Sunday, 30 December 2012

Freaks (1932)

"Freaks" (1932, Tod Browning, Metro Goldwyn Mayer) is a controversial 'horror' about a travelling circus. All of the sideshow performers were played by actual performers with various deformities, not people wearing make-up. While this was the main reason for the film's financial failure in the '30s, today it adds a new dimension to this, now cult, film.

Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) is a trapeze artist at the circus. She is known for her beauty but not her kindness. While already seeing the strong man, Hercules (Henry Victor), she becomes aware that Hans (Harry Earles), the small man, has come into a lot of money and decides to marry and then kill him to steal his fortune. Hans is in love with Cleo and heartily agrees to the engagement, much to the heartache of his previous sweetheart, the small woman, Frieda (Daisy Earles).

Cleo and Hans marry, but Cleo is scared when the 'freaks' hold a welcoming ceremony for her, chanting 'We accept her. One of us!' and passing around a goblet of wine. She insults them, chases them away and then proceeds to try to poison poor Hans.

With the help of Venus (Leila Hyams) and her clown boyfriend Phroso (Wallace Ford), the 'freaks' stop Cleo in her devious plan. But they can not stop the other circus performers exacting revenge on 'normal' Cleopatra, with rather frightening results!

A quite perturbing film, it all but ruined Browning's career due to its unsettling images which caused some audience upset. While still effectively shocking to today's audience, the film is more like an apt social comment and a record of circuses of old. Various scenes throughout the film demonstrate the day to day lives of the circus performers, which don't add to the plot particularly, but are an excellent addition and really demonstrates the lives and challenges the performers face in their daily lives.

The 'normal' people in the film are seen as the real monsters. However, the scene when Cleo is chased and captured by the angry circus people is very eerie.

Iconic and infamous, this film is an unusual black and white.

[Image: Metro Goldwyn Mayer]

Saturday, 29 December 2012

I Know What You Did Last Summer

"I Know What You Did Last Summer" (1997, Jim Gillespie, Mandalay Entertainment) is one of the staple urban teen horror films seen mainly in the line ups for sleepovers. But, being the adventurous sort, I thought I'd give it another whirl, this time as a more 'mature' person (being 24 and all) and see how it fares.

While out celebrating being so pretty, Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry (Ryan Phillippe) and Ray (Freddie Prince Jr.) accidentally run over and kill a man in their car. Deciding the best way to deal with this is to dump the corpse and carry on with their promising young lives, the teens do so and try to forget about it. But, it's difficult to forget such a thing, especially if the corpse turns out not to be completely dead while you're disposing of it!

It isn't until a whole year has passed and the gang have separated, forgetting all about that tragic night, that things start to shake up again as they discover that someone knows what they did and wants them to pay for it.

It's based on a novel by Lois Duncan, which I haven't read, so can't really comment on. But the story is pretty good, bearing in mind it's of an Urban Legend nature and comes from some of the people involved in the Scream franchise.

What separates it, for me, from a lot of other 'teen horrors' is that the characters are relatively well-rounded and, while remaining stereotypes, are almost indispensable. Also, as a 'Big Bang Theory' fan, I enjoy that Max is played by Johnny Galecki, and, as a Whedon fanatic, I can enjoy Sarah Michelle Gellar in almost any role!

A fun little horror film with some decent, but not too OTT gore and even a jump or two, providing that you haven't already watched this film to death during your teens.

[Image: Mandalay Entertainment]

Friday, 28 December 2012

Dead & Buried

"Dead & Buried" (1981, Barclays Mercantile Industrial Finance Ltd, Optimum Releasing Ltd, Gary Sherman) is a classy little gorefest from some of the people behind 'Alien' and also featuring a small role from Robert Englund, (who went on to become Freddy Krueger).

This is another horror which was deemed  a 'video nasty' here in the UK, and I can see why. "Dead & Buried" is not afraid of showing all the grisly bits!

Dan (James Farentino) is the Sheriff of a small coastal American town called Potter's Bluff. He's been living there for some time with his school teacher wife, Janet (Melody Anderson), and has come to know all of the locals.

When a string of horrific murders begins in the town, Dan becomes suspicious that perhaps his idyllic little town full of his friendly neighbours is more sinister than it appears. His suspicions grow when he notices some new, but equally friendly, faces appearing about town as if they have always been there.

With a great and interesting story "Dead and Buried" brings a satisfyingly gory edge and a lot of shock moments, despite its charmingly post-70s feel. There are a lot of burning, slicing, bludgeoning and gouging scenes which are as adventurous as they are disgusting!

Creepy, gory and confusing, with a relatively obvious twist, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and will hold it in high esteem over some modern attempts I've seen recently! The acting is excellent, and far exceeds my expectations in horror! Jack Albertson, in particular, plays his eccentric mortician character to an enjoyable tune.

Definitely worth watching!

[Image: Optimum Releasing Ltd]


Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Ring Two

"The Ring Two" (2005, Hideo Nakata, DreamWorks Pictures) is the sequel to the American "The Ring" which I have reviewed earlier here:

This version is not a remake of the Japanese sequel to "Ring", but in fact an original story of its own.

Naomi Watts returns as Rachel, the mother with the odd little boy who refuses to call her 'mum' or 'mom'. It's been some months since the incident with Samara's spirit and the evil video tape, and Rachel believes she is free of her after getting young Aidan (David Dorfman) to make a copy of the tape and resultantly curse his own grandfather!

Simon Baker (whom you may recognise from 'The Mentalist') makes an appearance as Rachel's boss, Max.

Rachel and Aiden have moved away from the city and are now living in a quiet town in Oregon. She is working for a small town newspaper, and focussing on being with her son. It isn't until a local teen is found dead and facially disfigured in a way similar to Samara's previous victims, that Rachel realises that her actions in the first film have had repercussive effects. Upon seeing Rachel at the side of the body, Samara decides to make her her new mother, and begins to haunt she and Aidan once more.

Whilst the first movie is much more frightening and jumpy, this film has an effective feeling of dread and a build up of tension as you realise that Aidan has more in common with the spooky young girl than at first suspected.

With creepy children and jumpy ghosts, this film satisfies the need for a haunting horror. I would always recommend the Japanese versions over the American ones for spook-factor, but Naomi Watts, David Dorfman and the ever creepy Daveigh Chase (although, her parts are mainly stock footage) keep the film engaging.

Not a bad follow-on film at all.

[Image:DreamWorks Pictures]

Jack Frost

"Jack Frost" (1996, Michael Cooney, Moonstone Entertainment) is a festive horror comedy from America.

Surprisingly entertaining and laugh-out-loud cheesy this film has fast moved up my shelf and may not live with the other 'Christmas only' films.

Low budget, tacky and with some hilarious flaws (the main one being the severe lack of real snow! And also being able to catch glimpses of the actor under the costume during one particular scene), this film hits all the right notes with me for a Christmas slasher:
  • It's short (only 84 minutes)
  • It's got a lot of cheesy kill scenes
  • It's chalk full of bad puns and wooden acting 
  • Quite a lot of good low budget gore
  • It has a bloody ludicrous storyline
  • The killer is a snowman in a brilliantly bad snowman costume!
On his way to execution, serial killer Jack Frost (Scott MacDonald) suffers a freak accident and is contaminated with some questionable hazardous material. He then, of course, turns into an abominable snowman and quickly resumes his killing spree.

Jack brutally goes around town killing, maiming and raping - yes, there's some snowman rape - the locals of Snowmanton (And yes, that is the name of the town). Who can stop this chilly madman?

It's a good thing local sheriff Tiler (Christopher Allport) and FBI Agents Manners (Stephen Mendell) and Stone (Rob LaBelle) are on the case . Watch for Manners' hilariously unconvincing beard stubble!

So, all in all, this film is pretty good in that wonderfully cheesy low budget way. With everything from Shannon Elizabeth's winter strip-tease to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", to the disturbing snowman guts this film hits the button in an entertaining way. Not worth a lot of your money, however, I managed to score a copy from a charity shop for £1.50. Bargain!

Also, I enjoyed the random statements and quotes laced through the credits :)

[Image: Moonstone Entertainment]


Tuesday, 11 December 2012


"Witchcraft" (1989, Robert Spera, Digital Entertainment Limited) is a low budget witch horror which managed to rack up a surprising number of spin offs and sequels (mostly skin flicks to be honest), despite being one of the most boring, unoriginal witch horrors ever made!

Taking most of the plot from "Rosemary's Baby" and sticking in some of  "The Omen" and "The Amittyville Horror", this film is hardly original. When Grace (Anat Topol-Barzilai) moves into her creepy mother-in-law's mansion house (mother-in-law played by Mary Shelley - awesome name. Shame about the acting...)  with her partner John (Gary Sloan) and their brand new baby, it isn't long before she begins to suspect that not everything, or indeed everyone, is what they appear.

It soon transpires that Grace has unwittingly managed to get herself involved in a witchcraft cult, and now that she's given them what they wanted, a baby, she's really of no further use to them.

A terrible and harrowing film with some nicely hilarious effects which are the only reason I kept watching (well, that, my two good friends and a bottle of rum helped...). From the sacrificial cuddly toy, to the beheaded mannequin this film truly scrapes the barrel of effects to bring up what, even in the 80s, was beyond low budget.

No jumps, no scares and certainly no inventive plot, this film is less of a cheesy B-movie and more of a "Can I get those 85 minutes of my life back?" movie. A somewhat poor attempt to exploit the success of raunchy 70s horrors, this film didn't leave me eager to watch any of the sequels or indeed, rewatch this one ever again.

On the upside, the bloody drooling scene was good fun.

I don't recommend, but if you must torture yourself, by all means do!

[Image: Digital Entertainment Limited]

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Black Christmas (1974)

"Black Christmas" (1974, Bob Clark, Film Funding Limited of Canada, Ambassador Film, Warner Bros, World Cinema) is the original Canadian holiday stalk-and-slash from the 70s. It was remade in 2006 and you'll find my review of that version a few spaces down from here.

It's Christmas time at the Sorority House and all the girls are having a little party before they all depart for their respective family/whatever holidays. The girls' are concerned, however, when they begin to receive some pretty freaky prank calls - I've never heard the 'C' word so many times in a film before!

The girls hold their festivities regardless of the calls, but it isn't until one of their number goes missing that they start to think that someone may be watching them.

I enjoyed this film a lot more than the remake. The characters were generally more likeable and there was a lot of funny moments dotted throughout. I really enjoyed the house-mother and the lieutenant characters, who added something more to a generally simple plot. However, I would hasten to add that this is a B-Movie Holiday slasher, and should be approached with suitable expectations. But, considering that this film is a very early example of its sub-genre it's damn good.

Unlike the remake, this film is not full of over the top gore, although there are some good visual on-screen kills. I'm sure it was shocking in the 70s, but when compared to such films as "The Driller Killer", it doesn't go to the same extremes. The stalker is enjoyably sinister, though and his phone calls are disturbing.

The 2006 version spent a lot of time trying to explain how our killer, Billy, ended up the way he is. The 1974 film doesn't go into any explanation of Billy or his history. I like this. A good back story can be an excellent addition to a film, but in this instance I feel that it wasn't needed and Clark did well to avoid it. Billy is a killer with some mental issues. There's, of course, more to it but we don't know what, just as his victims and the police know nothing of it either. Where Morgan went off the rails with the remake, for me, was the over analysis of Billy's character.

With some good effects for a low budget film from the 70s, a B-movie atmosphere and some recognisable faces (Margot Kidder - known for her portrayal of Lois Lane and you may recognise her from "The Amityville Horror" and Andrea Martin - who is present in the remake of this film as the house-mother), this film is an entertaining watch and worth a try if you're looking for some campy Christmas horror.

[Image: Film Funding Limited of Canada & World Cinema]

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Damien: Omen II

"Damien: Omen II"(1978, Don Taylor, 20th Century Fox) is the second "Omen" Film, taking place seven years after the first, when Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) has been raised to age of 12 by his uncle (William Holden) and his wife (Lee Grant).

Damien and his cousin, Mark (Lucas Donat) are best friends. Both are enjoying the wealthy lifestyle of his well-off aunt and uncle, and are attending a military academy. But, Damien becomes all too aware of his true nature, and begins to use his powers to get back at people who antagonise him.

With a few deaths under his belt, and several ones he may not have been aware of, Damien sets to take down his nearest and dearest.

Not as shocking or as well put together as the first, this is far from a terrible sequel. Several memorable deaths, particularly the ice rink one, are almost on par with the excellent beheading scene in the first film. The effects are not out-of-this-world striking, but are effective.

Not particularly frightening, but with some creepy undertones, this film tries to keep up the religious styling of the first (what with Damien being the son of the beast and all!), but it doesn't rely so heavily on it this time.

Jonathan Scott-Taylor's performance is not particularly scary. But that's not a criticism, as Damien's not the creepy demon child he once was. He's going through the realisation of his powers and purpose. What is creepy is what he will become. In the first film the child, like most children, has not fully developed his moral compass, and the powers just gave him the ability to do what he wanted. As a teenager Damien has more of a choice, and the scary thing is his own hormonally driven decisions to kill. He's a confused kid, like everyone was at that age. The only problem is, he knows what he's supposed to grow up into...

I, as usual, found myself kind of feeling bad for Damien. He didn't ask to be the spawn of Satan. And like a lot of misguided people, he's just doing what he thinks he should. Of course, that's no reason not to salt and burn the little bugger before it's too late!

The worst thing about this film is it has long boring moments which kind of allowed me to lose interest now and again. But, as I mentioned already, some of the death scenes make up for these.

Not great, but much better than some sequels out there and nicely tied into the first film's ending.

[Image: 20th Century Fox]