October Horror Challenge: Day 31: “Trick r Treat”

What better way to end a month of horror movies than taking a look back at “Trick r Treat”. Anthology horror films seem to be a dying breed. Gone are the days of Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt and in are the days of supernatural horror and torture porn. Good anthology horror films are some of the hardest horror films to make. It is hard enough for a good filmmaker to come up with one captivating story let alone three or four, or, in the case of Creepshow, five stories. So it is with this in mind that I dig my teeth into Warner Brothers’ long delayed Halloween themed anthology horror flick Trick r Treat. Is it a delicious treat for slasher maniacs everywhere? Or is it an apple covered razor blade? Well…let’s see…

“Trick r Treat” begins on Halloween night in Warren Valley, Ohio, a young woman named Emma blows out a Jack-o-Lantern in front of her home despite a warning from her husband Henry. She has a tragic surprise for not obeying the Halloween rules. Next (or earlier, you really have to see the film to know what I mean), the virgin Laurie buys a Little Red Riding Hood costume with her sister and two girlfriends as they invite some guys for a party. Meanwhile, the glutton Charlie destroys many Jack-o-Lanterns on the street. When he arrives at the house of the high-school principal Steven, the boy discovers how much the disturbed man respects the dead and the traditions of Halloween. Meanwhile four teenagers invite the outcast Rhonda to join them in their journey to an abandoned rock quarry where a tragic accident with the school bus with eight troubled children happened thirty years ago. They play a prank with Rhonda but when the mean Marcy blows out the last Jack-o-Lantern in the spot, they need the support of Rhonda to escape from the damned place. Laurie sees a stalker that follows her; while walking through the woods to the party, she is attacked and she finally has her initiation. Earlier, the lonely Mr. Kreeg lives alone with his dog Spite and is visited by a scary trick-or-treating creature named Sam.

Wow..that was exhausting. If it sounds confusing or overly complicated, believe me that it’s all part of the fun. Trick r Treat is a delicious throwback to the comic book style anthology films of the 1960’s and 1970’s. For those of you who want their gore laid on thick with extra nudity, you are going to be disappointed. Those who want a good old fashioned horror movie with a lot of twists and turns are going to be much more impressed. From the acting (top notch in just about all the stories) to the spot on directing, to the breathtaking cinematography, just about everything in this movie works. It is the Halloween classic horror fans have been waiting years for.

To order Trick R Treat: Trick ‘r Treat [Blu-ray]

October Horror Challenge: Day 30: “Night School”

Anne Barron (Meb Boden) is a teacher’s aide at the Jack-N-Jill Daycare Center in Boston. It’s the early evening and the last child has been picked up by her mother. Anne is relaxing on the playground carousel when someone pulls up on a motorcycle, wearing a pink helmut. Anne is startled. Suddenly the stranger pulls out a machete and starts spinning the carousel. The machete is held up in the air and the terrified woman goes around and around – until she’s struck with it.

Judd Austin (Leonard Mann) is the cop assigned to the case. He is called to the scene and when he gets there, he sees a gruesome sight. The girl was decapitated and her head was put in a bucket of water nearby. The distraught director of the center tells the officer that Anne worked there during the day – and was attending night classes at Wendell College. At the hospital, Judd and his partner Taj (Joseph R. Sicari) discuss a similar case from the previous week. Another girl was found decapitated and her head was dumped in a pond. They wonder if there’s any connection between the two murders.

“Night School” is a typical run-of-the-mill early 80’s whodunit slasher with a decapitation twist. This is the kind of movie where half of the fun is trying to figure out where the detectives are going to find the missing heads. The twist ending is pretty predictable and the acting is a bit wooden (Rachel Ward, in her film debut, is all sorts of terrible here) but the film is never boring and has been directed with style. Boston looks positively wretched on film here and it gives the slasher a bit of a grungy “Departed” vibe. Overall, it’s definitely worth checking out, just check your expectations–and your head—at the door.

October Horror Challenge: Day 29: “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”

After the dismal “Freddy’s Dead”, Freddy seemed to be dead and buried for at least a few years. It, however, was in 1994 that Wes Craven came up with the radical idea of bringing Freddy back for another nightmare…a “New Nightmare”. Gone was funny Freddy and the fresh looking 80’s MTV teenagers and in was a concept so unique and groundbreaking that it just couldn’t work? Or could it…

But..let us start back at the beginning. In 1984, horror director Wes Craven created “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It was acclaimed as one of the scariest movies ever made and made unknowns like Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, and Heather Langenkamp huge stars. Ten years later, Heather is living happily with her husband, Chase, and her son, Dylan. But her life has now been turned upside down because she is being stalked by a person who sounds like Nightmare villain Freddy Krueger. Chase has just been killed in a car accident after he accidentally fell asleep behind the wheel. Dylan refuses to sleep any more, and New Line Cinema has just offered her a part in “the ultimate Nightmare.” But some other strange things have been happening, including earthquakes and Craven being tight-lipped about the script. The ultimate truth is that Freddy Krueger is actually an ancient demon breaking out into our world, but in order to do that, he must go through Heather. And he knows he can get out by harming those near her.

Sound convoluted? Pretentious? Overly meta? Shockingly, no. “New Nightmare” is that rare horror film in which everything works. The performances are pitch perfect, lead by a tour-de-force performance by the amazing Langenkamp. The script is full of twists and turns and the movie is quite possibly the best looking of the entire series. What starts out as a maze of mirrors becomes something much more than your typical nightmare. The film examines the role film plays on those who watch it. Something that Wes Craven’s “Scream” would play out to great effect two years later. I really can’t say enough about this film and homages to the original are expertly placed. It is my favorite horror film of all time and a modern classic.

Buy It Here: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

October Horror Challenge: Day 28: “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master”

By 1988, the Nightmare series had reached its peak of popularity. Freddy was everywhere from the late night news to hosting his own show on MTV. Freddy was no longer scary, he was marketable. So it should come as no surprise that the fourth entry in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series is the series’ least scary movie yet. That is not to say that “Dream Master” isn’t a hell of a lot of fun. Far from it. From the MTV style visuals to the use of pop music, the film is a kaleidoscope of the 1980’s. Scary, however, it isn’t.

“Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” starts with the surviving team of “Dream Warriors” united once again to battle Freddy Krueger. One by one the surviving group are killed off by Freddy. However, Kristen (who has the ability to draw others into her dreams) wills her special ability to her friend Alice before her demise. Soon after, Alice quickly realizes that Freddy is taking advantage of that unknown power she now wields to pull a new group of teenagers into his “chest of souls”.

Truth be told, “Dream Master” is probably the most fun a viewer can have with the series. The deaths are completely imaginative, the special effects top notch, and the acting is solid on all accounts. It is also probably the most quotable entry of the series. It is entertaining as hell. Nonetheless, part of me wants Freddy scary again. As cool as the deaths are (Debbie’s cockroach death being the highlight death of the entire series for me), something here is missing that made the third installment so special.

Buy It Here: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – The Dream Master

October Horror Challenge: Day 27: “Highway to Hell”

Charlie Sykes (Chad Lowe) and Rachel Clark (Kristy Swanson) are a young all-American couple that decide to run away and elope in Las Vegas. On the road to Vegas, they ignore the warning of a local gas station attendant named Sam (Richard Farnsworth). They take an abandoned backroad where Rachel is kidnapped by a Zombie Hell Cop (C. J. Graham) who takes her to hell. Charlie goes back to Sam, and Sam explains what the Hellcop is and how to save her, he then gives him a shotgun with special ammo, and a car that holds a special attribute. On the highway, Charlie meets other dead people that live in Hell and even a motorcycle gang. On the road, he meets a mechanic named Beezle (Patrick Bergin), with his young apprentice. Beezle gives him tips on how to save his girlfriend and even brings him back to life. After Charlie rescues Rachel, Beezle reveals himself to be Satan and proposes a deal to let them, and his apprentice, go free if they can defeat Hell Cop in a race to the portal that connects Earth and the backroads of Hell.

“Highway to Hell” is one of the strangest horror comedies that I have seen in a long, long time. Nothing really makes sense and the script seems thrown together at the last moment but it is all part of the charm of this low budget gem. My favorite part? Hell’s “Good Intentions Paving Company”, which crushes up and spits out people into cement who offer excuses like “I just slept with the boss so he could get a promotion” or justifications for pulling the plug on life-support machines. Witty stuff all around. The movie seems a bit long in the tooth (even at only 93 minutes it seems to take forever to get to hell) but there is an energy and enthusiasm that isn’t normally seen in early 90’s horror. “Highway to Hell” is available on Netflix instant and is a solid way to kill an hour and a half.

October Horror Challenge: Day 26: “Rob Zombie’s Halloween”

In 2007, musician Rob Zombie decided to do the unthinkable. He was going to produce, write, and direct a remake of John Carpenter’s classic slasher film “Halloween”. Horror fans were in an uproar. How could he remake one of the greatest horror movies ever made? How could he turn Haddonfield into a town of white trash and disease? How DARE he give Michael Myers a back story? When the film opened on August 30, 2007, horror audiences were as ready as lynch mob to hang Zombie. The film grossed nearly $30 million opening weekend but somewhat poor word of mouth had the film top out at $57 million. So, looking back on the film four years later, is it the cinematic abortion that horror movie audiences proclaimed it to be? Not. At. All.

On Halloween in Haddonfield, Illinois, having already shown signs of psychopathic tendencies, ten-year-old Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) murders a school bully named Wesley (Daryl Sabara), later his own sister Judith (Hanna R. Hall), his mother’s boyfriend Ronnie (William Forsythe), and Judith’s boyfriend Steve (Adam Weisman). After one of the longest trials in the state’s history, Michael is found guilty of first degree murder and sent to Smith’s Grove – Warren County Sanitarium under the care of child psychologist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell).

Michael initially cooperates with Dr. Loomis, claiming no memory of the killings; his mother, Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), visits him regularly. After a year, Michael becomes fixated on his papier-mâché masks, closing himself off from everyone, even his mother. When Michael kills a nurse (Sybil Danning) as Deborah is leaving from one of her visits, she can no longer handle the situation and commits suicide. For the next fifteen years, Michael (Tyler Mane) continues making his masks and not speaking to anyone. Dr. Loomis, having continued to treat Michael over the years, attempts to move on with his life and closes Michael’s case. Later, while being prepared for transfer to maximum security, Michael escapes Smith’s Grove, killing the sanitarium employees and a truck driver (Ken Foree) for his clothes, and heads to Haddonfield. On Halloween, Michael arrives at his old home, now abandoned, and recovers the kitchen knife and Halloween mask he stored under the floorboards the night he killed his sister.

The story shifts to Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), and her friends Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) and Lynda Van Der Klok (Kristina Klebe) on Halloween. Throughout the day, Laurie witnesses Michael watching her from a distance. That night, she heads to the Doyle residence to watch their son Tommy (Skyler Gisondo). Meanwhile, Lynda meets with her boyfriend Bob (Nick Mennell) at Michael’s childhood home. Michael appears, murders them, and then heads to the Strode home, where he murders Laurie’s parents, Mason (Pat Skipper) and Cynthia (Dee Wallace). Having been alerted to Michael’s escape, Dr. Loomis comes to Haddonfield looking for Michael. After obtaining a handgun, Loomis attempts to warn Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) that Michael has returned to Haddonfield. Brackett and Dr. Loomis head to the Strode home, with Brackett explaining along the way that Laurie is actually Michael Myers’ baby sister. After this, the shit really does hit the fan.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween is quite simply brilliant. I am one of the few horror fans out there that prefer Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” to John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. I know, it’s blasphemy and I will go down in horror hell for saying such a thing. But I personally love the back story that Zombie gave Michael and feel as though everything about the film (from the acting to the directing to use of music) is just about perfect. This is the rare remake that actually takes chances and dares its audience to actually FEEL something. For what it is worth, I’ll take this over the limp and uninspired “Friday the 13th” remake any day.

Hey “Insidious”! “Poltergeist” Called, It Would Like Its Script Back Please

“Insidious” begins with an old woman lurking in a house corridor while a young boy named Dalton is sleeping in his room. Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) have recently moved into a new house with their three children. One morning, Renai begins looking through a family photo album with her son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins). He asks why there are no pictures of Josh when he was a child. Renai reasons that he has always been camera shy. Dalton tells Renai he is scared of his new room. One day, Dalton hears something in the attic. When he goes to investigate he sees something off screen that scares him and takes a fall when the attic ladder breaks. The next day Josh goes to wake Dalton, but he does not move. They rush him to the hospital where the doctors say he is in an unexplained coma.

Three months later Dalton is moved home, still in the coma. Disturbing events begin to occur. Renai believes the house is haunted when she begins to see and hear people in the house. She confronts Josh about the events and the family soon moves to another house. In the new house, increasingly violent and supernatural events begin to happen again. Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), contacts a friend, Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye), who deals with paranormal activities. The family, Elise, and her team go into Dalton’s room. There, she sees and describes a figure to one of her two assistants, who draws a black figure with a red face and dark hollow eyes.

Blah, blah, blah. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again…PG-13 horror movies are dull, boring, and predictable (“Drag Me to Hell” is the sole highlight from the last decade of PG-13 horror). Poor Lin Shaye and Rose Byrne, they deserve much better material than what they are given to work with here. “Insidious” offers no thrills, has inane plotting, and the final twist ending is so preposterous that it has to be seen to be believed. Don’t, however, watch this movie based on that last remark. You’ll be sorry later.

October Horror Challenge: Day 24: “Cursed”

Going into Wes Craven’s new horror thriller “Cursed” I had very low expectations. First of all, the movie had been cut fairly severely from an R to a PG-13 and the movie had been retooled for the past two years (Thankfully the DVD is the unrated cut). Not only this but “Cursed” also wasn’t screened for critics. All signs point to “Terrible Movie.”

The film begins when two friends, Jenny Tate (Mýa) and Becky Morton (Shannon Elizabeth), are at a pier and decide to get their fortune told by Zela (Portia de Rossi). She foretells that they will suffer a horrible fate, but they don’t believe her and walk away laughing. A little while later, Becky realizes Jenny has disappeared and can’t find her on the pier; Becky was driving. One night, while in a car together, Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) and his sister Ellie (Christina Ricci) hit an animal and another car. They attempt to rescue the other driver, Becky Morton, but she is suddenly dragged and eaten by an unknown creature. Jimmy and Ellie are both slashed by the creature’s claws. Jimmy starts to believe that the creature was a werewolf, but no one will believe him. He and his sister start to exhibit wolfish tendencies (such as both of them eating raw bacon, Ellie catching a fly in her bare hand, and being attracted to the smell of blood) but Ellie denies it, apparently proving her point by touching a silver picture frame and not getting burned. Jimmy becomes much stronger, as exampled when a bully named Bo (Milo Ventimiglia) forces him to join the wrestling team. He easily defeats three wrestlers, including Bo.

Meanwhile, Jenny is torn apart in a parking garage by a wolf-like creature. Zela’s prediction for Jenny and Becky comes true. Eventually, Ellie starts to believe the werewolf idea, and Jimmy proves it when he holds a silver cake server and gets burned (he then discovers that the picture frame Ellie touched was actually stainless steel). He goes to warn Ellie with the help of Bo, who shows up at their house to say he’s gay and apparently likes Jimmy. Bo and Jimmy race to where Ellie is, and in the meantime she figures out that her boyfriend, Jake (Joshua Jackson), is a werewolf. He confirms that, but claims it wasn’t him that attacked her and Jimmy. Another werewolf attacks, seemingly proving his story. Bo and Jimmy try to help, but Bo is knocked out. But…..who is the werewolf?

Surprisingly, this movie ain’t half bad. In fact, it’s actually really quite good. What we have here is a fun little werewolf thriller about a brother and sister that get attacked by a mysterious creature and are forced to deal with what they have become. There are some good scares (gotta love the Mya scene in the parking lot) and some surprisingly solid laughs (I loved Christina Ricci’s bitchy coworker and the “gay” subplot involving the head of the wrestling team). Not everything works in the film–the ending is a bit overkill and some of the effects are a bit iffy–but overall, I’d say it’s definitely at least worth a rental. It isn’t a bad way to spend two hours of good, solid creature feature entertainment. Just don’t expect an Oscar worthy movie and you’ll be fine.

October Horror Challenge: Day 23: “Poltergeist”

“Poltergeist” begins with Steven and Diane Freeling living a quiet life in a California suburb called Cuesta Verde, Steven is a successful realtor and Diane is a housewife who cares for their children Dana, Robbie, and Carol Anne. Carol Anne awakens one night and begins conversing with the family’s television set, which has started transmitting static following a sign-off. The following night, while the Freelings are sleeping, Carol Anne becomes fixated on the television set as it transmits static again. Suddenly, an apparition emerges from the television screen and vanishes into the wall, creating a violent earthquake within the house in the process, to which Carol Anne announces “They’re here.”

Bizarre events begin to occur the following day, such as glasses and utensils that spontaneously break or bend and furniture that moves on its own accord. The phenomena seem benign at first, but quickly begin to intensify. That night, a gnarled backyard tree becomes animated and grabs Robbie through the bedroom window. While Diane and Steven rescue Robbie, Carol Anne is sucked through a portal in her closet. The Freelings realize she has been taken when they hear her voice emanating from a television set.

A group of parapsychologists from UC Irvine—Dr. Lesh, Ryan and Marty—come to the Freeling house to investigate and determine that the Freelings are experiencing a poltergeist intrusion. They discover that the disturbances involve more than just one ghost. Steven also finds out in an exchange with his boss, Lewis Teague, that Cuesta Verde is built where a cemetery was once located.

After Dana and Robbie are sent away for their safety, Dr. Lesh and Ryan call in Tangina Barrons, a spiritual medium. Tangina states that the spirits are lingering in a different “sphere of consciousness” and are not at rest. Attracted to Carol Anne’s life force, the spirits are distracted from the real “Light” that has come for them. Tangina then adds that among the ghosts inhabiting the house, there is also a demon known as the “Beast”, who has Carol Anne under restraint in an effort to manipulate the other spirits.

“Poltergeist” is the best haunted house horror movie that I’ve ever seen. It is scary as hell (Robbie getting attacked by the tree outside his bedroom window still gives me chills) and the performances are all spot on. If the effects feel a bit dated (the “melted face” is no longer scary, it’s laughable), it only adds to the film’s charm. This is just about the best you can expect from an old fashioned style horror movie that relies on creativity rather than gore to sell its scary story. From beginning to end everything here works and works perfectly. Hopefully Hollywood doesn’t mess things up with a remake. It would be another kind of nightmare…and not the good kind.

October Horror Challenge: Day 22: “The Devil’s Rejects”

Going into the horror sequel The Devil’s Rejects I had no idea what to expect. Not really being a fan of Rob Zombie’s first film House of a 1000 Corpses I really wasn’t expecting much besides some cool deaths and a lot of gore. Well….I got that and a lot more. The Devil’s Rejects is repellent, evil, disgusting, disturbing, and, most shockingly, one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in the past decade.

Taking place mere days after the first flick, this movie has the Firefly family stalking another group of victims in a seedy hotel. In Ruggsville, Texas, the police under the command of Sheriff John Quincy Wydell attack the house of the sadistic serial killers Firefly family (a.k.a. The Devil’s Reject) and they arrest mother Firefly, but Otis B. Driftwood and Baby Firefly escape from the siege. Tiny is wandering nearby the house and also escapes. Otis and Baby call their patriarch, the mad clown Captain Spaulding and they schedule to reunite at an isolated motel in the desert. When Otis and Baby arrive, they kidnap two families of singers, using sadism and violence against the harmless persons. Meanwhile, Sheriff Wydell promises to capture and kill the runaways, seeking revenge for the death of his brother, the Deputy George Wydell.

Words alone cannot describe what all happens on screen. Let’s see: A knife to the heart, bullets grazing flesh, a face peeling, a gutted, fully naked young woman, a bashed in head, pieces of a young girl strung along a highway. This is S & M for horror fans. This isn’t for all tastes but if you miss the old school horror days of Last House on the Left and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you won’t be disappointed.