"I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes... the Devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... evil."
What more appropriate time to take a special look at John Carpenter's masterwork than this week, right? I don't know about you, but around this time of year, I pretty much walk around with that iconic theme music playing constantly in my head. And "The Shape", Michael Myers? A movie monster that can hold his own with the best of 'em.
The original Halloween spawned a huge movement, an explosion of slasher flicks about mindless killers, masked or otherwise--with Friday the 13th being the most obvious copycat of the bunch. Yet just as decades of rock bands have tried in vain to be Led Zeppelin, so does Halloween stand head and shoulders above any of the wannabes that came later (including its own sequels).
Unlike the majority of schlocky slashers, Halloween contains a mind-wrenching level of suspense, and very little gore. It's direct inspiration seems to be Hitchcock more than anything else, as can most obviously be seen thanks to the name of Michael's nemesis, Sam Loomis, a moniker lifted directly from Psycho. We also have, in the lead role of Laurie Strode, one Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Psycho's Marion Crane, a.k.a. Janet Leigh.
Along with co-writer and paramour Debra Hill, Carpenter crafted a fine tale whose impact should not be allowed to diminish because of all the inferior stuff that came after it. The Shape is absolutely terrifying by simple virtue of the fact that he is faceless, unknowable evil. This is one of the reasons why Carpenter's original outshines Rob Zombie's competent remake--Michael's utter lack of humanity.
As his counterpoint, we have the intense and commanding Donald Pleasance as the doctor who knows the murderer better than anyone else. The stage-trained British thespian Pleasance brought a respectability and gravitas to the film, and his is far and away the finest dramatic performance in the picture. He almost serves as a Greek chorus, doing nothing more than warning the other characters and the audience of the danger that's in store. In fact, his only action occurs in the climax of the movie.
Jamie Lee Curtis originates the concept of the "final girl" in the role that made her a star--the virginal Laurie. She is the epitome of the scream queen, evincing purity, evoking vulnerability, and putting over the abject terror that surrounds her. Yet in a twist which would forever define this type of role, she finds the strength within herself to face up to the monster. It's powerful stuff to this day.
That said, it needs to be pointed out that the majority of the rest of the acting in this flick is right about at '70s porno levels. I was surprised, in fact, after my recent re-viewing of the original F13, to find that for the most part,the young people in that movie were a cut above, acting-wise. P.J. Soles and rest of Michael's future victims are clumsy and broad in their performances, but we forgive them for it, because the tableau in which Carpenter has placed them is so powerful that it doesn't even matter.
It's all about the technique here. Carpenter and his cinematographer, future Speilberg and Zemeckis favorite Dean Cundey, craft some amazing sequences, most famously the opening POV shot that pulls you in right from the word go and informs you that this is no ordinary teenager slice-and-dice. And in a taut suspense film like this, due credit must also be given to the guys in the cutting room--Carpenter's editors Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace (later director of Halloween III) deserve some recognition for this veritable symphony of nail-biting fear.
More than a person, Michael is a force of nature, the embodiment of not so much what I would call "evil" perhaps, as a completely amoral sociopathy. There is no anger or hatred within The Shape (another misstep of Zombie's); he simply exists to end the lives of others. Almost the Grim Reaper himself. The mask, that brilliant touch infamously crafted from one of Captain Kirk, presents us with a truly blank, empty killer. He is an entity, coming and going at will, virtually impervious to physical harm. (I always wondered whether or not it was wise for Carpenter & Hill to have him drive a car, as this implied a certain level of higher reasoning. Still, it does make for a bizarre and unsettling image, doesn't it?)
By synthesizing Hitchcock and crossing him with the '70s grindhouse aesthetic, Carpenter was able to create what might even be called the "purest" horror film of the modern era--which in turn set in motion a wave of influence which we are still feeling. Some would even call it the greatest horror movie of all time, as can be evidenced by its number-one ranking by the "Cyber-Horror Elite". I sincerely hope that reading this has put a lot of you in the mood to relive this immortal classic--hurry up, before the season is passed. Watch it one more time.
Movies are subjective, I get it. Especially when it comes to horror, a genre designed to provoke feeling more than thought. Yet, there are certain movies that seem to unite most horror fans, or at least seem to be examples of what a good scary movie should be, and so I'm occasionally surprised when fandom turns on them.
I'm not saying this is the case with Paranormal Activity. But I have noticed a bit of a backlash since the movie went into wide release not long ago. What started as a cult, word-of-mouth phenomenon has now gone mainstream. And so far, I've been sensing more negativity than I expected with regards to this amazing little film.
Inevitably, when an indy horror movie attracts a mainstream audience, there is bound to be a lot of disappointment. To put it plainly, most people are not horror movie fans, or at least fans of good horror movies. Show them a psychological spine-tingler, and they'll rail that it doesn't have a knife-wielding maniac running around chopping up teenagers. So that's part of the backlash, I suppose, these horror philistines expecting something far different than what the movie actually is.
But what I'm even more amazed by is the rising backlash amongst the horror community itself. Look, I'm not trying to say either you like the same movies I like, or you don't know what you're taling about. I guess I'm blinded by my own tastes to a certain extent, but I'm a bit confused at how those who truly appreciate horror could not have gotten a kick out of this movie.
Specific case in point: Rue Morgue Editor-in-Chief Jovanka Vukovic. I was highly surprised to learn that the editrix of the world's finest horror magazine was bashing Paranormal Activity. I know she's also gone on record as not liking Blair Witch Project--but frankly, so have I. Nevertheless, I found P.A. to be a far superior film, and was saddened to find that she had lumped it in the same category.
I had to wonder, will Rue Morgue be devoting an entire issue to the tenth anniversary of Paranormal Activity in 2019, as it recently did for BWP? Despite the fact that the Editor-in-Chief thinks it's a piece of garbage? Sorry, I know it sounds like sour grapes, but I can't help but get annoyed at the hypocrisy of celebrating a movie you admit to thinking is no good, and then publicly bashing a movie that does the same thing, only way better, right after the celebratory issue comes out.
Paranormal Activity is that rarest of things: a horror film that is actually extremely frightening. When one of those comes along, we have to cherish it, we have to shout it from the mountaintops. I guess people are going to like what they're going to like, but the notion of subjectivity in art only goes so far. After all, there are certain things that are commonly agreed upon. For example, anyone who tells you The Godfather is a terrible movie is a complete moron--I think we can all agree on that. Well, I can't help but be confused by anyone who tells me Paranormal Activity was no good or ineffective.
If you're going to tell me you didn't like it, at least have a well-thought out explanation of why. I can respect that. Not everyone has the same tastes in horror. Just don't be one of those people who tries to tell me that things like the new Prom Night or Friday the 13th are great horror movies and offer no explanation as to why P.A. didn't do it for them. Are you really looking to be scared? Or do you just get a kick out of violence? Those are two different things. I can appreciate both, but I am baffled when someone tells me that P.A. was not scary. Then what, by all the gods, is?? One Missed Call?
Again, let me reiterate that the vast majority of the reaction to this film has been positive. I just can't help but lose my cool A) when casual non-horror fans trash something that clearly wasn't meant for them in the first place, and B) when a major voice in the world of horror journalism seems to be so completely off-base, and yes, even a little hypocritical.
In conjunction with HorrorBlips.com--the veritable barometer of the horror blogosphere--as well as my own just-begun series on horror in the 2000s, I'm devoting this week's Tuesday Top 10 to what I would consider to be the finest horror comedies of the decade now coming to a close. Let's take a look at the scariest/funniest of the aughts, shall we?
10. Eight-Legged Freaks (2002) Yes, it's cheesy, and not exactly what I'd call a quality flick. Yet this over-the-top homage to the radioactive bug movies of the 1950s is a lot of fun, and hard not to like. David Arquette is just such a dummy, and I truly appreciate how he's been able to capitalize on that in his movie career.
9. Slither (2006) Unfortunately, this flick from Dawn of the Dead '04 screenwriter and Troma alum David Gunn was marketed as a straight-up horror movie, so a lot of people were disappointed at the sheer ridiculosity they beheld in the theaters. Too bad. How could you not love that freaky bloated mutant chick?
8. Scary Movie (2000) Believe it or not, there was actually a time when this series was pretty funny. Anna Faris is the funniest comic actress around, and this was basically what put her on the map. I never thought I'd side with the Wayans on anything, but there's no denying this franchise was way better in their hands.
7. Dance of the Dead (2008) Thanks to BJ-C of Day of the Woman for introducing me to this sweet little horror comedy about a bunch of misfit teens who have to save their much cooler high school cohorts from an all-out zombie uprising in their hometown. So many good bits throughout, and zombie sex is only one of them.
6. I Sell the Dead (2009) I just discovered this underrated indie gem thanks to IFC On-Demand, and I'm glad I did. LOTR's Dominic Monaghan stars in this story of common graverobbers who get more than they bargained for when they start unearthing zombies and all other sorts of not-quite-dead nasties. Ron Perlman is also excellent in a supporting role as a somewhat shady priest.
5. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) As if the Evil Dead films weren't enough to cement Bruce Campbell's immortality amongst genre fans, he also wrecks shop in this cult favorite directed by Phantasm mastermind Don Coscarelli from a short story by Joe R. Lansdale. Elvis & JFK vs. Mummies. 'Nuff said.
4. Fido (2006) A brilliant and subversive little piece of horror satire, this Canadian treasure crosses Pleasantville with Day of the Dead, with deliciously enjoyable results. The always excellent Dylan Baker is comedy gold, as is unrecognizable Scottish comedian Billy Connolly in the title role of everyone's favorite pet zombie. In turns subtle and laugh-out-loud funny.
3. Zombieland (2009) Holy crap was this movie a blast. A horror-comedy-action flick, how could you not love that? Woody Harrelson is amazing as the greatest cinematic zombie hunter of all time, and the comic chemistry between him and Jesse Eisenberg is absolutely off the charts. Plus, words cannot do justice to the already legendary Bill Murray cameo.
2. Trick r' Treat (2009) Yeah, I know it was produced two years ago, but it was just released this year. And man, did it ever make this Halloween season that much more fun for those of us fortunate enough to have seen it. A bit more scary than it is funny, nevertheless this delightful nod to the E.C. Comics tradition always keeps tongue firmly in cheek, as they say.
1. Shaun of the Dead (2004) But of course. The modern-day gold standard of horror comedies. Not only would I call this the best horror comedy of the decade, I'd go so far as to call it the finest flick out of the entire zombie renaissance of the past eight years--which is ironic, since it's obviously meant as a send-up of zombie films. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's adoration for the subgenre comes through so clearly in every moment of this film, and it also works perfectly as a romantic comedy at the same time. Utterly brilliant.
So Saw VI apparently came out over this weekend. At this point, it's about at the same level as the Police Academy series, as far as sparking my interest.
Watched a Corman flick with my son called Attack of the Giant Leeches the other day. So chessy, but with a truly chilling scene in which victims are drained by the titular parasites. Who were basically guys wearing black garbage bags.
Almost got Gene Wilder to sign my copy of Young Frankenstein at the Avon Theatre last week, but I got there just a little too late. But the man still has it, as far as natural comic timing. Too bad he hasn't been offered a decent script in 20 years...
So is IFC Films now the go-to distribution for quality direct-to-video horror? Watch out Lionsgate and Rogue.
Listened to a radio show last night in which the hosts did a Halloween-themed show and talked about how it's good that old horror flicks are remade, that way they can "be brought up to the standards of today." Sigh.
The Mad Monster Party is really very enjoyable and a ton of fun. But two things prevented it from becoming a mainstream classic, in my opinion. One is that it should've been half as long. The other is Phyllis Diller.
Horror movie pet peeve: Why do people die instantly when their throats are cut? I'm no expert, but I do believe in real life it would take a few minutes to bleed out. Oh well, dramatic license, I get it. Just being a nitpicker.
The sheer amount of men's denim cut-off shorts in the original Friday the 13th is an unforgivable offense. Well, in fairness, I think your only options for men's shorts in 1980 were either that or those super-short running shorts with the white border. Tough call.
So do you prefer the humanoid style of werewolf, a la The Wolf Man, or the more lupine version, a la American Werewolf in London? Life's pressing questions, folks.
And finally, and most importantly, The Vault sends out get-well wishes to VoH associate BJ-C of Day of the Woman, who was briefly hospitalized over the weekend for a chronic lung condition. Hang in there, lady.
I'm not sure if I'm a qualified connoisseur of coffee-table books, but I would be damn hard pressed to think of a cooler one than Hammer Glamour, the recently published tome by Marcus Hearn, put out by Titan Books. A literal dream come true for any fan of the British fright flick powerhouse, the book collects a series of candid profiles on the many delicious women of Hammer Films. In glorious full color.
It's a veritable who's who of unforgettable scream queens of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. The legendary Ursula Andress. The late, great Hazel Court. The very young Nastassja Kinski. Future AbFab goddess Joanna Lumley. Fan favorite Caroline Munro. Ultimate Hammer babe Ingrid Pitt. Sixties icon Raquel Welch. And my own all-time favorite, the luscious Norwegian Julie Ege. Plus about 40 other lovely sirens of British terror.
And the pictures. This is a book that is chock full of photos like this:
Hammer was known for a few things. Pushing the gore beyond what horror fans were accustomed to at the time. And also upping the eroticism to levels not typically seen before. In other words, it was a point of pride for the studio to include as much of that trademark candy-apple red blood as they could, and to pack their movies with as many hot women from all over the world as they possibly could.
Hammer Glamour is a delightful celebration of the latter phenomenon, and an absolute no-brainer purchase for anyone who loves Hammer. It's the kind of book that fans of the studio have clamored for, and it finally is here. One wonders what took so long for a book like this to be published. It is the holy grail of scream queen tributes. What more can be said?
Well, one thing can: Amazon's got it for under $20, so go get it.