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“Madea Halloween” scarily unfunny

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I think I just saw a movie. Then again, I’m not sure if I should call it a movie. The more the minutes lingered, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” felt more like an out of body experience desperate to find at least some humor. One joke to hang onto despite a soulless effort to make use of the holiday. Tyler Perry stated in interviews he’s not a fan of ghosts, witches or anything creepy crawly. A shame as the trailers advertise scenes of everyone’s favorite granny punching clowns and running away from zombies. If one thinks this will be a big “monster mash,” you will be disappointed to find its really a lame pumpkin smash.

The main plot relies on Brian Simmons (Tyler Perry) and his inability to control his bratty daughter. He crushes his daughter’s plan to go out and party at a nearby fraternity by having Madea watch her. As expected,  Brown’s daughter sneaks out and the granny is not happy. Armed with her two friends and brother, Madea seeks justice in a plot that really goes nowhere. I shouldn’t be surprised as that tends to happen in most of these movies. There seems to be a spark of an idea but somehow gets lost in a sea of meandering subplots and running jokes.

First, we get the fraternity and their big Halloween bash as every teen acts like a stereotype from Animal House or a watered down gang that boozes on beer and sex. While we don’t see any beer glasses touch lips, the writing for these characters gets irradiating with a one sided view on the modern teenager. The kind who is constantly saying a bunch of suffer talk in a masculine way, but acts all tough. The only time the fraternity got interesting is when they try to wise up (say if, someone under-aged appears at their party) and take responsibility. But even then, this action would immediately backfire when they decide to do something completely irresponsible like intense pranking.

This leads into one of the biggest problems of the whole movie. It seems to be really centered on the idea that a prank gone too far can have serious consequences. And honestly, I’m ok with stuff like that. The way its being handled is what I can’t tolerate. Without spoiling too much, certain characters will go out of their way to do these elaborate pranks against each other wither it be staging a zombie apocalypse or the death of a main character. I understand the morale value behind this subplot, but it wears the welcome too much. It even trails into an unnecessary 15 minutes near the end which completely contradicts the “other” main message.

And that is the other big problem I have which is the main theme of parenting. Most of the Madea movies center on a certain theme from second chances to dysfunctional families. “Madea Halloween” tries to examine the idea of what is good parenting and bad parenting. But it gets a set of mixed messages when you have jokes about how to beat a child up wrapped around a climax when Brian finally gets the idea of how to discipline your kid. I’m all for the idea of show and even discussing the limits of child discipline. Yet everything goes back and forth on key jokes like Brian talking to Uncle Joe about a time when Joe tossed him off the roof to learn a lesson. Material like this is not funny and bogs down the message to the point it will feel like a beating to the head or exhaust itself.

I can’t remember a single character I liked from this movie. They were all annoying, irradiating and even some that got under my skin a lot. Madea was never funny or interesting to me. I get the reason why people love this character, but I always find her to be too mean spirited at times. And it doesn’t help when you have her force out this morale message of kids respecting parents when immediately afterwards has a entire sequence when she does something mean to others. I know the purpose why she does (I can’t say without spoiling), but it sort of goes against those moments when the character has a heartfelt morale to say.

As for the others, I really couldn’t care less. Uncle Joe is the perverted senior that’s always trying to say some kind of catchphrase or dirty joke. Aunt Bam has this running gag about being able to legal smoke marijuana which gets old. Hattie is the comic relief with the annoying voice that keeps mispronouncing words just for a gag. The biggest offender I found was really Brian and his daughter. I get they are trying to build this arc over how he can’t manage to connect or even maintain control of his daughter. But when we get to their moment when they recoup, it feels manipulated after a slew of exposition on why Brian is inept over taking charge. And for someone his age, Brian should at least be able to know his daughter this well.

There were only two times I actually did snicker during “A Madea Halloween.” Once at a gag when Bam steals candy from kids and a comment from Uncle Joe about Madea having a prostate. Those jokes only worked because of the delivery of the humor and the ideas behind these two jokes. Everything else I recall is material about being harsh on child discipline and fraternity boys learning responsibility the hard way. There is nothing else I can remember that was remotely investing outside of the advanced technical work giving us the ability to see three Tyler Perry characters in one shot. I know there is an audience for Madea, but I’m not one of them.

“Boo! A Madea Halloween” left me feeling empty and dumb down to the point my mind felt numb. The morale is mixed between cynical humor and taking responsibility to the point it feels kinda calculated. Tyler Perry said his movies were meant for entertainment and not to be thought too heavily on. My criticism to that is when you force a morale like that amidst jokes of spanking and child beating, there will be mixed signals. There are better things to watch this Halloween season and this movie is no treat. I wouldn’t even recommend a single frame to anyone. The only positive about this whole thing was that I saw this Madea movie at my local cinema on Bargain Tuesday for $6. Because it would have been a whole lot scarier if I paid to see this for full admission price.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Hocus Pocus

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95d7bb7e8815898cdc893c0d72e7856b547682d6With Halloween upon us (or was by the time I wrote this), I pondered just what was it that made Hocus Pocus so popular these days. It was a movie Disney made in 1993, released in the summer (weird choice) and while it did ok at the box office, the film never made a huge splash like in the $100 millions. But now in days, this movie is like a virus on the Halloween season. Hear me out, people at my retail job talk about the film and how it airs to the equivalency of popular water bubble conversations. It gets a huge respect and love at Witch’s Woods, my other Halloween job, with even getting played at one of the haunts. And when I went to look for a copy at my local video store, there was only one Blu-Ray of it left on the shelf. That’s how huge the respect this movie gets around this time of year. So rather than review it, just what about Hocus Pocus does everyone go rapid and joyful for?

Is it the story? Well, not really but granted it does have an interesting concept. A group of witches called the Sanderson Sisters (get it? Sounds like Anderson Sisters?) are put on trail for their crimes in old Salem. They plan to say young and youthful but sucking out the souls of little children to ensure they will live forever. After their hanging, 300 years later, a kid named Max blindly lights a magic candle in their abandoned home causing them to come back and bring chaos. A typical good vs. evil story mixed with some fish out of water elements.

As the witches try to make sense of the new world, being 1993 in the movie’s case, they find Halloween is nothing but a holiday now with trick-or-treaters and technology has been updated. Does this get used to the advantage of the movie? Not fully. There are a couple of fun scenes where they interact with televisions, try to mingle at a Halloween party complete with a song and ride around on mops and vacuum cleaners. But that’s sort of about it. In a sense, I can see this working. The idea of witches resurrected and trying to fit in with modern times but it feels underplayed most of the time.

hocus-pocus-kidsThe more important thing is how Max takes their magic spell book (which by Disney’s standards is nicely designed and very Evil Dead-lite) which has a certain recipe for their soul sucking potion. While the three bewitching sisters try to hunt them down, Max has to relay on his typical sister, a would be girlfriend and a talking cat who is really a teenager cursed to help stop them. So yeah, for a 90 minute movie there is a lot going on here. In fact, there is so much plot going on that one wonders how things don’t get too complex. I can’t say its too hard to follow seeing the fish out of water elements feel like a break from the story but again, its a basic good vs. evil ploy that has been used since Disney’s time.

If that’s the case, do the characters make the movie so well-known? Again, not exactly. The main characters are sort of your run of the mill tropes and cliches. You have the awkward teen that gets bullied, the girl that will become the love interest, the sibling that is between annoying yet has a good heart, the goofy parents, the townsfolk that are deaf to their warnings and the bullies that act like they are hip and cool when they are not. Its very much a big bag of cliches that we have seen before and are written like beings we would see on a TV movie. Which is ironic seeing this movie was originally going to be a Disney Channel Original until executives thought other-wise.

Hocus-Pocus_20Things_9There’s also that talking cat named Binx who has an interesting back-story (voiced by James Marsden, human body performed by Sean Murray) and knows much of the Sandersons. But that’s sort of about it. There is also the question of times when he can talk and times he can’t. If Binx can speak English so well, what is he doing roaming about the old witch house? And if these kids are in trouble, wouldn’t it be more interesting to help convince others of what’s going on? If there was a deleted scene that explained that plot hole, I would be fine but there isn’t. He could have been a more helpful ally but just only resorts his duties to the main characters. We also get a zombie that tries to be the lackey of the Sandersons and has this funny running gag of loosing his head. But again, there’s not much to his character outside of comic relief. And that sort of sums up a good bulk of the main things. There’s not really that big or unique to them. While not bad concepts or ideas for that matter, they don’t feel fully developed.

Another thing I will address before I move on is that some people feel bugged by the whole “virgin” element. If you don’t know, the plot of the curse involves a virgin to set off these chain of events to happen. And Max just so happens to be that said “virgin” who is picked on and doesn’t fit in with the New England town. To be honest, I really wasn’t bugged this. If they flat-out bullied him because he didn’t have sex, then there would be some problems. But for the first half, most of that bullying is just toward him not fitting in and stuff like that. I can barley think of a scene where his character is made fun of just for his virginity aside from maybe one scene and the closing line. But its very underplayed.

hocus-pocus-then-nowSo if this movie isn’t really that big of masterpiece then why does it keep drawing new viewers? One answer: The Sanderson Sisters. These are probably one of Disney’s best villains to date. They have have the most fun and the actress portraying them have a lot of scene-stealing moments that really add on. True they are masked by basic quirks like Bette Midler being the annoyed leader Winnie, Kathy Najimy as the child-hungry but very bumbling Mary and Sarah Jessica Parker as the sultry and boy-crazy Sarah. Every moment they are in the movie, you can tell these three are having the time of their life. I love the way their get their eyes widen and just how expressive they can be. Even when they are given little to work with or play off of, they really try.

In fact, I wonder what it would be like if Hocus Pocus was just about them? In a time when self-centered villain movies are being the talk of the town, I would actually like to see maybe a sequel or even a reboot that just focuses on them only. It would be kind of fun to see a bunch of Shakespearean characters try to live in modern times. Heck, there’s even a stage show about them that recently opened up at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Obviously, they are the strongest element in the movie and if you took that out, Hocus Pocus would have been this basic and simple film.

So with that, your probably wondering how I feel about Hocus Pocus overall and where do I stand with it. For starters, I did grow up watching this movie as a kid and enjoying it. But not for the plot or the characters, just for the witches themselves. I can’t really say if that is a good thing or a bad thing but a part of me does feel this movie holds up in some way. Granted, its not a perfect movie by any means or really a masterpiece like say the Wizard of Oz but there is sort of a way I can describe why it got so popular over the years. Because its the one movie that dips itself into holiday tradition more than any other Halloween movie. Of course, movies today like Trick R Treat are starting to catch on (which arguably is a better movie) but there is one big reason why THIS movie is getting more attention to what its doing.

A good example of this kind of movie is A Christmas Story. For those who don’t know, the movie was released and didn’t make a big impact. But over the years, everyone keeps talking about it and watching it like its some kind of Christmas classic. It honors the Christmas traditions we went through as a kid and exploits them in some form of an adult twist. While Hocus Pocus doesn’t do that entirely, it does honor some Halloween traditions like trick-or-treating, urban legends, witchcraft and even discusses darker elements of the holiday that few Halloween family films would even tackle.

So for what it is, I do enjoy Hocus Pocus. Not for the story and not for the characters but what for it does to the holiday. Granted, it could have been a stronger movie if it was placed in different hands but I can’t think of anything too bad or ethically unclean. I know this movie already has a strong fan base and still growing one. But I do warn for newcomers to watch with low expectations. I know there are a good handful of people that don’t find much joy for the story, characters and few things here and there which is understandable. As for me, I don’t mind defending this one even if it is flawed. The witches are fun, the special effects surprisingly still look amazing and its one bewitching flick I always look forward to around this time of year.

We are not done yet! All week long, we are catching up on more horror goodness for that bag of leftover candy you got. Stay tuned creeps!

“Goosebumps” is ghoulish fun

Viewer beware, your in for something adequately scary

Viewer beware, your in for something adequately scary

I often find R. L. Stein interesting as a person. He’s constantly writing books, exploring the world once in a while and always carries a unique story to tell. In his recent biography for kids, named “It Came from Ohio,” he often wrote comedic magazines pioneered independently, had an interesting sense of humor and all around fun guy. From teaching seals to dance and work on Eureeka’s Castle,  “Jovial” Bob Stein will be better remembered for his work on the book series Goosebumps. Sort of Tales from the Crypt for kids, I recall reading these in middle school and enjoying them. While they weren’t scary to me, I fondly thrilled at Monster Blood and taking a day in Horrorland. To make a movie based on the nostalgic property alone is a challenge but they tried. In the end, what we get is a film that probably should have come out 20 years ago but still better late then never.

Dylan Minnette is Zach, a high schooler that moves into Delaware after his mother gets a job as a vice principal at his new school. As with this kind of character, we go through the whole phase of him being new in the area even if its brief and add some baggage with a deceased father. This is fine alone and does give some development but it feels like a typical teenager with problems. Not to say it’s a bad thing but I do wish more was written better. You still get to sympathize and thankfully that material is not forced in so I can’t complain.

R. L. Stein (Jack Black) along with his daughter and two friends set out to stop the evil forces while making for good chemistry

R. L. Stein (Jack Black) along with his daughter and two friends set out to stop the evil forces while making for good chemistry

Zach finds that he is neighbors with a girl his age named Hannah, whose not that bad either. Odeya Rush’s performance is thankfully a step up after last year’s The Giver where she was cold and flat. Here, Rush is given more to work with especially in the later half when a huge twist about the character comes up. Like the character Zack, Hannah is written as a teenager with a simple motive to break out and not be boxed in. The characterization is very simple without too much depth tossed which is good and bad at the same time. You do get chemistry thanks to the performances but wish these people were written with more depth at times.

What stands in the way of Hannah being more social is her dad who is revealed to be R.L. Stein played by Jack Black. Ironic how the real Stein is a fan of Black and even got to work with him a bit behind the scenes to get a variation of Black’s take. The film version of Stein is more sinister and comes off as a cross between Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Dr. Loomis from the Halloween films. Black’s take adds a level of fun and thrills without overdoing it. At times, he does get a little “over the top” but you know this comedian will give it his all no matter what he will be in.

The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena who may look like Harry Henderson really packs more bite than you expect

The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena who may look like Harry Henderson really packs more bite than you expect

The reason why Stein is locked up in the house is because of how powerful his Goosebumps manuscripts are. Apparently if one were to open then, said monster would pop out and raise havoc. This is evident when the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena appears setting up the rules and tone of the film. The only way to get the creature is to simply get the thing back in the books. Simple enough, but it gets complicated when an evil ventriloquist dummy named Slappy (also voiced by Jack Black) escapes and plans to raise chaos on the small town with all the Goosebumps monsters. Not only does he steal the manuscripts and opens them, but also burns each one ensuring the monsters can’t be sucked back into the pages they came from.

Already the premise sounds familiar and I’m positive you can figure out if you will enjoy this movie or not. Personally, I liked it even when the humor did get awkward or the story got predictable. Once the town gets overrun by lawn gnomes, werewolves, a giant mantis, zombies and many other things, that is when Goosebumps was engaging to me. Sure the stuff in the first third had decent build up but it felt standard and simple. On the other hand, that is what Goosebumps is. The stories of the books never got too in-depth or too complex. They were simple stories that existed to entertain as oppose to frighten and shock.

Villian of the movie, Slappy the dummy (also voiced by Jack Black) as he plans to unleash the monsters in surprisingly convincing effects showing how great puppetry can be

Villian of the movie, Slappy the dummy (also voiced by Jack Black) as he plans to unleash the monsters in surprisingly convincing effects showing how great puppetry can be

For what it was, I got what I expected and enjoyed it. However, this isn’t a perfect movie by any means. Some of the special effects can be a tad mediocre and the comedy of characters like a cool wannabe named Champ as well as an aunt that has a strange obsession for bedazzling clothes. Though I can’t think of a time when the humor felt too forced (as I did chuckle at how lame Champ was) and there isn’t any bad messages that is being said. Even effects like the puppetry work on Slappy the evil dummy is surprisingly good considering the low $58 million budget this movie has.  In a sense, I do wish there was more edgy as it could have been a great family film but I’m glad I enjoyed what I saw. There are times when it does feel like a tribute to R. L. Stein paying homage to not only his books but even his style as well. Little facts like how he always used a typewriter for his work and the placement of bear traps in the basement add to what kind of person Stein was. A man who never wanted to be taken seriously and just wanted to let his readers have fun with his work.

Now if silly, goofy and campy is not your cup of tea or if your not a fan of the books, then Goosebumps might be the movie your looking for. I’d say this is more like a Disney movie along the lines of Hocus Pocus or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids without the edginess. In fact, much of the film does get thrilling but misses out on the scares. Had this been harder along the lines of Gremlins or Coraline, I do wonder if it would have been a better movie or play it off as too frightening. Seeing these kinds of movies as a kid, I was fine with that I saw but wish there was more to it. Its not that bad to say its the worst but its not perfect either. I just feel it was a good family film that I know kids will enjoy and might be split with the older crowd. If you want to play it safe, rent it. But for anyone else curious, I’m sure you will be fine. There’s plenty of thrills and twists that will keep you engaged and a great watch for the Halloween season. A modest recommendation at best. Just keep in mind to beware, because your in for some ghoulish fun.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Frankenweenie

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The original classic

The original classic

Tim Burton is a very interesting name to discuss these days. Regardless on if you like or dislike his films, his style is certain different from anyone else. That Gothic twisted look to his films and the dark color palette presents an other worldly feel to his movies that appear like demented fairy tales. Surprisingly, his style didn’t start that way as being well-known. He worked as an animator for Disney and had highly mixed feelings about it. However, he was giving the opportunity to create some short films under his personal creative control. One of these shorts was a movie about a boy and his dog called Frankenweenie. This short gained some infamy with Disney studios for being too dark and Tim wasting their efforts financially. It was never released to US theaters but thankfully made its way to home video.

Victor’s mom puts the final touches on Sparky in one of the short’s many comedic touches.

Barret Oliver plays young Victor whose dog Sparky gets tragically killed in a car accident. After feeling low, he gets the inspiration to resurrect his dead dog through the power of electricity just like in the Frankenstein story. And much like in the story, the resurrected dog causes much trouble in the neighborhood leading people to think Victor made a monster. As one would guess, this was a straight-up parody and homage to the original Frankenstein movies and takes plenty of creative liberties.

Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern confront the neighbors about a monster on the loose

Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern confront the neighbors about a monster on the loose

Instead of setting it in a period piece setting, Burton cleverly sets it during a 1950s style that almost looks akin to the suburban town in Edward Scissorhands. At close to a half hour length, the story was simple and easy to follow. Despite being a tad dark at times, the short knew when to inject some humor in the right places like when milk leaks out of Sparky’s stitches. Another great scene is when the Frankenstein family invites the neighbors to see the resurrected Sparky. The dad, played by a surprisingly unrecognizable Daniel Stern, tries to joke around with the nervous patrons but only gets deep stares. There’s a lot of emotion riding here when Sparky has to prove he isn’t evil to the people and sure enough, we do get a happy ending. The moral is basic that something you love is never lost. I can connect highly to that seeing how big of a dog lover I am and understand Victor’s sadness. It’s certainly one of Tim’s best that shows how much a small story can impact you.

The remake

The remake

Now, let’s talk about the 2012 remake. First off, I’m glad to see Tim Burton was able to helm this one and make his own vision. I know the case “don’t fix what isn’t broken” is tossed around but this movie had potential. I loved the boy and dog aspect from the short and figured that is what would be the main focus. When I heard it would be in stop-motion animation, I was floored. I love stop-motion and how rare films are using it these days. Even when it was announced it would be in black and white, I was still intrigued. I thought maybe this could be that one movie that could help return Burton back to his roots like Beetlejuice or The Nightmare Before Christmas (which I know he didn’t direct but was a huge influence behind it). Then I saw the movie. Where do I begin?

I should off the bat that I don’t hate this new take. There are aspects of it I do admire. I’m glad they kept the boy and his dog angle. That was the main focus of the short. Scenes where Victor interacts with his resurrected dog are cute and the animation allows more to do like a funny running gag where some of Sparky’s parts fall off. The character designs are interesting too with some of the class mates resembling classic monsters or Frankenstein archetypes. There’s a kid how looks like Igor and another who feels modeled after Boris Karloff.

The "interesting" cast of Frankenweenie (2012)

The “interesting” cast of Frankenweenie (2012)

So the look of the movie is fine and the basic story is there. The stuff they add in tries to have some relevance to the plot. A new character named Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) is unique being the wise mentor while showing kids the dangers and thrills of experimenting in science class. He may look creepy but has a soul in a later scene when he explains to Victor how crafting from the heart is more important. The character is nice but the message they add in feels too syrupy even for Burton’s standards. I get the message is that creating something from your own self is more important but it comes off feeling weird. I thought the idea of the short was to show those you loss are never gone. I think that is a more stronger morale than something they try here.

The last half of Frankenweenie is a doozy to discuss. All the kids find out about Victor’s secret and try to make their own dead pets come to life. It makes for one heck of a climax but something doesn’t feel right. How did we go from a boy and the appreciate of his dog to this? I guess the finale when the creatures they make attack a fair is fun but it feels bloated and goes on for a bit too long. And while I know its a movie, I do question the disturbing nature of kids attempting to resurrect their dead pets. I know the short made a clear point about dealing with loss but this takes that idea into a different context that leads me feeling unsettled.

A boy and his undead dog

A boy and his undead dog

In fact, this subplot is what makes a good bulk of the movie feel unpleasant for me to watch.  I know Frankenweenie is trying to pass off as entertainment for all ages but it just leaves me wondering what kids will make of it. I’m sure they will like the idea of a boy bring his dead dog back to life that he loves so dearly. But the elements with the class bringing back their pets or making new monsters out of them leaves me feeling disturbed. I know family films tend to have a dark edge but feels way too much. Maybe its the animal lover in me being defensive but I can’t say this movie is all-out bad. But my thoughts overall are just really a mixed bag. There are some elements I do admire like the animation and the design. I just wish the heart of the story had more focus on what it wants to be. Not one of Burton’s worst but certainly not one of best. My recommendation is to stick with the 1984 live-action short. I feel its heart is in the right place there.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Horror of Dracula

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Of the many incarnations of Dracula, this one can't be missed!

Of the many incarnations of Dracula, this one can’t be missed!

Across the pond lies another movie studio that made an impact on the horror industry. They were known as the Hammer Horror Films. Unlike Universal where the shock was in black and white, theses movies from the UK didn’t hold back. They were in color, increased the violence, cranked up the sex appeal and not to mention adding an element the Universal Monster franchise was missing; blood. And each film relished in showing it. Back then, this was fairly new and shocking to see such edgy material for the late 1950s.

While Curse of Frankenstein was the first one to kick off this wave of gruesome infamy, Horror of Dracula (or Dracula if you live in the UK) perfected this choice of entertaining terror. Even right from the opening shot with blood dripping on Dracula’s coffin, you know what your in for. These movies were free of censorship (sort of) and sought to make their own iconic footprints. Rather than clone the classic Jack Pierce make-up or follow the story, Hammer Films made their horror movies with fresh and different takes even if did mean sacrificing certain liberties.

A good example is the story and how it adapts the original Dracula story. Those who are huge on “sticking to the source” might be disappointed as it takes elements from the Bram Stoker novel while twisting them into a different story altogether. John Harker (John Van Eyssen) still visits the Count but this time ends up getting turned into a vampire and sending out notes of his demise to Van Helsing. To me, this follows something like Pyscho did where the main character gets killed off after the first half of the feature. It plays with your expectations but again, some can be sticklers on sticking to the source. And personally, I think veering from the novel works here.

Christopher Lee IS Dracula!

Christopher Lee IS Dracula!

I know I have been deep on how an adaptation should stick close to the source but there is a right way and wrong way to do that. In some cases, one can take elements or ideas while utilizing them into something completely new and fresh. Phantom of the Paradise is a great example taking the story of Phantom of the Opera and giving it a rock musical quality with some Faust tossed in. Why make another film adaptation of a story that we already know when you can play with expectations? Heck, the 1931 Dracula was actually sourced from a Broadway play and less of the Bram Stoker novel. The Dracula mythos is so embedded deep into the public conscious that changing up really works here.

While Bela Lugosi left an impact, so does Christopher Lee. When we see him as Dracula, Christopher channels a lot of the gentleman traits while feeling hypnotic. He’s very inviting and you almost want to take in his hospitality. But when the sun goes down, a different personality emerges. Now, Dracula becomes brutal and animalistic with blood dripping from his fangs and giving a predatory stare. Surprisingly, I found a lot more terror from Christopher Lee’s portrayal than I did with Lugosi’s take. On the downside, he doesn’t get much speaking parts and his appearance is downplayed. But his visual expression and appearance still leave a huge impact. When he kills his victims, he doesn’t say a word and jumps right to his satisfaction.

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) questions the nature of his enemy

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) questions the nature of his enemy

Peter Cushing also gives a great performance as Van Helsing who seeks to destroy Dracula while convincing Arthur Holmwood (Micheal Gough) that his sister and lover are the vampire’s next entrees. Peter will always be chilling and engaging no matter what role he will be in. His take of Helsing is intimidating and doesn’t mess about. He knows what monster he is going against and tries to remain one step ahead while remembering the fanged fiend’s weaknesses. Even more ironic how previously, Cushing was Dr. Frankenstein and yet Christopher Lee was his monstrous creation. Interesting to see how the roles are similar yet different.

Again, the positive is how faithful it remains to the novel while adding some new material to keep it fresh. Harker is very much a minor character that keeps the story going while Lucy gets the first to be a vampire. In the novel, her character as sweet tooth hunger for younger kids and the movie manages to keep it in without being blunt about it. Its creepy and unsettling while never forcing the aspect too much. Sadly, the only major cut is the character of Renfield, Dracula’s demented servant. It would have been nice to have at least a little nod to the crazy assistant but the movie still works fine without him. Its a deletion that I do miss but what can you do?

One of the many restored shots of Dracula decaying under the sunlight. These shots when missing until 2012 saw the release of a new cut with the missing bits restored...but only available in the UK.....lucky blighters

One of the many restored shots of Dracula decaying under the sunlight. These shots when missing until 2012 saw the release of a new cut with the missing bits restored…but only available in the UK…..lucky blighters

The ending is another huge highlight as it builds and builds. Even if its a short climax, it feels really engaging as Helsing and Dracula square off against each other. But perhaps iconic about this finale is that we get to see a vampire decay under the sunlight. And I mean really decay! No fades into a skeleton. Dracula decomposes and gets cooked to a cindering crisp. Its not nasty as you think but its a very cool yet haunting special effect and a testament to how great practical effects can be. But as it turns out, some extra limb decay and a shot of Dracula clawing at his rotted face was considered too gross for 1958 and was cut. These shots were deemed missing until 2012 when they were restored into the movie thanks to an uncut print found in Japan. The good news is that a copy of this cut exists but the bad news is that the Blu-Ray is Region B, meaning you have to live in the UK or own a universal Blu-ray player that can read international DVDs and Blu-Rays. Regardless, its nice to hear some lost history finally rediscovered.

British actor Christopher Lee plays the vampiric Count in 'Dracula', 1958. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

In Memory of Christopher Lee

Bottom line, Horror of Dracula doesn’t trump the power of any other incarnation but offers its own take. And that is a good thing. I would rather have another Dracula movie try new things out than rather be a straight telling of the novel. This is a perfect fit that not only respects the source but also gives a new representation of the Count that is new and scary. Its well shot, has great performances and grabs your attention from beginning to end. I do wish Christopher Lee was given a bit more to do or at least play around with his “gentleman” personality. But he still gives an edgy take that is iconic, memorable and its easy to see why.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: King Kong (1933)

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October is here and its time to open up the vault once again. The Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon is back to give you more chills, thrills and oddball titles for the Halloween season. All October, you will get 31 posts for the next 31 days on some personal recommendations or some that deserve a good tearing. Some you wouldn’t guess would fit in with the Halloween season. And others that seriously may need a re-write. Consider this a “Personal Movie Gudie” for the Halloween season and feel free to agree, disagree or marvel at what I got in store. Instead of focusing on a theme, each day will be a special surprise. It could be a movie from the 1930s or a modern piece of trash. As with tradition, the last day of October will be specially reserved for a movie that I feel is underrated and deserves a watch on the spooky season. For now, let’s start off with the king of the monsters … or at least he is a king where he comes from.

If Universal Studios started the monster craze, this one perfected it!

If Universal Studios started the monster craze, this one perfected it!

Its hard to think of a world when King Kong wouldn’t exist. Many can argue It was the turn of the horror genre or the first blockbuster. But I feel it was the movie that perfected the horror genre. You had a monster, a damsel that was adored, everyday heroes and a tragic end. All the beats of a horror movie but done with flare. Its no wonder some tend to use this for the Halloween season and I can see why.

Robert Armstrong gives a great performance as Carl Denham, an eccentric Hollywood director that is all about action and adventure. His next film is to take place on an unknown island but is forced to add romance under studio pressure. The minute we get introduced to Carl, we love him. He can be egotistical but persuasive. A little melodramatic but very street smart. He’s not a villain and far from the kind of person that is in it for the money. He makes films for viewers to enjoy as opposed to profit from and that is the heart of the character.

Carl Denham directs Ann Darrow (Lance Armstrong and Fay Wray) in this classic scene

Carl Denham directs Ann Darrow (Lance Armstrong and Fay Wray) in this classic scene

Apparently, this new movie he’s working on needs a lead and manages to convince a shy Ann Darrow (ultimate scream queen Fay Wray) to join on the venture of a lifetime. Ann maybe the damsel but at least we sympathize with her. I feel with many of the remakes that we get, they always try to add more personality to her character and that’s fine. I do feel the Ann character can be a weak element of the story but Fay’s performance adds a lot of charm. One must remember this is the 1930s and before a time when creating strong female characters were the norm. I admit, I do feel a bit bothered that Ann doesn’t stand up to Kong or do more than just scream. But we spend so much time with her, prior to meeting the giant ape, that we still don’t want to see harm come to her.

Fay and Bruce Cabot make for the perfect odd couple

Fay and Bruce Cabot make for the perfect odd couple

Aboard the ship is Cpt. Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) who is the romantic lead. Of course, we do get that whole thing where he doesn’t want anything to do with Ann but later warms up to her. Its funny how the director of King Kong, Merian C. Cooper, added a romance subplot to this film after a string of successful jungle trek films. Supposedly, this was done to please the executives at RKO Pictures to do something different other than a jungle adventure film, which were still all the rave at the time. The chemistry between Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot would be a staple for future odd couple romances. They would at first have nothing in common, then start to see a connection and then one would try to fight for the other. That usual schlock would continue on in films to this day. I would argue to say this is a chick flick in disguise but that would be taking it too far.

Once we get to the island, things really kick up. We get treated to a group of natives that worship a strange god named Kong, which let’s be honest look a tad silly by today’s standards. Once they notice the beauty of Ann, they use her as a

Beauty meets the Beast!

Beauty meets the Beast!

sacrifice for Kong and sure enough, we find out that their god is really a giant ape. But like with most monster movies, the creature takes a liking to the beauty yet the beauty would rather run away than spend a life with the beast. Again, these are cliches and tropes we would see in later films but King Kong was there first. We sympathize with Kong because we know how rocky the chemistry is even if the ape doesn’t see it. Its almost like how a kid would play with a doll and if that doll came to life. Would the kid appreciate how he has something to cherish and would that toy bring back that appreciation? The bigger tragedy here is how cold the relationship is. Again, in later remakes, they would adjust this to give more heart and something for Ann and Kong to connect with. Honestly, I feel the way things play out is more interesting and adds a sad layer to Kong’s character. Past the fur is a lonely creature who wants companionship even when he doesn’t get the love he wants in return.

Also interesting is the special effects which are performed in stop-motion animation courtesy of Willis O’Brien. You can tell there is a lot of care and craft in trying to make you believe Ann Darrow is in Kong’s hands or that she is in the middle of a fight between Kong and a Tyrannosaurus rex. The island gives way to showcase a huge cornucopia of  effects work as sailors try to fight off dinosaurs and Kong struggles to get through the jungle just to make it to his home. For 1933, this was ground-breaking. Today, we know the tricks of the trade but we don’t care. The execution makes it all the more believable. As actors look on in horror, we are convinced of the horror they view as well.

Kong on Broadway!

Kong on Broadway!

In a nutshell, this is a movie driven by emotion and special effects. The biggest highlight of course is the ending when Kong is taken to New York so he can be on display and goes on a rampage through the city. There is a wide range of shots and tricks to convince us that Kong is on Broadway or trying to fight biplanes on the Empire State Building. Even a giant head and arm had to be made for some scenes and close-ups to convince us that huge monkey is in front of us. Despite the simplicity, we can’t up but admire just how much effort is being tossed in to convince us something is real and on the screen. Even the musical score by Max Steiner complements this. Back then, having a musical score throughout a movie was new at the time and even to this day feels powerful and matches the movie perfect. It knows when to raise the tension of a scene like Kong tossing sailors off a log and when to be quiet and have us enjoy a dinosaur fight or raise the drama during Kong’s last stand. With the elements of sight and sound in play, it keeps us engaged.

And to be honest, its no wonder to see how big of an impact this movie left its viewers. For 1933, this was something new and exciting. Odd how an idea like this didn’t sit well with RKO executives until they saw how well it did at the box-office. Nobody knew Kong would have such a huge impact even during a time of Great Depression. It was something that would go down as pure American history and last through the ages.

One of the many "offending" scenes where Kong tears off bits of Ann's dress and tickles her. Trust me, its not as bad as you think its. Eventually this and many others would be restored to the film later on

One of the many “offending” scenes where Kong tears off bits of Ann’s dress and tickles her. Trust me, its not as bad as you think its. Eventually this and many others would be restored to the film later on

Not even censorship from the MPPC could stop its legacy. Yeah, there was a time when King Kong had to be heavily edited for stuff deemed inappropriate. Much of the “offending” scenes consisted of the Brontosaurus attack, Kong eating people or squishing them with his foot, a sequence where Kong rips off some of Ann’s dress and tickles her (yes, you read that right) and a chilling scene where Kong thinks he sees a lady that looks like Ann but then rejects her by means of dropping her from the building he was clinging on to. Thankfully, the missing scenes where found sometime in the 1960s and restored. But do the age of the censored cuts, one would view this material from a very grainy and scratched quality. Luckily, a print was found in Britain with no cuts made and was used for the 2005 DVD release (which I might add was the first release of the movie on DVD!).

A still from the iconic lost "Spider Pit Sequence"

A still from the iconic lost “Spider Pit Sequence”

And of course, I should talk about the infamous deleted scene that also made the movie famous. Apparently, there was supposed to be a sequence where the sailors would go against a horde of giant insects and monsters. Dubbed “The Spider Pit Sequence,” there has been much debate as to if this cut scene still exists. Rumor has it, that the reason for its removal was after a preview screening where viewers were horrified over after seeing actors getting munched on by giant stop-motion bugs. However, evidence was later discovered that it might have been cut before any preview screening under Merian C. Cooper’s direction, who felt the scene slowed the movie down despite being hailed as O’Brien’s best work. Stills and concept art have surfaced but fans might want to check out a special documentary on the Kong DVD that involves a recreation of the scene crafted by Peter Jackson. Not only is it worth it to see their hard effort pay off but how it was created. Seeing him and the gang make monsters and film stuff the “old fashioned” is a nice treat to watch and gives an idea of how the movie’s special effects were achieved.

"Twas beauty who killed the beast..."

“Twas beauty who killed the beast…”

I am also aware of the many films and remakes that were spawned from it. I would do a whole retrospective if I could about those films ranging form remakes to pitting Kong against Godzilla, but I feel there is not much a purpose. De Laurentiis’ version from 1976 isn’t too bad but a couple of elements null it from being considered a pure classic. Peter Jackson’s take in 2005 feels more like a tribute which had some good stuff despite the unfortunate 3 hour length that nearly kills it. And with more Kong movies planned down the road, only time can tell how well those movies will do for the king. Will they pay a perfect homage to monster lover’s favorite ape or cause disgruntled furry? At this point, we should be reminded of the lasting impact this movie gave us. I’m positive those who are in the movie industry can cite King Kong as an excuse for its innovative special effects, engaging story and unforgettable characters. For in the end, beauty may have killed him but Kong lives on thanks to the public and its fans.

2nd Annual Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Introduction

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Well folks, it happens to be that time of year again. Halloween is upon us and I’m sure everyone is wondering what is the perfect horror movie to watch on the dark season. Now is that time again to dig through the cult classics and the crummy B-movies to bring you another 2nd Annual Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon! Last year I felt was a success despite some hiccups. This time around, I want to go deeper into the classics while also giving some titles I wanted to do last year but never got the chance or enough time to expose.

There will be some franchises that will get a look at but not all the sequels will be discussed. Or sometimes, I’ll devote a day to a certain film. Its all about time and effort on this one. If that’s not enough, I’ll also toss in some modern horror films to see how well they hold up. We’re talk about ones that get praised like mad masterpieces or torn to shreds. From kaiju to demented doctors, this will not just be a big year but also a solid line-up.

It all begins this October 1st. 31 days of 31 blog posts. I barley made it last time around. Now let’s see if I can go all the way this year! The personal “Horror Movie Guide” is back so get ready for some real tricks and treats this time around!!!

Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon: Halloween franchise (Part 7 and 8)

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"The Revenge of Laurie Strode" was more appropriate for this one

“The Revenge of Laurie Strode” was more appropriate for this one

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.

No....no....no...no.....no...just no

No….no….no…no…..no…just no

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.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Halloween franchise (Part 4 and 5)

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The night HE DIDN"T need to come home...

The night HE DIDN”T need to come home…

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.

So much wasted potential...

So much wasted potential…

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…

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Terror Train

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"All aboard!"

“All aboard!”

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.

Jamie Lee Curtis in another slasher movie that is almost like Halloween?!?! Fun fact, she was filmed Prom Night in Vancouver and seeing Terror Train was being filmed the same time as that movie....

Jamie Lee Curtis in another slasher movie that is almost like Halloween?!?! Fun fact, she was filmed Prom Night in Vancouver and seeing Terror Train was being filmed the same time as that movie….

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 killer seeks his victim and choice of costume in one swing!

The killer seeks his victim and choice of costume in one swing!

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.

David Copperfield impressing party-goers in his first and only on-screen appearance.

David Copperfield impressing party-goers in his first and only on-screen appearance.

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.

There's...SOME....THING...out on the wing!

There’s…SOME….THING…out on the wing!

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. .