24 October 2010

2010 Horror Challenge - Week Three

17 October
The Lost Boys
A longtime favorite of my wife's, and a first time viewing for me. I see it as the missing link between The Goonies and Twilight, and clearly taking its cues from the "Thriller" music video; not a lot of substance, but plenty of style. The 80s may not have aged well, but Bo Welch's production design still looks great after 23 years.

Night of the Living Dead
I've seen it before, several years ago, but I'm more familiar with the 1990 remake. Tonight I was reminded of how much I'd forgotten and was surprised by how much tension is really sustained throughout the movie. A lot of this has to do with the periodic newscast updates; they're played perfectly straight, as a local broadcast from the period would have covered the story. And give credit to Duane Jones, whose performance as Ben really carries the movie.

18 October
Night of the Living Dead
My first time watching the original and remake back-to-back, and it was rather revealing. On a lot of levels, the remake is an improvement over its predecessor. And yet, I felt like I was watching a movie during the remake; it felt less organic than the original. It was almost like going from a documentary to a dramatization, where the point of the latter is to hit the essential points of the story rather than to explore its depths. Still, I think it holds up fairly well 20 years later on its own merits.

Night of the Living Dead colorized version with Mike Nelson commentary
Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 recorded this track in 2003 for the colorized version of the film. He goes to the "This is what life is like in Wisconsin" well too many times early on, but my chief complaint is that he gets on the movie for its slow pace and lack of anything dynamic occurring for long stretches, but doesn't really punch up the movie with any humor himself.

And since this version was colorized, I'll go ahead and note that the colorization (why don't we call it, "coloring?") was garish. Way too many pastels, which I personally found entirely incongruous with not only the feel of the film, but it just wasn't a plausible decorating aesthetic for an old farm house. Unless, of course, that had been one fabulous farmer.

19 October
Penny Dreadful
A variation on the classic psychotic hitchhiker story, Penny and her therapist are stalked by a guy in the mountains. The movie never bothers to be more complicated than that, and the majority of the film takes place in the car which is quickly trapped between two trees (somehow). The segments of the killer toying with Penny are genuinely creepy, but the rest of the film is pretty weak. It clocks in at just around 90 minutes...which is probably 20 minutes longer than it needed to be.

One of our consignors brought this into my family's shop several years ago and it never sold so I wound up snagging it. Never got around to watching it until now. Anyway, a shady professor has recruited six college coeds to accompany him on an illegal dig around Indian burial grounds. Naturally, they awaken some dark spirits and violence ensues. The premise is actually interesting, and for the most part the cast is surprisingly good; no one ever went over the top and they're fairly believable characters. The story is rather predictable, but in a movie like this that's part of the fun--you know what's coming, and the movie gives it to you.

20 October
Another first time viewing for me of one of my wife's favorites. The story is pretty straightforward: a group of violent "Crites" has stolen a spaceship and landed in Kansas. This is clearly a product of the 80s; the hero of the film is a precocious young boy whose idea of fun revolves around making his own firecrackers. There are some obvious sexist overtones; dad keeps getting attacked, but keeps persevering, while mom largely screams and is in a daze for most of the film after taking a singular quill to the throat, and the son is the brave one, while his older sister contributes absolutely nothing to the survival of the family. Still, the film holds up fairly well--at least, for someone from its target audience generation.

Broken Lizard's Club Dread
The comedy troupe turns in its take on the slasher film, and it's played a lot more straight than you'd think. It's not so much a horror comedy as it simply a self-aware slasher film. Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton), a Jimmy Buffett-type singer, has established his own hedonistic island resort in Costa Rica...and now the staff is being targeted for vicious killings. There are enough red herrings to keep you guessing, and plenty of eye candy between acts of violence.

Jeepers Creepers
My wife and I watched this together years ago when we first started seeing each other and it was creepy as hell then. Seven years later, I can report it's still pretty creepy. A brother & sister (Justin Long & Gina Philips) are harassed on a country road by a deranged driver. The effects are great, and the tension escalates until its rather unsettling crescendo.

While checking our TV listings tonight, I happened upon this just before it started and decided to check it out. It's an animated take on the Frankenstein story from the perspective of an Igor with ambitions to be an evil scientist. He's creating his own monster--in violation of social norms--which he hopes will win him acclaim at the annual Evil Science Fair. It's an enjoyable (though predictable) romp with a great cast---especially Steve Buscemi as the immortal and bleak Scamp.

21 October
Jeepers Creepers II
Despite owning this on DVD for years, neither my wife nor I had gotten around to viewing it until tonight. It picks up four days after the first film, with a high school basketball team passing through The Creeper's kill zone on the final day of his alloted 23 day eating period. The effects are still impressive, but the film suffers from over-exposure of The Creeper and the lack of compelling story amongst his potential victims. I likened it to The Lost World, which lacked the charisma of Jurassic Park and tried to get by entirely on dinosaurs running amok.

An ancient creature once placated by the sacrifice of Greek virgins has been dormant for centuries until Frye (James Earl Jones) goes and unwittingly releases it to prey on the locals. The beast effects are terribly dated (the film is from 1981), and the story is average at best. Still, the cast gives it what they've got and that's what keeps it from being a colossal waste of 82 minutes.

Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens
A first time viewing, and for the most part I was thrilled to find it lived up to its reputation. Max Shrek is genuinely menacing as Count Orlock, and the film is very dynamic; much more so than, say, Tod Browning's production of Dracula. The only complaint I have is that the version we streamed from Netflix (touted as, "The Original Version," no less) featured a New Age sounding score that was clearly recorded recently and entirely incongruous with the film itself.

22 October
Shadow of the Vampire
I saw this during its theatrical run and loved it, and it's a shame I didn't see Nosferatu until tonight. They did an astounding job recreating the sets and shots of the original film. For the uninformed, this is a fictionalized account of the production of Nosferatu in which Max Shrek (Willem Dafoe) is presented not as an actor, but as an actual vampire who preys upon the cast and crew while an obsessed F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) insists on getting his shots.

Easily my favorite scene in the whole film comes when Shrek shares his thoughts on Bram Stoker's "Dracula," saying the novel made him sad. Asked to elaborate, he launches into this unexpected soliloquy on how pathetic it is for the immortal count to have to receive his guest with no servants, having to do all those little things himself despite not having bothered with them in centuries. It's absolutely brilliant.

23 October
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
Westerns and Horror: two great genres that go great together! Jesse James and Hank Tracy are on the run (and believed dead) in South America and wind up ensnared by the grandchildren of the famed mad scientist, who are trying to recreate his twisted experiments with creating life. A B-movie through and through, with plot holes and obviously cheap production design, the highlights for me were seeing Jim Davis in a role other than as Jock Ewing and the eye candy of Estelita Rodriguez as Juanita.

Thriller "The Grim Reaper"
William Shatner stars as a guy whose aunt is a very successful mystery writer, who just bought a cursed painting of the grim reaper. Fifteen of its seventeen previous owners met with unexpected, violent deaths and the Shat is there to persuade his aunt to divest herself of it. The cast is great, the story is taut and marked with self-aware humor, and it's enough to make me want to explore the rest of this series that I'd never heard of until recently.

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