Category Archives: Fear

Greatest Films of Halloween #5 Dracula (1992)

“How did Lucy die? Was she in great pain? ”
“Yeah, she was in great pain! Then we cut off her head, and drove a stake through her heart, and burned it, and then she found peace. “

I would argue that of all the versions of Dracula out there this is the closest yet to the original book. Dracula by Bram Stoker is probably the 2nd best horror novel in history (the best being Stephen King’s It, but there are not good movie versions of It). As a side note there is only one correct way to read Dracula: with a group of two or more people, taking turns reading it aloud by candle light, preferably on Halloween night. But enough about the book and how this is the only film version where the screenwriter seems to have looked over more than the Cliff notes one page overview…

Why is the movie a great Halloween film?

Gary Oldman as Dracula is just creepy. As the pale and creepy old man. As the bat/wolfman thing. Even as the regenerated younger man he still has that horrifying magnetism. For the most part he revels in his debauchery and villainy. The slight problem is that the screenwriter and director did humanize him a little too much. This is not the creature of the night hell bent on world conquest and destruction–this is more a tragic figure who through loss and pain has come to hate the world and wants it to suffer if he has to suffer. And this is kind of the weakest point of the movie…they tried to humanize him, give him a actual relationship with Mina Haker, bring some human drama into the story and have a title character who wasn’t just a lecherous piece of scum and embodiment of all the dark sides of sexuality (keep in mind vampirism is in many ways a metaphor for rape, for venereal disease, for lovers who use and abuse women). Still Dracula is a villain in this film (especially his shadow which seems to have a twisted Peter Pan thing going on, creeping up on people when Dracula himself is stationary).

Oh and then there’s Keanu Reaves. Sometimes I will actually defend casting Keanu in certain movies (Much Ado, Matrix, Lake House); however, this is not one of those cases. Coppola was going for that bland emotionless look that the Victorian middle class so admired…but it doesn’t work in a story of good versus evil.

But this is made up for by Anthony Hopkins’ Abraham Van Helsing, He’s a little crazy and certainly enjoys his job as vampire hunter way too much. But he is the only one in this film without fear; he actually enjoys pitting himself against the forces of darkness. It’s good he found something he enjoys. Van Helsing in the novel had an offbeat sense of humor, but Hopkins takes it to a wonderful extreme.

But overall the movie is true to the book (at least by Hollywood standards). All the characters which Hollywood usually leaves out are there (especially Lucy’s three suitors), all the main plot points are included (even if they did add some unneeded character development for the Count) and just the general horror of Dracula is there (especially when he’s feeding small children to his vampire brides).

While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that no Halloween is complete without this movie (that only applies to the #1 movie on this list) it does come close.

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Top Ten Films of Halloween #6 Young Frankenstein

“”For as long as I can remember people have hated me. They looked at my face and my body and they ran away in horror. In my loneliness I decided that if I could not inspire love, which is my deepest hope, I would instead cause fear. I live because this poor half-crazed genius has given me life. He alone held an image of me as something beautiful and then, when it would have been easy enough to stay out of danger, he used his own body as a guinea pig to give me a calmer brain and a somewhat more sophisticated way of expressing myself. “

It’s odd that a Mel Brooks slapstick managed to convey the theme of the original Mary Shelley novel better than any other film based on that work (Branagh tried but failed for a lot of small reasons and that big one where he radically changed the ending). But in being true to the novel, Brooks was oddly also faithful to the original Hollywood version by hauling out the original equipment (those really are the original props in the lab) and parodying almost every famous scene from the original film.

But of course there are the differences. Igor (pronounced eye-gore) is of course far more talkative when played by Marty Feldman, although he does seem to have problem reading (“Whose brain was it?” “Abby someone.” “Abby Who/” “Abby Normal.”). And Gene Wilder as Frederick Fronkensteen at times comes off as more mentally unhinged than any previous film version of the original mad scientist. Add in Mars, Garr, Leachman, Boyle, and of course Hackman…

…and you get what is arguably Mel Brook’s finest movie (Blazing Saddles while funnier in many parts has a terrible ending) not to mention one of the 10 best comedies of all time.

I could talk about how the Frankenstein story in all its versions is very much about how giving into the fear of death and trying to avoid it at all costs can only lead to destruction…but this is Young Frankenstein and that might be going just a little far. The same with the story’s warning against need for humility in the face of the hubris of science to feel it shouldn’t have any restrictions placed upon it by ethics and morals…but again such a discussion is really pushing it with this version…and I just can’t say that any other version is worthy of being in a top 30 list. These themes are there because of the source material, but they’re not the focus of Brook’s film.

If this movie is doing anything it’s critiquing Hollywood for turning a story with a thoughtful, articulate creature, with a penchant for quoting Milton and Goethe, (as shown in the quote at the top) into a lumbering, mindless, hulk. Hollywood turned one of the most intelligent villains in literature into an idiot for no reason…and this has been the bane of English teachers ever since as for some reason everyone thinks the Hollywood version is the truth. (If only Brooks had shown the same skill when critiquing Hollywood’s vision of Dracula).

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Top 10 Halloween Films #7 Ghostbusters

ghostbusters“Why worry. Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.”

I could hardly choose a single line to put at the top of this–they’re almost all classics.

The great story of three men, who, after being booted out of the cushy world of academia and have to get real jobs which is a problem for some of them, “You’ve never worked in the private sector. They expect results.” So they do the only thing they can think of, they catch ghosts. Oh and destroy a lot of crap in the mean time…but they get paid well. Meanwhile a moldy Sumerian god is planning on returning and destroying the world. But, as I’m sure we all know the Ghostbusters have this covered. Honestly do I really have to summarize the plot…we’ve all seen it. We all know who to call.

Not exactly a lot of fear here, just a lot of great humor dressed up in the trappings of a horror flick. Something that has been lost in modern comedy, the understated visual gag. Egon moves to the other side of the elevator after turning on the proton pack and the comment about the unlicensed nuclear accelerator…no need to explain the punch line or even to have other characters mention it, just make the joke and move on expecting your audience to be bright enough to get it…and there are numerous examples of this. And then the dialogue is even better. I watch this movie every year and it never gets old. As I said I’m sure you’ve seen it so you know that rather than listening to me talk about the quality of the writing you should just go and watch it.

And of course on the greatest reason to love this movie, the EPA is the villain. That’s right the whole mass destruction is primarily caused because an arrogant, dickless (hey, I’m just quoting a fact listed in the movie, twice in fact), brainless, bureaucrat had to show that he had power. This movie understands that when it’s the federal government vs. small business, the federal government is on the side of the universe destroying evil. It’s a pity the bureaucrat only got covered in marshmallow and not something more painful and befitting the vicious crime of being a bureaucrat.

Of course the lasting impact of this movie can best be summed up with the following line from my favorite TV show:

“Who you gonna call? [awkward silence] God, that phrase is never gonna be usable again, is it?”–Spike

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Top Ten Films of Halloween #8 Alien

“I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. […] I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.”

This is a movie best watched at night with the lights off…yeah it has a lot of sci-fi elements…but in the end it’s a monster movie, with possibly the most horrifying monster the silver screen ever dreamed up.

The first thing that I find a little odd about this is that in the opening scene you hear the engines working as you look at the ship from the outside. I thought that in space no one can hear you scream…oh well, we would have to wait for Joss Whedon to understand you don’t need sound effects when in space. But then again while there is the hum of the engines or the sound of the wind there are very long and uncomfortable silences in this film. Very uncomfortable. Because this movie is about the uncomfortable nature of fear. Long, silent, drawn out, pricks up the back of your spine fear.

And the only thing more uncomfortable is the intentional repetition of violent sexual imagery. It starts with a forced impregnation that leads to a thing that bursts out of man’s gut in possibly the most horrific pregnancy on film to give birth to a creature that is a disturbing amalgamation of phallic shapes . Or as the screen writer put it “This is a movie about alien interspecies rape,”… I have a hard time thinking of a more disturbing 8 word sentence. Add to the fact the initial thing that attached itself to the guy’s face looked kind of like a spider, which is even more creepy, there’s just nothing comforting about this movie. Oh and a disembodied Ian Holm also added to the creepiness.

In fact re-watching this film made me ask myself…why am I watching all these horror films right before I go to bed…this is kind of stupid…

Actually there is one thing that’s comforting about this film: Ripley. You can’t help but love her. Granted she’s even more the hero in the sequel, but she has just about every quality that is imaginable in a hero. Smart, grace under pressure but not eternally cold and when need be the ability to throw off one liners.

It’s almost impossible to think that Weaver did not get first billing…we have come to think of her as the face of these movies. It’s her versus the big ugly thing. That’s the nature of these movies. (Which makes me a little worried at how good Prometheus will be)…but that of course lead me to have a word on the sequels. Aliens was a very different film, it was a James Cameron action spectacular and it was a great one. Aliens 3 I don’t know what the hell they were thinking. And of course Alien Resurrection which is also a piece of crap…but it does have one saving grace: screenwriter Joss Whedon added to the cast a ragtag bunch of space smugglers (which included a morally ambiguous captain with a sense of honor, a quirky pilot and a big thug who had good one liners…I wonder if Whedon ever got around to reusing the good parts of that idea?).

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Top 10 Halloween Films #9 Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire
“God kills indiscriminately. And so shall we.”

Interview with the Vampire is a classic film of vampires. And although I think this did begin some of the trends of having whiny sparkling vampires, it’s a good one. But the morose vampires that Louis and Armand are still not the spineless wimps vampires have become. They may be honing their brooding skills to a fine art (of course as a precursor to Angel they’re amateurs at brooding) but they can also engage in vicious acts of hatred and destruction. These are still vampires that can kill and will do so. Pitt’s Louis does so out of need and vengeance and can be very cold about it. Banderas’ Armand even more horrifically does it because he finds it an amusement to put on shows because he’s bored with his near eternal life.

Evil with a capital E

And of course there is Lestat. In this version (the Lestat of book The Vampire Lestat is a very different character) Lestat is something you very seldom see in literature: evil for the sake of evil. He’s not a psychotic or a psychopath who doesn’t quite grasp the difference between good and evil. He’s not a sociopath who just doesn’t care. He’s not on a vengeance kick feeling that if he has to suffer then everyone has to suffer. He’s not even really bored. No, he knows he’s evil, he knows good from evil, and it’s not that he doesn’t care; it’s that he delights in being evil. Iago, Ledger’s Joker, Dracula (in the original novel and The Historian), it’s a short list. Knowingly willing evil for the sake of evil. It’s a horrific thought and thankfully something I’m convinced exists only in fiction. But an instructive one to show us what we are not and should not be. It’s all of our worst qualities stripped of all our best qualities, our egos given free reign of madness and evil. Few things are as frightening. (Although even Cruise’s Lestat falls short sometimes of the pure villainy with which Louis imaged him, as when he mentions it’s easier to kill the guilty and his constant complaining about having not being given a choice when he became a vampire).

And I believe I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating—stories about those who are immortal help clarify the fear of death. The normal person doesn’t fear death as much because they know it is an inevitable fact…the fictional construct of the immortal vampire is far more afraid of death, partly because they trade in it, they’re already half in the grave, and they are afraid of what is not a fact for them. If the fear of death is the fear of the unknown for the average mortal…how much more an unknown is it to someone who doesn’t have to die. You see this mostly clearly when Louis returns to New Orleans and sees Lestat huddled in the corner of a house, afraid to move, afraid to find how the world has evolved; afraid to be himself for fear that he may not be able to survive.

Something else came to mind while watching this movie; you could never get it made today. This movie was made before being PC came into its full stride culturally so I think it got away with things you probably couldn’t now as today people read slights to special interest groups where there are none (while strangely letting real threats to society go without a word). The fact that there are some pretty clear homoerotic overtones between Lestat and Louis, and Louis and Armand coupled with the fact that Lestat is evil and Armand is just short of evil you would probably have numerous groups complaining about how the movie is showing gays in a poor light. This of course would be missing the point that the story was showing all the vampires to just be hedonistically decadent and willing to get hedonistic pleasures anyway they could get it, it has nothing to with orientation, it has to do with a lack of ethics (in just the same way a guy who sleeps around with hundreds of women without any meaning is unethical). And these would ironically be the same people who have next to nothing to say about the fact that actors who come out as gay will often find fewer jobs after coming out. Have to love double standards. Gives you moment’s pause at how many other films haven’t been made because of a fear of being called PC.

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Top Ten Films of Halloween #10 Fright Night

“Apparently your generation doesn’t want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see are slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins. “

So observes Peter Vincent, Vampire Hunter, in the great horror classic Fright Night.  If only he had known that worse movies were coming after that…

But back to Fright Night

It takes a lot to make a teenage boy ignore his girlfriend who is in his bed and willing to go all the way…but seeing your neighbors move a coffin of all things into the basement might be one of the few things strange enough to do that (although probably for most teenage boys that wouldn’t be enough)…but this is the story of Charley, who was unfortunate enough to have a vampire move next door.  And worse yet, his friends don’t believe him, the police don’t believe him and all he can rely on is the help of a washed up B-horror movie actor.  Sucks to be Charley.  Oh, and the vampire has a thing for his girlfriend.

One of the things that makes this movie so good is the vampire himself—Chris  Sarandon (who also played another one of my generation’s most hated villains) as the vampire Jerry Dandrige.  Nonchalant, bordering on arrogance, in almost every scene he is in, it just gives you chills at how comfortable he is at being a mass murderer.  He’s evil and he doesn’t really care what you think about that.  And the director does an excellent job of constantly focusing you on the fangs and blood sucking habit even when not showing them by having him constantly eating or drinking something in every scene.  And thankfully someone remembered that vampires are supposed to be a symbol of sexuality.  Not that Sarandon is the best looking actor in the history of the universe, but almost every scene shows him being the desire of the women in the room.  (And when being turned into a vampire, the girlfriend Amy, seems to also magically go under a transformation from mousy plain Jane to near professional model looks…no explanation is really given for this transformation, especially since it seems to involve a makeup and lighting choices which should have nothing to do with becoming a vampire).  And they continue the darker side of the metaphor further with several overtones of rape (as there is quite a bit of mind control and loss of willpower).

From this…

…To this. Bite of a vampire offers one hell of a makeover.

And we finally get to a vampire movie that plays by the rules.  Sunlight.  Stake through the heart.  Needing to be invited into the house.  Holy Water.  Crosses.  Can turn into fog, bats and wolves.  It’s nice to see somebody play by all the rules.

And obviously the fear felt by Peter Vincent and Charley is a central point to this film.  Vincent comes also with the fear that his whole life is nothing but a long sad joke (which may at some level be a comment on Roddy McDowall’s long career as a chimp).  This near paralyzing fear permeates the second half of the film, and leads to our admiration of our two heroes as they are able to overcome their fears and defeat the vampire.

This is a classic horror film.  Not exactly the greatest film of all time, but certainly one that couldn’t be improved.  In fact it would be sacrilege to ever even think of redoing this movie, and if anyone even thought about it I would advocate for a total boycott of…wait…what…they did what?…Colin Farrell, are you f’ing kidding me?  And that twerp who played Chekov in that other crappy remake?  This means war….

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Halloween’s Greatest Films #11 The Lost Boys

“You never grow old. You never die. But you must feed.”

A true horror classic is an appellation that can be applied to just about every movie in the the Top 9 of this list, so I it could be argued I don’t need to say it with this one, but I will. The Lost Boys is a classic film of Halloween.

Again is this was from a day when vampires would rip your throat out as soon as look at you. And they have fun doing it. No qualms, no remorse, no brooding…just vicious destruction. This is the movie that originally introduced us to Kiefer Sutherland being a badass (although I think we’ll all agree Bauer was far more deadly).

We know the story. Biker teenage vampires lure an unsuspecting teenager into their lair and begin to turn him in an opening gambit to turn his entire family. Meanwhile his younger brother teams up with two socially dysfunctional wannabe vampire hunters who don’t know that you never invite a vampire into your house (which is one of those rules that everyone is supposed to know).

The movie plays, somewhat poorly I’ll admit, with a comparison between vampirism and teenage rebellion (the problem is that one is a phase and the other is by definition eternal), but the destructive, self-centered at the costs of others, you don’t know what I’m going through angles do hold. And it does hold the teenage desire and delusion to be young forever and never responsible for your actions.

It had been a few years since I had last seen this movie, so I had forgotten how bloody (very bloody) killing vampires was in this films, but it works.

As with a lot of the other movies I’ve discussed on this list we see the immortals heightened fear of death, and the overcoming of fear by our heroes…but this also offers us the fear of character Michael as he changes into the vampire and desperately tries to hold onto his humanity. It is this fear that the movie focuses on the most, and arguably tries to tie to that vampire/teenage rebellion theme.

The movie is unsteady at times but makes up for it with the fact that it keeps you guessing as to where the real power of the villains lies. Red herrings, subtle clues, and distractions all leading up to the final reveal by the vampire works for a nice surprise. Of course that leads into its own problems. If this movie has a single great flaw, it’s the random deus ex machina save at the end. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about, if not no need to spoil the ending. It was just a little too convenient.

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The Best Films of Halloween Tied for #12 Evil Dead II & Army of Darkness

“Groovy”

Screw that most of the plot hardly makes any sense. These movies are just fun movies.

(And fair warning, this is probably the goriest movie on this list). Haven’t seen the Evil Dead I? No worries, it doesn’t have much to do with this film. And it’s far more bloody and filled with gore and truly uncomfortable scenes. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had read Bruce Campbell’s autobiography before ever seeing it I wouldn’t have cared for it at all, but knowing how little they had to work with I could appreciate how much they accomplished even if it wasn’t my preferred genre. But then you have Evil Dead II, a little more money and a lot more humor. The story follows Ash, a sometimes idiot and sometimes incredibly perceptive Bruce Campbell, as he first loses his girlfriend to a hideous evil force when they go out to an abandoned cabin in the woods. (Honestly has anyone ever had a good experience at an abandoned cabin in the woods?) This movie has its low points (the dialogue and questionable acting from five-sixths of the cast, not that Campbell’s is the best of his career either…I’ll take Sam Axe or Bristco County Jr. any day) and high points (Bruce Campbell as a one man slapstick team in a battle against his own possessed hand). But before the whole movie can turn into Ash facing the evil alone and going insane in the process, four more victims, I mean characters, show up…but don’t worry, they don’t last long. They do last long enough to cast the evil into a time warp…but Ash gets taken along for the ride (which we’ll deal with tomorrow). And of course this movie answers a very important question. What should you do after you’ve had to cut your demon possessed hand off with a chain saw but still have to face off against a soul sucking witch (I know it’s a question I wrestled with before seeing this film)? Answer: Channel your inner MacGyver, attach the chainsaw to your stump of arm, cut yourself a new sawed off shot gun and utter a one liner. And this is why Bruce Campbell’s Ash is just cool. And ridiculous. And of course the film also shows things not to ever do. For instance, if you just recorded the following passage into a tape recorder?

“Morturom Demonto, the “Book of the Dead”. My wife and I brought the book to this cabin where I could study it undisturbed. It was here that I began the translations. The book speaks of a spiritual presence. A thing of evil that roams the forests and the dark bowels of man’s domain. It is through the recitation of the book’s passages that this dark spirit is given license to possess the living. Included here are the phonetic pronunciations of those passages”

I’m going to go with: DON’T ACTUALLY READ THE PASSAGE ALOUD! (especially when in an abandoned cabin in the woods)! Obviously the film deals with the fear of death, although again those who seem to give into that fear don’t last too long. As with all movies in this kind of sub-genre it pretty much shows that giving into your own fear, no matter how understandable, is pretty much going to lead to your utter and complete demise (which is probably the only thing that is realistic about horror films). Ash on the other hand seems to more or less, actually get less fearful and more heroic as the film goes on. In fact he also seems to put on a lot of muscle tone over the course of the movie, which is odd for a story that takes place in just one night…

And then you have Army of Darkness

“Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun.”

There is no reason I should love this cult classic as much as I do…but I can’t help it… Without this movie Evil Dead II is kind of a mild waste of your time, and without Evil Dead II this movie isn’t put in context. Not that they really have anything to do with each other. The Evil Dead was true horror—gore, fear, screams, no plot or theme. Evil Dead II was some horror and some humor. Army of Darkness is, well, just humor with a slight veneer of fantasy/horror. But you knew that from the tag line on the poster “Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas.” But this movie maintains the basic requirements of a horror film through copious amounts of the undead and the demonically possessed who repeatedly threaten to swallow the souls of the living around them. And in the middle of it all is Bruce Campbell’s Ash. A man who only has his chain saw, his shot gun, his Oldsmobile and his brains (okay that one isn’t much) to save him from being trapped in the Dark Ages. Once again he is tormented by the Necronomicon, The Book of the Dead, Now if he had just remembered the third word of the three magical words (the first two being Klatu and barada…and most film buffs already know the third word) he might not have also raised the Army of Darkness from the dead…but while he possesses enough brains to make a new mechanical hand and re-engineer a car overnight, Ash seems strangely stupid when it comes to remembering little things, like not raising an army of the damned. Luckily, for your enjoyment, he is armed with a wide arsenal of sarcastic remarks… …and that video doesn’t even have half of the humorous moments from the film. As morality tales go this isn’t one of the horror stronger ones. In fact I’d be hard pressed to find anything resembling a theme. I can barely even talk about Ash as an archetypal hero when you get questions asked of Ash such as “Are all men from the future loud mouth braggarts?” And his insightful reply is “Nope. Just me, baby. Just me.” Although he does seem to pull through with a healthy dose of bravery whenever the situation calls for it. In some ways he’s what we would hope even the most average common man would be under pressure…although saying that was a thematic idea of the makers of this film might be stretching it. Although I might say that this is one of the last few good slapstick movies ever made (it was made in 1992) before the whole subgenre degraded into the worthless crude stupidity of ‘Scary Movie,” Will Ferrell and dozens of other films not worth watching. But in the end, after vanquishing the army of darkness (I really don’t care about spoilers in this case because there really wasn’t much of a plot) Ash did return to the present, with seemingly not having to explain about what happened to his girlfriend…and still tormented by the undead…

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Best Halloween Movies Lucky #13 The Sixth Sense

Do you know why you’re afraid when you’re alone? I do. I do.

[Did you really think I was going to put the other quote at the top?]

I will not be long in my discussion of this movie for two reasons. The first is that I have already discussed it on this blog and the second is “Are you living in a cave?” you’ve already seen it. I’m not going to waste my time or yours talking about things you clearly already know.

So what’s to talk about? Well as with all of these movies the focus is on the fear of death.

In this case we see the fear of death from those who have died. So afraid to admit what has happened to them they surround themselves in a lie, “they don’t even know their dead.” Obviously, at some subconscious level, some of them are beginning to understand, which is why they are attracted to the person who can actually bring them closer to their lives, but they still don’t understand it at a conscious level….which is why the ending was such a kick to the gut the first time we all saw it.

We all know this movie so there is not much more I can say that I already haven’t (although you should read the old blog as it does have some insights you might have missed…just not necessarily ones related to the horror genre.)

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Best Films of Halloween #14 The Frighteners

Give it up, Frank! Death ain’t no way to make a living!

Even a New Ager like me who believes in psychic powers, I will admit most of them are charlatans and con artists. However the story of a real psychic who makes his living off of being a charlatan psychic is, as far as I know, original…yes I’ve seen quite a few stories about charlatans developing powers but never the other way around. (Of course having Michael J. Fox as a misanthropic asshole was also a new idea.)

And the supporting cast is simply hilarious. Jack Busey as the villain is possibly one of the few actors on this planet who can look crazier than his father Gary.  R. Lee Emery as a ghostly version of his usual hardnosed drill sergeant.  And the ever underappreciated Jeffrey Combs as a mentally unstable FBI agent who is obsessed with the paranormal (yeah that may make you think Fox Mulder, but this guy makes Mulder’s most bizarre habits look mundane and rational.

Battles with the Grim Reaper himself, other worldly serial killers, psycho Feds, and a crazy lady with a very big gun. Mystery as to who is good and bad. Tension throughout most of the movie. And a good dose of humor. This movie is unknown most likely because it had a very poor showing at the box office when it first came out. This probably had something to do with the fact that the studio tried to hype the movie by pointing out that it was produced by Robert Zemeckis (whom we had all forgotten even back in the 1990’s) and completely ignored the director Peter Jackson (I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I seem to remember him going on to do something else, the name just has a certain ring to it). Again, not the greatest film ever made but it is far too underappreciated than its quality actually merits. (If nothing else this is what gave Jackson a huge amount of experience in dealing with CGI, without which we wouldn’t have our favorite Hobbits).

Here we see not the typical fear of death that is so common of horror films (although it is here) but more the fear of life. You have ghost by the bushel who are afraid to move on with their “life” (I use the term loosely), a hero so focused on what has gone wrong with his life that he is unable to move on, and a trio of villains who all seem to be radically antithetical to living life. In both your life, and afterlife, it is shown that not moving on, living life, but rather holding on to the past (in Fox’s character focusing on his wife’s death, with the killers their focus is on breaking records set by others) to the point that it is a paralytic even worse than the fear that the characters tend to inspire in others.

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Best Movies of Halloween #16 Se7en

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.

Why this movie? It’s not a slasher (like Sweeney Todd and Scream), it has nothing supernatural or otherworldly; it’s more a thriller or crime drama. So why exactly this movie? Because it has the worst monster of all—the worst parts of human nature unchecked by reason or compassion. People are theoretically capable of some truly horrific things. Luckily most people have reason and compassion in enough amounts to keep them from becoming evil, maybe not enough to become paragons of virtue, but certainly enough to keep them from doing terrible things. (Although I won’t deny history is filled with otherwise reasonable people giving into their worst fears and inclinations to commit terrible atrocities…and always in the name of virtue, of progress, of the state). But this movie shows what happens when it’s not a whole group justifying their viciousness through some kind of utilitarian excuse; this is an individual who has reached this viciousness on his own.

And the problem is that the writers put some fairly seductive half truths in what he says (because the devil wouldn’t be the devil if he didn’t know how to make a lie sound like the truth):

Only in a world this shitty could you even try to say these were innocent people and keep a straight face. But that’s the point. We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it’s common, it’s trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night.

And what makes this even more seductive is that it parallels what the character of Somerset, played by Morgan Freeman, feels throughout the entire film. That the world is getting worse. That humanity is leaving the human race and all that is left is a degenerate filth that passes as human beings. The fact that the city, in every scene, is poorly lit, it’s constantly raining, and the walls of every building falling apart behind the chipping paint. It almost seems that the world isn’t going to Hell, it’s already there. (I don’t necessarily agree with this view of the world, I actually think it’s getting better, but that’s not exactly here or there for this film).

So if we’re already in Hell, doesn’t there seem to be some kind of perverted justice in the act of the killer? No. Let me be clear, I’m saying the writers clearly wanted it to have the tone of seduction, but they have no illusions about what is right and what is wrong. Because while the killer and Somerset complain about the same things, Somerset works throughout the movie to make the world better, to try and educate others, to try and enlighten. He is a man of reason and compassion. He recognizes the problem, but chooses to respond by trying to make the world better.

The killer on the other hand just destroys. Yes there are times in life where violence is called for and there are times when we feel that treating the scum around us with said violence might be a great stress relief, but most of us don’t give into that. We vent and move on. The killer of Seven took it upon himself to meet out punishment to those who were not harming him directly (and the only two who were harming others were the drug dealer guilty of sloth and the lawyer guilty of greed, and in both cases their crimes would have warranted prison, not death). The killer in this movie wanted to say his sin was envy for the normal life of Brad Pitt’s character, it wasn’t, it was something that doesn’t even make the list of the seven deadly sins, it was an obsession with vice instead of virtue, with cursing the darkness instead of lighting a candle. That and he was batshit insane.

As a horror film it works because it shows what our darkest inclination might look like if stripped of all that is good in us.

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The Best Halloween Movies #17 Beetlejuice

Is this what happens when you die?”

Luckily for us it isn’t. But it makes a very funny experience.

The movie starts off with a seemingly giant spider climbing over a house…yeah we learn in a second that it’s only a model, but that’s still an image that does not bode well.

Monsters, demons, ghosts, exercised souls… clearly belongs in the horror category. But the mad cap insanity of director Tim Burton creates a truly bizarre comedy with a truly bizarre cast. And in the middle is our as average and boring as can be couple of ghosts played by Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin. They play a not exceedingly bright (not an acting stretch for Baldwin) but very likable (a major feat of acting for Baldwin) young couple in love who are taken out just a little too early in life.

Why does a madcap comedy make it so much higher on this list than other films which are arguably better done? Well once again the fear of death. This movie deals with the idea of what the afterlife is like. And it’s not a pleasant idea. It’s a perverse bureaucracy that has no sense or rhyme or reason. The only guide is a book that reads like technical instructions. It’s worse than oblivion or even Hell, because at least one is an end and the other is a least theoretically just. No this is all the little insanities of life taken to an exponential degree with seemingly none of the good parts carried over. It’s almost worse than anything Dante envisioned. And if this were accurate, the fear of death would be valid…thank God it’s not.

And of course I have to bring up this scene (even though Belafonte is a poor excuse for a human being)

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Greatest Halloween Movies #18 The Mummy

“It’s just a book. No harm every came from reading a book”

No I don’t mean the old version where the mummy looks like he’s been given too much Thorazine and has severe arthritis….no I’m talking about the more action packed that can best be summed up by its own words, “Rescue the damsel in distress, kill the bad guy, save the world.”

It makes it into the horror genre for a few reasons. First and foremost is that it is a remake of one of those classic horror films I find too corny to actually put on this list. Second those flesh eating scarabs are creepy as all hell…bugs that crawl under your skin and eat you from the inside out. You have the more traditional mummies working as henchmen. And then there is of course the Mummy, Imhotep, who goes through various states of gore and decay (the creepiest moment is probably when he chews on one of the scarabs that is crawling through the hole in his face, send chills up my spine).

But this movie’s virtues aren’t really in its horror aspects; it’s more in its adventure qualities. There is a certain Raiders of the Lost Ark quality to the adventure. Granted there is a far heavier aspect of fantasy and magic, but it still has the action/adventure feel that made the first Indie film so enjoyable (a quality that was pretty much lacking from all the sequels). You have a hero with wonderfully sardonic lines that come in at just the right times, a strong-willed heroine who does as much to save herself as the hero does to save her, and a bumbling sidekick who offers just the right amount of insanity. Tombs, treasure, treachery. You can see why I draw the parallels. I had been hoping that this was going to spark a wave of similar films as the genre has been hideously under used….didn’t get that…I got a decade of movies about zombies and increasingly wimpy vampires.

And while not the most intellectual film of all time, it does make some observations that I find remarkably astute. Namely in the form of foreign relations. There is a scene near the beginning of the film, where the boat all the characters are on is being invaded. Jonathan, the British brother of our heroine, looks in distain at a group of Americans who are firing randomly at the invaders and comments, “Americans,” a line that encapsulates the European view that Americans are just a bunch of cowboys (I never understood how that’s an insult). But the minute the gun wielding Americans save Jonathan from an attacker his opinion is “I say, bloody good show chaps.” Very typical European view of the last century that America is a terrible country…until they need us.

As to my running theme of fear of death, and how overcoming it is the best option, you have only to look at the villain. Imhotep is a man so afraid of death that he is willing to betray and murder friends and cause worldwide devastation just to escape death. (Yeah you could argue it was for love, but as we learned in the sequel she doesn’t really love him, so really it’s just a fear of death.  You could also point out that when he no longer has his love he kills himself in the second film, but this is more indicative of a fear to live than of a lack  of fear of death).

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The Best Movies for Halloween #20 Pitch Black

“All you people are so scared of me. Most days I’d take that as a compliment. But it ain’t me you gotta worry about now.”


I debated on whether or not to include this one. After all it’s always a bit of a debate with some movies where sci-fi ends and horror begins. (same problem with thrillers and fantasy). But in the end this movie is about fear and monsters.

It’s a movie which presents all kinds of monsters. First you have what would become our anti-hero, Vin Diesel’s Riddick, a sociopath who enjoys playing with people (and one assumes killing people although we don’t quite see that in this film). The second act gives you the tension of impending doom from the real monsters that are coming and villainy of an unethical bounty hunter who is willing to kill anyone to get what he wants. And finally, of course, we have the monsters themselves. The movie does a good job of keeping what they look like hidden in shadow for much of the film, which always heightens the evil and fear of anything that goes bump in the night.

But it’s not just the fear of the unknown. Or the fear of death. Or the fear of the dark. Or the fear of others. Or the fear of pain. Or the fear of the future. Or the fear of making the wrong choice. Or the fear of being alone. It’s all of them. In many ways this movie is a study in fear and how it affects people, or as Riddick put it, “I truly don’t know what’s gonna happen when the lights go out Carolyn but I do know, once the dying starts, this little psycho fuck family of ours is gonna rip itself apart.” And you do see some of the characters at their worst because they give into their fears.

But our two main characters Riddick (the anti-hero) and Caroline (the hero) don’t seem to fully give into these at any point, they’re afraid but they don’t let it control them. As just a movie it has a lot of things going for it, but most of all it has realistic characters, Riddick isn’t just evil for the sake of evil and Caroline has more than a few moments of weakness…but they both come out as admirable in their own way. The movie also shows that you don’t need to have a massive budget to make a good movie (after all, the sequel had a much larger budget and wasn’t nearly as good a film). Not that the director doesn’t have some odd editing choices (especially the rapid firing cutting he seems enamored with) but it is still an example of an overall well done (not great, but well done) horror film.

Then of course there are the creatures. We never really got a great look at them. Yeah we saw them from a lot of different angles in brief bursts of light and their heads were very visible, but a good look at them was never given. We always fear what we can’t see. And there is that eyeless (things without eyes are just more frightening) head that looks like a bunch of horns and teeth. Overall the creatures have a very demonic look to them.

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The Best Films of Halloween #21 Scream

scream1Rule Number one: you can never have sex. Sex equals death, okay? Number two: you can never drink or do drugs. the sin factor! It’s a sin. It’s an extension of number one. And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, “I’ll be right back.” Because you won’t be back.

The last of this set of three homage films. This movie has all the (few) good qualities of your every day slasher, and mercilessly ridicules the flaws.

There are all the self deprecating little insults. There is nothing more hilarious than the scene where Jamie Kennedy is screaming at the movie he is watching to turn around when he himself has a murderer right behind him.

The movie makes it clear that slasher films have always been trite morality plays without falling prey to the same rules (the four survivors are our heroes, but they’re far from saints…well maybe Dewey).  That the behavior of most people in slasher films in beyond stupid, “What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.”… of course running out the door doesn’t seem to work too well in Scream, but you get the point.    And instead of being the terrible cardboard cutouts of most slasher film characters, there was actually some depth and characterization, not volumes mind you, but some (which mysteriously disappeared in all the sequels…although for a lot of these actors this was the acting highlight of their careers, sad as that might be).

The other advantage to this movie is that it didn’t go overboard. Yes there was a lot of blood. But where other slasher films try to gross you out with the amount of gore, this one used it only to heighten the tension.

Clearly we see the fear of death throughout this movie, motivating pretty much all of our characters.  But it’s nice to see that it is not so traumatizing that it incapacitates them.  Most of the victims do put up a valiant fight and of course our hero gets the great one liner “Not in my movie” at the very end.  Certainly not giving into the fear of death.

The problem is, of course, that while this film was witty and somewhat original in it’s willingness to critique its own genre so brutally, the sequels were all disappointments.  Each one worse than the last.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the first one still remains an entertaining Halloween view.

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