90’s Horror: “The Craft” (1995) Review

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On Thursday Night I saw The Craft (1996) for the very first time with some friends from Instagram! I already own it on DVD for a long time but I had not seen it yet. I remember the film standing out to me due to the poster and the cast full of youngsters. Neve Campbell is my favorite horror actress and I loved her ever since I saw her in the Scream movies. I did hear that The Craft was her first official role and she filmed it right before the original Scream. The premise also sounded very original and intriguing.

I finally saw it and I was impressed by it. The acting performances from the entire cast were really solid. Fairuza Balk was captivating in her role of the Craft leader turned psycho Nancy. I liked how she overacted in some scenes because it suited her character. A character you’d love to hate. Robin Tunney also did a great job in this movie, great character development. Neve Campbell was the standout in my opinion, I might go out there and say that this was her breakout role but her performance in Scream is far superior. You do get a clear image of her talent and that she’s a gifted actress. Rachel True was good in her role but in my opinion she was just THERE for me, she didn’t standout but she was just fine. Christine Taylor played an excellent evil bitch, to the point where you feel bad about her fate. Skeet Ulrich and Breckin Meyer were fun in this movie, especially loved Skeet in this movie. His scenes with Neve (only two or so) are hilarious cause they also starred together in Scream. So amusing seeing those two at the same time in a scene in The Craft.

This movie definitely results in as “Carrie meets Clueless” and that is all sorts of fun! The soundtrack was great and very 90’s. Excpetionally filmed by Andrew Fleming but the script had some problems and a few plotholes. The visuals are not always well executed but definitely very effective. Sometimes it looks dull however. There are lots of thrills in The Craft but its light on blood and gore. The bonding scenes between the girls were really good. I would highly recommend The Craft to anyone, I wanna upgrade it to Blu-ray! Great movie!

–Ferdi Akkulak

In Defense of 90’s Slashers

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Talk to just about any studio in America right now and they will all tell you the same thing. Slashers are out and they aren’t coming back anytime soon. What was extremely popular in the 80’s and brought back to the mainstream in 1996 with the release of “Scream”, is just about dead today. For more proof, let’s take a look back to last year. Of the horror films that were given a wide release, zero can be classified as a slasher. That’s right…not a single wide release horror film last year was of the slasher genre. In 2011, we had the release of “Scream 4” which sold less tickets in its entire run than “Scream 3” sold opening weekend. Sad, isn’t it? Two of my favorite films of last year, “Silent Night” and “The Sleeper”, were both sent straight to dvd with fans eager to seek them out. The news is just depressing isn’t it?

Let us flash back to year 1995 when the highest grossing horror movie of the year was “Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight” grossing a paltry $21 million. Horror was dead and slashers were dead right along with them. In 1996, a little film called “Scream” was released to critical acclaim and an enthusiastic fan base eager to gobble up the carnage candy. The film went on to gross $103 million at the box office and remains the only slasher in history (along with its sequel, “Scream 2”) to break the $100 million mark. After this film was released, every studio in Hollywood was eager to make their own version of the slasher hit. Sony jumped on the teen bandwagon with “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Idol Hands,” and “Urban Legend,” Warner Brothers released the 80’s style “Valentine” a few years too late, LIVE unleashed hell with “Wishmaster,” MGM turned Stepford with “Disturbing Behavior,” and Universal buried “Cherry Falls.” Some of these films were more successful than others but none of these films lost money for their studio and all were more or less accepted by horror fans.

If that were only the case today… Take a look at the message boards on various horror sites like Bloody Disgusting or Fearnet and you will see that there is a great disdain for 90’s slashers. These films are not just disliked in today’s horror market but actively hated. While I can understand how not every horror fan will dig on the post-modern vibes of a lot of these horror movies, none of these films are particularly worthless. In the world of horror fans, if something is success, it can’t possibly be good. Forget the fact that all of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street films made money. Those films are classics whereas today’s horror fan tends to view a film like “Scream 2” as junk. I wish this wasn’t the case and I know there are exceptions to the rule. Does anyone really know why this is the case? These films are fun and enjoyable. Sure they are flawed but so are most of the slashers from the 80’s (yes, even the best ones). So, before you dismiss another one of the films as worthless, or predictable, or far fetched ask yourself one question: Is the ending to “Urban Legend” any more preposterous as the ending to a “classic” 80’s slasher like “Happy Birthday to Me?” I think you’ll find the answer is no.

80’s Slasher Throwback: “Happy Birthday to Me”

Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright is a pretty and popular high school senior at Crawford Academy. She is one of her school’s “Top Ten”: an elite clique which comprises the richest, most popular and most snobbish teens at the Academy. The Top Ten meet every night at the Silent Woman Tavern, a pub near Crawford’s campus. One night, en route to the Silent Woman, Top Ten member Bernadette O’Hara is attacked in her car by a killer whose face cannot be seen. Unable to flee, she struggles and then plays dead to catch the Killer off-guard. She fights the killer off, then runs off to get help. Instead, Bernadette finds a student whom she is familiar with. She pleads her ordeal, only to have her throat slit when this student (whom the audience still cannot see) turns out to be the killer.

The Top Ten is briefly concerned when Bernadette fails to show up at the Silent Woman. They promptly get over it, however; the Top Ten have a long history of playing elaborate pranks, both on each other and on the locals. Their grievance with another tavern patron inspires them to pull such a prank: they “borrow” the member’s pet mouse, which they dunk into the lodger’s beer, all the while pretending to apologize for their rudeness. The lodger discovers the mouse; mayhem ensues, and the Top Ten flee the scene.

En route back home, the Top Ten see a drawbridge going up and decide to play a game of chicken: all cars in the game must make it across before the bridge is completely raised (to allow the passing of ferrys). A protesting Ginny is shoved into a car by fellow Top Ten member Ann Thomerson. Every car jumps the drawbridge save one. After the car stops Ginny runs from the vehicle into the darkness home. On the way home she stops by her mother’s grave to tell her she’s popular and hangs out with the Top Ten all the time. Ginny is confronted by her father about coming home after her curfew. Unbeknownst to either of them, somebody has followed her home. Will she be able to save her self or her friends before they fall prey to the top 10 curse?

“Happy Birthday to Me” is preposterous, over-the-top, and silly. A blend of all of the 80’s excesses rolled into one far too long film (outside of the “Scream franchise” NO horror movie should run upwards of two hours). Nonetheless, “Birthday” works. Maybe it is the silly deaths (gotta love the shish-ka-bob to the mouth or the weights to the crotch) or maybe its the outlandish ending that doesn’t even try to make any sense whatsoever. Whatever it is, this movie put a blood red smile across my face for the majority of its running time. Great atmosphere, steady cinematography, and a capable cast also help matters considerably. I can’t say this is a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but if you are looking for a fine, fun 80’s slasher, this is definitely one of the better ones.

3.5

90’s Slasher Throwback: “Candyman”

Helen Lyle is a graduate student conducting research for her thesis on urban legends. While interviewing freshmen about their superstitions, she hears about a local legend known as Candyman. The legend contains many thematic elements similar to the most well known urban legends, including endangered babysitters, spirits who appear in mirrors when fatally summoned, and maniac killers with unnatural deformities. The legend states that while Candyman was the son of a slave, he nevertheless became a well known artist. Yet, after falling in love with a white woman who becomes pregnant, Candyman is chased through the plantation and when caught, has his drawing hand cut off and replaced with a hook. He is then smeared with honey (prompting the locals to chant ‘Candyman’ a total of 5 times- hence the ‘say his name 5 times into the mirror’), stolen from a nearby apiary, and the bees sting him to death.[1] The legend also claims that Candyman is summoned by anyone who looks into a mirror and chants his name five times (similar to the Bloody Mary folkloric tale). Summoning him often costs the individual their own life. Later that evening, Helen and her friend Bernadette jokingly call Candyman’s name into the mirror in Helen’s bathroom but nothing happens.

While conducting her research, Helen enters the notorious gang-ridden Cabrini–Green housing project, the site of a recent unsolved murder. There she meets Anne-Marie McCoy, one of the residents, as well as a young boy named Jake, who tells her a disturbing story of a child who was horribly mutilated in a public restroom near the projects, supposedly by Candyman. While exploring the run-down restroom, Helen is attacked by a gang member carrying a hook who has taken the Candyman moniker as his own to enhance his own street credibility by associating himself with the legend. Helen survives the assault and is able to later identify her attacker to the police.

Helen later returns to school but hears a voice calling her name as she walks through a parking garage. Another man she encounters states he is the Candyman of the urban legend and because of Helen’s disbelief in him, he must now prove to her that he is real. Helen blacks out and wakes up in Anne-Marie’s apartment, covered in blood. Anne-Marie, whose Rottweiler has been decapitated and whose baby is also missing, attacks Helen and she is forced to defend herself from Anne-Marie using a meat cleaver. The police then enter the apartment and arrest Helen. Is Helen going crazy or will Candyman come for her next?

Three words adequately describe “Candyman”: Scary. As. Hell. I was twelve years old when I saw the movie for the first time and it hasn’t left my mind since. From the haunting Phillip Glass score to the uncompromising promises by both Tony Todd as Candyman and Virginia Madsen (who has never looked better) as Helen, everything about this movie is sensationally scary. Madsen, in particular, seems to relish playing against time and causes the audience to be sympathetic with her character when a lesser actress would have just come across as annoying. A cheap “Carrie” rip-off of an editing is the only false beat in this superb thriller from one of the masters of the horror genre, Clive Barker.

To buy “Candyman”: Candyman (Special Edition)

90’s Horror Throwback: “The Blair Witch Project”

In October 1994, film students Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams and Joshua Leonard set out to produce a documentary about the fabled Blair Witch. They travel to Burkittsville, Maryland, formerly Blair, and interview locals about the legend of the Blair Witch. The locals tell them of Rustin Parr, a hermit who kidnapped seven children in the 1940s and brought them to his house in the woods, where he tortured and murdered them. Parr brought the children into his home’s basement in pairs. Parr forced the first child to face the corner and listen to their companion’s screams as he murdered the second child. Parr would then murder the first child. Eventually turning himself in to the police, Parr later pleaded insanity, saying that the spirit of Elly Kedward, a witch hanged in the 18th century, had been terrorizing him for some time and promised to leave him alone if he murdered the children. The trio also interviews Mary Brown, a local eccentric who tells them that she had encountered the Blair Witch as a child.

The second day, the students begin to explore the woods in north Burkittsville to look for evidence of the Blair Witch. Along the way, a fisherman warns them that the woods are haunted, and recalls a time that he had seen strange mist rising from the water. The students hike to Coffin Rock, where five men were found ritualistically murdered in the 19th century, and then camp for the night. The next day they move deeper into the woods, despite being uncertain of their exact location on the map. They eventually locate what appears to be an old cemetery with seven small cairns. They set up camp nearby and then return to the cemetery after dark. Josh accidentally disturbs a cairn, and Heather hastily repairs it. Later, they hear crackling sounds in the darkness that seem to be coming from all directions and assume the noises are from animals or locals following them.

The following day they attempt to return to their vehicle, but cannot find their way; they try until nightfall, when they are forced to set camp. That night, they again hear crackling noises, but cannot see anything. The next morning they find three cairns have been built around their tent during the night. As they continue trying to find their way out of the woods, Heather realizes that her map is missing, and Mike later reveals that he kicked it into a creek out of frustration the previous day. Josh and Heather attack Mike in a fit of intense rage. They then realize they are now hopelessly lost, and decide to simply “head south”. Soon, they discover a multitude of humanoid stick figures suspended from trees. That night, they hear more strange noises, including the sounds of children and bizarre “morphing” sounds. When an unknown force shakes the tent, they flee in a panic and hide in the woods until dawn. Upon returning to their tent, they find that their possessions have been rifled through, and Josh’s equipment is covered with slime, causing them to question why only his belongings were affected. As the day wears on, they pass a log over a stream that was identical to the one they had passed earlier, despite having traveled directly south all day, and again set camp, completely demoralized at having wasted the entire day seemingly going in circles. After this night, none of them will be the same again.

When “Blair Witch Project” opened in July 1999, little did anyone in the entertainment business realize that it would change the horror genre forever. The $30,000 little indie that could grossed an astonishing $141 million at the domestic box office and another $100 million overseas to become the most successful film of all time (budget to gross ratio). This little film had an entire nation believing that the events that took place actually happened. It was the first film to use the internet as a form of viral marketing from a website with little known “facts” about the “whereabouts” of the cast. It helped that “Blair Witch Project” was a damn good movie. The ending is scary as well and its hard to believe how far the “found footage” subgenre has come since the making of this film. It isn’t perfect (the leads can be a bit annoying and the scares are a bit repetitive towards the end) but it is a one of a kind movie that won’t soon be forgotten.

To buy “The Blair Witch Project”: The Blair Witch Project [Blu-ray]

90’s Slasher Throwback: “Scream 2”

“By definition alone, [sequels] are inferior films.” Randy, “Scream 2”

Who would have thought that a small, low-budget horror movie named “Scream” would forever change the horror movie genre? When it was released in 1996, the small film was expected to do about $20 million at the box office and have a fast flight to video. The movie ended up grossing over $103 million ($171 million in today’s dollars) and spend nearly five months in the box office top 10. It achieved something that most horror movies do not: excellent reviews and terrific word-of-mouth. Less than one year later, director Wes Craven and company would be back in theaters will the cleverly titled “Scream 2”. Does “Scream 2” live up to the name of the original or does it die trying? Now that the horror meta movement has come and gone, how does it hold up as a slasher sequel to one of the most influential horror films in history?

“Scream 2” opens two years after the terrifying events that occurred in Woodsboro. Sidney is now attending Windsor College with long time friend and horror movie pal Randy. Meanwhile, Gale Weathers best selling book on Sidney’s life has now been made into a major motion picture. When two college students are killed in a theatre while watching the new film “Stab,” Sidney soon realizes that history is repeating itself again. Gale Weathers is present around the college reporting on the latest gruesome details that her movie has sparked. Sidney’s cop buddy Dewey comes to visit Sidney after he hears the news also. No one believes the murders were in any way connected to Woodsboro, until more students around the campus are found dead. Gale and Dewey investigate and find that someone is trying to recreate Woodsboro. Sidney is no rookie when it comes to surviving a killer but someone wiser is on campus to show her some good old fashion revenge.

Although at times I feel as though I am in the minority, I truly believe that “Scream 2” is the best film in the Scream franchise. This is that rare sequel that takes everything that works about its predecessor and manages to take it to another level. The deaths are suspenseful, the characters are charming and likable, and the twist ending works better than it has any right to. I also truly believe that this is some of Craven’s finest directing and the “cop car” scene is a hide-your-eyes-behind-your-fingers chiller of a scene. More than that, this film is just a hell of a lot of fun from beginning to end.

90’s Slasher Throwback: “I Know What You Did Last Summer”

Most hard core horror fans are not exactly big fans of the meta, self aware, late 90’s style of horror movie that “Scream” so successfully ushered in. Movies like “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Urban Legend” were huge hits with the general public but less so with horror fans and critics alike. How dare they create a fun, knowingly mocking type of horror movie? Looking back more than a decade later, it’s easier to see the appeal of these films. They are cheeky, tongue-in-cheek slasher films with hot WB casts gets butchered in interesting ways. Are these great films? Not really. Are they a hell of a lot of fun? You bet. So it is without further ado that I give you our first 90’s Slasher Throwback title…”I Know What You Did Last Summer”.

The plot of “I Know” is strictly 80’s slasher fodder. When four friends accidentally hit and kill a man on a road at night, they start to panic and decide to dump the body into the sea. A year later, they all try to settle down again, but one of the friends receives a note in the post, with the words ‘I know what you did last summer’. As each of the friends gains their own reminder, they finally accept the one thing they feared the most; someone knows what happened that night, and now they’re out for revenge.

Tell me you didn’t see THAT coming? “I Know” is silly and the ending has more holes in it than most of the bodies but it’s pleasant enough. This is the kind of old fashioned slasher that we just don’t see today. More emphasis on character and setting (believe me North Carolina has never looked more beautiful) than blood and gore really help this film succeed. Though both male characters played by Phillippe and Prinze Jr. are played as bores, the female characters of Julie and Helen, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar respectively, shine. These girls actually feel like real friends and behave as though real friends would behave. Helen’s chase scene is one of the best I’ve seen committed to film and Gellar screams like a champ. I can’t say “I Know” is groundbreaking or revolutionary but it’s more fun than most horror movies that routinely open today. Plus, the best news? It’s not a sequel OR a remake!