Category Archives: Horror-Wood 2014
Time to cap off the Halloween season with a movie I think really needs to be given a second chance. In fact, it already has. Going back to Clive Barker, he was an interesting man that always too a different approach to horror but in a more fantasy way. Hellraiser could be argued as a Pandora’s Box story but with demons involved. It was his first directing debut and none the less, it was a success when you consider its $14 million gross on a $1 million budget . Clive’s second film was meant to be his break-through feature. But thanks to tons of studio interference and a terrible post-production that left what could of have been the “Star Wars” of horror fantasy became a truncated mess. I’m off course talking about Nightbreed.
The way I discovered this movie is interesting. I was looking at a compilation of Danny Elfman scores and one of them had tracks from the movie. Curious at the title and mystified by the tone of the music, I looked online and my curiosity grew further when I began to learn of its production history and of the film itself. No sooner I would watch that I had no idea what I would be in for. Craig Sheffer plays Aaron Boone, an everyman that has strange dreams of monsters and talks of a place called Midian. The only person who is invested in this is his psychiatrist Philip K. Decker (played surprisingly by famed body horror director David Cronenberg) who listens in to Boone’s talks of a world with monsters.
As it turns out, Midian is really a cemetary but underneath is a world full of beasts and creatures that have been fighting for survival for thousands of years. They are the only remaining kind and wish to be left alone knowing what humanity thinks of them. Boone ends up there after being framed for crimes he didn’t commit but one of the monsters tries to use him as a midnight snack. After bitten, he becomes one of the Nightbreed and learns that he might be the beast’s only last hope. As it turns out, Decker is going around killing people with a button-eyed sack mask with plans to extinguish “breeders” and all sorts of filth. It just so happens that Midian is next on his list.
Thankfully, there is an ally in the form of Boone’s girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) who is trying to find out what is going on with her undead boyfriend. Sure enough, she learns of the world of Midian and at first, she is a little unnerved by the unfriendly creatures. But over time begins to understand why they are like this and tries to help them in the final act. The chemistry between Lori and Boone is close to the standards of most romance stories but I feel its more developed. You get a sense of how much they care for each other and will go through all sorts of Hell to see they end up together in the end. Its a bit standard but its the heart and soul of the film.
The Nightbreed themselves are a unique batch ranging from nightmarish to almost like a surreal piece of art come to life. They are scary but yet uniquely designed. I recall a friend of mine saying they are “a Face/Off wet dream.” And it does. There’s so much make-up work to admire that its puzzling to see why it didn’t get nominated for an Academy Award for Best Make-Up. This was early when CGI was on the rise so its nice to see a lot of prosthetic and practical monsters. My favorite of the batch has to be Narcisse. He’s so unpredictable on the first watch and you just can’t help but love his antics. He’s like the Han Solo of the movie. One minute, he acts bat crazy and then the next minute, he’s ripping his face off to reveal his real form. Hugh Ross’s performance really steals the show and you can tell he’s having fun with this role.
David Cronenberg is also a delight to watch as the villain. Its bizarre to see the director of Videodrome and The Fly remake act in a movie. Many viewers feel that Cronenberg’s acting is not the best but I tend to disagree. That monotone voice and quiet personality I feel adds a lot to the character. He’s a psychiatrist so I expected him to act this way. If he started spewing one-liners like Freddy Kruger or acted like an unstoppable machine like Jason, then I would have problems. This differs from the norm of slasher beasts by having a character that can easily manipulate people while also trying to satisfy his urge to “purify” his own take a perfect world. Having him pinpoint the crime on his own clients I think is a clever idea considering how much sanity they question.
The final third of the movie is where things start to heat up as a group of people that act as the angry mob cliche ride in and attempt to destroy Midian. Its one adrenaline rush of a finale as they blow up the place and gun down the poor monsters. Its gripping and this is where you really feel sorry for the Breed. Its here that Clive Barker wanted something different from the typical monster movies of the past. He wanted a movie where you could root for the creatures. Make them the good guys and have humanity be the true beast. This is an angle I don’t think has been attempted before at the time and doesn’t come off as feeling preachy. Because that is what this movie is. A straight up love letter to monsters and why we love them. This is such an important entry to the fantasy horror genre because we never for once had any sympathetic feelings for something inhuman. That is if you count Bride of Frankenstein, but Nightbreed pushes it further by having these poor ground dwellers wanting nothing more but to live life. No war, no conflict. We start to wish that perhaps some things are best left as they are and wonder just how monstrous we can truly be.
I’d go into deeper detail about why Nightbreed is such a great movie but no review can do it justice. I never even got to talk about how Doug Bradley of Pinhead fame plays the head of the creatures or even the individual monsters like Peloquin and the seductive Shuna Sassi. I never got to talk about how enjoyable over the top the southern sheriff is or the priest Ashberry who keeps questioning his faith. There’s so much to talk about this movie and yet too much to even give away. If you really want one heck of a thrill ride, by all means give this one a good watch.
Now, I should probably talk about the Director’s Cut or else I will never get the chance. First, a quick history lesson. Clive Barker had a certain vision in mind but unfortunately the powers that be at Morgan Creek and test screenings really came down on the final cut. The final result was a very hampered edit that removed key subplots and confusing character arcs. This footage was said to be lost but recently, but in 2009, Mark Miller who co-owned Barker’s production company, found two VHS tapes containing two different workprints of Nightbreed. These two where fabricated into a composite cut called the Cabal Cut which was said to have run at over 150 minutes and played at many conventions.
This sparked much fan interest in a push to get this version to DVD and Shout Factor seized the opportunity. But it gets better. When they started on the restoration project, there was discovered 16 hours of footage from what I heard containing a good bulk of what Clive Barker originally intended and MANY scenes that were removed from the theatrical cut. As you can imagine, this was a dream come true. Not only were fans able to see the original cut but even Clive Barker was able to get his original vision out there. And I’m happy to say, this director’s cut ranks high.
I won’t give too much away behind what was restored as I wish to give new viewers an opportunity to see this movie so I’ll only summarize the important things. The love relationship between Boone and Lori is greatly expanded on as we also get to see their daily lives a bit more. We get a sense they are everyday people instead of generic star crossed loves while learning why Lori won’t give up on her love no matter what. My favorite new addition has to be when Lori belts out a rendition of “Johnny Get Angry” at a live show. Its amusing but also a nice little moment to see Lori really show what kind of girl she is. We also get to spend a lot more time with the Nightbreed as we learn more about their culture and even seen new monsters that were left on the cutting room floor. Its again nice to see so much craft on so many amazing designs while delving into this strange world and its mythology that was only scantly talked about in the theatrical edit.
The most obvious alteration is the entire finale. What felt like a battle feels like an all out war with more violent action scenes and even certain key characters have different fates. I won’t spoiler what goes on but I will say it ends a whole lot better than the cliffhanger they reshot for the other version. Nightbreed ends on a more hopeful message that doesn’t feel like the urge for a sequel is needed. It ends in a way that we can see this as a stand-alone film that is enjoyable and remarkable in its own right. Its a feeling of satisfaction to know that after so much Hell this movie when through that due to the power of its huge cult fanbase where able to make this possible. Hopefully this movie will get a larger audience in future and considering its Limited Edition set from Scream Factor is already sold out, it makes me wonder what else is planned down the road. Time may tell but for now, I couldn’t be happier to say that Clive Barker’s Nightbreed is truly a must see movie for the monster lover in all of us.
This concludes the first annual Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon. I hope you enjoyed my little trip down this massive line of horror films and I can’t wait to do it again next year. But for now, may the tribes of the moon embrace you….
Halloween: 20 Years Later or H20 (yeah, a sequel that is named after the formula for water…brilliant) has to come to fans as the one that ends it all. And I personally don’t blame them. This one really pays homage to the first film while also celebrating its 20th Anniversary. After beating a dead horse to the point of it being chard to the bone, it was time to give the franchise a good send off. Supposedly, this one is meant to come right after the first two Halloween movies ignoring parts 4 to 6. However, considering how odd it is to see Michael Meyers still alive after his fiery demise, some consider H20 to be after Halloween. Still, they do have some nods to Halloween II here and there like the song Mr. Sandman playing on the radio which was heard in Halloween II’s opening sequence and closing credits. In short, you have to see this as its own entry in order to appreciate it.
But the biggest surprise is that Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, now a single mom with a 17-year old son and a boyfriend. She works as a headmaster in a California university while hiding with a new name. Its nice to see Jamie return to the role that made he a famous scream queen and even gets to apply some of her comedic traits to the character too. Her character this time is going through emotional trauma after her experiences in Haddonfield as she worries about Halloween and sees visions of Michael Meyers where ever she goes. This works on suspenseful levels at times but ultimately is used for a cheap scare.
To sum up the first hour is that its loaded with cheapness. There’s so many fake scares that it almost becomes a huge drinking game. Every time Laurie bumps into someone, there’s dramatic sting that suggests a fright. It gets really annoying and old-fast. If that wasn’t enough, Michael Meyers is still at large and is after Laurie. There isn’t much of a body count as the previous entries which is a nice break but it feels like more could have been done. There’s not much of a darker tone here as this entry goes in a different route for its scares.
At the time, slasher films and horror movies in general were becoming dead. That was till a film called Scream rejuvenated it but I feel for the wrong reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I think its a good movie but not a complete classic. Wes Craven’s self-aware slahser flick was meant to a parody to poke fun at the cliches while examining what makes a horror movie work. After that, there came many imitators and spoofs that seem to be more interested in what Scream was doing than rather reinvent the horror genre. This is my main problem with H20 as it feels more like a satire and self-aware homage to the original than rather be its own thing. Near the final act, there’s little bits here and there that remind us of the original film a comedic take on the closet scene or one of the deaths being reminiscent of the nurse’s scalpel and hoist up like in Halloween II.
For those who saw the original, it might get distracting or you might find these homages amusing in their own right. H20 works better in the final act when Laurie finally gets to beat Micheal to a pure pulp. Its something we have been waiting to see for 20 years and it is what we get. By no means a solid entry, H20 feels more like an apology for the crummy sequels but goes too much for popcorn entertainment. Had there been character development and an actual feel of suspense, it would have been a good movie. As it stands, its easy to sit through but it will leave you feeling something more could have been done.
On the bright side, its the last of the Halloween moves…or at least till Halloween Resurrection came along. Because of H20’s success, another entry was commissioned which didn’t make any sense to exist seeing how the previous one ended. Well, they found a way around it in the most illogical way possible. Without giving too much away, it involves the old switcheroo.
The main meat of Halloween Resurrection focuses on the parody of reality TV as a group of teenagers are placed in the Micheal Meyer’s house with surveillance cameras on the walls and on their headsets. The idea is that they are to spend a night in the Meyer’s house while coming across little artifacts of his life. All the while, its a ploy for ratings as the props placed around the house are fake but Michael Meyers is the only real thing to fear. Its a clever idea that unfortunately doesn’t bring much pay off. The headset cameras really put you in the contestant’s perspective and the satire at times ranges from decent to shoved down your throat. Even a final bit near the end as one character talks about what real danger is like compared to fake reality TV really cements it.
It also doesn’t help that its being run by Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks who plan to cash in on this extreme ordeal while teenagers try to fight for their life when things get real. It feels like this could have benefited better as a computer game where you could switch between video feeds like Night Trap. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that infamous video game was an influence here. There’s some things that don’t make sense as contestants get naked and even do drugs while on camera. I should also point out this is being televised across the Internet where millions of viewers can watch this. Ever more confusing is where’s the police in all this when the body toll starts to clock in.
But the biggest problem I have is the first 16 minutes that clearly show its a continuation of H20. Without giving too much away, Jamie Lee Curtis returns but only in the opening sequence which feels so pointless that if removed, you wouldn’t miss a thing. But if you wish me to elaborate on what is wrong in that opening, it does what Psycho 3 did to Psycho 2. It recons a certain plot point near the end of H20 that only excuses it for more sequels. Had this prologue been removed, Halloween Resurrection could have been its own entry. Maybe even a stand-alone movie that acts like a parody more than a straight-up sequel. When continuing a story that was so tightly wrapped up, it has to fit within the standards of what was previous done or else it will be nonsensical and only prove to be sequel fodder as your reason. That is my biggest peeve with this movie.
I remember first seeing this and actually citing it as one of the worst movies I’ve seen. This was during my high school years when I was timid of horror films and it didn’t help I never saw any of the other Halloween movies at the time. I was more disappointed because I was expecting to be scared as opposed to seeing such stupidity. It also didn’t help that Michael Meyers gets defeated by not a beheading or set on fire but a kung fu kicking Busta Rhymes. It feels like a huge pie to the face even further when in one scene Rhymes walks about dressed as Michael but runs into the real killer and yells at him about how “he’s runing the effect.” And even goes as far to shout “I’m playing Michael Meyers” right at the real deal.
Today, I see it as a near guilty pleasure. Halloween Resurrection is very much in vein with Alien Resurrection when it sacrificed good integrity for popcorn entertainment. Its not “resurrecting” anything but feels like a desperate attempt to make another movie just for the sake of it. The only reason to see this movie is just for its stupidity but I best recommend this viewing option if your that curious to see it. Skip the first 16 minutes and it will be seen as its own thing. You won’t have to worry about continuity or anything else. You have a movie to mock at while enjoy. But at the end of the day, it is trying to continue the franchise with a pointless entry. If you want something “so bad, its good,” this is for you. But if you really want a good movie that doesn’t take what the film series has been building up to in terms of horror and scares, avoid it like the plague and pretend it never existed. Tell yourself the series ended with H20 again and again. Trust me, its better that way.
After the disappointing Halloween 5, viewers had to wait six years for another installment. Apparently, the writers crafted so many ideas for the next one but yet some complications came afoot when certain cast members like the original actress who played Jamie Lloyd wouldn’t return due to a money dispute and even during production key scenes would be dropped or re-written entirely. Apparently, this is not the first troubled sequel to do something like this. Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man had dialogue by Bela Lugosi as the Monster that got cut and Alien 3 has so many production problems that you could make a movie out of it.
Heck, there’s not one but two versions of this movie that exist. One that producer and Halloween franchise “shepard” Moustapha Akkad wanted and one that was forced to be recut by the Weinstiens who ran the Mirimax studio when the film was being made. By the time the final product was delivered, viewers would get many questions from the last entry answered and still be unsatisfied. Having not seen The Curse of Michael Meyers in theaters, I knew what to expect so there wasn’t much disappointment. At least till I saw the theatrical cut.
I’ll go into my explanations of the two cuts later but let’s take a look at the story first. It begins with J. C. Brandy as Jamie Lloyd escaping from an asylum where a cult is trying to kill off her newborn baby as a sacrifice. Michael Meyers goes after her for the child but is unsuccessful. The baby is later discovered by a grown up Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd in his first film role) who tries to take care of the boy as he delves into his Michael Meyers research. His character in the first film was one of the original kids Laurie babysat is now traumatized by Michael to the point he is obsessed with the famed serial killer and researches a lot of stuff on him. In a way, he’s almost like the next Dr. Loomis but you tend to question his sanity at times. Many would find this creepy and unsettling but I think it works seeing there is potential for a character to be so well-resourced with an infamous killer.
Across from his house is the Strode family who weirdly decided to move into the Meyer’s house. Apparently, the explanation goes is that it wouldn’t sell and John Strode (Bradford English) secretly moved in with his wife. Its weird but I guess they needed to come up with a reason for why Michael returns to Haddonfield. Living among them are Kara Strode (Marianne Hagan) who is trying to take care of her eight-year old son Danny who has constant nightmares of the “Man In Black” and Micheal. Its basically Laurie Stode all over again as Kara fights to keep her son alive from the wraith of the infamous killer and her distant parents. I should explain that Bradford’s performance of the father John is easily disliked. He doesn’t hold back and really makes you hate his character. That’s not what I want to expect. We love to hate characters and villains alike for how fiendish they can be as opposed to how nasty and mean they act to others. It just makes us want to see them die more instead of understanding who they are.
On a bright note, Donald Pleasence returns as Dr. Loomis who is retired at first but then starts delivering his “evil is here” speech when he finds out Michael is back. The performance feels tired but that’s what you would expect from someone who has appeared in so many sequels. I should address this was his last movie as he died shortly after filming was completed and before the reshoots began. Many of the crew members said he stood to his guns no matter how aged he was and it shows. He doesn’t have much to work with but Donald is such a respected actor and never disappoints. This is the near saving grace of both versions that I’ll get into later.
Well, as said before, The Curse of Michael Meyers tries to explain that the infamous killer is under the influence of a cult which is believed to have him under the “Curse of Thorn,” which is a thorn symbol that appears in the sky and is part of a Druid inspired cult. It should also be noted this symbol is on his arm as well. What is explained is that Michael is influenced to kill by means of sacrificing his next of kin for the sake of Halloween worship. I guess it explains why he’s after his bloodline and some of his supernatural abilities but what about the other people he killed on the way. On top of that, having Michael as the pawn to a cult is just low. It removes the mystery of the murder but not in a good way like Halloween II.
Even there are some ideas here and there which seem to work but only if there were fleshed out better. Leo Geter plays Barry Simms, a trash-talking radio talk show host that tries to exploit Haddonfield and its “banning of Halloween” as well as the Michael Meyers myth. Apparently, Haddonfield stopped celebrating the holiday after its Michael kills but even that doesn’t make sense when we see trick or treaters walking about earlier in the film. You could argue they are going to other cities or celebrating it in their way but it still gets never explained. Anyway, Barry is probably one of the many entertaining characters as he plays up like a spoof of Howard Stern. He gets his “just deserts” but something doesn’t feel right. We are introduced to him by means of audio from the radio but never see him till later on. If this character was played out more, it would have been something unique. Instead, it just comes off as a moment that comes and goes.
Now, I have to talk about the two different versions and why they are so distant from each other. So if you haven’t seen any of these cuts, get ready for some big spoilers. I’m not holding back. The original cut is called “The Producer’s Cut” because it’s the one Moustapha Akkad wanted. Unfortunately, after some disastrous test screenings, major reshoots where done and even some drastic editing was made to “salvage” the film in any shape or form. What was done I believe really hampered on what could have been a really intense entry.
The Producer’s Cut has a soft pace that is not too slow or fast. In this one, Jamie Lloyd gets to survive a bit more while in the theatrical cut, Michael Meyers kills her on a set of drills. Its graphic but at least in the Producer’s Cut, we spend more time with her even if they do kill her off anyway later on. At least her death scene in the original version is subtle and less graphic. Speaking of which, the theatrical cut adds a lot of gore in spots trying to up the ante as usual. For example, in the original cut, John was to be electrocuted by Michael Meyers and just die after 1.21 gigawats to the body. In the theatrical cut, they added a special effect to have his head explode. Its crazy but feels over excessive.
Probably the biggest difference has to be the ending. In the Producer’s Cut, we learn the father of the baby and its not pretty. Jame’s baby is revealed to be a forced inbreeding with Michael Meyers. You read it right. Michael Meyers was forced to have sex with his niece. I can’t say I was too shocked as I heard about this twist before but it opens too many questions. What did the Thron cult achieve by doing this? And if he is supposed to kill his bloodline, why didn’t he kill Jamie on the spot instead? The original version really seemed to build and build to something big and I expected it. But its a shame to see how well engaged I was to its conclusion that just tosses everything in the air for a possible entry. It doesn’t try to be climatic. Tommy performs an spell with stones to stop Michael (which surprisingly works leaving the killer frozen in place) and Loomis is passed on the Curse of Thorn leaving him to possibly take care of Michael now. First, the stone idea is very disappointing seeing how much intense the film was already. Second, I think it would have made more sense if Tommy got the curse instead of Loomis. I understand they wanted the character to stick around for more films but even the character was already too old as was Donald Pleasance. It makes sense seeing how much Loomis knows of Michael by why pass the curse to him at an old age.
Well, for the theatrical cut, they tried to fix that but it fails on so many levels. Michael goes from a pawn of the cult to just straight up killer. In fact, he axes off each member of the Thron cult for no reason leaving me wonder what did they want with Michael anyway and was their purpose to stop Michael or did they think they still had control? Uncle Meyers being the daddy is gone and the stone ending is scrapped. Instead, its vaguly hinted that Jamie’s baby was from gene-splicing stuff and Michael is killed off by many blows to the head with a pipe. Its baffling for me to see why they kill him off this way after seeing Michael getting gunshots to the head. Its a better-ish ending but its still worse than the other one. It answers little but raises more questions and succeeds in new dumb ways to make me tear my hairs out. Also, there’s a weird drum solo score they added for the finale that sounds like Animal from the Muppets having a heart attack while doing an epic drum solo. It doesn’t fit the tone the first 2/3 of the movie seeing the new footage is obvious to point out from its neon lit colors that look like dailies from Batman Forever.
But the biggest thing I have to address is how less of Dr. Loomis we see in the theatrical edit. He’s a big character and the only one from the original films that is carried over. Seeing him in the final cut makes me feel like its a cameo rather than a big role. He’s played up more in the Producer’s Cut and at least it feels like he has more to do. Again, he maybe just running about and trying to figure things about but its nice to see Donald take on the role one last time and it feels a tad more respected here. Its a shame because I want to say the Producer’s Cut is the better film but that has too many faults as well. I do admire the atmosphere and pace in the editing compared to the fast and unneeded ADHD editing of the theatrical cut. It shows which version had more care, but I feel another re-write could have improved this one a bit. Both cuts are bad and heavily flawed but at least the Producer’s Cut has some redeeming qualities to make me recommend it. But I can’t guarantee it will be to everyone’s taste and that goes for the theatrical cut too. The only positive I can think of for the theatrical cut is the songs on soundtrack which is generic 1990’s rock but at least Brother Cane’s “And Fools Shine On” is a good track to listen too. However, I feel its inclusion here was more needed for something like The Crow and not a whacked out, production fault like this one.
Halloween III wasn’t a huge flop. It was a minor success considering its $2 million budget and even the production wasn’t plagued with production problems. Everyone was having a good time creating something far different from the first two films. They thought it was a step in the right direction but critics and viewers disagreed. Thus, studios thought what they really wanted was more Michael Meyers and that’s what they did.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers does exactly what it says. Perhaps the most confusing thing is that Michael actually died with Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) at the end of Halloween II. That’s pure sequel proof. So instead they explain that he somehow surivied and slipped into a coma. I would be fine with that ridiculous explanation if they also didn’t have Dr. Loomis come back with burn marks and walking on a cane. With Michael, I can accept the fact that is possibly a charred and burned zombie but having Loomis also come out with minor burns is far more punishable. Continuity is easily scarified but things get a tad better from here on.
The focus of the movie is a young girl named Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) who is supposedly is the niece to Michael Meyers and keeps having trauma about it. You feel bad for her right away when kids pick on her about how her uncle is a serial killer. But she does have support on her side from her foster sister so at least there’s a sigh of relief. You really want Jamie to come out scratch free and I think what makes it work is how innocent Danielle’s performance is here. She’s vulnerable and seeks help from trusted allies like her sis and even Dr. Loomis at one point despite his frail condition.
Halloween 4 suffers from being a routine sequel with Michael going around and killing random teens. At least he has more creative methods but some feel laughable like when he stabs someone in the gut with a shotgun. Even more absurd is how after he breaks out, he goes and tries to get the same wardrobe he wore like the boiler suit and Shatner mask. At least in the first two films, there was this gritty feel to it where else here its too polished with a mask that has combed back hair and a physique of a bodybuilder with padded shoulders.
There is some charm here as it takes on cliches of the past monsters movies like the angry mob and some intense scares here and there like when the power to a house gets cut that leaves many in the dark. It really tries to set Michael a new and do something different but you can’t help but feel its treading what made the first two movies so good. Its not a bad entry by any means and it does have some creative liberties while being surprisingly entertaining. I just wish it was more dark and foreboding. Not half bad but it could have been worse.
In fact, the latter started to get worse. Halloween 5 can be described by one adjective; rushed. In fact, this entry was released exactly one year after The Return of Michael Meyers and it shows. Instead of having one focus, it tosses so many things up in the air that it hopes it will connect and somehow work. It doesn’t. There’s no payoff, no subtle build and little to nothing is salvageable. Danielle Harris returns as a far more petrified Jamie Lloyd who is in a children’s ward and mute. At the end of Halloween 4, an evil force takes over her and kills her foster mother. The supposed idea was for her to be the next Michael Meyers which I feel had potential. Instead, they make up some excuse by saying she has some form of psychic link without any deeper detail. Again, unique idea but it doesn’t pay off.
Worse of all, she is plunged into Hell as next to everyone doesn’t give her much help. Her foster sister and friends are more interested in partying than keeping a vulnerable girl safe. Worse of all, Dr. Loomis acts crazy to the point he’s a live action depiction of Elmer Fudd. In one scene, he bursts into Jamie’s room demanding to know what he sees of Michael while madly grabbing her and shouting for answers. Its probably the most mean spirited thing I’ve seen that I feel is far too out of character for Dr. Loomis. Sure, he’s obsessed with Micheal Meyers. After all, he was the doctor’s patient. But I never would think he would stoop so low to do things like capture him with a metal net or use Jamie as bait at one point. Its unsettling and I feel bad knowing how good of an actor Donald is. He even felt the idea of Jamie being the killer would have better than what we ended up with. But alas, the damage has been done.
Halloween 5 (aka The Revenge of Michael Meyers, even thought it doesn’t appear in the opening credits) is essentially two movies in one. At one corner is a psychological thriller that is paper thin and the other is a Friday the 13th clone as a group of annoying teenagers get axed off. They pull so many pranks on each other that it feels nauseating. And by the time they get killed, it feels like a sigh of relief. We don’t want that. We want to have a sense of fear for characters and care for them. They are not dead meat you place on a hook and forget about for hours. The rest of the movie tries to salvage itself near the end but nothing feels complete. Even a plot line about a man dressed in black is very unneeded. If that wasn’t bad enough, nobody had any idea what this character should be. You can cut every scene he’s in and it wouldn’t change the movie that much. He’s that useless. By the end, it feels a sequel is needed after opening this new can of worms with a unneeded and undeveloped character and some bits here and there that feel like build up to another entry. Bottom line, there is no need to see this one. Halloween 5 is just wall to wall filler. And in regards to its sixth film, its too infamous that it deserves it own entry. Check back tomorrow because your in for a wild one…
In order to discuss the franchise of a film, some deeper detail has to be made on certain character and story elements. In short, spoiler alert!
Of course, what is the season like without the Halloween franchise. Spanning over eight films and two “remakes,” this series has a legacy of films that took such a simple premise about a serial killer and went all the way. No one would think John Carpenter’s masterpiece would reach this far in horror history. A simple story that scares you with the subconscious and classic monster movie cliches while giving a fresh feel to them. In a nutshell, that is very much what the first movie about, but is there more to it?
The story centers around Michael Meyers, an infamous killer who was sent to a sanitarium after murdering his sister when he was a child. The opening scene in general is a good idea of what this movie is like. The first kill is all through first perspective and you don’t expect the murdere to be so young which makes the reveal more frightening. 15 years later, Michael breaks out and is off to find is old home but kills more teenagers in the process. What makes this “boogeyman” frightening is how he has no agenda or reason to his kills. We can only guess he is doing this because of the trauma as a kid but less motive behind his body count, the more tense it feels. Even the look is creepy enough with a boiler suit and a white William Shatner mask. Again, its basic but something about it feels realistic to the point its frightening.
As always, there has to be heroes. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie Strode, a kind hearted babysitter that will go as far to put her own life on the line just to save two kids. She is the innocent and pure heroine that we want to see live at the end. She’s smart but funny when she needs to be. Its odd seeing Jamie Lee Curtis here before her forte into comedy seeing how popular she was as a scream queen. But the biggest highlight is of course Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis, a psychiatrist that has looked after Michael and studied him a long ways back. He’s the one that knows what is going on but keeps falling on to deaf ears. Donald brings a very chilling presence considering his character knows Michael Meyers too well to the point we think we are dealing with more than a man here. Loomis keeps saying how Michael’s eyes are like that of the devil. That is all we need to know of how monstrous this killer is and why Loomis has to stop him.
While Halloween is not strong in plot, its big on atmosphere and characters. There’s a chilling sense from start to finish that reflects the cold and eerie feel we get from the holiday. Even for the low budget, Halloween really doesn’t feel cheaply made. Its slick, intense and engaging right from the opening credits. Its by far a masterpiece in its own right.
With the success of the first film, the last thing to expect is a Halloween II. Well, the last one ended on a cliffhanger so I guess it makes sense to see “more of the night he came home.” It’s funny how one has a choice here. They can either watch the first film and just leave it on an open note that Michael is still out there or if they want to see the story continued, they have the sequel. For me, I like the notion that there is a continuation and what we get is by far near superior to its predecessor. Sure it has problems but its on the same eerie tone as Halloween while pushing the envelope to keep the series fresh.
Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode and spends most of her time in a hospital slightly traumatized. Again, she is still the same girl we cheered on from the first film but this time the stakes are raised. When Michael Meyers comes after her, a chase ensues throughout the hospital where Laurie has an injured leg and hobbles quickly from the masked murderer. It seems strange how Michael keeps walking at a slow pace but something about it feels intense right down to the score and its dramatic stings.
Donald Pleasence also returns as Dr. Loomis and is given more to do. My problem with the first film is how both Loomis and Laurie never cross paths until the very end. Here, they finally intersect and we get a sense of support as opposed to a random psychiatrist coming to your house just to nab a serial killer. The bulk of the movie has him running about the town Haddonfield looking for Michael while trying to piece together why he came back in the first place. They do a give a reason which somewhat demystifies him but I feel it works in its favor. I wish I could give it away but its built up as this big twist so I best let you find out for yourself. Viewers who eagerly awaited this sequel were treated to a new cut of Halloween that premiered on NBC around the same time the sequel was released. This version alluded to why Michael is after Laurie Strode as footage was shot back to back. I best recommend checking this version out which thankfully is available on the new Blu Ray set.
Halloween II really raises the stakes and even adds new characters to the mix as well. My favorite is Budd (Leo Rossi) who just doesn’t give two cents about anything and constantly has a vocabulary of swears. It knows how to balance the humor and scares really well. Speaking of which, viewers might be unsettled to see a difference in the violence as the gore is raised up a bit. From a needle to the eyeball to someone drowning in scolding hot water, these kills are not subtle at all. This would continue the streak of having each sequel try and up the kills but it feels somewhat unneeded. Director Rick Rosenthal originally intended the film to be on par with the “not too” bloody tone of the first film but extra scenes of blood and gore were added to compete with other horror films at the time and raise the scares. As much as I don’t want to sound like I’m contradicting here, but they do add a level of terror but I feel sometimes less is more. Its not as bad as today’s horror films that show guts and limbs getting hacked so I’ll give credit where its do. If you really feel that squeamish, Shout Factory was able to release the original TV cut that supposedly is what Rick Rosenthal originally intended with his version. Fans also might want to check it out as it contains a lot of additional footage and even an alternate ending. Overall, I’m happy with what they did with Halloween II and is probably one of my favorite sequels. It doesn’t rehash and tries new angles with the characters to keep it fresh. Unlike later titles we will examine that keep repeating and failing to obtain new stuff.
In fact, the first two movies were meant to be connected to each other. Almost like The Godfather Part I and Part II, they were meant to have one story span over two films. The rest of the sequels were meant to have a different story almost like an anthology series. Well, the plot hole in that plan was that the first two films were one story. And another sequel meant a continuation of that story. People were confused to understand why there was no Michael Meyers and immediately hated it. In fact, for the longest time this movie got so much negativity that it stood out like a black sheep. But in due time, many have revisited and reevaluated it to the point where its become a cult classic and a crowd pleasing entry. So, where does Halloween III: Season of the Witch stand with me? I’m just going to say this right off the bat. I really enjoy this entry a lot.
A novelty supplier called Silver Shamrock creates a set of masks that are a hot priority for the season. Ever more so they boast a big giveaway on Halloween night and invite kids to gather around the TV sets with their masks on. Dan O’Herlihy is the owner of the Silver Shamrock factory and you can tell just how much fun he has with this role. He loves the Halloween season, he likes playing all sorts of tricks and even going as far to have an endless gallery of windup toys and machines. But it turns out the masks are one big ploy as he plans to play “the joke of the children.” He celebrates Halloween the hardcore way as he plans to sacrifice tons of innocent young kids. How? The masks are equipped with a microchip that is set off to somehow kill them. What makes this possible? He stole one of the Hedgestones from Britian and uses some stone chips into the microchip because they are part of Druid magic. This is probably the biggest problem with the movie. I like how overly creative it gets but there are times when it can get silly. Thinking about how one man is able to steal a giant boulder is just too much to think off. And how the science is able to mesh with the dark arts is also a head scratcher.
But what makes this movie work is the performances and just how it soaks itself in the Halloween season. There’s a speech Dan O’Herlihy’s character has near the end about how dark and foreboding the past Halloween was that really sends a chill. The look of the movie is good too with the feel of a 1950’s B movie like Invasion of the Body Snatchers-ish vibe. The idea of a corporate giant that is killing those with consumerism is a frightening and very subtly executed idea. In fact, a lot of the holidays seem to get really corrupted by giant corporations these days when you think about so the message of the film does half work.
Tom Atkins as plays a character named Dr. Dan Challis who gets word of the masks and tries to figure out the mystery behind them. At first, I didn’t like him seeing how much of a womanizer he is. But on repeated viewings, the character has grown on me. He has an ex-wife and is trying to playboy up his life a bit seeing how miserable it gets. This might thrown some people off and make it seem that he’s a jerk but really he’s just looking for a good fling and adventure.
There’s really not much else I can say except really just see this one. It might be cheesey on first viewing but on repeated viewings, it does get better. Had this movie NOT been titled Halloween 3, it would have done better or at least be seen as a separate film. The final nail in the coffin is how we see TV commericals for the original Halloween which clearly cement its trying to be a follow-up. This always stood out to me as weird but if you make the argument that the film exists as a “dramatization” in this universe, it sort of works. Still, its probably the more original of the series compared to what we will examine down the road.
The Crow is another film that I feel gets overlooked for the Halloween season. Its set around the spooky season and its themes of revenge along with the concept of a walking spirit feel very fitting. It started as a comic book by James O’Barr who crafted it after the loss of his wife and sure enough was brought to the attention of Paramount who gave a green light. I guess I can’t continue without saying that thanks to a mishap on the set, it cost the life of Brandon Lee. Instead, Paramount opted not to finish the film but Miramax picked it up while adding some extra funding to the budget.
No one can’t refer to this movie without talking about the unfortunate death of its star which brought more controversy than Twilight Zone: The Movie. And its a shame because without Brandon Lee, The Crow wouldn’t have been thrilling, edging and emotional than what it became. He is what really sells this movie. Brandon plays a guitarist named Eric Draven whose life goes from heaven to hell when local thugs kill him and his fiance. One year later, he rises from the grave and seeks revenge against those who took his happiness and life away.
On the surface, the story is a basic revenge tale as the resurrected Eric seeks to kill those who did him wrong. But what is different here is how he treats each act of revenge more psychologically but yet on a supernatural level. It makes us wonder if this is for the good or is Eric really destroying himself. There’s a scene where he goes after a pawn broker played by Jon Polito because his engagement ring to his girlfriend is located there. In a mental taunt, he takes out the assortment of rings the guy got and says how they are a life that was taken. Its a chilling moment when you considering just how many fell victim to what Eric went through and just how the pawn broker was just doing his job.
I also like how Eric’s presence as “The Crow” when he gets resurrected resembles something of a porcelain doll. The fact that a toy is hollow as he is but yet is emotionally scare plays a lot of symbolism. There’s a lot of moments like that throughout like when he looks at his old apartment for the first time and gets flashbacks of the past. Some are good and some are painful. A hardship of letting go that he can’t do without.
Though he’s not alone as at his aid is a kid that was friends with Eric when he was alive and Ernie Hudson as a police Sargent Albrecht that is trying to piece together what is going on. Rochelle Davis plays her character as the usual child that aids the hero but you grow to sympathize with her seeing her mom is not up to being a supportive parent. The only problem with her character is how she is treated like a plot element later on but other than that I think she’s ok. Ernie Hudson is always going to be good no matter what movie he’s in. At times, he can be serious and other times comedic. A good example is when The Crow introduces himself in the Sargent’s home but Albrecht is caught literally with his pants off. The conversation they have is solid with a few comedic beats that gives us a break from the heavier moments.
Michael Wincott is the head gang leader named Top Dollar and lives up to the name of a true villain. He is power hungry yet will seek to be assured that evil can run amok like kids in a candy store. I like Wincott’s performance is laid back but later becomes more devious when he realizes what kind of vigilante he is fighting against. Its neither too over the top or soft. There’s a perfect balance that gives a memorable and sinister character.
To describe The Crow in a nutshell, picture Tim Burton’s Batman if it was darker and more music video influenced. With strengths of the question of morality in the story, the visuals and look of the movie is sure to please. A feast for the eyes as it goes right down from the dark lit alleyways and right use of color pallets. The flashbacks being bright and vibrant which contrast the grim view of Detroit but in a more comic book fashion. While The Crow was a box-office hit with viewers and critics, it strangely never got that huge recognition like Superman: The Movie or Tim Burton’s Batman. In fact, this movie was riding on the heels of many films trying to cash in on Warner Bros’ bat success. What separates it from the others is how it goes for a more artistic approach. It knows when to be subtle quiet and when to question just how good revenge is. Overall, The Crow is certainly a must watch for anyone.
James Gunn seems to be making a name for himself. This summer, he gave us Guardians of the Galaxy which I still feel is by far the best movie of the year so far for its well-developed characters and science fiction fun. However, this would not be the first time he would helm a project like this with such tongue-in-cheek fashion. In the beginning there was Slither. A very unique horror comedy that felt like a throwback to the campy B-movies of the 1980s while also being an homage to the 1950 science fiction classics like The Blob.
Right from the opening, you can tell what kind of movie you are in for as two local cops chat about birds and yet they fail to notice a meteorite crash right behind them. The meteorite is actually carrying an alien parasite that infects everyday simpleton Grant Grant who starts having strange cravings for meat and developing strange boils on his body. Micheal Rooker is a delight to watch seeing he plays two characters in one. A man with a trouble marriage while also being controlled by the parasite’s mind. What I find interesting is how creepy yet humorous of Grant’s awkward behavior. When he speaks like a normal human, it almost sounds strange just by how he cooks up an excuse that is harebrained like saying his odd welts came from a bee sting.
Its not long till police chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) starts to catch up on strange things happening in the town like the disappearance of various pets and a missing girl. Nathan’s character can be best described as a very relaxed personality that knows trouble when he can sense despite how sickening it can get. He’s the average hero that knows what is going on (somewhat) but yet everyone has a hard time believing him. In a way, its a nice twist to see a member of the police is not believed as opposed to a teenager getting the shaft which is a good chance of pace.
Sure enough, they find Grant is behind the strange events and worse of all is mutating into a bizarre monster with tentacles that feels like a cross between the Blairmonster from John Carpenter’s The Thing and the hideous Pretorius creature in From Beyond. Its a horrific design that is grotesque yet humorous seeing how one small infection can turn a man into a gelatinous blob with mounds of tentacles. He is however not the only victim as Brenda, a childhood crush of Grant’s, gets used to birth tons of baby alien slugs in one of the film’s most memorable and disgusting scenes. Its gross but hilarious seeing a woman blown up to the size of a beach whale and complain about giving birth to tons of alien slugs that instead tear her to shreds.
The rest of the movie becomes a mix between a George A. Romero and John Carpenter picture as the whole town gets possessed by the slugs and share a psychic link with the hive leader Grant who grows to be more revolting than before. I like the idea of an entire town possessed by alien slugs giving a unique zombie feel to it. And having the folks share the same thoughts as Grant gives the feel of people being turned into nothing mindless drones collecting goods for the hive.
The biggest highlights of Slither include the humor and the special effects. As said, the whole movie has a tongue-in-cheek feel that foreshadows later events and feels self-aware but not the point it takes us out of the movie. Its subtle and knows when to swing between delivering scares and being comedic. I especially enjoyed Gregg Henry’s character of the Mayor who doesn’t hide his crude personality and flips out when the slugs attack to the point that he knows it hits the fan when no one packs his favorite soda. On a technical lever, Slither succeeds in blending CGI and practical effects very well. The animation on the slugs is so good that it almost feels like watching stop-motion when we see them slide about the walls or sneaking around houses for a new victim. There’s times when the CGI is a bit too obvious for things like the final form of Grant’s hideous transformation but you can’t help but admire the design and craft.
Thought I shouldn’t say Slither is for everyone. There are times when it might get a tad intense with moments of dead animal bodies and a sequence when a whole family including two kids become victim to the brainwashing slugs. I do feel the less gore, the more effective it will be. But I can’t say its gets too much to the point where it gets distracting but sensitive viewers might want to watch with caution. Its a shame this didn’t do well at the box office as its producer cited that it was “the first comedy-horror in a long time, and maybe the marketplace just isn’t ready for comedy-horror yet.” True, but I would go as far to say it came on the wave of many zombie movies that would either redefine the genre or just fall into the crowd of corpses. Slither is unique seeing how it takes the absurd concept and does a humorous take to it. And for a budget of only $15 million, you will be surprised to see how well you get your money’s worth here. Overall, a solid recommendation for James’ first outing.
Stephen King once claimed to have “seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker.” Indeed, Clive Barker is a different kind as his style more delves into the darker aspects of fantasy while giving viewers and readers a creative nightmare that we wish to revisit. While most of his work was adapted to film, his earlier adaptions where not crafted by him. He did the screenplays for 1985’s Underworld and Rawhead Rax but he was disappointed by the final results. When it came to adapt his novella The Hellbound Heart, Clive took it upon himself to take the director’s chair and give his own personal spin on how his adaptions should be.
Hellraiser is probably the easiest to recognize because of its setup that feels like a different take on Pandora’s Box. Outside of the basic gore and bloodshed, what viewers remember the most is the underlying theme about the dangers of pleasure. Pleasure from love, murder and most of all sadism. What I find interesting is the how the universe is set up along with the supernatural beings to go with it that really hold this movie together.
Sean Chapman plays a self-absorbed Frank Cotton who obtains a strange puzzle box that if solved will unleash a set of demons called the Cenobites. Sure enough, he solves it and his prize to claim is getting torn to bits by the masochist beings. Years later, his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) takes refuge in the house Frank lived at while his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) is revealed to have an enormous affair with the vigorous sibling. However, all is not lost as Frank is resurrected after a few drops of blood hit where he stood rendering him as a skeleton with some guts. Julia finds out its her old fling and decides to help by bringing fresh male victims so Frank can get more energy.
The reason Frank is in hiding is that he manged to escape the Cenobites somehow and fears they will come after him again. At this point after consuming some date bait from Julia, he develops flesh and blood while trying to remain alive and well. Meanwhile, Larry’s daughter Kristy (Ashley Laurence) thinks somethings is up as she finds her uncle Frank to be nothing more but bones and flesh minus the skin. At one point, she obtains the puzzle box and comes face to face with the Cenobites who promise no harm unless Frank is delivered to them.
As said before, the whole movie is very much one creative yet twisted nightmare that feels never ending. Elements of surreal nature like Frank’s status as a body without skin and the world of the Cenobites really add to the dream like nature. Unlike Nightmare on Elm Street where its a battle between dream and reality, Hellraiser is the dream that we wish to escape but can’t help but admire how dark it is. I find it interesting how Julia wishes to serve her love but is stuck between a living corpse in the attic and her own spouse. My only problem is that we spend so much time seeing the chemistry between Julia and Frank that Larry feels shoved off to the side. You could argue the movie is more about the consequence of giving in to twisted pleasures but when we feel Larry is going to be on the chopping block, there is little care here. We don’t get to see much of Larry or have a handle on how developed this character should be. There are moments when we don’t want to see him die but that’s very much because of how “goodie” of a character he’s played out to be.
While the story has a few clinks, the biggest star of all is the special effects and make-up work. This truly is a technical achievement showing how well practical effects can be utilized from a skinless corpse to freaky demons that snap their jaws at you. Despite being dated, if you take into accord the $1 million budget here, its impressive already. The cinematography has a very slick approach that is hard to match. You have to give credit for such craftsman ship here.
Viewers might disappointed to read that the Cenobites don’t fully show up for the last third. The focus of the story is more on Frank and his dilemma while Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and the gang feel more like a plot element at times. But even in their first carnation, they look very intimidating. I like the different desings that alomst play off how “evil” they can act. Theses are the kind of demons you don’t want to make a deal with seeing how much they go back on their promise of saving you. The final is a notable highlight as hell literally breaks loose and our main heroin has a lot of monsters to get through before making it out alive.
Hellraiser is a unique movie that can’t be doubled again. Its really warning us about the dangers of giving into deeper desires as Frank keeps feeding on life in hopes of being fully human again. There’s not much negatives to think about aside from the fact that the Kristy character doesn’t come in till halfway. There’s so much focus and attention to the Frank and Julia storyline that it doesn’t mean much when we cut to a different character. There’s some images that will never leave my head but I can’t say this is a “hands-down” master piece. That goes to another of Clive’s films which I talk about in the near future. Hellraiser is no classic but its a memorable that feels like a throwback the Grim tales of the past or ones we’ve heard of before. All in all, this is a crowd pleaser that houses few negatives to pick on.
After John Carpenter’s Halloween, a wave of imitators and clones erupted from the film’s success. And who could blame them? The usual path was when something was a big hit, others would follow in the footsteps in hopes to fall into the same path for success. Of all the movies to come out this way, Terror Train is probably the only Halloween clone I can think of that is actually not that bad. It shares similar characters and cliches and even go as far to have Jamie Lee Curtis play the female lead. Regardless of how a film is obviously banking on the footsteps of another, the real question is does it work as a movie on its own. The answer is yes and no.
The whole movie is set on New Year’s Eve as a group of medical students are set out to a costume party on a train. Its never said if they are going to a destination but I guess New Year costume parties were the rave seeing Trading Places set a scene during one. However, these guys are in trouble as they get axed off one by one with a killer loose on the locomotive. To be fair, this movie has the clever way of hiding its killer as each victim has a costume the murderer dons to avoid getting caught. Its an idea I do like that really gives our serial killer more of an easy way to hide and draws suspicion over who is a party goer and who is the killer.
Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is in this as Alana Maxwell, a medical student that is very much a clone of Laurie Strode minus some of the moral values. To be fair, she doesn’t engage in the sex and booze but she is acquitted against one thing that I will get into later on. Considering how “pure” she is and how well one-step ahead she can get, there’s no sense of risk that she is likely to end up dead as a door nail. For those who know their horror movie survival rules well might have a hard time getting past the predictability factor as keep guessing which body will drop next. Alana is just too obvious to be safe.
The middle section of Terror Train is easily the strongest element as there are moments of intense shock and some really well shot scenes. Most notable is when Alana is locked in a office entrapped within a metal cage and cornered by the killer. The villain goes as far to burst out all the lights and attempt to kill her with an iron rod. You can feel a sense of claustrophobia even within the boxcars as its so tightly filmed that you can almost feel the passengers trying to fit in the small space. The lightening knows when exactly to set itself on mood and atmosphere just as much as the cinematography which I feel is a huge strength here.
Viewers might also be interested to know that famed magician David Copperfield makes an appearance as a magician as his first and only on screen appearance. Its a very small role but he makes up for it by performing stage tricks to the amazement of the booze induced teenagers. When the film is not attempting to be frightening, it takes a back seat and lets us see some good old fashioned magic tricks so there is some entertainment value here to be hold. Its a shame David never went on to do anymore films as he is not a bad actor here and becomes a big part in the “who dunn it?” scenario.
Outside of the fact Terror Train is a clone of Halloween, the biggest problem this movie has is the opening and the conclusion. The prologue itself I personally feel gives away exactly who the killer is and the motive. With that out of the way, we don’t really have a sense of care of the teenagers he axes off as we feel its more a “just deserts” feel. I want to give it away but I fear there is no reason seeing the game of unmasking the killer is spoiled at the start of the film. However, there is a small twist near the end that explains how the murderer got on the train in the first place which I think is really clever. But even the way it ends doesn’t pack much punch. The killer is revealed, something causes them to get a fuse of trauma and is easily dispatched. This is my only problem with the entire movie seeing the entire middle is just well done. If the opening was perhaps used as a flashback near the end and given an ending with some punch to it, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
Terror Train is really not that bad but I can’t say its a good movie hands down. If it just sharpened up on its “bookends,” maybe it would have been a stronger movie but the way its filmed and how much use of space they take to advantage on the train is just so unique not to ignore. This is one of those films that is easily to sit through and at least not as over the top or overly gory unlike later slasher films in this genre. On the surface, its harmless to sit through but if your looking for a different spin on the slasher genre that doesn’t use Halloween as its “questionable inspiriation,” this might not be for you. Close call but this deserves a marginal recommendation to this crazy tain. .
I knew at some point I had to toss in a family movie that had some relevance to the holiday other than E.T. Among the many that get airtime on networks, I’m surprised to see how many times they play the 1995 live-action/CGI hybrid Casper. Its very much become a staple on ABC Family to the point its this generation’s Rankin Bass. Its not Halloween until they play it and its not Halloween without people seeing it. Seriously, its getting airplay at least three or four times this year. But to be fair, I watching movie a lot as a kid and have fond memories remembering what scenes I liked and some notable quotes. But over the years, there comes a point where as an adult, you have to revisit those films and TV shows that you grew up with to see how well it holds up. And for the longest time, I didn’t get a full look because I didn’t think it would live up to my expectations. Thus, I finally sat down to watch one of my childhood favorites and surprisingly, it still holds up. Ok, technically there’s problems but it still holds up in my books.
The first problem I should address is how much time we spend with the villain. The first 20 minutes focuses on a greedy woman named Carrigan who hopes spending time with her off-screen dying father would give her some dough. With everything going to charity, she is left with nothing but a condemned mansion in Friendship, Maine (and yes, this town does exist in real life oddly enough.) But it’s revealed a treasure of some value is buried and she plans to see what gold lies in the rundown place. To be fair, Cathy Moriarty is a good actress as playing characters like this but the entire character of Carrigan is just uninteresting. We’ve seen this kind of villain before. Its the Cruella de Vil kind of character that is self-centered and wants what she wants. What saves it from being boring is Moriarty’s performance who is clearly having fun but there has to be more to this character than being a selfish brat that wants hard cold cash. Even at her side is a bumbling butler named Dibs played by a surprisingly unfunny Eric Idle. And don’t get me wrong, I like Monty Python but his character really doesn’t do much for me. He’s the lackey that always gets the shaft and its a bit predicable at times. There’s a moment near the end they do this twist with him trying to turn tables but its very brief and doesn’t affect the narrative in anyway.
Well, its revealed the entire place is haunted by a friendly ghost named Casper and his unruly uncles who don’t tolerate “fleshies” in the household. Carrigan tries every method in the book to get rid of them from exorcisms to even a pointless one-note joke of a Dan Aykroyd cameo. Her last resort is in the form of a therapist that claims to have helped ghosts psychologically pass on who agrees to try and rid the spirits with his odd methods. Bill Pullman as Dr. Harvey is not too bad seeing how much invested he is in the supernatural. But at one point, when he runs into the Ghostly Trio, they start to mess with him so much that he acts like he’s doing this for the first time. A bit weird considering someone who claims to have dealt with ghosts before. Its never fully explained if he’s a con man or really dealt with spirits but its up for debate.
The center of the picture is really between his daughter Kat (Christina Ricci) and Casper. The two have a connection of social problems and try to work out each other’s faults. Casper is kind but his status as “undead” keeps people away and Kat wants to be a normal teenager like everyone else but her father’s work gets in the way or has trouble fitting in. Its the usual family film teenage schlock but its done ok. Even more so, she the more she bonds with the chipper spirit, the more she learns being a ghost is much harder than living. The way the world of a ghost is simple. You die, you loose memory. You go from hair and clothes, to an abstract blob. At least that is what I get from it because the universe and plot of Casper is so weightless that its hard to consider what kind of story its going for. Heck, the Carrigan character is not bothered with until the very last third and it just feels like she’s tossed in as something to move the story than be an effective villain.
I’d go into the many problems it has but that would be spoiling a lot for new viewers. In short, the story is not really there and is all over the map. Each moment feels more like a vignette that wonders with a purpose but ends without one. The only one I can think of that truly pays off is a storyline involving Dr. Harvey’s dead wife which I admit concludes nicely. But the rest of the movie feels like its on auto pilot most of the time. For example, when the Ghostly Trio meet up with Dr. Harvey, they try to mess with his mind or at least try and scare him. It leads into this whole fight scene which is cool but what’s the point. How did we go from scare the pants off this guy to fencing with umbrellas in the main hall? Speaking of which, the magnitude of cameos range from enjoyable to pointless. There’s a whole scene where Carrigan hires people to rid the ghosts like Father Sarducci and a Ghostbuster but it feels too obvious. Also, I don’t kids will remember Don Novello’s SNL character THAT well. There’s even a scene when Fatso, Stinky and Stretch posses Harvey into shape shifting into different celebrities. As a kid, I honestly thought it was the Ghosty Trio’s true forms when they were human. But as an adult, they feel like pointless cameos.
So for all the negatives, there’s at least some good stuff that balances it out. For one, the CGI is amazing. This is the first film to utilize computer-generated characters instead of using them as effects. You could also argue, its the first live-action/CGI hyrid movie seeing the computer is making characters and not effects. For the longest time, CGI was used to bring things like dinosaurs or morphing effects for movies like Willow or T2. Here, they pushed to the next level by making a three dimensional character as opposed to a special effect. And that is really the true star of the show. There are times I want to marvel at the blend between computer effect and live-action. But it gets so blended to the point I feel like I’m seeing ghosts with a soul and personality. This was ILM in their prime and it shows.
As said before, the stuff with Dr. Harvey and her daughter Kat are the better written parts of the movie. I feel its also because of how much they sell the fact they are interacting with CGI effects to the point you really feel like they are there. They are practically talking, fighting, flying and interacting with something not there which isn’t easy to do. They way they play off these characters can be a lot of fun. Again, Casper and Kat trying to fit in with who they are and Dr. Harvey’s long battle with the Ghostly Trio. Speaking of which, Fatso (Brad Garrett), Stinky (Joe Alaskey) and Stretch (Joe Nipote) are surprisingly entertaining. I find myself wishing the whole movie was more about them and less about Casper at times. Not to say that friendly spirit is uninteresting but there’s so much material written for these three that I can’t help but smile when I see them. Yeah the stuff they do is mean and cruel but they are just poltergeists. You expect them to be these nasty spirits that are mischievous and dangerous to be with. They are a huge highlight of the movie and even if some of the pop culture jokes they spew is unneeded, it still gets a laugh by the timing and delivery.
To say Casper is a perfect movie is an understatement. Its really a technical achievement but still packs entertainment value. The whole tone of the movie is so cartoony that you can’t help but admire its light tone and comedic beats. And that’s the correct term here, its a cartoon. Its very much what Roger Rabbit did for hand-drawn animation as this movie did for CGI animation. It provided you can give a three-dimensional being heart and soul no matter if they are meant to be living or dead. I don’t think its a masterpiece but you can tell there is a lot of effort and heart being placed here even when it starts to lag at times. This is my definition of the kind of movie that is mindless but ghostly fun at the same time.