Film Review: An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Release Date: August 21st, 1981
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: John Landis
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine

PolyGram Pictures, The Guber-Peters Company, Producers Sales Organization, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“How could there have been witnesses? It was so dark. We were running, and I fell and Jack went to help me up, and this thing came from nowhere. I don’t know what they’re talking about.” – David

The 1980s were populated with horror movies from indie studios and a lot of straight-to-VHS fare. Sure, the major studios were in on the game too but they turned out only a few real gems compared to what the indie filmmakers were churning out to fill the mom and pop video stores and the remaining drive-in theaters. An American Werewolf In London is one example of a big studio film that really hit the mark for horror aficionados.

It was a co-production between the United States and the United Kingdom and was filmed in the UK with a mix of American and British actors.

This was John Landis’ second attempt at a horror picture after his directorial debut, 1973’s Schlock. That movie was a horror comedy that saw an apeman fall in love with a blind girl and terrorize a Southern California suburb. Between Schlock and An American Werewolf In London, Landis directed the cult comedies The Kentucky Fried MovieAnimal House and The Blues Brothers.

While this film is more serious and has a lot of dark humor, as opposed to slapstick and parody, it is still quite funny and hits its mark well. The stuff with David talking to his undead friend Jack are some of the best bits in the film, as they bring humor into a really dark and disturbing situation.

I loved this movie when I was a kid and the main reason was because of Rick Baker’s magnificent special effects. In the day of practical effects, this picture really set the bar at a new level. The werewolf transformation scene is still the best in the history of cinema. Sure, you can do more with CGI effects today but they don’t look as cool and certainly don’t have the same sense of realism that real life physical effects have on camera. Now these effects may look dated today but there was nothing better than this in 1981. While I love the effects in The Howling, which was another 1981 werewolf movie, Rick Baker upped the ante with this picture and he would take this experience and go on to wow audiences for years.

The animatronic werewolf puppet still looks cool as hell and this beast was huge. Frankly, this is my favorite werewolf in film history. The design was absolutely perfect.

The special effects makeup that was applied to Griffin Dunne’s Jack was also stupendous. Each version of Dunne’s character was great, as he rotted away with each appearance until he was mostly just an animatronic corpse in the movie theater scene at the end. His makeup in his first appearance as the undead Jack was just brutal.

The film also benefits from great dream sequences, the best one being the hoard of Nazi monsters that shoots up David’s family.

There is also a brief cameo from Yoda himself, Frank Oz.

It also doesn’t hurt that Jenny Agutter is in this because she was a woman I was crushing on hard when I was kid, between this film and Logan’s Run.

An American Werewolf In London is a perfect storm for an 80s horror movie. It would go on to inspire a slew of other great 80s horror pictures and without it, the world just wouldn’t be as cool.

Film Review: Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

Also known as: The Crimson Cult (US)
Release Date: December, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Vernon Sewell
Written by: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln
Music by: Peter Knight
Cast: Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele, Mark Eden, Michael Gough, Rupert Davies

Tigon Films, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like a house from one of those old horror films.” – Eve Morley, “It’s like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment.” – Robert Manning

The only thing that this movie really has going for it is its great cast of horror legends. It boasts the talents of Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Barbara Steele. It also features Michael Gough, most famous to American audiences as Alfred from the Tim Burton Batman films. Rupert Davies even pops up in a small role.

I also have to give props to John Coquillon’s cinematography. His use of vivid and colorful lighting was effective, as were the sets and the colorful costumes he captured and brought to life. The film, in its best visual parts, looks like living art.

Unfortunately, the story is weak and there isn’t much of anything that is surprising. Barbara Steele often times distracts from the frail and inadequate script with her alluring beauty and her piercing gaze but even with the help from Karloff and Lee, the film is still pretty flat and uninteresting.

However, anytime that you can see legends like this come together, it is an affair worth checking out. I always like seeing Michael Gough in old British horror flicks too, considering how good he was for Hammer Studios in Horror of Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera.

Karloff and Lee look like they were having fun working together but neither of them gave anything close to their greatest performances. Barbara Steele was really good but she just didn’t have a lot to do and her character was fairly one dimensional. She looked stunning in her body paint and costume and really embodied the part of the demigod witch that she was supposed to be.

The main characters of the film were Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherell but they were completely overshadowed by the legends packed into this picture. They still did decent with the material. Wetherell was very pretty and had a great body, which is obviously why she was selected to play the Stage Actress in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Curse of the Crimson Altar is just average. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just exists. The positives are cancelled out by the negatives but at least the stars make it a worthwhile experience for those who are fans of their work.

Film Review: Häxan (1922)

Also known as: Heksen (Danish), The Witches, Witchcraft Through the Ages (English)
Release Date: September 18th, 1922 (Sweden)
Directed by: Benjamin Christensen
Written by: Benjamin Christensen
Music by: Matti Bye (2006 restored version), Launy Grøndahl, Daniel Humair (1968 version), Ludwig van Beethoven (1922 score), Barði Jóhannsson (2006 score), Emil Reesen (1941 version), Art Zoyd (1997 version)
Cast: Benjamin Christensen, Clara Pontoppidan, Oscar Stribolt, Astrid Holm, Maren Pedersen
Narrated by: William S. Burroughs (1968 English version)

Svensk Filmindustri, Skandias Filmbyrå , 104 Minutes (Swedish Film Institute print), 74 Minutes (1968 version)

Review:

“Poor little hysterical witch! In the middle ages you were in conflict with the church. Now it is with the law.” – Title Card

Häxan is a film I saw some clips of, as a kid, and was immediately mesmerized by. I didn’t see the full version of the film until the high quality 2006 remaster came out on DVD. Most recently, I checked out the shorter 1968 English language version with the narration by William S. Burroughs.

Both versions of the film are generally the same, except that the English language version has spoken dialogue and a shorter running time due to the exclusion of some of the title cards. The 2006 remaster is superior though, if you want to see the most authentic version of the film. Plus, the music in the 1968 version is bizarre and actually distracts from the tone.

Comparing this to what was out in 1922 really puts into perspective how terrifying this film must have been. The scariest thing at the time was Nosferatu and even though it effectively builds suspense and dread, Häxan throws demons and evil in your face at just about every turn. In fact, the Satanic ceremonies in this film are still better constructed than those in almost every other film throughout history. The amount of demons in this picture is astounding and just about every evil character has its own unique look.

Häxan is really in your face though, so maybe its approach was initially shocking and audiences got somewhat desensitized as the film ran on. Regardless, the costumes, sets and overall visual composition of the film is superb and unlike anything I’ve seen from this era or really, anything after this era. There are some good devil worshiping films with ceremonies and the appearance of a “devil” but this is like a nonstop Satanic orgy playing out on screen.

In a lot of ways, the film is like an over the top PSA to deter people from getting involved with witchcraft. It is to Satan what Reefer Madness was to marijuana use. Granted, this is a much better film in every way. But I imagine that the film probably had an effect opposite of what was probably intended. It plays as the most effective and coolest “Come join Satan!” propaganda that could ever be created.

Apart from the costumes themselves, the makeup and special effects were impressive and uncanny for 1922. The scene with the witches flying over the town is especially breathtaking.

While this isn’t remembered at quite the same level as Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, it deserves to be in the same conversations film aficionados and historians have had about horror pictures from that era.

Film Review: Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers – The Producer’s Cut (1995)

Release Date: September 29th, 1995
Directed by: Joe Chappelle
Written by: Daniel Farrands
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Alan Howarth, Paul Rabjohns
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan, Mitch Ryan

Miramax Films, Nightfall Productions, Trancas International, Dimension Films, 88 Minutes (theatrical), 95 Minutes (Producer’s Cut)

Review:

“I’ve wanted to believe it. But I’ve felt Michael’s presence, behind these walls, just like all those years ago. Plotting, staring, Staring. Waiting for some signal. I can’t go through this again, not alone. Please, as my colleague, as my friend. Help me.” – Dr. Loomis

For those that don’t know, there are two different versions of the film Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. There was the theatrical cut and then there was a producer’s cut, which was lost and never to be released.

In the late 90s, The Producer’s Cut started to circulate at horror conventions on a crappy bootleg VHS tape. The quality was generally poor on every copy in circulation but the fans who did get to see it, considered it a far superior version of the film.

Recently, it was released commercially as an added bonus to the Halloween Blu-ray box set. After demand increased and people didn’t want to have to buy all the movies again, just to access The Producer’s Cut, it was released on its own. I was able to rent it on Amazon.

So is it truly “a masterpiece” as some have said?

No, not really. It is an enjoyable slasher flick if you are a fan of the genre and especially if you like Michael Myers. The problem with it, is that the gist of the plot that made up the theatrical version is still intact. In fact, this version expands on it further. What I’m specifically referring to is all the stuff surrounding Michael’s origin and the cult that commands him.

Yes, apparently Michael Myers has been controlled by a cult all this time. I’m not really sure how it all works and the film attempted to explain some things but it did a poor job of it.

What makes these films work is the mystery of who Michael Myers is. We know he killed his sister when he was 6 years-old and we know he shows up on Halloween to murder his family members but we didn’t need an over bloated explanation. Knowing how the trick works destroys the magic.

I thought that the approach and story they wanted to tell was ambitious and maybe it could have actually added something good to the mythos. The execution was just bad in either version of the film. Yes, I love the Halloween mythos and you have to try and offer up something new with each picture. I’m not against the cult idea, I just don’t like how it panned out.

It was interesting to see a very young Paul Rudd in this film, his debut, but with the stardom he has now reached, he becomes more of a distraction in this tale. But at least you get to see Ant-Man versus Michael Myers – a dream match no one asked for.

The ending in both versions of the film are different. They are also both pretty bad. At least the theatrical film ended with some action, where The Producer’s Cut ended with (*spoiler alert*) Paul Rudd dressing up like a warlock and putting runes on the floor, which basically just turned Michael Myers off – allowing the good guys to escape. I thought Michael Myers was really just Rain Man and he was counting runes like Dustin Hoffman counted toothpicks.

Additionally, The Producer’s Cut has less gore than the theatrical version. I don’t really care about that either way but the studio wanted an overabundance of violence and that was added to the film after re-shoots. Also, the character of Jamie Lloyd lived longer and had more of a story in The Producer’s Cut.

It was cool to finally see this version of the film but it wasn’t the over-hyped magnificent Michael Myers magnum opus that horror snobs who saw it, bragged about. I was left disappointed by what I was anticipating but pretty satisfied with what the film was overall. And, at least, it is better than any Halloween film that came after it, except for H2O, which is better than I remembered but I’ll review that one next.

Book Review: ‘Frankenstein: The Shadow of Frankenstein’ by Stefan Petrucha

*written in 2014.

I like reading books that are authors takes on sequels of famous stories, especially when it has to do with monsters like Frankenstein’s big undead creation.

At some point, Dark Horse, who are known as a major comic book publisher, acquired the publishing license for the Universal Monsters franchise. Instead of doing comic books, they made literary sequels to the Universal Monsters films. This one had a pretty awesome premise.

This book takes place after the classic film Bride of Frankenstein and it ignores all the other sequels after that film and branches off in its own direction. So essentially, this is a sequel to just the two James Whale Frankenstein films.

The premise sees Frankenstein’s monster, the Boris Karloff version, arrive in London. While there, he goes toe-to-toe with Jack the Ripper. I was pretty much sold when I read the description on the back of the book. And who wouldn’t be?

The book was ambitious and started with a lot working for it but in the end it fell kind of flat and didn’t really seem to hit the mark that it needed to. I did enjoy it overall and it is a quick and easy read but it just didn’t feel as authentic as I had hoped and just didn’t capture the vibe and magic of the James Whale films.

Regardless, I still like the idea of it and it wasn’t poor execution, it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. It also felt like a lot of the book was filler or the author playing it a bit too safe with the property and not putting enough of himself into it.

The author, Stefan Petrucha is obviously a fan of the James Whale films but I don’t feel like he was able to make the tribute he could have, whether due to his respect for the source material or because the publisher had a tight leash on him. This is a problem that also appears in the other Universal Monsters books from Dark Horse: great and interesting ideas that are snuffed out early in what feels like an attempt to bring something original to these characters but too timid to really explore those ideas.

TV Review: Scream Queens (2015-2016)

Original Run: September 22nd, 2015 – December 20th, 2016
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Ian Brennan
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Mac Quayle, Heather Heywood, Alexis Martin Woodall
Cast: Emma Roberts, Ariana Grande, Skyler Samuels, Lea Michele, Glen Powell, Diego Boneta, Abigail Breslin, Keke Palmer, Oliver Hudson, Nasim Pedrad, Lucien Laviscount, Billie Lourd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kirstie Alley, Taylor Lautner, James Earl, John Stamos

Ryan Murphy Productions, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 20th Century Fox, 23 Episodes, 42-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

Scream Queens is a horror comedy series that just debuted on Fox. Well, if you can even call it “horror” or “comedy”. Usually, I wait till at least a whole season of a show has aired before I review it. I’m not waiting that long in regards to Scream Queens because I have no intention of ever eating this shit sandwich again.

This series was made by some of the people who made American Horror Story and some of the people who made Glee. It is a weird mixture that doesn’t seem to work on really any level.

The comedy isn’t funny. I get that it is parody and satire and a commentary on the culture of self-obsessed privileged college kids but this has been done several times over and much better. Even in the realm of horror comedy, this show relies solely on overused cliches and by rehashing gags that we’ve already seen.

In regards to horror, this show was pimped out as being edgy and taking risks that network shows don’t usually have the liberty to take. Well, the gore is tame and goofy, the special effects aren’t effective and it just doesn’t conjure up even a minute feeling of dread or terror. Additionally, the slasher character on the show isn’t frightening or intimidating in the slightest.

It is also hard to give a shit about the horror any of these characters are facing. Everyone on this show, except for one or two people, are completely unlikable. You can’t relate to any of them and you grow to hate them and actually wish they’d all die. Except you can’t root for the slasher because the slasher is moronic and corny. And truthfully, I guarantee a lot of young girls will idolize these shitty horrible people and turn into equally atrocious people because they are too daft to understand the joke here.

Jamie Lee Curtis is in this and that kind of sucks. She plays a somewhat interesting character. I just don’t care enough to continue watching her traverse through this mess. Niecy Nash is also in the show and she is the best thing about it, by far. Sadly, her role is pretty small. Emma Roberts is the star. She was in American Horror Story and is the daughter of Eric Roberts and niece of Julia Roberts. She plays the head asshole of the asshole girls and overreacts the whole time. I don’t necessarily blame her, I think it is bad direction but in any event, it is an over the top performance that is too exhausting for such a flat show.

Scream Queens is an over-exaggerated version of everything I hated about Coven, the third season of American Horror Story. Except, at least Coven had characters I liked and cared about, which distracted from the overly cheesy and ridiculous teen drama that made that season feel like Gossip Girl meets Charmed.

When I first heard that Fox was coming out with a show called Scream Queens, I thought it was going to be a period drama about girls in the days of old school horror who were actual Hollywood scream queens. I would’ve been excited for that. Instead, we’ve got a shitty unintentional homage to that shitty 2001 horror film Valentine. At least I could look at Denise Richards in that movie.

But after reading other reviews out there, it looks like I am the minority here. I’m fine with that. Because catering to the majority is why we have these awful PG-13 horror films and nothing truly memorable in that genre for decades.

Film Review: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Also known as: Nightmare Vacation (alternate VHS title)
Release Date: November 18th, 1983
Directed by: Robert Hiltzik
Written by: Robert Hiltzik
Music by: Edward Bilous
Cast: Felissa Rose, Mike Kellin, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Robert Earl Jones

American Eagle Films, United Film Distribution Company, 87 Minutes

Review:

“She’s a real carpenter’s dream: flat as a board and needs a screw!” – Judy

The first time you watch Sleepaway Camp, it is truly shocking and a film experience that you will never forget. In fact, you may find it hard to stop thinking about it, running the conclusion over and over again in your mind. Once you know the film’s big secret, it doesn’t get any less effective when revisited. The key here, is to watch this film through to the very end. I won’t spoil the picture beyond that.

For the most part, this is a pretty straightforward slasher picture. Everything before the big ending is very cookie cutter. There isn’t a lot of anything that a slasher fan hasn’t seen before. But, at least, the teenagers make the film amusing. Plus, some of the deaths are really good and well thought out.

This was made for half the budget of the original Friday the 13th and it shows. You don’t need a lot of money to make these films work though. There is just a really noticeable difference in quality. This also wasn’t put out by a major studio like Paramount, it was put out by a small company for the late night grindhouse and drive-in crowd. It was a picture for true splatter fans and it delivers, especially the final scene.

Unfortunately, I can’t say much more without potentially spoiling something. It takes place at a summer camp, it plays like a Friday the 13th clone but you know something is different… it just feels different.

The film is a standard slasher but with fun kills, brutal kills and a huge shocker. Sleepaway Camp is really a six out of ten but the ending alone bumps it up to a seven.