Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Garfield’s Halloween Adventure – Review

Garfield’s Halloween Adventure – Review

Oct 24, 2010

reviewed by hallo
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Every year at Halloween my DVD player becomes very familiar with three disks:  1. John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween.  2.  Disney’s animated the Legend of Sleepy Hollow (found in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad).  3.  Garfield’s Halloween Adventure.  The first is obvious, the second is a timeless classic, and the third is a true gem that sadly not too many folks know about.  So, here is a review that will hopefully rekindle some love for one of my favorites.

Garfield’s Halloween Adventure is a half-hour animated television special that debuted on October 30th, 1985.  It was shown every year after that up until the year 2000.  The story follows the famous Garfield cat who is at first a bit annoyed at Binky the Clown, a show on television, for waking him up.  But after he learns that Binky has exciting news, that tonight is Halloween night and lots of candy is in store for trick-or-treaters, Garfield wakes up and sets out to find the right costume, along with his sidekick Odie.  They both end up going as pirates, much to the delight of Jon their owner.  After setting out for some candy, Garfield’s greed takes over and they decide to cross the river to get even more candy.  They unfortunately get caught up in the current, lose their oars (thanks to Odie taking Garfield’s “put out the oars matie” a bit too literally), and end up at a super creepy house where an old man is warming himself by a fire.  He tells them a story about a band of pirates that are returning to that very house on Halloween night to reclaim treasure they buried 100 years ago.  The old man knows the story because he was the pirate’s cabin boy.   Well, sure enough, the pirates come, but not before the old man steals Garfield’s boat and makes off down the river.  So, Garfield and Odie must deal with the ghost pirates.  Odie ends up saving Garfield and they make it back safely home.

There are way too many great things about Garfield’s Halloween Adventure to mention in this review.  Here are a few.  The songs are downright perfect.  “What Should I Be”, “Scardy Cat”, and “Over the Raging Sea We Go” are my favorites and I actually sing the latter all year long.  The sequences blend a perfect mix of humor and, at times, scares.  The skull on Garfield’s pirate hat changes expressions depending on what situation they are in.  The clock actually rings 12 times during the frantic music and craziness of Garfield and Odie trying to stop it from chiming.  But most importantly, the half-hour program gets forever etched into your soul as one of those beloved memories from yesteryear.  Watching it today makes me remember so many wonderful Halloween experiences as well as still appreciating the great cartoon that it is.

So, if you haven’t seen Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, and chances are you haven’t, then get it now!  You will absolutely fall in love.

Click Here to purchase Garfield’s Halloween Adventure

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The Town that Dreaded Sundown – Review

The Town that Dreaded Sundown – Review

Sep 26, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Charles B. Pierce, 1976
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The Town that Dreaded Sundown had one of those classic VHS tape box covers that made you want to grab it instantly in the old movie rental locations – before the Blockbusters of the world drove all the small town rental stores out of business (interestingly, Blockbuster is now being driven out of business by Netflix and others).   After viewing the film from my “Movie Station” location in east TN, I actually ended up purchasing the movie several years later on VHS.  Not so much because it was a great movie, but because I just simply could not believe it was on sale!  I’m glad I did as the movie has still not been released on DVD and VHS copies are in the $50 range to purchase.

Having said that, the film has all the elements of a great horror movie but poorly delivers on almost all of them.  There is the hooded serial killer, the unsolved mystery of the murders, the Texas Ranger who is brought in to solve the crimes, and the teenagers who meet their doom in some rather bizarre ways.  The movie follows the feel of an old western documentary, complete with the super cheesy voice-over narration of what is happening in the small, blue-collar town of Texarcana in the year 1946.  Unfortunately, the acting is over the top, the comedic element is overly and annoyingly used, and some of the kill scenes leave you scratching your head.  For example, at one point the “phantom” attaches a knife to the end of a trombone and plays a little tune while stabbing his helpless victim.

On the other hand, The Town that Dreaded Sundown has some positive aspects as well, not the least of which is one super awesome movie title.  The phantom does spook you out in more than one scene and his appearance in the hood is rather creepy; so much so that I believe Steve Miner ripped off the look for Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th part 2.  And it is hard not to like veteran actor Ben Johnson playing the determined Texas Ranger J.D. Morales, which is a Texas name if I ever heard of one.  So, this movie is one I recommended for its somewhat unique approach and feel, but I can’t give it high marks on quality and longevity.  The movie certainly does belong back in its own time.

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Teeth – Review

Teeth – Review

Sep 21, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2007
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Teeth is a 2007 Sundance Film Festival release written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein that operates successfully on multiple levels. Although it most noticeably sits very nicely in the sub-genre of horror-black comedy, Teeth also works equally well in the arena of satire and even gore. It is quite possible that this movie has more to say than even the film realizes. It was one of the rare viewing experiences where you are expecting something fairly decent and walk away with something very good.

Dawn O’Keefe is a high school teenage girl who has the rare conviction that sex is designed to be solely the act of a husband and wife. She is one of the lead spokespersons for an organization called “The Promise” that advocates abstaining from sex until marriage and symbolizes the commitment by the wearing of a ring on the left hand, only to be replaced with a wedding ring when that day arrives. During a sexual assault from a fellow Promise member, Dawn becomes aware that she has a rather powerful biological deterrent to any would-be sexual predator- a condition called “vagina dentata.” As the movie progresses, Dawn moves through a range of emotions, beginning with fear and disgust and culminating with the perception that she enjoys her new-found advantage over the male species.

As a satire, Teeth works about as good as you can get. As would be expected, most of the members of The Promise organization are religious minded folks who reach their convictions based on faith and believe in God. Additionally, as would be expected, Lichtenstein portrays this group as the real scare in the movie, depicting them as a cult whose very existence should send cold chills down our back. At one point in the film, the group is meeting for a “rally” and is chanting small sections from Genesis 3 about the serpent and Eve. All these scenarios create a clear satirical commentary on religious groups such as “True Love Waits” that every church youth program in the country has promoted at one time or another. Interestingly, the film actually gets this partly right. That might be surprising to hear coming from a pastor (which I am), but the underlying spiritual development of a group like The Promise more often than not reaches its apex with a signed declaration card and a promise ring, neither of which are bad things, but neither of which will sustain the kind of commitment and conviction that is to be honored. Although I get bored of filmmakers always depicting Christian groups with a cult/freaked-out/extremist point of view, Teeth is correct to say that much of what happens in these organizations may be well intended, but falls short on effectiveness. Even more interesting, whether the movie intended this or not, the film actually supports the message of The Promise by acknowledging the danger involved with using sex for just personal victory or pleasure. Although the male has an initial sense of “victory” upon first initiating the act with Dawn, it doesn’t take long for him to wish that he had made a different decision. Whereas with thousands of teenagers in the real world today, guilt will be the factor involved to bring about regret, for those who become intimate with Dawn, it is physical pain and torment that causes the sudden change of heart.

Teeth also works to create a character in Dawn who develops into a voice for all womanhood – the empowering of the female to take control over the male in the one area where she has historically been inferior; sexual dominance. Many of us horror fans remember vividly the images from films such as Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave where the female lead is plunged head-first into the world of sexual assault that is male dominated. We see the flip side of that coin in the ultimate way with the character of Dawn and it falls in line nicely with the current trend of movies that give a great weight to the notion of not only female equality, but superiority.

Finally, and perhaps what the filmmakers were most going for, is that Teeth takes the “rules” of horror movies to the ultimate level. If you have sex, you die – that seems to have been the paradigm since Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween.  In this instance, it isn’t the masked serial killer that is waiting to spear the couple who end up with their clothes off, but it is the killer of the human body itself that wreaks havoc. And as we all know, there is no powerful threat to our own well being than the persuasions of our own flesh.

The only real complaint I have with the film is that at times it tried a bit too hard to be a black-comedy. There are a few scenes that should have been left on the cutting room floor, but I think the film wanted to make darn sure we all got the message – they are having fun with this. At other times, one scene in particular when Dawn is researching her condition, the musical score is horrendous. But, those are minor issues and will not interfere with your enjoyment of the movie. This is definitely an “R” rated film and should be viewed with caution. But it does have a message to share.

Click Here to purchase Teeth

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Dead Alive – Review

Dead Alive – Review

Jan 24, 2010

reviewed by Noch
directed by Peter Jackson, 1992
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Long before esteemed director/producer Peter Jackson was making big budget wide released films such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, and even the Frighteners, he was cutting his teeth on lower budget gems. Some of the better known of these movies are Meet the Feebles and Bad Taste. However my favorite from this era of Jackson’s career hands down is Dead-Alive.

Due to some apparent license troubles the film’s original name “BrainDead” was not available for release in the North American markets had to be renamed. Whatever it is called, this movie is a fantastic Laugh out loud splatterfest that is sure to keep you entertained.

Dead-Alive is the story of a very sheltered young man named Lionel, who is very much oppressed by his overbearing and slightly evil mother Vera.  Lionel is forced to do everything for his mother, cook, clean, take care of the lawn, polish the silverware even when there is no apparent need. Naturally Lionel has no apparent friends or life other than taking care of his mother.

Elsewhere in the town, a young Latin girl Paquita is working in her family’s store and has a crush on a delivery driver who comes in. Paquita’s grandmother notices how the girl is swooning over the young man and offers to have a tarot reading from her to find out who Paquita is going to Marry. Much to dismay of the young girl, the cards do not predict the man who is being currently swooned over and she forces herself begrudgingly back to work. Then in walks Lionel, who is not treated very well by the upset girl until a sign in some spilled impulse buy items lets her know that Lionel is actually the one she is going to have a romance with.

Paquita then comes up with an excuse to personally deliver Lionel’s mother’s order to the house and tricks Lionel into agreeing to go on a date to the zoo. Not known to the couple, Vera is watching the whole thing and decides to spy on her son.

Everything goes well during the date for the couple and they start to kiss, which greatly angers Vera. Suddenly she is bitten by the Sumatran rat monkey which she then batters in a very disgusting matter. Lionel notices his mother and takes her home.

Over the next couple days the mother progressively gets worse and her wound never heals. While in a near death state, she hosts a dinner party which goes horribly wrong and has one of the most stomach turning scenes I can recall seeing in a movie. Eventually Vera becomes very sick and dies as the nurse is trying to send her to the hospital. Vera has then fully become a member of the living dead and kills the nurse. Lionel promptly has two hide both zombies in the basement and pretend to Paquita that she’s simply “off to hospital”.

This is where the real fun starts. Lionel keeps losing control of the zombies and it becomes harder and harder for him to keep his little secret under wraps. All of this results in more and more people becoming the undead.

During this film, no topic is too taboo or farfetched. Ever wondered what the entrails of a zombie will do when removed from the rest of the monster? You can find out here. Want to know if zombies have a libido or could get pregnant? This is explored as well. All of this crescendos into the most impressive blood bath I believe I have ever seen in a movie. According to IMDB in one impressive scene blood is pumped out at five gallons per second all the while, body parts and chunks are flying everywhere.

I still recall the first time watching Dead Alive. It was one of several films on a tape a friend let me borrow so that I could see Evil Dead II. Out of curiosity I started watching the other films. This is by far the most memorable on the tape. From the first scene when the Rat Monkey is being removed from the island and having the natives chopping up the zoo keeper to prevent “Zingiah” to long after the movie was over discussing the unexpected pleasure we just watched with a friend, I had a big smile on my face.

Dead-Alive deserves a spot high in the all time ranks of horror comedies.

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Zombieland – Review

Zombieland – Review

Jan 14, 2010

reviewed by Danny
directed by Ruben Fleischer, 2009
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While most horror-comedies tend to be parodies like the ever-declining-in-quality family tree of Young Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein begat Student Bodies which begat Scary Movie which begat Stan Helsing), the better horror comedies are simply horror films that happen to be funny.  They may lampoon the sillier conventions of the genre, but those laughs are accompanied by attempts to simultaneously stay true to the genre’s conventions and motifs.  Ghostbusters does this, as do Gremlins and Shaun of the Dead.  As much as the two films have been compared, Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland isn’t Shaun of the Dead, or Young Frankenstein for that matter.  It isn’t a parody, but it also isn’t much of a horror film.  That isn’t to say that the film is bad.  I had a pretty good time in the theater.  There are just too many instances where the horror is diluted beyond recognition for the film to appeal as a horror film.

The film begins after the zombie plague has already wiped out America and, presumably, the rest of the world.  This particular apocalypse is explained, with a couple of throwaway lines, to have been caused by a mutation of Mad Cow Disease.  It’s as good an explanation as any, and I’m glad the film doesn’t waste too much time on the early days of the outbreak.  We get voice-over from the start, provided by a character we will come to know as Columbus.  He is a nerdy college student who has survived the zombie holocaust by following a strict set of rules of his own creation.  We learn these rules in clever flashback scenes that illustrate the logic behind each rule.

Before long, Columbus meets up with Tallahassee, a violent but funny loner who is much angrier about and at the zombies than is Columbus.  The pair travel together having amusing adventures until they run into two sisters—Wichita and Little Rock.  After a bit of conflict, the group teams up and makes its way toward Little Rock’s dream destination—Pacific Palisades, an amusement park that is rumored to be “zombie-free.”

The foursome has a lot of fun, especially considering they are among the final handful of people alive on the globe.  A standout scene involves demolishing a roadside souvenir store to the tune of classical music in a scene reminiscent of the home invasion scene in A Clockwork Orange.

Until the last few scenes of the film, it never seems like any of the main characters are in any real danger.  This lack of real threat is one reason the film doesn’t feel like a horror film. Fear is a key element of horror and there never seems to be much of it in Zombieland.  In fact, Columbus is openly mocked for his lack of bravado in taking on zombies, a trait that has kept him alive when billions of people haven’t quite managed it.

The lack of real fear is accompanied by a lack of real scares. That second part is easy to explain.  Zombieland has a lot of self-referential elements: the aforementioned voice overs, on-screen Zombie Kill of the Week ribbons, freeze frames, slow motion.  All of these impede on the viewer’s ability to suspend his disbelief.  There are very few points in Zombieland when it is possible to get lost in the events.  We are constantly reminded that this is just a film. Under those circumstances, it is nearly impossible to manage a scare or even much of a jolt.

The non-horror moments fair much better.  The film displays some genuine emotion in Columbus’s attempt to outgrow the outsider personality instilled in him by distant parents, in Wichita’s desire to give Little Rock back some of the childhood she has lost, and, most poignantly in the story behind Tallahassee’s anger and recklessness in the face of the zombies.  Add an unrealistic but still kind of touching romance between Columbus and Wichita and you get a film that has a solid emotional core.

As a horror film, Zombieland isn’t an unmitigated success or a complete failure.  The horror set pieces are handled well.  There are some great kills.  Blood flows.  Still, the film doesn’t feel like a horror film with coming-of-age movie elements, it feels like a coming-of-age comedy seen through a horror film filter.  It doesn’t mock the genre.  It simply uses the genre in a supporting role.  How much you enjoy the film as a horror fan will come down to how much that fact bothers you.

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Piranha – Review

Piranha – Review

Jan 5, 2010

reviewed by Danny
directed by Joe Dante, 1978
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Joe Dante’s Piranha is a bit of an odd duck.  On one hand, it was a cynical, low-budget attempt to cash in on the nature-gone-amuck sub-genre in the wake of the the first Summer blockbuster, Jaws.  But, on the other hand, it was put together by a collection of talent that, while young and new to the business, was well above what we normally see in the credits of a B-movie with an $800,000 budget.  The director would go on to prove himself one of the masters of low-budget genre film with successes like The Howling and Gremlins and at least one underrated masterpiece (The ‘Burbs).  The screenwriter, John Sayles (Eight Men Out, Matewan, Brother from Another Planet), is considered by many to be one of the greatest writer/directors in American film.  What Dante and Sayles did is make a film that is simultaneously a obvious rip-off or Jaws and a tongue-and-cheek homage to the genre.

The story begins with two typically clueless teen hikers who stumble into a military research station and decide to skinny dip in the very industrial and toxic-looking pool.  Both are quickly devoured by the eponymous beasties.  Later, a “skip tracer” (Maggie) comes along trying to find the teens and thoughtlessly drains the pool into the nearby river.  This sets up the eventual arrival of the piranha at a newly opened resort downstream.  Lots of swimmers—lots of victims.

Piranha has many scenes and situations pulled straight from Jaws.  The owner of the resort is a direct equivalent to the mayor of Amity—refusing to shut the resort down based on the warnings of the skip tracer and the drunken mountain beau who comes along because his daughter is away at the lake attending a summer camp.  Everyone is more worried about a possible economic hit than they are about the potential for lots of people to get eaten by mutant fish.

And, wow, do lots of people get eaten.  The film departs from the Jaws formula strongly here.  Dozens upon dozens of swimmers (including lots of children) fall victim to the swarms of mutant fishies.  Mostly the gore is mild, at least during the attacks—just a swirl of filmed-in-a-fish-tank piranha and a distinctive sound and lots of blood in the water.  We do get to see some gory, post-attack damage in the form of live victims with bloody stubs and nearly devoured floating corpses.  The film earns its R rating and the effects are cheap but effective.

Still, the mutant fish attacking swimmers elements of the film are just good enough to be fun.  What makes this film a B-horror classic is its humor and a couple of inspired, if weird, moments.  I love that Maggie is playing the Jaws video game when we first see her (in case anyone was confused as to what inspired the film).  There are simply some great lines in the screenplay.  Particularly, I love the throw away lines by minor characters (“People eat fish, Grogan.  Fish don’t eat People”).  The main characters have some doozies also.  (Grogan to Maggie:  “I didn’t axe-murder your young couple”).  The producer of Piranha went on to produce Airplane and Top Secret, and some of the lines wouldn’t be out of place in that level of parody.

Aside from the humor, my favorite part of Piranha is right near the beginning.  Maggie and Grogan are searching through the research station for the missing hikers.  Unseen by them, a mutant piranha is skulking around the station watching them.  The creature is brought to life with Harryhausen-style stop-motion animation.  It is creepy and wonderful looking.  The images of that walking piranha stuck with me long after seeing the film, and it was that scene I was looking forward to most when the anniversary DVD made the film available after years of obscurity.

It is difficult to refer to a B-movie with mostly amateurish acting and some ridiculous behavior as a classic.  The humor and genuine love for the genre seen in Piranha, though, bring it close to deserving that label.  If this review gives you the desire to seek out the film, be careful–there is a 1995 remake that is nearly unwatchable despite being based off the same script.  The 1978 original is the one you want as it is much more than just watchable.

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