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The 2000s: Horror’s Best Decade (Part 2) by Paul J. Williams

Please allow me to preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers will exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And, I’m not a movie historian or expert; I’m just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well.

LIFE AND TIMES OF THE LATE 2000s: A (Very) Brief Summary

The late 2000s continued the trend of worldwide heartbreak and despair:

Hurricane Katrina ravished the southeast United States and other areas in 2005, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, and the costliest in terms of damage.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 became the U.S.’s deadliest mass shooting, up until the Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016, claiming thirty-two lives.

2008 brought the Great Recession, which was felt around the globe, with many still suffering from its fallout.

Haiti was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 2010, killing over 100,000 of its citizens and leveling scores of buildings, including the Presidential Palace.

LATE 2000s HORROR: Let the Fun Begin

2005 to 2010 gave us some of the best movies in the history of cinema, and especially horror. Low budget, huge budget, foreign and domestic; every demographic is represented and we are lucky to have been alive to catch it all…

A NEW SUBGENRE IS BORN: Torture Porn

Well, admittedly, it’s not my favorite, but we have to talk about it, don’t we? Film critic David Edelstein is credited with coining the term for a new subgenre (sub to the Slasher/Body Horror genres, I suppose) that emerged in the mid-2000s called “torture porn.” These films emphasized nudity, mutilation, and sadism, and though movies associated with this subgenre are not personal preferences, I can’t not mention them.

Eli Roth wrote and directed 2005’s Hostel, a story about a group of American college students traveling across eastern Europe, and historically, the first movie assigned to the torture-porn subgenre. These poor vacationers become kidnapped and sold off to be systematically tortured and killed. Over the years, proponents of this movie have tried to extract bigger meanings from it, most notably the socioeconomic implications and the consequences of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs. Maybe; who knows? Quentin Tarantino, who was probably tangential to the production at best, smartly had his name plastered all over the promotion of the film that, despite mixed reviews, grossed over $80 million on a $5 million budget, and spawned two sequels: the second again being written and directed by Roth, who would then sit the third one out.

What followed was filmmakers trying more and more to gross out audiences:

Australia’s 2005’s Wolf Creek, using the tried-and-true promotion of being “based on a true story” has a Crocodile Dundee-type hunt and kill three backpackers in the outback. It received mixed reviews from critics, but was a hit at the box office, grossing $28 million on a $1 million budget. Wolf Creek 2 followed in 2013, but like most sequels, didn’t live up to the first film.

Turistas was released in 2006. This time harassing backpackers in Brazil, the film was received poorly by critics, but made a profit in ticket sales.

Captivity, from 2007, tried, mostly in vain, to ride the wave of success of Hostel and Saw, and ultimately grossed $11 million.

The Collector, released in 2009 from Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston, winners of Project Greenlight a thousand years ago, is a distant cousin of Saw, and now considered a cult classic. It tripled its budget, despite negative reviews, and spawned the sequel: The Collection in 2012.

ELI ROTH

With a dearth of worthwhile horror, or any horror at all, really, in the late 1990s, the early 2000s was up for grabs for anyone looking to be the next horror maestro. Love him or hate him, Eli Roth was the someone who stepped up. Starting in 2002 with Cabin Fever, which has since been remade (more on that nonsense later), Roth followed in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project with its online marketing, showed everyone who his influences are, became a hit with audiences, grossed $30 million on a $1.5 million budget, and even managed to get a lot of good reviews.

He followed with the aforementioned Hostel in 2005, also launching the “torture-porn” subgenre, and followed with Hostel II in 2007.

Since then, he’s mostly worn the Producer’s hat, being the man behind such films as The Last Exorcism and The Sacrament, and dabbles in acting, as well, with his most notable performance of him chewing the scenery as “The Bear Jew” in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 fantasy, Inglorious Basterds.

His next film looks to be a departure from horror, remaking the 1974 Charles Bronson classis, Death Wish.

LOOK WHAT I FOUND: Another New Sub-genre is Born

Obviously kicking off the modern “found-footage” subgenre is 1999’s The Blair Witch Project (shout-outs recognizing Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast), but what’s odd is that it’ll take years before another recognizable film of this nature is released.

Fred Vogel starts his August Underground “franchise” in 2001, but these are extreme genre films only a select few can sit through.

Zero Day, from 2003, though not a horror, dramatizes the Columbine massacre of 1999.

Septem8er Tapes, also not a horror, was released in 2004, and makes use of every penny of its estimated $30,000 budget, and puts a War on Terror spin on the found-footage subgenre.

The U.K.’s The Last Horror Movie from 2003 is a very disturbing movie, sort of like the found-footage version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes from brothers, John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, has become more about whether people are ever going to see it or not than about the movie itself, and in some ways, this has given more longevity to the film than if it was widely released as originally planned in 2007. First, I’ve seen it, and surprisingly, it lives up to the hype: it’s very disturbing and odd. Second, when is this ever going to be released permanently to the masses? Hell if I know, but it’d probably be the worst thing for it.

What starts off, what I guess we can call the postmodern “found-footage” frenzy, is Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. It originally premiered in 2007, then after a few ending changes suggested by Hollywood, and a fake story about Steven Spielberg being scared shitless of it, and we get the 2009 wide release, which you most likely viewed. If you don’t know what follows, then you must not be a horror fan: almost $200 million at the box office and, count them, six sequels to date. Not surprisingly, it has (almost) all the same ingredients that made Blair Witch a phenomenon: D.I.Y. filming and editing on a miniscule budget, amateur actors, more happening in the viewer’s mind than on screen, effective online and word-of-mouth marketing, and ultimately, perfect timing for a movie like this to come out.

[REC] is a 2007 Spanish found-footage/zombie film that shows just how much “fun” these types of movies can be. It doesn’t take long getting into the action with our attractive news reporter, watching the craziest 75 minutes of her life. [REC] became a huge hit and spawned a franchise.

Lake Mungo, from Australia, has several release dates between 2009 and 2010, but is ultimately a 2008 movie. More like one of these true-crime documentaries that are so popular today, the movie’s presented with interviews, news footage, etc. Ultimately a story about a family’s grief, Lake Mungo is very effective and downright creepy at times. I do see it listed on various “Top 10” lists every now and again, but I acknowledge it’s a divisive film and, admittedly, it’s a personal favorite.

Quarantine is the 2008 American remake of [REC] by the aforementioned Dowdle Brothers, and in my opinion, might actually be better. One thing I like about the movie is right from the beginning they shed the idea that this is actually real footage, using actors, including Jennifer Carpenter in the lead, that you have seen before. Just like [REC], we jump right into the action, following the reporter covering a local firehouse in L.A. Jump scares, creepy visuals, and claustrophobia follow, and it’s all a blast.

2008’s Cloverfield is what happens when you make a found-footage movie, which historically are independent and very low budget, by a Hollywood studio on a $170 million budget. A recipe for disaster, no? Nope. What you get is one of the best monster movies in horror cinema history. (Yeah, I said it.) J.J. Abrams and Co. make us hang out with a party of yuppies for a full half-hour before anything happens, but once it does, what a ride. Showing only glimpses of the monster throughout, he (or she) finally gets their close-up at the end (literally). A sequel has been talked about ever since, but it seems 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane and the upcoming 2017 movie God’s Particle, described as being in the “Cloverfield universe” is as close as we’re going to get…and that’s fine with me.

The Last Exorcism, produced by the aforementioned Eli Roth, is a 2010 “young girl possessed by a demon” movie presented in the same way as Lake Mungo in “documentary” format. It starts off great: perfectly casted and acted by Patrick Fabian as Cotton, a fraudulent Reverend, and Ashley Bell, as the aforementioned young girl. For me, the ending soured the movie, but it was received well by critics and movie-goers.

Though, not technically a horror, I feel I would be remiss not to mention 2010’s Troll Hunter from Norway. Another “documentary” where we follow some poor documentarians who wind up finding way more than they bargained for, the movie is a real fun take on Norwegian culture and folktales.

ROB ZOMBIE

Always a horror movie fan, musician, and former front-man of the band White Zombie, Rob Zombie started his filmmaking career with House of 1000 Corpses. Filmed in 2000, this movie would go on an odyssey before being theatrically released in 2003, after being acquired and dumped by one distribution company after another. The concern, not surprisingly, the content and potential for an NC-17 rating. Once released, you can guess the reception: critically panned, but it did manage to make a profit, most likely due to loyal Zombie and horror genre fans, and people finally getting to see a movie with so much mystique surrounding it over the previous few years.

Lions Gate Entertainment, seeing the financial potential they had with Zombie, quickly approached him inquiring about a sequel to Corpses. What follows is what is commonly regarded as Zombie’s best movie in his filmography, with Lords of Salem in the running as well: 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. More grounded and visceral than Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects follows the Firefly Family who are on the run from just as crazy Sheriff Wydell. More successful with critics than Corpses and just as profitable in the box office.

When the Powers-That-Be decided it was time to remake one of the best horror movies of all time, they chose Rob Zombie in 2007 to do his take on John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, and boy did he change things up. Despite my opinion about the movie (I prefer the original, to say the least), the film was a smash-hit with audiences and prompted the obligatory sequel in 2009, which fared far worse this time with both movie-goers and critics.

Zombie has remained in “the business” ever since, mostly with horror, but it seems he’s eager to reach out to other genres to write and direct.

KNOCK, KNOCK… Anybody Home?

Nobody was safe anywhere during the 2000s, and if you think locking yourself inside your house was the most secure place to be, you’d be dead wrong. The home invasion subgenre broke out big during this decade. Here are some victims:

2002 starts us off with Panic Room, though not exactly a horror. The famed David Fincher directs a stellar cast in this tale of a single mom, Jodie Foster, who protects herself and her daughter, the new Kristen Stewart, from a band of thieves. Ultimately not one of Fincher’s better films, the movie examines many themes and is still worth a watch.

Ils, the 2006 movie also listed in the New French Extremism category, opens with a great, Scream-esque prologue, then goes on to set-up a simple story of a young couple besieged in their huge home by a clique of criminals, who once their identities are revealed, turns out to have a pretty cool ending.

Funny Games is Michael Haneke’s 2007 American shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian movie, that does more than tell a terrifying home-invasion story, it plays with the audience. Characters break the fourth-wall, the movie rewinds to replay a scene giving it a different outcome, and ultimately, Mr. Haneke asks: If you think this movie is too nihilistic, then at what point did you stop watching?

2007’s Inside, also listed in the New French Extremism section, is a bloody revenge tale set on Christmas Eve as a very pregnant single mother fends off an intruder all night. The end reveal when the antagonist’s motivations are exposed is a really cool twist.

Strangers is a 2008 movie by first-time screenwriter/director Bryan Bertino, which also tells a depressing story of a young couple stalked and terrorized in their home for…well, just because. Taking inspiration from John Carpenter, the film is very effective and despite mixed reviews, grossed a sizable profit on its $9 million budget. Bertino was one of the rare spec-script stories of the 2000s, but oddly he has remained relatively dormant in the years since.

While, for whatever reason, Bertino did not produce any more low budget horrors for a while, other film-makers like himself sure did, which is where we’ll pick-up next time with Part 3 of 2000’s Horror…

(Photo of Lake Mungo from Pinterest.)

Crash Palace Support Team

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Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, and his short films have appeared in numerous festivals. Although Paul’s the man behind Rolling Dark Productions, he’s also a detective in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul’s a Medal of Honor recipient from the City of Newark for actions on December 14, 2002

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Macabre Movies 2017

The Last Knock

 

What does 2017 have in store for the horror fan? Well, Billy and Jonny take a look at the year ahead to uncover upcoming macabre movies from The Blackcoats Daughter and XX to Psychopaths and Rock, Paper, Dead. But wait! There’s more! The year will bring many a sequel as well as remakes, and we’ll look at them today.

Billy apologizes for the occasional cough and for feeling a bit out of it – thanks to the damn flu. But the show must go on, and Billy’s happy he wasn’t patient zero for the zombie virus.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@ScreamHorrorMag @SiaraTyr @LianeMoonRaven @ScarecrowVideo @patricia_eddy @machinemeannow @ValeriePrucha @DeadAsHellHP @stycks_girl @Israel_Finn @MelanieMcCurdie @TimothiousSmith @RealJillyG @issacrthorne @mickeykeating @st_vincent @StephenKing @JordanPeele @THETomSavini @palkodesigns and John Eddy

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments. Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay, or Michael Bay, or BAE. Whatever.

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) – An Appreciation by Jonny Numb

halloween-iii-season-of-the-witch-images-8b7263d5-41d2-4298-bfb5-9dc7114b896 HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

[98 minutes. R. Director: Tommy Lee Wallace]

In the featurette on Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, producer Irwin Yablans, going to bat for the late Moustapha Akkad, takes swing after swing at the creative team, insisting that the removal of burgeoning slasher icon Michael Myers from the series was “a bad idea,” and that he had little involvement with the film outside of “collecting a check.” This not only typifies the cynical stereotype of a film producer, but is an intriguing echo of Akkad’s own cash-grab mentality for the series, which reared its head something bigger and uglier as it continued miserably through the ‘80s and ‘90s. The franchise was never really about Michael Myers: it was about guys like Yablans and Akkad docking another yacht at the pier.

My own history with Season of the Witch – and the Halloween series overall – is odd. For the most part, I prefer the lesser-liked entries as opposed to the canonized fan favorites (I think John Carpenter’s 1978 original is, like The Shining, one of the most overrated horror films of all time). The irony is, I grew up disliking III for the reason Yablans stated – a Halloween film without Myers? That’s like a Reese’s without peanut butter – what’s the point?

But there was something to it all the same. Along with my lukewarm perception of some of the other series entries, I found myself returning to III time and again over the years.

Now I think I know why: rejected initially for its refusal to conform to what the series had established up to that point (the Michael-Loomis-Laurie triangle) – along with a title and marketing campaign that confused potential ticket-buyers – the film failed at the box office. In the ensuing years, as the producers returned to the Michael mythos (following them down the dire “Thorn” rabbit-hole), the original icon proved the law of diminishing returns with some truly abysmal outings.

This, I think, is when the attitude toward III began to change. I know several horror fans who consider it the best of the series because it ditches Michael (outside of his briefly-glimpsed movie-within-a-movie image on TV monitors), and I can imagine those – like myself – who were harsh on it before, noticing new wrinkles in its actually-very-good quality as the Michael slasher antics became indistinguishable from the imitators he spawned.

So, in a way, the producers’ insistence on driving the Myers story into the ground probably worked to III’s ultimate advantage.

While the film didn’t necessarily launch rugged tough-guy actor Tom Atkins into the stratosphere, it did establish his signature character: confident yet not macho; a deadbeat dad, yet not a bad guy; an Average Joe who still wants to do the right thing – not only for his fellow human, but for the world at large. He’s the type of doctor who goes about work with half his shirt unbuttoned, and casts a spell of desire over women almost half his age! He’s the type of blue-collar hero who does his best thinking with a six-pack of Miller or a bottle of bourbon. As typical as it sounds, we want him to save the world and get the girl at the end.

III’s reduced focus on horror is something that also may have soured word of mouth for those who actually did venture out to see it during its theatrical run. Most genre hybrids at that time (like, say, Alien) seamlessly interweaved elements of sci-fi and horror, while the semi-comedic likes of Night of the Creeps were still several years away (you could cite 1981’s Student Bodies, but that was another film that didn’t attain cult status until years later). III integrates everything from Noir (silhouetted characters, smoky bars, rain-streaked windows, seedy motel rooms) to science fiction (Atkins’ “Stop it!” plea at the end is an effective riff on “You’re next!” from Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to horror (the film takes place in the isolated town of Santa Mira, rich with banal, Lovecraft-styled menace).

Like many latter-day remakes and homages, III shares more in common with its predecessors than most of its detractors would probably like to admit: Carpenter’s Halloween is alluded to early on as “the immortal classic” and serves as the preamble to the televised “giveaway” that frames the final minutes; ditto the extensive use of over-the-shoulder shots and silhouettes of stoic characters glaring on. In a nod to Halloween II, some early action takes place in a hospital, wherein an assassin (stuntman Dick Warlock), after stalking the halls Michael Myers-style, kills a catatonic old man before proceeding to incinerate himself in the parking lot (remember when Myers went on a hospital rampage before meeting a similarly fiery “end”?).

The elements of mystery are well-integrated, and in telling a different kind of story, writer-director Tommy Lee Wallace (the It television miniseries) avoids a lot of the pitfalls that marred Carpenter’s film. What I found frustrating about the original Halloween (and something that was corrected rather well in the 1981 sequel) was the way it telegraphed its scary moments well in advance – whether by triggering an intrusive musical cue or making the viewer privy to information other characters were not.

III, on the other hand, leaves the audience to speculate on what might be happening in Santa Mira, where the lone industry is Silver Shamrock, a novelty company that manufactures Halloween masks. We pick up on information only as the characters do; thus, an atmosphere of suspense is maintained throughout – Wallace’s script may be the stuff of pulp dreams, but it’s almost brilliant in its execution. And the fact that Silver Shamrock’s founder, Conal Cochran (Robocop’s Dan O’Herlihy) ingratiatingly leaves some of Atkins’s questions unanswered upon his capture is surprisingly endearing. When revealing one of the Stonehenge stones in his factory warehouse, he laughingly states, “We had a time getting it here – you wouldn’t believe how we did it!” And honestly? That’s all we need to know.

But for those who haven’t seen it, the plot involves lifelike robots in business suits, the Celtic festival of Samhain (which, if you’ll recall, was mentioned several times in Halloween II), and a plot to kill the children of America on Halloween night.

The key supporting cast is wonderful: Stacey Nelkin plays a Nancy Drew-ish daughter pursuing the explanation for her kindly father’s murder, her performance reverberating with as much common sense as wide-eyed wonder as events unfold. O’Herlihy essays one of the most unconventional villains ever depicted on-screen; with charm to burn, he lays out his plans for world annihilation with the confidence of a Bond villain, but is never smug. If anything, his bemusement at his own fate nicely mirrors his P.T. Barnum approach to chaos. And if we want to go even further, his character is an apt corollary to Sebastian (William Sanderson) in Blade Runner (released the same year) – a lonely toymaker who relates more to automatons than people.

Granted, there are things in III that are kind of stupid: from the cheaply-affixed buttons that fall off the kids’ masks (calling into question the robots in charge of Cochran’s quality control); the way Atkins – who isn’t seen operating a computer at any point in the film – is able to easily cue up the Silver Shamrock “death feed” at the climax; and how, mere minutes before the mass murder is scheduled to occur, Atkins is able to get a national TV station on the phone and, despite his manic demeanor…well, I won’t give it away. (But seriously: in 1982, were there really only three television channels in the United States?) There’s also the “hide-behind-the-moving-mask-cart” trick that Sideshow Bob subsequently used on an episode of The Simpsons. These elements would be distracting in a lesser film, but here they add a peculiar charm.

The plot is already out there, so why not shoot for the moon – or, at the very least, Stonehenge?

4 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) spends his days clowning around for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and writes horrific movie reviews by night. His work can also be found at loudgreenbird.com. He judges other things via antisocial media @JonnyNumb (Twitter and Letterboxd), and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace.

(Halloween III photo from Atherton.)

Crash Analysis: Damned Dozen: The Best Horror Sequels

final-destination-5No other genre has as many franchises as horror. And as we all know, whether commercially or independently produced, if a horror film does even remotely well, there’s a chance we’ll see at least two more of them – at least.

Oddly enough, horror is a tough genre. Most movies can’t stand on their own because they lack story and/or are poorly made. Granted, there are many films fans of the genre will disagree about, but quite often conversation comes down to one movie or another and its sequels. Though most sequels are despised because they are watered down versions of the original, some stand tall, maybe even taller than the original.

Here’s my list, for better or worse, that got it right.

 

Day of the Dead (1985) – 3 stars

Some complain that this third installment from George A. Romero in his much loved “Dead” series is a bit too talky, but that’s the point. Unlike the first two action based movies, this one centers on the drama surrounding a military outpost. From many reports, Romero couldn’t secure the budget for a bigger venture, so he went into the Wampum Mine near Pittsburgh and made this claustrophobic horror happen.

 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) – 3 stars

Much maligned by some “Halloween Purists”, this film fits right in with John Carpenter’s original intention for the series: to make a new “Halloween” film each year. Yes, the robots are a stretch, but this first horror movie from writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace has a chilling premise as a druid tries to unleash his power, and star, Tom “Thrill Me” Atkins rocks his role. Enjoy the suspense because, as of this posting, there’s only 284 days to Halloween…

 

The Human Centipede III (2015) – 3 stars

This is a much hated capstone to Tom Sixx’s creepy-crawlie franchise of mad scientist mayhem, but actor Dieter Laser brings the intensity as if he consumed the spirit of Dennis Hopper from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The comedy, satire, and carnage come to a master mixx of blood and sarcasm in an American prison gone mad. The great thing is that Sixx doesn’t take himself seriously and purposefully went over the top, and out, with a naked dance.

 

Inferno (Italy, 1980) – 3 stars

Part of Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, this element features the Mother of Darkness (Mater Tenebrarum). The film works on many levels thanks to wonderful color and cinematography from Romano Albini, and lighting and special visual effects from the renowned Mario Bava. Yes, from the beginning the story lacks structure and remains convoluted. However, this orientation (or disorientation) only adds to the terror as we fall deep into a coven of witches.

 

Leprechaun 3 (1995) – 3 stars

With a strong story, thanks to screen scribe David DuBos, the great Warwick Davis finds himself immersed in a solid adventure for a change. But making wishes in Las Vegas with a leprechaun’s coin may not be the smartest move in the world, which keeps the tale moving in laughs and gore. The acting is anchored by the fabulous Caroline Williams (who will appear in this year’s Blood Feast remake) in this fatal adventure in “Sin City”.

 

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991) – 3 stars

If you have to see one of Charles Band’s Puppet Master movies, this is the one. Directed by the prolific genre helmsman, David DeCoteau, with a story from C. Courtney Joyner, we have a tight tale of Nazis, puppets, and horror. Better yet, the villain is the always stellar Richard Lynch, and the cast also includes the great Guy Rolfe as Toulon, as well as Ian Abercrombie. All three are gone, but they live on in this Full Moon Production.

 

Wishing Stairs (South Korea, 2003) – 3 stars

Two friends, played by Ji-hyo Song and Han-byeol Park, study ballet at an out of the way boarding school with an interesting staircase of 28 steps – because if one counts up to the mysterious 29th step, which may suddenly appear, she gets a wish that is a far cry from being free. One of only two films from director Jae-yeon Yun, he successfully nails the ghostly creep factor thanks to great acting and Jeong-min Seo’s cinematography.

 

Evil Dead II (1987) – 3.5 stars

A retelling of the 1981 original, or a sequel rehash? Who cares. Superior to the first film, and devoid of Army of Darkness’s silliness, the most excellent Bruce Campbell reprises his role of Ash and takes on the demons from the skin covered “Necronomicon.” Relentless gore and comedy keep the movie rocking in groovy fashion as Sam Raimi and his 1973 Olds deliver his best work – ever. You can even find his brother Ted as zombie Henrietta. Hail to the King, baby!

 

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (UK/USA, 1988) – 3.5 stars

No one believes poor Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) about the Cenobites and the bloodbath they’ve left behind, so she finds herself in a psychiatric hospital. This is where bizarro Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham) resurrects her evil (or single minded?) stepmother (Claire Higgins). Soon the puzzle box is opened and the surreal realm of Pinhead (Doug Bradley) is revealed in Salvador Dali like fashion. Enjoy the terror trip.

 

Saw II (USA/Canada, 2005) – 3.5 stars

The entire Saw series, including its mistake ridden original, tried to outdo itself with convoluted time shifts and wilder traps, but this is the only segment to get it all right: from fear and isolation, to group dynamics and a mental chess playing mastermind in John Kramer (Tobin Bell) out to teach lessons to those who have squandered life. The movie is a twisted adventure of physical torment and psychological hardship from director Darren Lynn Bousman.

 

Final Destination 5 (USA/Canada/Hong Kong/Singapore, 2011) – 4 stars

Once again, we find a group of young people who cheat Death and struggle to survive as they are brought back into the folds of its moth-eaten coat of rot. Unlike the other stories in the franchise, this one is well-rounded, inhabited by interesting characters, and the movie incorporates the best suspenseful death scene in the series. Better still, the unexpected ending is clearly worth a rental for those fans who like a turn for the worst with their horror features.

 

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) – 4 stars

A new family, a new video, and a box of old VHS tapes, brings us some creepy footage and an accompanying array of scares. Cinematographer Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) moves in with his girlfriend Julie (Lauren Bittner) only to discover that her daughters’ imaginary friend Tobi might be a real, evil entity. The pace is strong, the characters solid, and those elements of fear keep on coming.

 

Outside of the genre, I have one sequel that is a guilty pleasure I cannot do without, and that’s Richard Roundtree’s Shaft in Africa (1973). Yes, it’s a 3.5 star favorite as Shaft finds himself overseas trying to break up a modern slavery ring out of Paris – and it rocks! So what are your favorite sequels? Better still, do you have a favorite franchise? If so, let me know in the comments section so we can talk about. After all, there are so many damn sequels, I’m sure I’ll face palm myself over some of your choices.

Remember to catch the latest episode of THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast every Sunday night at 9 PM ET, right here or on iTunes. Cohost Jonny Numb and I promise to bring you worthwhile shows serving as forays into the uncanny – and beyond.

Crash Analysis Support Team: FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 – A Guest Post Appreciation from Jonny Numb

maxresdefault[86 minutes. R. Director: Steve Miner]

Who knew how epic 1981 would be for establishing two of the most long-running slasher series in the horror genre? While the logic behind franchising a successful original always comes with a fair share of reservations from fans, critics, and filmmakers alike (not to mention valid questions on the merits of art and craft), it’s hard to argue that HALLOWEEN II (following John Carpenter’s highly-regarded 1978 film) and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (following Sean S. Cunningham’s critically-scorned 1980 original) made genuine efforts to apply the mechanics of a continuing storyline to slowly but surely advance the mythos of their characters. Despite their flaws, what both of these films have that a majority of today’s horror franchises do not is a level of imagination and craft that nods to its source without leaning on it excessively as a result of creative bankruptcy. Neither HALLOWEEN II nor FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 were fearful of taking their plots and characters in new directions, all while firmly cementing the mechanics of American “body count” horror.

While FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 has its following within the slasher subgenre, it also tends to get lost in the shadow of its predecessor – not to mention the Michaels, Freddys, and countless other faceless slashers who kept the ‘80s rip-off cycle going strong and cynical. That being said, PART 2 is easily the best of the FRIDAY THE 13TH bunch, a film that actually grows finer with age.

Director Steve Miner (who got his start in film by working on Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) shows more skill than most would give him credit for – the handheld POV shots and the ground-level images of suspicious feet wandering around are exceedingly effective (the pre-title sequence, which takes place after a rainstorm, is thoroughly chilling), and his use of the camera as a tool for misdirection succeeds more than it fails. (Granted, Miner would squander these skills with the truly awful FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 the following year.) And some of the De Palma-styled tracking shots show an ambition and patience that is pleasantly surprising for a subgenre that has come to pride itself more on extra-gory “money shots.” Even the fake-out jump-scares (a cat through a window; a hand on a shoulder), which have become the bane of horror’s existence over the past couple decades, seem less obvious – and certainly less pronounced – here.

While Harry Manfredini’s screeching string score is as overstated as ever, it tends to only go into overdrive during the credits and the periodic chases that punctuate the film (during which it’s appropriate).

If Ron Kurz’s script doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, it is still a model of economy – after an extended prologue in which we catch up with the previous film’s survivor, Alice (Adrienne King), PART 2 has roughly an hour to tell its new story. And, while certain aesthetic techniques are employed to align this sequel with its predecessor (the use of white-fades; slow motion during the climactic action), the film feels more like a genuine continuation than a cynical cash-grab.

Jason (Steve Dash, masked; Warrington Gillette, unmasked), the boy who was purported to have drowned due to camp counselor negligence years before, is still out and about, slaying the counselors-in-training at a neighboring camp. The preamble to the inevitable slaughter is well-executed, with some endearing character introductions (Amy Steel is the assertive and snarky psych major; John Furey the resourceful alpha male; and gawky ‘80s mainstay Stu Charno (CHRISTINE) the crass comic relief) and the requisite sexual interludes (though this aspect is more restrained than in later series entries).

Whereas the 80’s slasher cycle would turn into an equal-opportunity murder machine, with only the Final Girl remaining to vanquish evil (until the next sequel, anyway), PART 2 sees fit to let at least half of its unwitting characters live (when offered the chance for one last night on the town, a majority take advantage, while the mayhem ramps up back at camp). And when the odd-trio of Ginny (Steel), Paul (Furey), and Ted (Charno) talk of the Jason lore at a crowded local pub, the speculative nature of the conversation betrays an interest and intelligence that most films of this stripe only bother with in simple catch-all terms to explain the method to the killer’s madness (it bears noting that Ginny makes a decision to stop drinking after the conversation, a factor that may play into her survival later). Furthermore, this conversation isn’t a mere bit of padding to delay the inevitable – it is practically applied during the climax, wherein a cornered Ginny uses child psychology to tame the savage Jason (albeit temporarily). As a result, Steel truly earns her status as one of the most astute and resourceful Final Girls in the slasher subgenre, and not just a survivor by default.

Jason himself possesses flaws here that went AWOL in the later entries that presented him as a superhuman killing machine. His mountain-man attire (overalls; flannel shirt), sack head (this was before the more popular hockey mask), and his shack (made of disparate scavenged parts) all serve as backwoods extensions of his speechless character – despite his actions, there is a bizarre, Quasimodo-styled sympathy lurking under the surface of PART 2.

While the jump-scare false ending has been done to death (established by the original, and ripped off by subsequent FRIDAY THE 13THs with no shame), Miner’s clever misdirection makes it effective, even today – and while the mystery of its final moments remains maddeningly unresolved (“Where’s Paul?” indeed!), it makes for the type of ambiguous ending that goes unseen in most horrors. There’s a lot more going on in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 than you might think, and that’s a great thing.

4 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb (aka Jon Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK podcast and prefers cats (sorry, Muffin). He can be found on anti-social media outlets Twitter and Letterboxd @JonnyNumb, and his movie reviews occasionally pop up at numbviews.livejournal.com.

(Photo from Bloody Disgusting.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with Oklahoma Ward and Nikki Alonso – CRAWL OR DIE II

The Last KnockWriter/director Oklahoma Ward and star Nikki Alonso come back to talk about CRAWL OR DIE II, pre-production, Hollywood deals, distribution efforts, merchandise – and we even learn how Tank got her name.

And if you haven’t seen 2014’s best sci-fi/horror, CRAWL OR DIE, now is the time!

 

Horror Diary: Hackneyed Horror

I just finished watching Joe Lynch’s third-rate snoozer WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END (2007). Why did I wait so long? Because I knew it would be a pathetic, tongue-in-cheek romp without redeeming value. Then again, that’s all Lynch churns out as if he’s a new Ed Wood – though Wood had class. The only good thing about the venture was Rollins, as always, who delivers even in the face of total bullshit.

Why a snoozer? Same schtick we’ve seen a million times. No new ground here, though a good game show gone wrong concept could have worked if better screenwriters had been at the helm instead of the hackneyed-ridden team of Turi Meyer and Al Septien.

Instead of watching this mindless trash, at least do yourself a favor and indulge in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977). After all, Lynch and company just did a mash-up of both cult faves and brought it to the screen with some fresh eye candy for a new teen scream audience.

No, I won’t write up a full review because it isn’t worth the effort for this “no star”.

There’s a lot better fare out there…

Crash Analysis: THE THING (2011)

Add to your list of most disappointing prequels

Antarctic team finds one pissed off alien

Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivered a character as vapid as Kristen Stewart in real life. And that was the most creepy part of this prequel.

And yes, Matthijs van Heijningen really tried to deliver, but he came up short. Part of the problem is certainly his as director, but the other culprit is screenwriter Eric Heisserer. However, I have a funny feeling executive producers are to blame as well as the feature’s three editors. All will soon be revealed.

So, back in the early 1980s, John Carpenter helms THE THING (released in 1982), which apparently pays more respect to John W. Campbell Jr.’s short story “Who Goes There?” than THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1956). However, some Hollywood pinhead couldn’t keep their hands off one of the best horrors ever made and decided to greenlight a prequel.

Carpenter’s horror, which is one of my favorites of all time, has several elements that make it work: Characters you can route for, atmosphere (visuals as well as music), mysteries both the characters and audience can appreciate, and an alien on a mission. For Heisserer, he took the “fuck the intelligence of the audience” Hollywood approach, and made some very bad calls.

The “smart” alien of Carpenter’s grand tale simply wants to hide in a human body and curl up in the cold until a rescue party arrives. For whatever ridiculous reason, in the prequel he’s equivalent to a homicidal maniac with a visceral, animalistic instinct for survival at all costs, which is a far cry from an interstellar pilot who had crash-landed over 100,000 years before.

Another problem: Way too many characters. And when one sees nearly fifteen characters, two things are certain: Most will perish in a bloodfest, and since we won’t have time to know them, their deaths will be meaningless to us. Character development is sorely lacking. As for the heroine, Kate Lloyd (Winstead), she is not a reluctant hero, but a passive-aggressive pseudo-wimp that goes through the motions like a veteran prostitute. Kate lacked the character arc of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley (ALIEN 1979), or even the post-teen zeal of a Princess Leia.

In 1982, the suspense and tension was quite gripping, thanks to Bill Lancaster’s brilliant script and Carpenter’s vision. But Heijningen and Heisserer brought no scares, no suspense and minimal tension – and the latter came about due to character conflict, not the life and death struggle with an alien species.

For special effects, Bob Bottin’s ultra-amazing work from 1982 still holds up. And no third-rate, cartoonish CGI garbage was used. In this story of THE THING, many of the makeup effects are rock solid, and some of the CGI is up to par. However, computer generated effects are clearly overused causing believability to diminish.

But if this was a legitimate prequel, why did the filmmaker’s copy from so many of Lancaster’s and Carpenter’s scenes? At one point, it was obvious that there was so much over-lapping in action as well as dialogue, I thought the notion of a prequel was ludicrous. Yet, I was surprised how by movie’s end the story had clearly become a prequel – and these latter minutes were the very best of the movie for the transition was handled beautifully. Sadly, the rest of the story didn’t hold up and left me releasing harsh breaths like a frustrated parent with triplets caught up in the “terrible twos”.

It was great for the filmmakers to replicate certain outcomes to fit the destroyed Norwegian camp we see in the beginning of the 1982 film, yet errors were made. In the Carpenter film, we see a VHS tape of the Norwegians blowing up the ice around the ship. In this story, a glacier-like cover hangs over the ship like an umbrella. Why? And if the ship was so damaged, and the alien had to step out into the cold, why did “it” jump in and start ‘er up to try and escape? Illogical. Another interesting element never explained in both films is how the alien ended up in a higher elevation than the ship. Yet, one only has to imagine a heavier object sinking deeper than a body that may rise higher due to geological maneuvers.

Finally, there is a major point of contention that some fans of Carpenter’s work have not even noticed yet. In the prequel, Kate realizes that the alien can only replicate organic life. This means, for example, someone with fillings would be mimicked by the alien – but with perfect teeth. This also means that since Childs (Keith David) was wearing his earring in the end scene with MacReady (Kurt Russell) in Carpenter’s film, he could not have been infected with the “virus”. However, this does not mean he could have been infected later and this does not mean Mac had the virus. For all we know, both could have frozen to death. Then again, we don’t know what happened to Nauls (TK Carter).

Overall, the filmmakers should have made a sequel about a team that discovers something in the snow rescue teams had missed when going through the Norwegian camp as well as McMurlte. Instead, they went the silly prequel route and didn’t even bother to come up with a new title.

We are left with a lackluster movie of shallow characters that pales in comparison to one of Carpenter’s very best. Watch it if you choose, but do not expect to be thrilled. You’ll most likely get more shocks and scares from people watching at Wal-mart.

1.5 out of 5 stars