Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/10


Halloween (1978)
(11th viewing) d. Carpenter, John (USA) 91min
From its shocking opening reveal to jaw-dropping climax, this low-budget masterpiece instantly announced itself as a modern day horror classic, shattering box-office records and inspiring the modern-day slasher genre. Nearly twenty years after Psycho terrified viewers out of their showers, director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill co-wrote the brilliantly minimalist script of an escaped lunatic terrorizing the small Illinois township of Haddonfield. Trick-or-treating would never be the same. Donald Pleasance shines as frantic psychiatrist Sam Loomis, the only one who comprehends the extent of the evil that has been unleashed. Jamie Lee Curtis (in her film debut) provides the film’s emotional center as a bookish babysitter who, alongside fun-loving friends Nancy Loomis and P. J. Soles, unwittingly becomes the target of the masked boogeyman. Like Spielberg’s giant shark, Halloween’s unstoppable antagonist reaches near-mythic status, pursuing his prey with placid yet ferocious determination. Carpenter’s repetitive synthesizer and piano score heightens the tension, then shatters it with chilling efficiency time and again. In addition to inspiring a throng of “holiday-themed” horror offerings, the indie blockbuster spawned its own inevitable sequels (seven, plus Rob Zombie’s regrettable remakes), which contain nary a fraction of the original’s enduringly effective impact between them.

Ward, The (2010) (1st viewing)
d. Carpenter, John (USA) 88min
After setting a farmhouse ablaze, mysterious and defiant fair-haired stranger Amber Heard is institutionalized at the local loony bin where she quickly finds herself under assault by a wicked (and decomposing) female specter. Carpenter returns to the feature film fray after a long sojourn and it is with mixed emotions that we receive him - this pedestrian ghost story with predictable scares never reaches He Who Once Was King’s former glory, but it’s a heck of a lot better than anything he’s done in the past decade. Though set in the early 60s, there is never any real sense of period, and not to get into spoilers, but the mortality of a certain spirit strikes us as a bit convenient, even with the last minute explanatory wrap-up. (And that final jump scare? Really, John?) On another note, Heard’s naked back deserves a supporting credit all its own, showcased taking clothes off, putting hospital gowns on, taking showers, etc. Is this what passes for titillation these days? Like the rest of the film, it ultimately feels like a big tease with no satisfying payoff.


Tourist Trap (1979)
(2nd viewing) d. Schmoeller, David (USA) 90min
One of Charles Band’s early producing credits (and first straight-up horror film). Rookie director/co-writer Schmoeller delivered this underrated (and PG-rated!) chiller that deftly combines creepy open-mouthed mannequins, telekinetic exploits, slasher motifs and twisted torture sequences, all set in a way-off-the-beaten-track roadside wax museum. Chuck Connors headlines as the good ol’ boy proprietor, playing host to a band of stranded vacationers that include Jocelyn Jones and a brunette, pre-Beastmaster Tanya Roberts. The behind-the-scenes roster boasts some serious genre cred, with art direction by Texas Chain Saw Massacre/The Hills Have Eyes wunderkind Robert A. Burns, future Tremors writer/director Ron Underwood performing assistant director duties, and Ted Nicoleau, who would create the Subspecies franchise (and the much loved TerrorVision), serving as editor. Note: There needs to be a “Little girl” and “Isn’t she pr-e-e-e-e-etty?” drinking game.

Wrong Turn (2003) (3rd viewing) d. Schmidt, Rob (USA) 84min
A competent time-waster covering familiar terrain as a group of attractive twentysomethings find themselves picked off by a trio of mutant mountain men. What is refreshing about this throwback to the 70s and 80s is its straightforward approach to the material, handling the events with a degree of seriousness rather than the smart-ass irony representative of the post-Scream era. Desmond Harrington provides welcome gravity in the male hero role, matched by Eliza Dushku who kicks butt and fills out her white tank top with equal gusto. Of the remainder of the antagonized crew, only Jeremy Sisto’s engaging fiancé leaves any lasting impression. Effects king Stan Winston produced, with his SW Studio cronies creating the gruesome inbred psychos. Director Schmidt paces things so well, with enough intriguing original touches – a wow of a decapitation and cringe-inducing use of barbed wire – that the audience may not realize that they’ve seen it all before (including the preposterous “it’s over…or is it?” ending).

First Time Views: 21
Repeats: 24
Total Films: 45

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