Film Fest: 20 Thrills
These 20 have a mix of thrilling, scary, or a Halloween-ish vibe. My favourite viewing in this batch was seeing The House with a Clock in it’s Walls. My wife and I are fans of Jack Black (Goosebumps), Cate Blanchett (Lord of the Rings), and the magical, spooky effects, (not unlike Harry Potter). I was surprised to see Eli Roth (Hostel) directing his first non-R rated film and I could see him pushing boundaries for this PG fantasy about a boy, his magical uncle, and a residential timepiece. Great pacing at 1h45m, plenty of cheers/laughs for all the leads, and the chemistry and banter between Black and Blanchett was worthy of a team up again sometime. There were moments of emotion in that film that surprised me and were welcome, but not surprising was that they came from the talented Blanchett. Within a month of this film’s theatrical release last September, Black would also be a park of Goosebumps 2. The first part came out in 2015 and both show off some fun CGI using characters from the novels that originally were released 1992-1997. This sequel ups the Halloween vibe by setting it on Halloween with numerous creatures that are fun to see both because they look great but they are also from the books (freeze frame to see them all). There are some laughs I did not expect to have in an early teen flick but Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids, The Goldbergs) gets them as a mom looking out for her kids. A decent compliment to the first, perhaps a double feature next year!
Three spooky films that I have been seeing nearly every year lately are Beetlejuice, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Alien. The latest viewing of Beetlejuice was at a Halloween party, inspired by the fact 2 couples came as two versions of Michael Keaton and Wynona Ryder’s characters, (him red velvet and ragged, her red dress and gothic). I am a big fan of Michael Keaton and Tim Burton, (both since Batman & Batman Returns), but the big draw for me is the world in which the Beetlejuice character resides in. The landscape, playing with scale, and the creatures all build an intriguing world in what is surprising every year for me, how little screen time there is in that world, (or with Keaton for that matter). With a fun song to sing along with, a young Alec Baldwin to giggle at, and plenty of weird on display, I can’t wait to watch it again, (also kinda hope that sequel does get made). This time viewing Nightmare on Elm Street was on blu-ray and I am planning on watching the rest of the series for the first time soon. What I noticed this time was how horrible all the adult characters were to the kids and how I couldn’t decide how serious the film was trying to be. This is one of the most popular Halloween time films due to its iconic villain Freddy Krueger and the soundtrack (plus it is a slasher movie with good looking high school students). He terrifies kids if they are sleeping or not including Johnny Depp in his first film role. There are at least 9 films starring the character Freddy (1984-2010) including Freddy vs Jason and there are 44 episodes of a tv show (1988-1990). It was written and directed by Wes Craven who is well known to horror fans having made The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and the Scream franchise. My wife had not yet seen the original Alien directed by Ridley Scott and starring Sigourney Weaver so I was more than happy to help cross it off her list. It has become a horror standard inspiring all sorts of space thrillers, it is referenced in film schools, and my wife jumped the most at an object falling off a desk- not the acid dripping killer terrorizing the crew. I worried it might look odd on blu-ray as it was filmed in 1979, which can make some things look more phony than a DVD (or smaller resolution) would produce but it holds up nicely. I enjoy watching Weaver’s progression throughout the series (especially in the first one), the creature effects are still terrifying, (based on the art of H. R. Giger, the film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects). There is even footage of the actor wearing the costume for a test on the set, with all the lights on, and it is scary.
I crossed a few classic films off of my cinematic bucket list with Nosferatu, Psycho, An American Werewolf in London, and The Amityville Horror. The German produced silent film Nosferatu is still relevant today as it has inspired numerous vampire flicks (while also borrowing from Bram Stoker’s Dracula which was written in 1897). On DVD, this silent film’s creepiness comes across with excellent lighting and Max Schreck’s Count Orlok character’s makeup, eyebrows, and physical movement, (check out the scariest shadows!). The original Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock, (not the remake from 1998), is in black and white, and can also boast being relevant today, (and perhaps it’s sequels and the original 1959 book this was based on), as prequel series Bates Motel had a 5 season run from 2013-2017. It has a memorable murder scene, a creepy performance, and a suspenseful building pace that helped it be nominated for 4 Oscars, (Supporting Actress, Director, Cinematography, and Art/Set Direction). An American Werewolf in London had some crazy looking makeup effects to pull off the werewolf appearance, far creepier than the family audience aimed makeup for both Teen Wolf flicks. The film won the Oscar for Best Makeup in 1982. The artist Rich Baker would go on to win 6 more including for Men in Black in 1997 and The Wolfman in 2011, (what a lengthy, rewarded career!). In London, the dark lighting and low rent looking locations created an almost documentary/found footage atmosphere where you are also not sure who (if anyone) will survive. This movie is still compared to most werewolf related films made and was written and directed by John Landis, (who had just made Animal House and Blues Brothers). The original Amityville Horror inspired numerous sequels (including a reboot in 2005 starring Ryan Reynolds) and starred James Brolin and Margot Kidder. Coming out just 3 years before the similarly creepy Poltergeist, this film gives people plenty of things to think about inside their own house as the scares come from inside the a seemly normal house. Brolin (the real life father of Josh Brolin, Thanos from The Avengers movies), and Kidder (Lois Lane from the Christopher Reeve era Superman flicks) play a couple who move into the wrong house and have the worst time of their life. Their performances help drive home the scares as the effects, (like a few of these flicks), are lower budget and may not hold up to modern audiences who prefer the computer animated eye candy of The House with a Clock in it’s Walls.
The Scream franchise is 4 films (1996-2011) and a tv series (3 seasons, 2015-current), and I have only seen the films. I had seen the first 3 before, but I recently also watched the fourth, and I found I still appreciate the first part’s genuine slasher sequences, surprises, film references, and solid cast. Dropping in quality with each instalment was the gimmick of discussing a film cliche and then delivering a sequence that plays with it. Only in the first was the dissecting of classic slasher movies complimentary to the atmosphere and action. In the others, it was more of a name dropping, hoping the audience would remember fondly about a classic, and then have a bit of nostalgic hue over top of the now uninspired films. Impressive casts lead by Neve Campbell, an iconic mask, and the first part inspired the parody Scary Movie (2000) which I have a renewed appreciation for.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is ridiculously over the top- did you read the title? It is as it sounds, complete with multiple clown related cliches, lots of makeup, and does a decent job of mixing comedy and horror, (like Mars Attacks!). I want to see again as this version played on tv and was censored. The deaths were creative, (again the murderers are circus clowns), some shots that lingered were interesting, and there were snakes that reminded me of Beetlejuice. Christine and Misery are both based on the works of Stephen King, Christine being about a killer car and Misery is about a caretaker of a famous writer. Years before the Transformer movies, this flick had some clever shots of metal folding and music often played from the car’s stereo. What I was not expecting was a decent coming of age story from the human lead Keith Gordon, who was angsty and had a noticeable change by the end. It handled the supernatural of a car with intelligence by not hiding it in shadows and not over doing it (like the opposite of Killer Klowns). Where Christine focused on one character, Misery brought James Caan and Kathy Bates together. An author who supposedly gets rescued by a fan of his but ends up continuing to suffer was directed by Rob Reiner, (who made this between When Harry Met Sally… and A Few Good Men). Bates plays the fan, walking the delicate line of how much crazy you can put into a role, and gives Caan plenty to react to.
Two films I have seen before that deal with adult content are Hannibal Rising and Hollow Man. Hannibal Rising is a prequel to the Hannibal Lector series (Silence of the Lambs being the most popular), so it has plenty of murder and cringe worthy moments. Recently in theatres is the stand alone Joker movie that is described as an origin movie- which is what Hannibal Rising tackles, the journey of how did someone get to that point of being a serial killer. What I appreciate about the movie is that it does not linger on the gruesome, usually cutting away before the worst part, as it is wanting the viewer to focus on the character and the effect the action has on him. Hollow Man, about Kevin Bacon’s scientist becoming invisible, goes in a more perverted direction as the question is asked, what would someone do with that power? I appreciated the supporting role of Li Gong training the lead Gaspard Ulliel in swordplay and respect, ultimately doomed to be a killer later in life, I was sad that this did not have a followup. Hollow Man got a sequel starring Christian Slater and the first one also starred Josh Brolin and Elisabeth Shue. The visual effects are incredible, making this a need to see for the effects alone, but it is also directed by Paul Verhoeven (see also the first Starship Troopers or the original Robocop) so the creepy, threatening feeling and the violence creates an atmosphere and is not just for pure shock value.
I watched Teen Wolf because I like Michael J. Fox and it is low on the scare factor, perfect if you have younger viewers, (or a scaredy-cat like I had with me). The sequel we watched because they came in a two pack so why not and because we liked the lead, Jason Bateman, (the two are similar, safe casting choice there). Fox had Back to the Future released the month prior, Teen Wolf 2 was Bateman’s first film role, and both actors were well known to tv audiences in the 1980s before either film came out. They had simple gags, (again for the family audience) and the makeup of the wolf was a tad distracting in a, dated-cheesy-low budget kind of way. Still enjoyable seeing early roles of the leads and a younger viewer might get a chuckle out of the awkwardness. I have not seen the more recent tv series of the same name that lasted for 6 seasons.
In order of my viewing preference:
The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)
Hannibal Rising (2007)
Hollow Man (2000)
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Scream 2 (1997)
Scream 3 (2000)
Scream 4 (2011)
Amityville Horror (1979)
Teen Wolf (1985)
Teen Wolf 2 (1987)