Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Maniac – Review

Maniac – Review

Nov 25, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by William Lustig, 1980
___________________________

In their initial meeting about the film, director William Lustig instructed actress and the film’s protagonist Caroline Munro to “watch Halloween. . .this is how movies are being made now.”  Such a directorial instruction leaves little doubt to the film’s intentions and design.  And yet Maniac offers something quite different than its Halloween predecessor.

This 1980 slasher/splatter film is follows the life of Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) who is a lonely landlord and demented psychopathic killer.  His small apartment is furnished with mannequins who are adorned with real human hair from Zito’s female victims.  We learn that Frank has a serious problem with women and is unable to be around a female too long without going into a rage and killing her.  After the death, he scalps his victim and take their hair back to his place as a token of his accomplishment.  As the film progresses, we learn that Frank was physically abused by his prostitute mother and he is unable to ultimately discern between her face and the face of his victims.  In a rather chilling climatic scene, Frank hallucinates and believes all the mannequins in his apartment are coming to life to kill him.  The police find him dead the next morning.

On the surface, Maniac seems like a cheap, cheesy, typical 80’s slasher flick.  I suppose in some ways it lives up to that assessment.  But there is more to this movie than meets the eye.  First Joe Spinell delivers a weighty and memorable performance as Frank Zito.  The American-Italian demeanor works perfectly for this troubled soul who lives in the heart of New York City.  There are a couple of memorable scenes where Frank is describing his troubled childhood and they come across as sincere and truly motivational.  Unlike Halloween, we not only get to see what causes Frank to kill, but we grasp a sense of the darkest of human conditions; not being loved.  When Frank meets Anna (Caroline Munro) we see a different side of the serial killer and have momentary hope that things will change.  Those hopes are crushed as we watch Frank slip deeper and deeper into his psychosis.

The movie is also memorable for its gore.  One scene in particular portrays what is perhaps one of the most realistic and graphic deaths I have seen in horror.  It is the infamous “disco boy” death where a young Tom Savini gets his head blown off inside a car.  Frank jumps on the hood, points a shotgun through the windshield, and pulls the trigger.  It really has to be seen to be believed, the realism is simply incredible.

Although Maniac has moments of slowly moving along with the story, the psychological element of Frank mixed with some beautiful gore effects makes this a slasher film worth viewing.  I have heard rumors of a remake (big surprise) and will be interested to see how the actor who plays Frank (perhaps Elijah Wood?) deals with the delicate character of Frank Zito.

Please follow and like us:

Hobo With A Shotgun – Review

Hobo With A Shotgun – Review

Oct 6, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Jason Eisener, 2011
_____________________________

Hobo With A Shotgun is a Canadian horror exploitation film directed by Jason Eisener.  The film was originally a fake trailer to promote the release of Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse, but due to popularity was transformed into a full-length picture.  The movie stars film legend Rutger Hauer.

The central theme of Hobo With A Shotgun is anything but original.  A small town called “Hope Town” is run by a greedy, sadistic villian known as “The Drake” and his two severely demented sons, Ivan and Slick.  I must admit to chuckling when I realized I had just partly described the plot to Roadhouse.  Anyway, the film opens with Slick and Ivan brutally killing The Drake’s brother to set an example to the town folk, who idly stand by and watch the carnage as if they were zombies who could care less.  After the decapitation of the brother, the towns people just slowly go back to their lives as if nothing had ever happened.  The hobo finally has enough when he witnesses Slick attempt to sexually assault and kill a girl in an arcade, prompting him to attack Slick and save the girl.  The hobo drags Slick to the local police station and demands to speak with the Sheriff.  Unfortunately, the Sheriff and the police are corrupt and eating out of The Drake’s hand.  The hobo is knifed and thrown out on the street.

Soon, the hobo meets up with Abby, the girl he saved from the hands of Slick, and she nurses him back to health in her small apartment.  The two become friends and decide to start a new life in a different city.  The can’t leave town fast enough, however, because Ivan and Slick show up to finish off Abby.  They severely injure Abby, but the hobo is able to save her and kill Slick.  What remains is a final showdown between the hobo, The Drake, and the town people who decide they have finally had enough.  The hobo sacrifices his life so that no one else will get hurt, taking down The Drake with him.  There is hope in Hope Town.

Hobo With A Shotgun has a very positive reputation among horror fans.  After hearing so much praise for the film, I was eager to experience this “instant classic” for myself.  I must admit to being somewhat disappointed.  The exploitation genre is a difficult one to master.  One the one hand, one must recognize that making broad and over-the-top statements about the underlying issue is a necessary component of exploitation.  On the other hand, a successful exploitation film understands how those sensationalist images adds to the story being presented and doesn’t turn on itself by simply seeking to shock the audience without any ongoing connection.  Anyone can put together a bunch of violent, gross scenes.  It takes talent to make them tell a compelling story.   At the end of the day, Hobo With A Shotgun is just too much violence with not enough story.  The story isn’t meant to be believable, but still yet, this story is really, really unbelievable.  There are still fun moments and interesting deaths, but overall I found myself somewhat bored with the “how crazy can we go” violence and mayhem.  Probably worth a viewing just for Hauer’s performance, but doesn’t live up to the hype.

Please follow and like us:

Return of the Living Dead – Review

Return of the Living Dead – Review

Sep 23, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Dan O’Bannon, 1985
____________________________

Some movies carry with them a sense of legend that escalates them in quality past the film’s real achievements.  Return of the Living Dead is such a film.

Director Dan O’Bannon is himself something of a legend.  He is most known for his screenwriting and character development, making a name for himself in films such as Alien and Total Recall.  And yet it is  silly little zombie flick O’Bannon directed in 1985 that cemented his name in horror movie history among die-hard fans.  O’Bannon only directed two films during his career, one of which was a zombie spoof called Return of the Living Dead.  It is cheesy, over-the-top, and filled with every element one would expect to find in a mid-80’s horror film.  You know – perfect.

The film is a heavy spoof on Romero and this original Night of the Living Dead.  The U.S. army is to blame in this one, producing a chemical agent that brings dead things back to life.  When a few barrels of this stuff accidentally gets shipped to a medical supply company (conveniently located next to a mortuary, crematorium, and cemetery), it creates a recipe for disaster.  The manager of the supply company, Frank,  shows his new warehouse employee, Freddy,  a young rebel, the aforementioned barrels and accidentally releases the fumes from the container in the process.  Not only does every dead thing in the medical supply company come back to life, including dogs cut in half for universities to study, but the cemetery begins to unleash the living dead.  Add to the mix a gang of 80’s styled friends who are coming to pick up their buddy Freddy.  This is a real beauty of a group as depicted through their clever names:  Spider, Trash, Chuck, Casey, and Scuz.  All these guys provide the necessary collection of humans for the newly resurrected zombies to feast on.  Frank and Freddy attempt to keep things under wraps as long as they can, but soon there is a frenzy of zombification and mayhem.  The only way for the government to lock down the problem is by sending in a nuclear strike on the peaceful little town.

Return of the Living Dead certainly has some memorable characters, such as “Tarman”, the first zombie unleashed by the chemical.  If you enjoy zombie films, then it seems near impossible not to appreciate ROTLD.  Yes, the dialogue is hokey, the plot is ridiculous, and the effects are way over the top – but this is a satire.  Then, right in the middle of the the silliness, O’Bannon throws in some effective scares and shocks that would stand up to any zombie movie out there.  It is a nice mixture of comedy and art.

I can’t put my full weight behind ROTLD, but if you enjoy horror and enjoy zombies, then what are you waiting for?  Take a look.

Click here to purchase Return of the Living Dead

Please follow and like us:

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark – Review

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark – Review

Aug 29, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Troy Nixey, 2011
__________________________

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a 2011 horror film written and produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by comic book artist Troy Nixey.  It is a remake of the 1973 made for television movie of the same name.  The film has a rather eerie 19th century beginning where Emerson Blackwood, a famous artist who owns a beautiful mansion, lures his maid into the basement and promptly knocks her teeth out using a hammer and a flat edged tool of some kind.  We quickly learn that the teeth are for the fairy/goblin like creatures hiding in his furnace who are whispering to him and holding his son as ransom.  They want children’s teeth, not maid’s teeth, and both he and his son ending up perishing.

Fast forward to the present where a father, his girlfriend, and his daughter are moving into the huge house so that he can restore it and hopefully land on the cover of Architectural Digest.  Sally, the daughter, is unhappy about her living conditions as her mother has “shipped” her off to live with her father.  Alex’s girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) tries to befriend the Sally, but finds out that it will take time to earn her trust.  Soon, the goblin creatures lure Sally into the basement and although she initially thinks they might be friends, she learns that they are evil little creatures who want her teeth.   Meanwhile, Kim is becoming more and more sensitive to Sally’s pleas for help while Alex can only concentrate on his career.  The film climaxes with a “final battle” between the creatures and Sally, ultimately taking the life of Kim but failing to kill Sally and Alex.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a beautifully shot film with memorable direction and gobs of atmosphere.  The opening title sequence is gorgeous and the 19th century scene at the beginning of the film sets a creepy and exciting tone for the remainder of the film.  Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up.  This is because of two reasons:

First, the creatures are bland.  Nixey (and perhaps del Toro) reveal a full visual of the creatures fairly early in the film.  Although I applaud them for their willingness to show the antagonist in its full form (something del Toro does all the time), I can’t help but being underwhelmed by the revelation.  The creatures look like a humpback piranha with feet.  After the audience is shown the little monsters, they really no longer create any kind horrific expectation.  In other words, you aren’t hiding your eyes in fear that the creatures might pop back on the screen.

Second, the filmmakers utilize whispers extensively throughout the film.  The creatures use whispers to communicate to Sally and although it seems like the concept might work initially, it soon gives way to cheesiness.  Incredibly predictable things like “we want you down here” and “they always come back” are the whispers we are privy to.

Bailee Madison does give a solid performance as Sally and we find a theme in her suffering that del Toro has shown us before; we see something similar in Pan’s Labyrinth.  The movie is enjoyable and worth the viewing time but does not live up to its potential.

Please follow and like us:

Pro-Life – Review

Pro-Life – Review

Jul 1, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by John Carpenter, 2006
____________________________

Pro-Life is the second effort from famed horror director John Carpenter for the incredibly wonderful Master’s of Horror television series created by Showtime.  The story depicts an ultra-conservative father named Dwayne Burcell (Ron Perlman) who becomes irate when he learns his pregnant, underage daughter is being treated inside an abortion clinic against his wishes.  Come to find out, this clinic already has a restraining order against Burcell for previous threatening behavior, but the stakes are much higher now that his daughter is inside.  All we know about the daughter, Angelique, is that she was running from someone or something at the beginning of the film and was picked up along the road by two doctors – two doctors who just so happened to work at the aforementioned clinic.  Thinking he heard a voice directly from God to “protect the baby”, Dwayne and his three sons storm the clinic, killing anyone who gets in their way.

As we learn more about Burcell and his determination to “free” his daughter, we also learn more about how she become pregnant.  She tells the shocking story of how a demon dragged her below the surface of the earth and raped her.  She is convinced that the baby inside her is of the devil and wants it destroyed immediately.  Unfortunately, demon babies apparently develop much faster than human babies, because instead of the normal 9 months for gestation, this demon baby caused Angelique to go into labor in a matter of days.  When she arrived at the clinic, she looked only a couple of months pregnant.  A few hours later, she was delivering.  Meanwhile, Burcell is busy giving the head doctor of the clinic a dose of his own medicine.  In a disturbing scene, Burcell and his son use a suction device on the lead doctor to show him what “sucking the life” out of a human is all about.  Pretty rough.

Finally, Angelique delivers the baby and sure enough, it is a whacked out demon looking creature not unlike the creature we see burst from Norris’ chest in Carpenter’s classic 1982 film The Thing.   At this point, the film adds another ingredient to the mix.  The demon father, who looks exactly like what you figure a demon might look like, shows up at the hospital to claim his baby.  Before the demon makes his way to the delivery room, he comes face to face with Burcell.  The climatic point of the movie occurs at this moment when the demon speaks to Burcell and says, “protect the baby.”  Yep, it was the voice of a demon, not God, that Burcell was hearing the entire time, making his rampage a demonic act rather than a holy one.  Sensing that she only has a few more minutes, Angelique takes a gun and shoots the baby in the head just as the demon father comes in the room.  Grieving over the death of his baby, the demon picks up his child, ignoring Angelique, and carries him sadly back to hell.  The film ends.

The title alone of this film along with above synopsis would lead one to believe that Carpenter is attempting to make a huge social and political statement.  Amazingly, it just isn’t the case.  I have given Pro-Life a good deal of thought in the last couple of days since viewing it and I am convinced that Carpenter used a hot-bed issue not to provide social commentary of his own, but simply as a way to create a powerful backdrop to the story he really wanted to tell – parents and their relationship with children.  In some ways, Carpenter paints a very sympathetic picture of Burcell.  It is a man who, misguided he may be by his solution, is convinced that abortion is murder and does not want his daughter engaging in that kind of activity.  Add to that the pious, religious angle and I suppose some would write off Burcell as just a fundamental religious zealot with no intellect or sense of right and wrong.  I don’t see that here.  Yes, he is out of control and heavily misinterpreting the messages he receives, but the love of family is what drives him more than anything else.  The same is true for the demon.  Both Burcell and the demon are trying to save their own flesh and blood and Carpenter reminds us of the strong bind between parent and child, a bond that creates the ultimate kind of pain when a child is taken away.

Pro-Life is not a great film, but it has redeeming moments and from frame one is an exciting, non-stop action horror movie.  Due to the 60 minute time constraint, character development is difficult to achieve, but this is off-set by the incredible performance from Ron Perlman who has made a career of dominating every scene he is in.  Some of the demon scenes come across a bit cheesy, but they quickly give way to the serious undertones of the film and do provide a few genuine scares.  John Carpenter is a legendary director who has had a poor run the last several years with his box-office attempts.  It is nice to see that he still “has it.”  This movie is not as effective as Carpenter’s other Masters of Horror attempt Cigarette Burns, but it is still worth the hour of your life to watch it.

Click Here to purchase Pro-Life

Please follow and like us:

The Monster Squad – Review

The Monster Squad – Review

Jun 26, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Fred Dekker, 1987
____________________________

Although not financially successful, Fred Dekker managed to direct two of the more memorable and long-lasting cult horror films of the 1980’s – Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad.  I recently sat down for a re-visiting of the latter; I was all smiles throughout.

The Monster Squad follows a “club” of children led by Sean (Andre Gower) who gather in a super cool tree house to discuss monsters and mayhem but really have nothing much to do.  Sean sports a “Stephen King Rules” t-shirt most days and entrance into the club is mandated by the passing of a horror movie quiz.  Things begin to heat up for the squad when Sean is given the ancient diary of Van Helsing, the famed vampire killer.  After utilizing the services of the local “Scary German Dude” in order to read the German text of the diary, they realize that a special amulet which maintains the balance between good and evil becomes vulnerable to destruction once every century – and that time is now!  Sean begins piecing local disturbances together and realizes that Dracula has invaded their city in search for the amulet.

In order to assist Dracula in his search for the amulet, he enlists the services of the Wolf-Man, Gill-Man, the Mummy, and Frankenstein.  The race is on between the monsters and the Monster Squad to find the amulet and use it for their own advantage.  Frankenstein is eventually befriended by the young 5 year old Phoebe and turns against Dracula in the search.  The movie works its way to a climatic finish where a portal into another dimension is opened and the monsters are ultimately cast away for another century of peace.

The Monster Squad has several elements working in its favor that help make this a great movie for all ages.  First, the monsters look incredible.  Legendary monster maker Stan Winston (Aliens, The Thing, Terminator 2) had a bit of a challenge when creating the look for the monsters in the film.  Universal Studios owned the copyright to their “look” of the classic monsters.  Thus, Winston had to create a version of Dracula, Frankenstein, and all the rest that both differed enough from Universal’s monsters to keep them out of court but also make it very clear who these monsters were.  He did a superb job.  The classic monsters are some of the best looking creatures in any horror film and they are fun to watch throughout.

Second, the casting for the film, especially the monsters, was excellent.  Tom Noonan as Frankenstein and Duncan Regehr as Dracula provided powerful, near epic performances for these famed characters of legend.  The children are believable and incredibly funny.  The movie provides some classic one-liners, the most famous being Horace’s proclamation that “Wolfman’s got nards!”  As with many movies of this genre type, the group of children are just a blast to watch and provide a reminder throughout that we should not take this too seriously.

Having said that, the film does go into some fairly dark directions on occasion.  After visiting the “scary Germad dude” for help with the text of Van Helsing’s diary, Dekker takes just enough time to zoom in on the German’s arm as he closes the door – on it is a Nazi concentration camp tattoo, a subtle reminder that not all monsters live in the world of the undead.  Also, at the end of the film, young 5 year old Phoebe is picked up by Dracula.  Dekker does not hold back one iota as Dracula screams into her face, “Give me the amulet you BIT**.”  Pretty dark stuff for this type of film.

All in all, The Monster Squad is memorable, very re-watchable, and worth your time.  Sadly, the box office failure of the film, despite the cult following it enjoys today, added to the disappearing of Fred Dekker’s career.

Click Here to purchase The Monster Squad

Please follow and like us: