Movie Review: Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch Poster

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch Poster

[Editor’s Note: Halloween: The Ultimate Collection is now available and contains EVERY Halloween movie made! Check it out!-TMW]

Halloween III: Season of the Witch– 1982 -Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

Starring Tom Atkins, Dan O’Herlihy

With Halloween firmly established as a bankable horror franchise after two successful outings, creator John Carpenter wanted to try something different for the third film in the series. To that end, he opted to abandon the story of Michael Myers- which had come to a fiery conclusion in the previous film- in favor of an anthology approach, with each year witnessing the release of a new movie telling an original horror story set on All Hallows Eve.  It was definitely an attempt to try something outside of the box. Unfortunately, “original” doesn’t necessarily translate as “good”.

This sorry sequel follows a doctor (the usually reliable Tom Atkins, who seems to be on autopilot here) as he investigates a plot by a famous toymaker (Dan O’Herlihy, being an awfully good sport)  to mass murder every child wearing one of a line of Halloween masks he produces. The idea here is to invoke some vaguely referenced Celtic tradition by spilling the blood of the children on Halloween night. The toymaker plans to convince the kids to gather in front of their television sets by saturating the airwaves with ads promising a “big giveaway” on October 31st.  When the kids tune in to watch, the image of an electronic Jack O’ Lantern will be broadcast, activating a laser embedded into a disc fastened to the back of each mask and frying the kids brains.

Halloween 3
Hey kid, don’t sit so close to the TV! Your head might melt!

There are some decent gore effects and cinematographer Dean Cundy returns for his third and final time in the series to give the film something of a boost by providing a spooky visual sheen. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to overcome a plot that is so nonsensical as to not even work on it’s own terms. This is a film where the villain inexplicably opts to pursue an elaborate plan that can be defused by either turning off a television set or taking off a mask while he already has a small army of robot assassins running around, dispatching people at his behest.  Additionally, there’s never any concrete reason given as to what exactly killing the kids is supposed to accomplish, other than some rambling dialogue about “a joke on the children.” It all feels slapdash.

Halloween 3 Tom Atkins
Tom Atkins calling his agent.

Even worse, the overall production looks really cheap. Considering the success of the first two films, I would have expected the studio to put more money into making Halloween III. If they did, it doesn’t show.

This film has developed a cult following over the years, but it isn’t really deserved. Not so bad it’s good but just plain bad, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a dreadful, poorly scripted misfire that doesn’t deserve to bear the franchise name. It also features the single most annoying television jingle ever composed.

 

* out of ***** stars for some effective make up effects. Fans can skip this one and it literally won’t make the slightest difference.

Movie Review: Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

Tombs of the Blind Dead Cover Art

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)
Directed by Amando de Ossorio

Tombs of the Blind Dead Cover ArtDescription: A semi-retarded hottie in a pair of Daisy Dukes jumps from a moving train and winds up in the ruins of an ancient castle where some evil Knights Templar once performed Satanic/Egyptian eternal-life rituals. As it should happen, the rituals were a great success and now the place is infested by cool looking mummy/skeleton/vampire Knights Templar who apparently just sit around, kickin‘ it, waiting for visitors/dinner to come strolling in. You can imagine what happens to the afore mentioned hottie in said Daisy Dukes.Written and directed by Amando de Ossorio as the first part of his masterful Blind Dead series.

The Good: Mummies on horseback! Yippee Kayay Cadavers! These dudes are the original Mordor posse. There’s also several dozen wicked looking musty old monks with long black goatees who have no eyes, roaming around with fifteenth-century bastard swords. Now add to that a hot lesbian in a graveyard in the middle of the night who’s wearing a pair of knee-high white vinyl go-go boots and you’ve got yourself a badass movie!

The acting is decent for the kind of film it is and the camera work has moments of interest. For the most part, these elements are not so bad as to distract which allows the viewer to stay focused on more important things, like the dumbass getting naked while completely alone in a deserted, crumbling castle at midnight for apparently no reason. I live for those moments. So do evil, visually impaired Knights Templar it seems.

The Bad: Seventies hair. Oh yeah, and the centuries-old, abandoned and crumbling, haunted castle has freshly cut grass and lots of Giallo mood lighting, both of which are altogether uncommon amenities in a centuries-old, abandoned and crumbling, haunted castle.

The Ugly: Seventies hair. Other than that, this film is exactly what one should expect from 1970’s Italian horror – which is plenty of kickassness. This is not a Serious Statement film, nor is it an Artistic Expression film. It’s goofy, shock horror, teenaged boner stuff, so an in-depth cinematic critique is out of place. It’s a fun film, leave it at that already!

Old School: Fans of schloky drive-in films will enjoy Tombs of the Blind Dead, if you haven’t already watched it twenty hundred times.

New Blood: Under-thirties will find a lot to laugh about so get your giggle on with this one. It’s totally harmless, booby-flashing fun with the occasional squirt or two of Cardiff red.

To See or Not to See?   The next time you’re flipping through Fangoria, look for the coffin-shaped box set of DVDs that features this classic and buy the whole damn thing asap.

Check out the Tombs of the Blind Dead Trailer:

Movie Review: The Exorcist 2: The Heretic (1977)

Exorcist II The Heretic Poster

EXORCIST 2: THE HERETIC

Exorcist II The Heretic PosterIn the early 1970s, director William Freidkin and author William Peter Blatty successfully combined forces to adapt to the screen Blatty’s tremendously successful novel of terror and possession, The Exorcist. The film became a worldwide phenomenon and has gone on to generally be regarded as the gold standard for horror by most genre fans. So naturally, plans for a sequel were immediately green-lit.

A few years later, in 1977, director John Boorman (who would go on to deliver the superb Excalibur) brought us Exorcist II: The Heretic. Filmed sans the involvement of either Blatty or Friedkin, this film teamed a returning Linda Blair with Richard Burton in a plot that had them…..

…..you know what? To this day, I have no idea what in the hell this movie was actually about. As far as I can tell, Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest runs a psychiatric clinic for children where Regan McNeil (Blair) works, occasionally utilizing a hypnosis machine that functions like some sort of skating-rink-disco-ball nightmare to try to probe into whatever repressed memories Regan has of the time when she was possessed by Pazuzu. Burton portrays a priest who gets involved and somehow Africa and locusts factor in. I did not embellish that synopsis in any way.

Look, let’s cut through the crap. This is a terrible film. The pacing is lethargic, the acting stilted and the plot mundane. Only in a flashback sequence involving Father Merrin (Max Van Sydow, returning for a brief cameo) performing an earlier exorcism does even a hint of the atmosphere exuded by the original resurface.

In all other regards, this a muddled waste of time and effort, with a conclusion that stupidly brings Regan back to the house on M street and attempts to equal the suspense and horror of the original film’s climax by recreating it. This only serves to remind audiences of the original film, which in turn heightens the sense that what we’re watching is actually a second rate cash grab.

Horror fans who wish to see a truly frightening, inventive and thought provoking sequel should check out the sadly overlooked  Exorcist III: Legion which was written and directed by William Peter Blatty. It’s far and away superior to II and, based on the connective narrative tissue, is the legitimate sequel to the original.

The Bottom Line: Exorcist II:The Heretic is exactly that: Heresy towards the name of the motion picture many fans still regard as the greatest horror film ever to roll before a camera. You know you’re in trouble when James Earl Jones appearing as an African witch doctor who transforms into a tiger can’t lift a picture out of the mire.

0/5: My worst rating. Don’t even bother. Watch the original again and then skip straight to Legion. You’ll save the price of a rental and actually end up with a better sense of continuity.

Check out the Exorcist 2: The Heretic theatrical trailer:

Movie Review: V/H/S (2012)

Hannah Fierman as Lily from V/H/S

V/H/S posterV/H/S

There’s an old saying that in order to break the rules, you have to understand what they are, first, and from the opening sequence of V/H/S, one can sense where the different groups of filmmakers were going to go wrong by not understanding those rules—which of course, they did; especially with the ‘wraparound’ story of a bunch of slackers, breaking into an old house to look for a “valuable tape”.

Happily, they lead with a strong episode, “Amateur Night”. Two fratboys (Mike Donlan and Joe Sykes) and their buddy (Drew Sawyer), find a pair of spy-cam glasses on the last night of spring break, and decide to try and trick a girl into shooting an amateur porno.  They get what they wish for, but in a way that goes horribly wrong. I can’t write about this segment without mentioning the amazing Hannah Fierman, who plays the quirky “Lily”, the last girl any guy would want to pick up if they’re not wary…or sober.

Hannah Fierman as Lily from V/H/S
Hannah Fierman as Lily from V/H/S

The second tale, “Second Honeymoon”, was written and directed by Ti West—whose work didn’t exactly make a fan out of me.  This is the story of a young couple trekking across Arizona, and trying to get the ‘mojo’ back into their relationship.  The introduction of a mysterious hitcher does not bode well for them. Sorry if I make it sound more intriguing than it actually was.  I recognized the cliches West incorporated here from other, better films from the moment they appeared, and the ending left me pretty much Arctic cold.

Story Three, “Thursday The 17th” from Glenn McQuaid (I SELL THE DEAD) puts things back on track, as a group of doomed friends go on a “special trip into the woods”.  The killer in this story is presented in a startling fashion that not everyone will like or “get”, but I thought it was a pretty creative twist, and the likable cast makes it go down that much easier.

The fourth story, “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily…” is my favorite for sheer ingenuity.  Shot completely via Skype, it’s about the main character, who is involved in a long-distance relationship with a doctor…who witnesses the strange goings-on in Emily’s haunted pad.  Kudos to Helen Rogers as Emily and Daniel Kaufman as Jason, but especially Rogers, whose Emily comes off as a smart, post-modern horror heroine, who even knows (or at least thinks she does) how to deal with infestations of “Casper, the UN-friendly Ghost”.

The strongest of the bunch, “10/31/98”, cleverly finds its P.O.V. in the costume of a guy dressed as a teddy-bear ‘nannycam’. He and his four buddies get lost on the way to a Halloween party, and wind up going to a house where something IS going on…but it’s no party! If anything, this final tale underscores the ease with which filmmakers can now use CG imagery in a smart and creative way.

Check out the V/H/S trailer!

Movie Review: BEGOTTEN (1990)

Begotten Cover Art

BEGOTTEN

Begotten (1990)

Written and Directed by Edmund E. Merhige

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Description: an 80min abstract Rorschach version of the Judeo-Christian creation story.

The Good: If you are not a fan of abstract/coffee-house films, then there will probably be nothing in this film that you will like. There is no dialog and in fact, not even color as all of the images are comprised solely of pure black and pure white with no half-tones. The story is cryptic and hard to follow or understand (for most viewers) but if you like the bizarre and abstract then you will probably love this film. To be sure, there are certainly elements of horror here: scenes that are so graphic in nature that they are hard to watch and impossible to forget, but a suspenseful/slasher film it is not. Though there is no dialog, the sound effects are unsettling, creepy, and at times, completely unnerving. Combined with the stark contrast and almost alien imagery, the soundtrack helps to evoke a completely surreal and horrifying world. For all of the truly gruesome and graphic images that abound in the realm of cinema horror, no other film as made this reviewer as uncomfortable, tense, and truly horrified as Elias Merhige’s Begotten. Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible came close for a few minutes during the infamous rape scene, but that is only a fraction of the freaked-out-edness to be experienced in this film.

The Bad: Begotten is surreal and somewhat abstract. The characters are more akin to Jungian archetypes than they are stock character types, which makes this a hard to follow/understand film. However, these elements give the viewer an interpretive freedom and participation level that is rarely, if ever, found in mainstream films. You may not come away with the same story the filmmaker was telling, but the one you glean will be more personal and meaningful.

The Ugly: The imagery is borderline theoretical at times due to the phenomenal amount of processing that went into this film but it is up to each viewer to truly determine the value of this quality. For myself, I have nothing negative to remark on concerning the style, acting, video or audio quality of this film.

Old School: Truly old school fans of horror will probably dig this one, and by truly old school I mean those people who own a copy of The Student of Prague, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or Murnau’s Nosferatu. You know who you are. Also, fans of Eraserhead will most likely enjoy it as well.

New Blood: Younger audiences who enjoy MTV-style editing and seeing Paris Hilton in horror films, will probably hate this one. If you don’t know who Max Schreck is, then I’m talking about you.

To See or Not to See?  Good luck finding this one anywhere. I have never seen it on eBay, and only once at Amazon – for over one hundred dollars (US). I know of one video store in Atlanta that rents it. So however you can watch this film, by all means do so.

Check out the Begotten trailer!

Movie Review: HALLOWEEN 2 (1981)

Halloween II Poster Art

Halloween 2 art

[Editor’s Note: Halloween: The Ultimate Collection is now available and contains EVERY Halloween movie made! Check it out!-TMW]

Halloween II -1981- Directed by Rick Rosenthal

Starring Donald Pleasence; Jamie Lee Curtis

“You don’t know what death is!” — Dr. Samuel Loomis

By 1981, the runaway success of Halloween had lit a fire under the burgeoning slasher genre, with 1980’s sleeper hit Friday the 13th picking up the ball started by Carpenter ‘s film and rolling with it. Suddenly cinemas were saturated with masked maniacsoften with a theme tying to a holiday- stalking attractive teenagers and dispatching them in increasingly inventive and violent ways.

So it was that Halloween executive producer Moustapha Akkad joined forces with Universal Studios and Dino De Laurentiis to continue the saga of unstoppable killer Michael Myers in the 1981 sequel Halloween II.

Picking up immediately where the original film left off, part II continues the story as Michael relentlessly hunts Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the survivor of the previous film, who has since been moved to the local hospital. Meanwhile,  Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence, again delivering a fine performance) is still hunting the killer, albeit with a lot more help from the local police as the murders from the first film have been discovered.

Halloween II is something of a mixed bag. It definitely nails some terrific scarescinematographer Dean Cundy (who shot the original and would later go on to film dinosaurs for Steven Spielberg in Jurassic Park) returned to film this one as well, so it looks and feels a lot like it’s predecessorbut John Carpenter returned only for writing duties with his long time partner Debra Hill, allowing Rick Rosenthal to take over at the helm.

Rosenthal actually does an admirable job considering whose footsteps he has to follow,  but the film relies heavily on the standard slasher cliches, with obvious set ups for creative kills replacing the layered suspense of the previous movie.  Also, Jamie Lee Curtis has zero character development. Forget the smart, strong woman from the original.  Here Laurie spends the majority of the running time in a drug induced haze.

Still, there’s an undeniable sense of danger and urgency as Michael relentlessly pursues his victims and, once again, his perpetual silence and ability to shrug off physical trauma are employed to maximum effect. The kills are fairly spectacular as well, with a scene involving an overheated sauna a particularly horrifying standout.  Plus, Halloween II earns points for having an actual ongoing storyline rather than being a mindless retread, which gives the events unfolding onscreen a little more weight than one normally sees in this type of film.

It’s not quite the equal of the previous film, but if you accept that it’s a bloodier, more traditional slasher flick instead of the suspense masterpiece the original was, Halloween II is hell of a lot of fun.

**** out of ***** stars. A worthy, if somewhat inferior, follow up to the classic.

Check out the Halloween 2 trailer:

Movie Review: KING KONG VS GODZILLA (1962)

King King vs Godzilla DVD Cover

King King VS Godzilla Blu-Ray Cover

KING KONG VS GODZILLA

There are very few things in this life that are considered critic proof. Troma, Three’s Company and the Police Academy movies come to mind as products that succeed even when they are pretty much universally panned by the press.

If you were a child in the sixties through the nineties, you know of one other franchise which wears a bulletproof vest against serious analysis.

GODZILLA!

Kaiju is a Japanese word that means strange creature, but is interpreted by most Americans to mean giant monster. And there is no Kaiju monster bigger in popularity than Godzilla!

When vintage Godzilla films are viewed through a child’s eyes, all that can be seen is the King of the Monsters, doing battle against a flamboyant array of Kaiju enemies.  And even when we watch these Godzilla films with more mature eyes, our nostalgia for them overcomes any glaring faults with the films.

Of all the Godzilla films, the one that created the most buzz  was King Kong vs Godzilla.  Imagine it if you will as the Freddy vs Jason of Kaiju films.

Universal recently re-released King Kong vs Godzilla on Blu-Ray & DVD. I watched it with my six year-old, and he absolutely loved it. Originally released in 1962, the story starts with Godzilla who is freed from an iceberg. Meanwhile, the owner of a pharmaceutical company travels to a tropical island to capture and return King Kong to Japan for publicity. As both monsters converge on Japan, a showdown is inevitable.

If you are a Kong purist, you simply must put all of your arguments away. It is assumed that Kong, though much smaller than Godzilla in the original RKO film, has grown larger because of his berry diet on the island. Kong can also harness electricity and wield it as a weapon.

In their first encounter, Godzilla gives Kong a shot of radioactive breath and Kong stumbles away, confused. He scratches his head as he leaves as if to convey, “Shoot, no one told me he could do that.”

King Kong from King Kong vs Godzilla
Come on, Kong! Sober up, man!

Kong is later drugged by his island berry wine and airlifted into a final battle against Godzilla. One thing that is worth pointing out: Kong spends a fair amount of time getting drunk and passing out (like many other leading men of his day, I would imagine).

Kong wakes up long enough to realize that he has been tied to a giant raft heading for Japan or floating in the sky via giant balloons while a raging Godzilla bellows beneath him. You almost feel sorry for the big guy, but he manages to pull up his boot straps in the final act and say, “Okay, let’s do this!”

King Kong vs Godzilla is notable for a couple of milestones. It is the first time either monster has appeared in color or widescreen. It is also the most popular Godzilla film of its day.

I recommend this movie, especially if you have little ones.

Check out the King Kong vs Godzilla trailer:

Movie Review: HALLOWEEN (1978)

Halloween DVD Cover

[Editor’s Note: Halloween: The Ultimate Collection is now available and contains EVERY Halloween movie made! Check it out!-TMW]

 HALLOWEEN (1978)

Halloween DVD Cover

“I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”

     –Dr. Samuel Loomis

 

If horror fans are going to talk about the genre as it relates to Halloween, then there is no calendar year of greater importance to that discussion than 1978. That was the year a young filmmaker named John Carpenter released his third film, a terrifying essay of almost non-stop suspense titled Halloween.

 

For those of you who may have been off the planet for the past few decades,  John Carpenter’s Halloween tells the story of a psychopath named Michael Myers, who breaks free from a sanitarium on October 30th, 1978 and – pursued by Sam Loomis, his long time doctor (the late, great Donald Pleasence turning in a superb performance) –  cuts a path of death and destruction back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, the same locale where he murdered his older sister Judith as a little boy back in 1963.

 

Once he returns home, Michael dons an eerily expressionless white mask, picks up a large butcher knife and embarks upon a reign of terror that would alter the course of horror film history and elevate the slasher genre as a box office force to be reckoned with.

 

The genius of Halloween is that it’s all about fear.  The film is more interested in getting under the viewer’s skin than grossing them out. There’s violence, but no overt gore. The chills come from watching the silent killer play sadistic cat and mouse games with his victims, a trio of local babysitters (including a young Jamie Lee Curtis, in her first major role)  he targets from afar early on and proceeds to hunt for the remainder of the film.

 

Michael Myers is presented here as pure, unstoppable malevolence, the absence of reason in the face of pure evil. He is death incarnate and rightly earns a place as one of the legendary cinematic nightmares.

A huge hit, Halloween spawned multiple sequels, the first of which would bring the killer back to terrify audiences in 1981.

 

***** out of ***** stars. I still consider this the greatest American horror film ever made, with only The Exorcist seriously challenging it. If you’ve somehow never seen the original Halloween, treat yourself this October 31st.  But don’t watch it alone.

Check out the Halloween trailer: