in Maitland McDonagh's 1995 book Filmmaking on the Fringe, talking about how his career path co-incided with the rise of what were formally B-movies to A-pictures: "All of a sudden, ideas that would once only have been considered suitable for second features or serials were being blown up to A-feature proportions. If you told someone twenty-five years ago that there was going to be a multimillion-dollar version of Dick Tracy or The Lone Ranger or The Addams Family or any of those things that were once considered cultural detritus when I was a kid, nobody would have believed you." And this is back in the mid-'90s we're talking about. It should be no surprise that, twentysomething years later, things have only gone much further down that road.

Much like the upgrade from the T-800 to the T-1000, we're always looking to build a better machine and improve on last year's model.

That's why we've gone from this:

To this:

To this:

To this:

You can't stop progress, right? You can bitch about it and you can absolutely kick and scream about it, but you can't actually fight it. Fighting the future, well, that's the kind of stuff that only happens in the movies.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Trick or Trailers: The Devil Inside (2012)

It's not easy to make a great exorcism movie, as much as filmmakers keep trying. It is, however, a good deal easier to make a great trailer for a mediocre exorcism movie.

Case in point: 2012's The Devil Inside. Man, this trailer!

Combining the found footage genre with the exorcism genre, that's a slam dunk. Not for the movie itself, that was a dud. But for the purposes of the trailer and selling an audience on the pseudo veracity of this story, it's perfect! The Last Exorcism got there first in 2010 with that particular combo but The Devil Inside sold itself far better.

The marketing of horror movies is, often times, easier for me to appreciate and admire than the movies themselves. I suppose that's just one way of saying the trailers are often better than the movies they're promoting but I genuinely love the excitement that a great trailer can generate - even if the final product is an unfulfilling one.

I saw The Devil Inside with a packed house when it premiered in January of 2012 and I still remember the chorus of angry boo's that erupted when the end credits rolled! But yet it played to full houses across the country and every single ticket got sold because the trailer and killer TV spots like this hyped the living hell out of this movie.

Some people might resent trailers that dupe them into paying good money to see movies that don't live up to the hype. But not this guy!

No, while I would certainly prefer that every horror movie with a great trailer delivered on that promise, I never feel like a trailer misled me. Life is full of disappointments, you know? That's just a given. But while movies might frequently let you down, trailers rarely do. Trailers, for me, are an experience completely unto themselves.

They instill a sense of excitement that can last for weeks or months until the movie is released. If the movie ultimately fails to pay off on that anticipation, it's almost inconsequential to me.

When I look back at a trailer like the one for The Devil Inside, my thoughts are less about how much the movie wasn't what I'd hoped it would be but rather "wasn't it fun to be so pumped for this movie?"

No matter how many times I've been burned by a lame horror movie, I've never become cynical about them. A good trailer can still put me in a giddy mood.

Anything that can do that, to lift someone's spirits, that's invaluable. Trailers...they do God's work. Even when they're selling devil movies!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Trick or Trailers: Resident Evil (2002)

Kind of crazy how the movies from the early 00's are old now. If you don't believe me, just take a look at the trailer for 2002's Resident Evil and tell me that it doesn't look like a relic from a bygone age.

It's so early 00's, right? I mean, not a lot of movies today would consider it a selling point to boast "new music from Slipknot."

The world of 2002 was certainly a different place for the horror genre. Dark Castle was still a thing with the release of Ghost Ship. Eli Roth debuted as the hot new name in horror with Cabin Fever. And the J-Horror trend just hit the US with Gore Verbinski's remake of The Ring. 2002 was so long ago that not only were we in a pre-Blumhouse time but Liongate hadn't even had its day yet as the studio to beat for genre fare. if you can believe it, we were still in the Dimension Films era with the release of Halloween: Resurrection.

Seems more like the last century, not the last decade.

Something else that was different then that seems hard to imagine now is that the zombie genre was dead. Before Resident Evil I don't think there'd been a new, serious zombie movie in theaters since the remake of Night of the Living Dead in 1990.

There was the comedy My Boyfriend's Back in 1993 but as far as serious, flesh-eating ghouls, nothing. Resident Evil brought back the living dead in a big way when it was released in March of 2002. I'm not a gamer so the fact that this was an adaptation of the popular game meant nothing to me but as a zombie fan eager to see the sub-genre make a comeback I was thrilled when I saw the trailer for RE.

A lot of people credit Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later for kick-starting the zombie craze but while I agree it helped, RE is what got the ball rolling.

Resident Evil came out in March of '02 while 28 Days Later didn't premiere until November '02 in the UK and not until January '03 in the US. So RE was very much ahead of it and was a bigger box office hit to boot. There seems to be a revisionist history at work these days where discussions about horror in the '00s give all the credit for the return of zombie movies to 28 Days Later and forget Resident Evil.

Maybe it's because Boyle's film was more critically acclaimed and it's just more fashionable to laud it than to give Paul W.S. Anderson any credit but the truth is that Anderson made zombies into a bankable thing again. He brought an energy and excitement to zombie movies that they hadn't had in ages. RE was a new breed of zombie movie for a new decade - a new century even! - and it re-introduced zombies as a still-viable movie monster to a whole new generation of fans.

Yes, 28 Days Later came along and further amplified that but RE was there first. Credit where credit is due. And for me, personally, I just like Resident Evil better. 28 Days Later is perfectly fine but it doesn't have Milla Jovovich kicking ass, does it?

Of course, these days I can't think of an aspect of the horror genre I'm more ready to see go away than zombies. The Walking Dead beat my love of the undead out of me. That's another thing I couldn't imagine back in 2002 but that was whole other time and whole other world.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Trick or Trailers: The Legacy (1978)

It's that time of year again! Time to blow the accumulated dust off this blog and celebrate the season, Trick or Trailers style! I did think about letting it go this year but, you know, some traditions shouldn't be allowed to die!

I've been doing this yearly column so long that, honestly, I can't remember which movies I've already gotten to by now but I have a feeling I haven't covered 1978's The Legacy yet so I'm going with it!

While the '70s are known for the iconic likes of Halloween, The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes, The Omen, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Alien, and other mainstays of the genre, as a kid in the '70s, my perception of the decade's horror offerings was very different. For me, all the classics I just mentioned were completely out of reach. Thanks to a protective mother, I wasn't even able to see Jaws!

My horror diet in the '70s was very much PG and G-rated, and was mostly limited to whatever aired on commercial television. That's fine by me because just keeping things on that level was enough to have me frequently scared shitless.

In my child's eye view of '70s horror, the decade's heavy hitters weren't John Carpenter or George Romero, they were Bert I. Gordon and whatever dude directed The Car.

I wasn't an educated consumer back then, let's say. I couldn't differentiate between movies on grounds of their likely quality, which was actually nice. For me, going by TV spots and newspaper ads and not being old enough to read or care about reviews yet, something like Halloween was on the same playing field as Kingdom of the Spiders and held equal weight. A scary movie was just a scary movie.

So the fact that The Legacy was actually regarded as being pretty lame didn't register with me at all as a kid. All I knew was that the commercials freaked me out. So when the opportunity came to check out The Legacy when it came to TV a couple of years later when it premiered on The ABC Friday Night Movie, I was stoked, believe me.

The Legacy definitely lived up to my expectations with an eerie premise and some big scares (the scene where a swimmer dies in an indoor swimming pool when the surface of the water inexplicably turns solid terrified me). As far as I was concerned, it was as good a horror movie as I'd ever seen. That it was already a half-forgotten piece of schlock by the time I watched it would have been news to me.

In our internet age, where every place you look someone is slagging something that someone else loves, I wonder if people can still have that innocent time in their life when it comes to movies anymore. I hope so. To have those simpler times to bond with films without picking them to pieces is where a love of movies is able to take root.

Once it does, all the cynicism that comes later can't pull that loose.