Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer of Slash: Dark Night of the Scarecrow

Every now and then the slasher subgenre can blindside you. I would say that 80% of the time what you’re going to get is garbage that should just remain in oblivion for ever, but every now and then you’ll find a little-seen film that’s just begging to be discovered by a larger audience. Now, even some of the garbage that is found within that 80% of garbage I still find enjoyable and worth seeking out, for I can usually tolerate even the worst of slasher films if they’re cheesy enough (or if I have enough beer on hand, which helped me with last week’s entry Bloody Moon). However, somewhere in-between the worst offenders and the most polished of the popular slashers, and despite knowing what every slasher movie is going to do before I even press play, I am amazed by the fact that this subgenre can still offer up these little gems that surprise me. Network television might seem like an unlikely place to come across such a discovery, but in October of 1981, CBS premiered a TV movie that was part slasher and part ghost story, the eerie, atmospheric, and surprisingly effective Dark Night of the Scarecrow — it’s certainly in the upper echelon of slashers released in that oh-so-important (and overstuffed) year of horror, 1981

Monday, June 24, 2013

John Carpenter: Escape from LA

Despite my somewhat muted praise of Escape from New York — one of the most beloved of Carpenter’s films — there’s no denying the elements that fervent fans of the cult classic point to as reasons why it’s one of the best action films of the ‘80s. The primary reason being of course Kurt Russell’s performance as Snake Plissken, so it’s no surprise that there were always plans to bring the character back. However, time kept passing and opportunities kept getting stunted, and it wasn’t until 1996 that Carpenter and Russell would re-team (along with Carpenter’s long-time writing/producing partner Debra Hill) for Escape from LA, the long-awaited sequel fans of the original had been pining for. Alas, the film is not a sequel as much as a re-introduction to the character, and it suffers because of this. Even though I wasn’t the hugest fan of the original, it would have been interesting to see a true sequel to the film. Instead, the film plays exactly like Escape from New York both in terms of narrative and in entertainment value. I know that may be sacrilegious to suggest that LA is just as good as New York, but aside from the film’s huge budget (50 million, which is the largest Carpenter’s ever received for a film by a significant margin), there is really nothing different about the film. What’s true about New York is true for LA: they’re both flawed films that are worth seeing for a couple of standout setpieces, some memorably wacky side characters, the great musical score, and for Russell’s performance.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Summer of Slash: Bloody Moon

I knew as far back as last summer that I wanted to kick this year’s Summer of Slash series off with Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon. One reason is that I have yet to review a Franco film on the blog; the second reason: it was just too fun to pass up. Bloody Moon is the perfect example of a European horror film from this era — a German production of an American slasher that has elements of the Italian giallo all while directed by the Spanish Franco; it reminded me a lot of Pieces. And if you’re the kind of horror fan that is familiar with that film, then perhaps that is enough to pique your interest in Bloody Moon.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer nights filled with horror

Hey, everyone! The Summer of Slash returns tomorrow. I've got some good ones lined up for this year. To get you in the appropriate mood (and to tease what I'll be posting tomorrow), please enjoy the following trailer...

Monday, June 17, 2013

John Carpenter: Village of the Damned

I knew coming into this retrospective that Village of the Damned was going to be the shortest review of this series because I had already seen it, already knew that there was nothing to talk about, and already knew that there is nothing in the film that would tell you it’s a John Carpenter film. I was hoping a second viewing would change my thoughts on the film, but alas, there just isn't, well,  anything to say substance to say about the film . Even Elvis, the most banal of Carpenter’s films, inspired me to write something because at least I hadn't seen that film before, and it was of some significance considering it was Kurt Russell’s first film with Carpenter (not to mention it killed in terms of TV ratings). Village of the Damned, though, nothing. It’s about as dull as a film calling itself a horror film can get. I have no idea what possessed Carpenter to make the film — audiences in 1995 weren’t necessarily breaking down theater doors to get to horror films — or why he would even begin to think that a remake of the 1960 film (of all the films to remake?) was a good idea.

Monday, June 10, 2013

John Carpenter: In the Mouth of Madness

There is a general belief among fans of John Carpenter’s work that In the Mouth of Madness is the American auteur’s last movie worth a damn. Allow me to get this out of the way: that’s so, so wrong. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me finish my thought: There also seems to be a general belief that In the Mouth of Madness is the best horror film Carpenter made since The Thing. A few things: the first issue raised here saddens me because it seems that even many of Carpenter’s most ardent fans dismiss Carpenter’s 1987 Prince of Darkness, a film that is vastly superior to In the Mouth of Madness, when mentioning the best horror films of Carpenter’s career. The second issue: I think that not just fans of Carpenter but the fans of the horror genre really, really overrate In the Mouth of Madness. Oh, that’s not to say it isn’t a good horror film — and sometimes an even great horror film — it's just that the film doesn’t live up to the reputation given to it by its supporters. It’s a self-aware, postmodern horror film that isn’t even the best self-aware, postmodern horror film of the mid-90s (that would be New Nightmare). But, it does show Carpenter, just as he did with Prince of Darkness, dabbling in the outrĂ© and making a horror film that, good or bad, goes for something different and certainly stands out as a stark contrast to his earlier horror films.

Monday, June 3, 2013

John Carpenter: Body Bags


Just as he did after the deflating experience working for the studio on Big Trouble in Little China (not to mention the equally deflating returns at the box office), John Carpenter would once again, this time after the disaster that was Memoirs of an Invisible Man, return to the safety of low budget, independent horror. In 1987, this return to small horror resulted in one of the American auteurs best films, Prince of Darkness. In 1993, however, things were a tad different in regards to theatrical horror films. Unless you had Freddy, Jason, or Michael Myers, it was unlikely that a horror film in the early ‘90s was going to have a lot of success with audiences. It was a dying genre (and even returns for those films were dwindling with each unnecessary sequel). So, Carpenter, returned to television for his next project, which was never intended to be a Portmanteau horror film but rather a television series made for Showtime in order to rival HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt.” However, the series didn’t get picked up after Showtime backed away from their initial plans to turn it into a series, and the final product turned into Body Bags — an extremely entertaining horror anthology in the vein of the EC Comics that inspired Carpenter as a kid and the Amicus productions of the ‘70s. Body Bags showcases a great horror director riffing and having fun with the genre, free from the shackles of the studio system.