Thursday, December 20, 2012

Creepshow Franchise

Seems I can’t stop talking about horror movies, no matter what time of year it is, even if it’s only a few days until Christmas.  I guess I should watch corny films like Elf or Family Man or Four Christmases, but when I reach for my movie binders, I find myself grabbing the ones marked “horror” instead of “holiday.”  And even when I do take down one of my horror binders, I habitually leaf through them to pick out the Blu-Rays over the DVDs.  I can’t help it, I get a kick out of how good some of these films look all cleaned up and looking more crisp and clear than they did when they were first released in theaters.  

The first movie in question—Creepshow—unfortunately, I haven’t purchased the Blu-Ray disc.  The sole reason being is that the disc is so bare-bones, I don’t think it’s worth it.  It’s probably a simple transfer that wasn’t cleaned up and probably looks just as good as the DVD.  And with the lack of special features, in my mind, it’s just a waste of money.
A while back (maybe 5 or 6 years ago), it was announced that a special edition DVD was to be released, complete with deleted scenes, a “making of” featurette, cast interviews…the works.  But shortly after that was announced, it was publicized that the special edition was only to be issued in the UK, not the United States.  Something to do with the rights of distribution between Universal Studios having overseas rights and Warner Bros. having domestic…I’m not sure.  All I knew, and still know, is that the US wasn’t going to be privy to that release, so we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about Creepshow.

Back in 1982, this movie was released on my birthday—November 12th.  I had just turned 14, but my parents weren’t really big movie-goers, so, in turn, I wasn’t a movie-goer.  I had to sit in class and hear the other kids talk about how cool and scary Creepshow was and wish I could’ve seen the movie as I sat watching the TV spot come on, teasing me from my television set.  It wasn’t until another year went by before I was able to watch it when it premiered on the Showtime cable channel.  Of course, it was only broadcast during late hours, so I was only allowed to watch it until it was my bedtime, so, again, I was only able to watch a fraction of the movie.  It wasn’t until another year or so before I was able to watch it in its entirety and I fell in love with it all over again.

When it comes to horror anthologies, Creepshow is the best, in my book.  It was just a perfect storm for this film to be made.  With the two masters of horror (at the time), Stephen King and George Romero, you couldn’t go wrong.  The beginning of the 80s was the best time for Stephen King.  Nearly every year there was a movie being made out of a novel or a short story by him, so it was a no-brainer for studio execs to give this film the green light.  And with Romero helming this film, it only sealed the deal.  

The anthology features five tales—plus a wrap-around story to book-end the film—and it’s a wild ride.  Most of the film is presented as if you’re reading one of the horror comic books of the 1950s, complete with colorful backdrops and comic book frames shown during some of the terrifying moments to give it that extra thrill. 

With “Father’s Day,” you’ve got Romero’s specialty, the dead body of a father who was killed years ago is reanimated and decides to come out of his grave to get the Father’s Day cake (do people have cake on Father’s Day?) he feels he deserves.  This is an eerie one, especially the ambiance created during the graveyard scenes.

For some of the funniest comedic moments in the film, “The Lonely Death of Jordy Verrill” showcases that Stephen King (in the lead role of this tale) really does have some comedy acting chops.  He plays a country bumpkin who finds a meteorite which has landed in his field.  But the radioactive liquid that spills from the inside of it causes “growing” concern.

“Something to Tide You Over” is a nice little supernatural story, again with corpses becoming reanimated, as an eccentric rich guy decides to punish his wife and the man she’s having an affair with by burying them from the neck down on his beach property, letting the tide come up slowly to drown them.  But they find a way to exact revenge.

My favorite chapter of the whole film is “The Crate.”  That is the one story out of the whole movie that gave me night terrors for a while.  I was afraid to go to sleep and had to check the closet and under the bed for a few years (still do every once in a while).  Basically, it’s an old crate that’s found underneath some stairs in a college, but the crate is home to some creature that’s just waiting for someone to open up the crate so that he can eat.

And for something that’s truly disgusting, “They’re Creeping Up on You” will satisfy you.  This is the one story that really grosses me out, every time I watch it.  An eccentric germ-a-phobe, Upson Pratt, has the most advanced apartment to keep germs and bugs out as he conducts his business and life without stepping out of his apartment.  But somehow, bugs check in…until Mr. Pratt checks out.

I can’t forget about the wrap-around story, which begins at the very start of the movie with Tom Atkins acting like a total dick to his son, all because the kid was reading the “Creepshow” horror comic book.  Right before going into the beginning credits, the kid (played by Stephen King’s son) hopes his dad rots in hell.  A skeletal figure appears at his window and the kid gives the impression that he’s happy about this.  Holy shit!  I would’ve screamed for my dad, telling him how sorry I was that I was reading that crap and that I’d never read that type of comic book again!  But, being that it’s a movie, the kid punches his fist against his other hand, as if he’s going to beat the shit out of somebody, and the introductory credits roll.  The story ties up at the end of the film with the son getting some revenge on his dad.

One thing, for a horror movie, there sure are a lot of stars in it.  You might recognize Ed Harris in the first tale as he boogies it on down during a little disco dance scene.  As I’d said already, Stephen King does a great job in the one tale that happens to be a one-man show.  You’ll recognize the great Leslie Nielson as the antagonist in the third tale, along with Ted Danson.  Hal Holbrook and Adrian Barbeau are featured in the fourth story.  And, last but not least, is another great actor, Mr. E.G. Marshall as Upson Pratt in the last tale.
The practical effects (seeing that this is way before CGI’s time) are pretty awesome and were done by the wizard himself, Tom Savini.  He even has a funny cameo at the end of the film as one of the garbage truck workers.  His creation of the creature from the “Crate” story still chills me.  I love the little touch of having all the drool drip out of the creature’s mouth when it’s about to eat someone.  Savini definitely leaves his signature in this film.

Lastly, I can’t forget the music score.  The composition by John Harrison positively makes this movie all the more creepy.  The piano gives the film the musical nuance it needs, just listening to it gives me goosebumps.  Every time I watch this film and hear the music that accompanies it, I feel I'm watching a spooky movie from the 40s...all because of that movie score.

Now, Creepshow 2 came around five years later, albeit not directed by George Romero, but he still had a hand in it.  The stories were still penned by Stephen King, or taken from his short stories, but there were only three tales this time around, again, with a wrap around story.  Right away, you can tell that this film is inferior to the first one, but still enjoyable nonetheless.

Again, the start of the film begins with the start of the wrap around story, involving a kid, Billy (not sure if this is supposed to be the same Billy from the first movie), and his love for the “Creepshow” comic book.  He rides his bike to where the delivery of the comic books is to be dropped off, greeted by The Creeper as he’s given an issue of the book.  From then on, the credits roll as the live action blends into animation.  Here’s where you see the weakness of the film compared to the first because the animation is not done very well.  The Creeper is now a cartoon character who introduces each story, but if you can put aside the bad cartoon quality, you’ll like this film.

The first tale introduced to us is the story of “Old Chief Wooden Head.”  Set in a small community with Native Americans being the majority, a storefront wooden Indian comes to life to avenge the murders of the store owners.  When I first saw this flick in the theaters, I remember thinking that this first story went on a little too long.  I recalled how tight and to-the-point the stories presented themselves in the first film, and in this film, especially in the first tale, it seemed to kind of lag.  But it’s a good revenge narrative that ends kind of cool.  It stars George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour as the store owners, and even though it’s a little lengthy, it’s still a good yarn.  Although you can tell when the wooden Indian is real or a guy in a suit, the outfit made for the film was pretty realistic, having the appearance of real wood.  Now, even though Tom Savini makes a cameo as The Creeper and consulted a little in the makeup effects, most of the special effects duties went to Greg Nicotero.

The next story is “The Raft.”  Four teenagers head out to a small lake out in the mountains to get high and swim out to an anchored diving platform.  Some floating blob in the water turns out to be a deadly force that kills anything that’s unlucky enough to be caught in the water with it.  This one is my favorite of all the tales.  We get to know the characters as they drive to the lake, the jock, Deke (Paul Satterfield) and his nerdy sidekick, Randy (Daniel Beer), taking their dates and hoping to get some action.  The tension that builds as they’re stuck on the platform and cold from the swim are definitely felt, because I was thinking to myself that I’d go out of mind if I were in their place.  Thinking about the tension and suspense built in this feature, it’s hard to believe they were able to accomplish it simply by having people stand on a swimming platform while dragging some hefty bags around in the water.  But it worked.

Finally, “The Hitchhiker” is a tale about a hitchhiker who’s accidentally hit and killed by a cheating wife, trying to get home before her husband.  In order to keep her rendezvous secret, she flees the scene and leaves the hitchhiker…but the hitchhiker keeps coming back for a ride.  This is a nice Twilight Zone-ish story with a malicious character that keeps coming back no matter how hard you try to get away.  On the other hand, the main character deserves what she endures because it was her fault to begin with.  Nevertheless, it’s still a scary thought to have someone keep showing up even though you’ve passed them and ran over them and smashed into them over and over again.

In between each story, the wrap-around story continues as Billy is confronted by the local bullies as they chase and threaten him.  To end the film, just like the first film, Billy gets revenge on his tormenters. 

So, Creepshow 2  ends with The Creeper blending back into his live-action version, in the back of the newspaper truck as it drives off, throwing out “Creepshow” comic books by the handful.  I always think to myself, Man, that must’ve been a hell of a cleanup job after that shot!  

Without going into it like the detail of the first two films, we all know that there was a Creepshow III made.  I watched this feature, unfortunately, once and wish I had never even wasted my time with it.  It’s an insult to Stephen King for this film to be called Creepshow.  If you look at the ratings on IMDb that are given by users, not critics, you’ll see that the first film received 6.6 stars out of 10, the second received 5.6, and this last debacle received 2.7.  In my opinion, that’s very generous.  

This piece of shit features five tales that are boring and just plain uninteresting, so much so, that I’m not even going to waste my time with synopsizing them.

So there you have it, a great horror franchise, tarnished by the third entry.

What’s my final “bit” on each of these films?

Creepshow is an excellent classic, filled with great performances by many wonderful actors who make this movie come alive.  They’re believable in their parts and never take anything away from the film.  Although the DVD and Blu-Ray discs are plain with not much in the extras department, it’s a must to own.

Creepshow 2 is a worthy follow-up, but not as good and entertaining as the first.  The characters are a little over the top sometimes, taking you out of the movie as you laugh at how one-dimensional they are.  But the stories are very interesting and keep you in it until the end.  While not on Blu-Ray yet, I was able to find a Divimax Edition (which was a high definition transfer some select DVDs were able to get before Blu-Ray came around) a few years back that contains some interesting behind-the-scenes extras.  This one is in my collection and is a must if you own the first film.

Creepshow III…forget it.

Thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Birds

A first for Cinema Bits, I present you, the original trailer for The Birds...
Luckily, I outgrew my fear of birds a long time ago, but I did have a fear of them during my childhood and it’s all thanks to my second favorite Sir Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds. You see, the one small scene—more like a flash—in the movie, where a character walks into a bedroom and sees a man sitting in the corner with his eyes gouged out, leaving two bloody dark holes, changed my life forever. In that time of my life, I was scared shitless of birds for years, avoiding them outside (we lived next to a creek that was lined with eucalyptus trees on either side and they were homes for many murders of crows) and never wanting to hold one if a friend had one as a pet and offered to let me do so. No, Mr. Hitchcock did a number on me by making this movie.

Over the years, I’ve watched this classic dozens of times (seems like it was always on TV when I was a child), especially now that I have it on DVD, and I love it more and more during each viewing.

The movie is based on a 1952 short story by Daphne Du Maurier and was made into a feature-length film in 1963. It’s a simple story (more like two separate stories), really, about a woman named Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) following a man named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) from San Francisco to Bodega Bay after a little altercation in a pet store that leaves her attracted to him. Soon after arriving at Bodega Bay and meeting up with Mitch, birds of all species start attacking the people of the coastal town.

I like how the film has subtle flashes of scenes that show you what’s to come, like the massive flock of birds circling above San Francisco at the beginning of the film. There’s also a bit of a message as well—when the scene plays out inside the pet store, we see dozens of cages with many birds inside, subliminally showing the audience how cruel it is to cage them up like that. Even Mitch mentions it during that scene when he first meets Melanie.

The choice to have the bulk of the story take place in Bodega Bay is brilliant. The view of the town while Melanie is making her way along the winding road shows how isolated and small it is and seeming like it’s in the middle of nowhere. Of course, the scenery is nice as well, showing the view of the bay and the green hills going inland. But probably the best reason to have it set near the coast is to have a reason to include seagulls as the majority of the menacing birds.

Now the special effects are still remarkable to this day. I still can’t believe how convincing each scene is when the birds are attacking. Of course, being older and used to today’s CGI effects in films, I can make out some of the flaws in this film, but they’re few and far in between. One of the most memorable attack scenes come when some of the townspeople are holed up at the local restaurant, right after a car explodes from ignited gasoline. A shot appears from the birds’ point of view, high above Bodega Bay, and seagulls start appearing and hovering over the destruction. It’s an amazing shot and I was amazed when I found out it was a painted matte framed around the people and the fire. It was done a few times in this movie and to great effect, especially the very end of the film…it gave the movie the shock value it needed to end it. But along with a few other key scenes, the attack scenes will make you think twice about walking around outside when birds are present. The scenes where the birds are nearly taking over the screen was created by a sodium vapor process which, being that this was done in 1963, had a much better effect than the use of blue screen many years later. I mean, those birds look like they’re in the same space as the actors…it’s amazing. And let’s not forget about those eerie bird sound effects, because those bird calls still give me the heebie-jeebies when I hear them. Which reminds me…no music score in this film…only the sound effects.

One thing about a lot of movies, especially from this era and prior, was that the dialogue was very scripted. Even movies today are heavily scripted where all the characters take turns with their lines, performing their dialogue one at a time. If you think about it, that’s not how life works. How often have you been able to speak your mind about something without being interrupted? Because that’s what makes this movie stand out from the rest of the films of the golden age of cinema, it’s the constant interruption to the characters speaking their lines. Whether it’s someone on the phone, ringing for someone while another person is talking, then being cut off as the person on the phone starts speaking to whoever’s on the other end of the line, or people having conversations face to face, interjecting each other, I think Alfred Hitchcock made an effort to include that in this film. In fact, as I noticed it happened the first time, it actually started getting on my nerves, just slightly.

Younger audiences might not enjoy this movie because it’s not all about birds attacking and killing people—that’s actually the background to the film. The real plot to it is how Melanie Daniels meets Mitch Brenner in San Francisco, is attracted to him, and follows him to Bodega Bay when she learns he’s travelling there for a birthday party for his sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). As she arrives, she happens to meet a past girlfriend of Mitch’s, Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), and becomes the target of contempt from Mitch’s mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy). So, really the story is a love triangle between Annie, Melanie and Mitch, not to mention how a mother doesn’t think any woman is good enough for her son. With the long and drawn out scenes, playing out the drama, the birds attacking are, at first, a backdrop until the climactic ending that never really comes to a conclusion, which makes this film all the more terrifying. Very few movies, these days, end in such a fashion. Most movies either end happily or crushingly, but almost always have a resolution. And that’s the brilliance of Hitchcock. He knew that ending the film the way he did would continue the terror for the viewer even after the film ended.

My final “bit” on The Birds is that it’s a wonderfully entertaining film with a nice story. One of my two favorite films from the master of suspense and I watch it at least once a year. I was looking forward to purchasing the film on Blu-Ray, but it was only released as part of an Alfred Hitchcock boxed set. I’m sure it’ll be released separately and when it does…I’m getting it. A must for your media collection, The Birds is one of Sir Hitchcock’s best!

You can now reach me at my new Twitter handle: @CinemaBits

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Deadly Friend


Oh, boy! The 80s movies are some of the most entertaining features I’ve ever witnessed on the big screen when they were released, playing the VHS and seeing it on my 19” color TV a few years later, continuing to this day when I’m lucky enough to find them on Blu-Ray to view them on my HDTV. Yes, the glorious era of the cinematic 1980s, the decade I feel were the best years for cinema; those were the days where people waited in lines around the block to be the first to see the latest sci-fi, action, or horror flick. Now…kids go (if they go) to the movies to pass time and irritate movie fans like myself with their incessant talking and use of their cell phones, texting or Tweeting or Facebook status updating…UGH!

As you can see…the 80s was a great time for me…the years where I truly became aware of movies. The loving discovery, for instance, of horror movies, to be exact, is what I remember most about it. Back then, more than likely, you’d find me at Meridian Quad in the San Jose/Cupertino area (I never knew what city that was), either attending the latest movie, or be across the Quad in the arcade (do they even have arcades anymore?).

Midway through the 80s, the movies never slowed down and horror movies were the “in” thing, constantly released in theaters as obvious Friday the 13th or Halloween rip-offs, but we all loved them back then. The biggest and freshest one to come out during that time added a new horror icon to join the ranks of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees…a nightmarish man named: Freddy Kruger!

Man, the first time I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street, it freaked me out! I didn’t want to go to sleep that night because that movie absolutely scarred my psyche for a long, long time! The movie catapulted Wes Craven in the limelight as the master of horror for the 80s and made him a household name (if your household was into horror movies). With hits like that, especially one as original as ANOES, the director is always expected to have a great follow-up to top what he or she had done already.

So, after directing a television movie called Chiller (which I remember seeing back then but didn’t know Craven directed it), horror fans couldn’t wait for his next feature film, Deadly Friend.

Whoa…I recollect seeing this film in theaters back in 1986, vividly recalling walking in late and not understanding what was going on.

The story begins with Paul Conway (Matthew Labyorteaux) and his mom travelling to their new home along with Paul’s robot, “B.B.”—a yellow robot, almost a distant cousin of Number 5 from Short Circuit who makes garbled sounds and constantly says his name. They finally get to their new home and right away Paul befriends the local newspaper delivery boy, Tom (Michael Sharrett) and has eyes for the next door neighbor girl, Sam (Kristy Swanson). Shortly thereafter, they become good friends, but it’s obvious Sam’s dad is abusive towards her as she shows up with bruises or a bloody nose. During a prank gone wrong, B.B.’s head is blown away by the psycho neighbor, Elvira (Anne Ramsey) and Paul’s devastated. He saves B.B.’s microchip as he explains that it’s the robot’s extraordinary brain. Later in the movie, there’s obvious love chemistry between Paul and Sam. but that night, Sam’s abusive father goes too far and pushes her down the stairs, causing her brain damage and resorting to her dying. But, as we see earlier in the film, Paul is prodigy in the neurology field in college and decides to take Sam’s body to fuse B.B.’s microchip to her brain. The result is deadly.

Yeah, the plot involving an artificially intelligent robot is absurd, having Paul be this brainy genius and knowing how to integrate a computer chip into a human brain is ludicrous, seeing Kristy Swanson walk around making Mr. Spock hands and showing her point-of-view as terrible resolution is laughable, but this movie is still entertaining. Really, you need to check your brain at the door and don’t put it back in your head until you are well out of range from this movie. It’s nostalgically 80s and cheesy, so you can’t go wrong if you’re a horror fan like me.

First off, at the beginning of the film, when you hear the sounds B.B. produces (voiced by Charles Fleischer of Who Framed Roger Rabbit fame) while constantly saying his name, you harken back a year to Gremlins and the sound they make as you say to yourself, “This doesn’t sound like a robot.” But if you can push that aside, the beginning of the film is believable and has a wonderful plot of boy-meets-girl, even the abusive father is believable (man, he just does not give a shit about her, does he?), but when they introduce the plotline of how Paul is this college wonder kid who has better neurological skills than the city’s best neurosurgeon, that’s when it becomes a little ridiculous.

As for the kill scenes (after all, this IS a horror movie), there’s a few involving revenge for both Sam and B.B., but the scene everybody remembers is the basketball to the head gag…I loved it! And although a little dated, the practical effects are still gory and brutal.

As for the filming location, it reminds me a lot of the set of Fright Night or the Universal Studios back lot. But seeing as this is a Warner Bros. film, it’s probably their back lot, which is one place I still have not visited so I can cross it off my bucket list.

The film is adapted from a bestselling book entitled, “Friend” by Diana Henstell. I’ve never read it, but I hear there are certain parts portrayed in the book that would’ve helped the movie if they’d adapted it to the screen. For instance, I heard that Sam slowly decomposes as the story goes on. I think that would’ve helped the creepiness a little if we saw Kristy Swanson start to decay rather than seeing her with that blue eye shadow around her eyes.

What’s my final “bit” on Deadly Friend?

The movie is another 80s film that you have to suspend disbelief—as well as logic—and just sit back and have a good time with it. Like most movies of its ilk, it’s there to entertain us, not teach us anything or preach to us…well…maybe a little bit. Like how you shouldn’t try to bring to life a dead girl with a robot’s computer brain.

Thanks for reading!

You can follow me on Twitter: @JustCallMeManny

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Psycho Franchise

Here we are, in November, with Halloween in our rear view mirror as most people are looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the happy thoughts that come with it. But I, the sick man that I am, still have horror movies on my mind. Yet, as it turns out, I’m looking towards Christmas as well, so I can pop in some Christmas-themed horror into my Blu-Ray player. Films like, Silent Night, Deadly Night or Black Christmas or Gremlins or maybe even Jack Frost. Yes…’tis the season, right?

However, we’re still a ways before we even get to Thanksgiving, so I still consider this as the spooky season of Halloween. So, with that in mind, there’s one movie—or shall I say, movie franchise—that I revisit once a year, usually around the month of October. But for some reason, I wasn’t able to jam as many horror movies in as much as I have in the past. Maybe it’s because of the strange, lingering hot weather that has over-stayed its welcome. Whatever the reason, I was only able to watch half as many as I have in the past. But, anyway, the franchise in question is none other than Psycho.
Alfred Hitchcock was a genius, there’s nothing more I can say that has already been said countless times from countless film historians and critics alike, and so I’ll just go into why I like the first film as well as the sequels.

As a child, I had always known about the film, Psycho, but really never watched it all the way through until the early 1990s. The shower scene was continuously parodied or referenced in one way or another, so I was very familiar with it. But if you were to ask me, prior to 1990, what the film was about, I probably wouldn’t have been able to give you a straight answer because I probably didn’t know exactly.

Thinking back, I probably watched the first two sequels before deciding to watch the original film, but one thing’s for sure, I really appreciate them all as a whole a lot more now than I had back then.

I’ll start with 1960’s Psycho first, as I had bought the Blu-Ray when it was first released in 2010 as a 50th anniversary edition, so I’ll get into how that looks as well.

As a warning, there will be spoilers ahead. 
It’s impossible to get into the sequels without
talking about what happens in the first film,
so you’ve been warned.

The story is well known and based on a bestselling book by Robert Bloch: girl loves guy, guy’s in debt, girl steals money to help guy, girl runs off to be with guy.

Said girl is Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and yes, we all know the story that happens afterwards, where Marion, on her way to be with said guy, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), finally needs a place to rest for the night and unfortunately chooses the Bates Motel, getting to know Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and finally meeting Norman’s "mother" during the famous shower scene. So I really don’t need to go into that other than to say that to this day, that shower scene was shot and edited perfectly. It’s definitely the highlight of the film. But the story as a whole, as well as the choice to kill off the star of the film a third of the way into the movie, is magnificent. Though a bit tame for today’s standards, I think it still works.

The acting from all players is understandably rigid and a little outdated. Seeing that this is a film from 1960, you have to forgive it and just get by it. Personally, I like it because, in watching the rest of the franchise, you have to see this as a period piece and not try to see it as a modern film. However, there are some scenes where the stiff acting plays to the scene, particularly the scene between Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam) and Norman Bates, as well as Loomis and Bates.

The sets are mostly special to me because they were built and filmed at Universal Studios. For years, I had enjoyed seeing the motel and manor sets on the tram ride during the back lot tour. But not too long ago, I found out that the sets seen during the tour are not in the exact place as they were when filmed in 1960. In fact, it’s been said that the sets were rebuilt here and there for the sequels, but they’re the same since those 1980s films. Still, the sets and glimpses of the back lot always bring nostalgia to the forefront because most of my favorite movies were filmed there. Above all else, however, the Bates Manor is the most awesomely spooky set ever built for any horror movie, in my opinion. When I finally took the back lot tour for the first time and understood that the house was just a shell, that there’s nothing inside, I was a little let down. Still, Universal Studios was able to recreate the motel and manor set perfectly.

The music by Bernard Herrmann is very memorable and beautifully done. Of course, the stand-out of the film is the screeching strings during the death-in-the-shower scene.

Above all else, Anthony Perkins is magnificent in this film as the person you sort of care about and understand what he’s going through, even after you find out he’s crazy and was the one who actually murdered Marion Crane and Detective Arbogast. The film, as a whole, is a work of art—a masterpiece—in Hitchcock’s repertoire. Coincidentally, I can’t wait to see Hitchcock with Anthony Hopkins playing the Master of Suspense himself.

What’s interesting about Psycho is Hitchcock negated his usual directing fee and asked for a percentage of the returns instead, he filmed the movie in black & white during a time when most films were being filmed in color, he used most of his television filming crew to make the movie, and all set filming was done at Universal Studios (even though this was to be distributed by Paramount Studios). All this was done to save studio space and money that Paramount did not want to give.

By far, I’ve got to say that Psycho is my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, with The Birds a close second.

As I’d mentioned, I had purchased the Blu-Ray disc of Psycho when it was first released in 2010 to coincide with its 50th anniversary, happily replacing my barebones DVD I had in my collection. The new disc boasted how it had a new stereo sound and clear transfer and that made me wonder how that was possible. I knew the original was filmed with mono audio, meaning all the sound was recorded as one; there was no separation of sounds and that’s usually impossible to reverse. As explained much better in one of the featurettes, there’s a new process where they can painstakingly separate all the sounds to make it stereophonic. Let me tell you, it shows. The pattering sound of the rain showering down on Marion’s windshield used to sound like white noise coming from the television now sounds separated and clear, even directional as if you can hear the separated drops across the window. At the used car lot, you can hear the traffic passing from left to right and right to left. It’s incredible what they were able to do with the sound on this disc. Of course, the film is so crisp and clean, it’s hard to believe that the movie is 50 years old!

So on to 1983’s Psycho II, bringing Anthony Perkins back to reprise the role he made so famous 23 years prior.

I wasn’t an avid theater visitor until the mid-80s, so this is a film I watched when it hit video rental shelves sometime after it was released. I don’t think I had seen the original yet, as I had mentioned before, but I was very curious to see any horror movie during this time. The 1980s, after all, was the pinnacle decade for horror flicks, no matter what the sub-genre was about, so I lunged at this VHS when I saw it on the store shelf.

Initially, I didn’t care much for the film. Maybe it was because I wasn’t too familiar with the original to understand what they were doing in this sequel or maybe I was just looking for another masked serial killer to take out a bunch of teenagers at a camp of some sort. But, overall, I didn’t hate it. Though, after watching the original, then seeing this one, my appreciation for the series went up ten-fold.

The story is a bit convoluted and has a few bits of impossibilities in it, especially when the killer is revealed, but if you can put all that aside, it’s a really great, underrated film.

To summarize, the sequel takes place 22 years after the events from the original. Norman is being released from the institution after being declared sane and is able to rejoin the population again. Vera Miles returns as Marion’s sister, Lila Crane (now Lila Loomis after marrying Sam), as a staunch detractor of Norman Bates’s release. In the opening scene as we see Norman in court as he’s let back into the world, Lila is there to show the petition of names she’s collected against Norman’s release. But it falls on deaf ears.

Norman is brought back to the manor and motel, being run by a lowlife manager by the name of Toomey (Dennis Franz) who runs it as an adult motel, complete with a lot of drug-use and prostitution. Norman is clearly not happy about it and Toomey clearly knows about Bates’s past.

To get back into the world, Norman is assigned a job as an assistant cook at the local diner, meeting Mrs. Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) who shows him around the diner and introduces him to everyone. He befriends one of the waitresses, Mary (Meg Tilly), who happens to be Lila’s daughter, and allows her to stay with him as she tells him her boyfriend threw her out of their apartment.

Throughout the film, Lila and her daughter are trying to drive Norman crazy again to send him back to the institution and during that time, someone is offing people but we don’t know who it is. Is it Norman? Is it Lila? Is it Mary? Someone’s also calling Norman and saying it is his mother. Is it in his head? Or is it actually his mother?

One of the best things about this film is the music by Jerry Goldsmith. He sure had big shoes to fill when being hired to score this film. It was a smart decision to not remake or recreate the music already heard in the original film, but it must’ve been nerve-racking to try and come up with an original piece. However, Goldsmith accomplished it and I say bravo to him. It’s been said that the main theme he created for this film brought Anthony Perkins to tears. Usually, I’d dismiss this as bullshit, but a few years back, I was going through some emotional turmoil and decided to watch this film. Although I didn’t resort to crying, the music did add to my distress and increased the sadness I had been feeling. To me, Goldsmith’s music is a highlight of this film.

Regarding the opening, I actually love how they start the film with the shower scene from the original movie. It’s a good way to transition the two movies since one was shot in black & white and this one in color.

Overall, amidst some plot holes in Psycho II, the story is very moving and intriguing with a very unusual twist at the end. I’ll avoid the spoiler for this one, because perhaps most of you haven’t seen the sequels and regarding this one as such a worthy follow-up, I don’t want to ruin it for you.

And then there was 1986’s Psycho III

As the film opens with Maureen (Diana Scarwid), a nun at a convent who is struggling with something emotional, leading her to want to commit suicide by jumping from the bell tower. The head nun tries to pull her back but falls to her death instead. Maureen then leaves the convent, shunned by the other nuns and tries to run away somewhere. She ends up at the Bates Motel, of course, and becomes a love interest of Norman’s, especially because of the resemblance to Marion Crane, the woman he murdered all those years ago.

I won’t get into this one as much, because the movie, as a whole, turned out to be the typical slasher-fare of the time. The 80s were ripe with these types of film, so it was a no brainer to cash in on the craze. But what’s interesting about this film is the fact that it was Anthony Perkins’s directorial debut. Another thing was that this film corrected the bizarre twist the previous film went into at the end.

So, if you can get past the slasher template throughout the movie and take note of the important aspects of the movie, you’ll enjoy it. Overall, it was nice to see Norman back at home with “Mother” and delving back into his creepy demeanor, not to mention how he finally finds a love interest. Underneath the characteristic 80s horror film that it set out to be, Psycho III is definitely a tragedy, reduced a bit by the ridiculous ending filmed to open it up for a possible sequel.

So, onto the possible sequel that happened four years later…I bring you, Psycho IV: The Beginning

Out of the original four Psycho films, this is definitely my least favorite. It’s still a good sequel/prequel, but not to the caliber of the previous two.

First off, you have to suspend disbelief big time here. Because how the hell would Norman ever get out of the mental institution after the events of part 3? There would be no way! But if you can get past that, then it’s a pretty enjoyable little film.

In a nutshell, Anthony Perkins returns again as Norman, in a new home, talking on the phone with the local talk radio show, discussing his “mommy” issues. The story flashes back to show the life he had prior to the events of the first film.

The sequel portion of the film is a little boring to me as all we see is Norman alone at home, talking on the phone with this radio host. The scenes are intercut with the host, Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder), and her guest, Dr. Leo Richmond (Warren Frost). I find myself wanting to fast forward these scenes because they’re a little boring. But holding up on doing so pays off a little as the scenes transition well into the prequel portions of the film.

In the prequel—or flashback—scenes, the story takes place when the motel and house were new and had some color to it. A young Norman Bates (Henry Thomas) lives there with his mother, Norma Bates (Olivia Hussey), and basically tells the story of what happened that led Norman to go crazy.

These flashback scenes are what save the movie and makes it refreshing to watch. However, I didn’t like how they used the same music cues from the first film, nor did I like how they used the same exact dialogue. I mean, come on, what’s the likelihood that Norman would use the “Blood! Blood!” line exactly the same way? And it seemed that they were using the word “inordinately” to tie Norman’s character to the first film. But Norman wasn’t the one who had used it in the first film, it was Marion.

It’s a little sad that this was how Anthony Perkins closed his Norman Bates chapter, because it wasn’t well written and doesn’t hold your attention as well as the other films. It was an interesting concept to have Joseph Stefano (who wrote the script for the 1960 film) write Psycho IV’s script, but it fell a little flat.

Another sad thing about the film, to me anyway, was that it wasn’t filmed at Universal Studios in Hollywood, as the other films were, but in Florida. They did a fine job at recreating the house and motel set, but knowing that fact was a little depressing to me for some reason.

More than that, this film wasn’t released theatrically, but rather as a straight-to-cable film.

Above all else, it was sad altogether that we lost Anthony Perkins a short two years after this film was released.

Well, eight years later, a terrible thing happened…an event that happens quite often nowadays in Hollywood. Some A-hole gave the green light to have 1960’s Psycho remade.  It sounded good at the time, a time when we weren’t getting a few remakes every year, but it was a newsworthy item that sounded promising. Yes, Gus Van Sant was given the reigns to direct a remake, or reshoot, of Psycho. I say reshoot, because that’s all it really was. It wasn’t a reimagining or a reboot; it was just a shot-for-shot re-filming of the original movie. Same dialogue, same running time, same scenes, same everything. So you’d think it’d be just as good as the original, right? Wrong! If you take dialogue from the 60s and put it into a modern-looking film, it’s going to seem very out of place. It made Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates sound like a weirdo, it made Anne Heche’s Marion Crane boring as shit, it made William H. Macy as Arbogast sound like he was parodying a noir film scene from the 40s…it just did not work on any level whatsoever.

It’s no lie, the movie is scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot, the exact same movie as the 1960 film, save for some weird flashes the director stuck in there for some unexplained reason.

If there’s any saving grace, is to see the motel set once again, but with a different gothic house in the back. But the film is terrible. I’d skip it.

One thing I had forgotten to mention was a television movie that was made and released in 1987 called “Bates Motel.”  I’d never seen it. What I’d heard was that Norman leaves his property to a fellow institutionalized inmate after he dies. The guy, Alex West (Bud Cort), opens the motel back up after he’s released and the show is sort of set up like “Fantasy Island” or “The Love Boat,” where guest starts show up and stories revolve around them. I guess this was meant to be a series, but it didn’t go on so the first two episodes were made into one TV movie.

Coming up in 2013, and I forget what network is airing it (I think it’s A&E), “Bates Motel” will be tried again, this time in a more serious tone.  I will definitely look forward to that.

Well, I think I covered everything Psycho-based, but I’ll leave you with this as my final “bit” on the Psycho franchise:

For a great look into the story, as well as great interviews by a lot of people involved with the franchise, look to a superb documentary entitled, The Psycho Legacy.  It is very well done with such an interesting look into the making of these movies, with archival footage as well as interviews of the casts and behind-the-scenes crewmembers from all the movies. You can’t get much deeper than what Robert V. Galluzzo did here. What he put together in this documentary is a dream-come-true for Psycho fans such as myself. It’s definitely the bookend to my collection.

So there you have it, my love of these films will be in me until the day I die. I’ve often talked to my wife about how I’d like to be cremated after my death, but the question that always came up was where I’d like my ashes to be spread. Usually, I’d tell her that I’d like them to be spread out, dropped from an aircraft, above the back lot of Universal Studios in Hollywood. But the debate is still up in the air. How cool would it be to spend my eternity in the back lot, living my afterlife in the Bates Motel?

I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you’ve never visited the franchise, or maybe you have and never watched the sequels, I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a try. The 1960 original is definitely the Holy Grail of horror movies and no horror fan should be without it in their movie collection. If you don’t have it, go out and buy it. The sequels are optional, but I suggest you watch them at least.

Once again, thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkinhead and The Return of the Living Dead

For my last horror movie review of the October Halloween season, I was stuck on what film I should review, between two classics I love to watch during this spooky time of year. Both are cult favorites of the 1980s, having such great moments in them and, wanting to make sure I get it down in this blog, I wanted them to be part of my Halloween-themed reviews for this year. So...I decided to review them both.

By the way, pardon the rapid way this one was written, because I had to deal with giving out candies every so often as I was writing this.

What I have on the plate today are two fun films to watch: a serious creature feature and a horror comedy zombie film-1988's Pumpkinhead and 1985's The Return of the Living Dead.

Lance Henriksen is a favorite actor of mine, and well known for the parts he plays, yet always plays the second fiddle to another actor of higher caliber. But Henriksen is no slouch himself...I've seen him pull out some very different performances in a few movies over the years. In Dog Day Afternoon he was the FBI agent that didn't say much until the big climactic scene at the end of the movie; in Damien: Omen II, he had a small evil part as the sergeant of the military school that takes Damien under his wing at the end; in The Terminator, he was a flunky cop who didn't get respect from his sergeant; and we all know him as Bishop from a few of the Alien films. Many of his films showcased him as a supporting character, but he was always awesome and stood out in those parts. But my favorite Lance Henriksen vehicle has got to be Pumpkinhead.

The film opens up at night with some man running from something he seems afraid of as he screams for someone to help him. He stops at a house and bangs on the door, calling to Tom Harley (Lee de Broux). The Harley family is inside and Tom advises his wife and son that they need to keep out of it. Soon, an unseen force closes in on the man and we hear his scream as he's obviously killed.

Cut to years later and we see Ed Harley (Henriksen), a grown man now, and his son, Billy (Matthew Hurley-a Jonathan Lipnicki look-a-like), in a little country town. We see how close they are as they work on their farm together and enjoy each other's company during dinner.

Ed Harley and his son run a small store along the country highway and one day, a group of friends stop on their way to a cabin for a fun getaway, complete with dirt bikes that they've hauled with them, to pick up some supplies. Not long after, a family from town comes by to get some groceries and supplies as well and ask Harley to have some of it delivered to their house. Harley leaves his son to mind the store as he takes off to deliver the goods.

Soon after Harley leaves, two of the guys from the group of friends decide to take the dirt bikes out for a ride behind the store. Harley's son runs out at one point to go after his dog and gets hit by one of the dirt bikes as if lands from a jump.  Most of the friends go and tend to the boy to see if he can be helped, but the douche bag of the bunch, who admits he's had a few beers and claims to have a DUI on his record, takes off with his girlfriend.

When Harley arrives and sees what's happened, he runs and grabs his boy and takes him to his truck. The friends say they're sorry and claim it was an accident, but Harley pays them no mind as upset as he is. But as one of the guys asks if there's anything he can do to help, Harley turns and glares at him, then walks off.

Ed Harley, remembered the man that tried to get help that night long ago was someone who did someone else wrong and deserved what came to him. He knew that there was a witch in town that helped in that and could help him avenge his son's death. He finds her and with her help they unleash Pumpkinhead.

Pumpkinhead is the directorial debut of Stan Winston, the special effects wizard responsible for the work in The Terminator, Aliens, Predator, and Jurassic Park. In my opinion, he did a great job with this film, especially with the design of the key monster. For its time, before CGI, the effects were believable and had me cringing in my seat when I first saw it years ago. The cinematography is great and has a creepy feel as the group of friends that are trying to get away from this monster that just keeps coming for them.

Now, in a completely opposite direction, we have The Return of the Living Dead, which is somewhat of a sequel to Night of the Living Dead.

Funny thing about this film is that I never watched it when it first came out in theaters, nor did I ever rent it when it was released onto video. In fact, the first time I watched it was a couple of years ago when I decided it was high time I checked out this cult classic. But, somehow, I didn't think it was a classic and turned it off after watching fifteen minutes of it. However, after getting a little nostalgic for 1980s horror movies, I decided to give it another try and rented it again. This time, I loved it.

The film opens with Frank (James Karen of Poltergeist fame) and Freddy (Thom Matthews of Jason Lives: Friday the 13th VI fame) working in a medical supply warehouse. Frank shows the young kid what they do there and how they go about sending stuff out to medical offices and hospitals. Frank brings up Night of the Living Dead and tells Freddy it was based on a true story. He goes on to tell him that the warehouse actually holds the chemically-infested bodies that were responsible for the outbreak. Freddy doesn't believe him and wants to see it for himself. Frank gladly takes him to the basement area and shows him the drums with the government writing on them. When Freddy asks what happens if the barrels leak, Frank slaps them and says they won't, which, at that point, they do.

I won't go on too much about how it all plays out, but rest assured, everything goes ape-shit. The dead come back to life, wanting to eat brains and nothing else. But I will say that this movie is a fresh approach to most zombie films whereas the undead are intelligent and can communicate.

Some of the subplot involves Freddy's friends and how they're waiting for him to get off work so they can all go partying, so we get to see them hanging out at the adjacent cemetery. One of the most gratuitous displays of nudity in film history comes from Linnea Quigley as she just decides to take off her clothes and dance around the graves.

But, all in all, The Return of the Living Dead is a big fun movie to watch, mostly a horror comedy, but there are some good scares within.

So, what's my final "bit" on Pumpkinhead and The Return of the Living Dead?

As I'd said, Pumpkinhead is a serious creature feature that is beautifully shot and well-acted by the great Lance Henriksen. It plays out well and creates a lot of spooky ambience for the audience during the Halloween season. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and do so tonight! On the other side of the coin, if you feel like having a good laugh while being scared, please go to your local video rental store and pick up The Return of the Living Dead. You'll thank me.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed my Halloween-themed reviews. Keep on watching those scary doesn't necessarily have to be October to enjoy a horror movie.

Thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @JustCallMeManny.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Child's Play 2

Sorry for that short sidebar review the other day…it was something I really needed to get off of my chest and it felt great to do so, but it’s time to continue my reviews of must-see horror movies for the Halloween season.

Rather than rehashing my short reviews of some of my favorite horror movies (see my Top 20 Horror Movies review), I’ve picked out some films that you may have not seen or have forgotten—like I have—over the years.

One movie I’ve seen recently is a film I haven’t seen since it was released in theaters in 1990…Child’s Play 2.  With a tagline like, “Sorry, Jack…Chucky’s Back,” how could you go wrong? Of course, that tagline makes sense when you see it in context with the poster art, showing Chucky attempting to cut off the head of a Jack-in-the-box with scissors.  Yes, the sequel to the hit 1988 original brings back that possessed killer doll to continue what he does best: evoke terror and kill.

When I first saw this movie back in 1990, I wasn’t impressed and thought it just didn’t hold a candle to the original. I never gave it another try on rental or cable TV...I just thought it was a shitty movie and shouldn’t even waste my time with it again. But as people get older, they become more forgiving (or is it forgetful?) and I started thinking about how this franchise grew and how Chucky was the one who made it what it was. Not only that, but I was getting set to visit Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios and I knew that Chucky was sometimes a staple of that event. So wanting to catch up and get a refresher on the series, I had Netflix send me a copy of Child’s Play 2 and I was glad I did.

I really don’t understand why I didn’t enjoy this movie back then. The movie is definitely a fun and solid popcorn flick that had me thinking about some of the fun movies I had seen during the early 90s.

Throughout the beginning credits, the film opens with a montage of someone cleaning up the mess that was left of Chucky in the first film. Mainly, his head is being stripped of the melted plastic and scraped off of the metal (or plastic...I can't tell) skull underneath. His teeth are cleaned and, overall, all burned and melted parts—including his eyes—are taken out. The head is remade with a new plastic skin and red hair, all attached to a new toy body. We then see that the film is taking place at the Good Guy toy factory, with the company’s owner (Peter Haskell) and the factory manager (Greg Germann) talking about the doll and how they want to make sure everything is okay with it. The manager mentions how it was a goof with someone recording bad things when the doll was first made. They then go on talking about who knows about what had happened and it’s revealed that the cops recanted their stories with the boy’s mother spending time in a mental institution. Seems that the owner wants to prove they had fixed the doll’s problems. Well, at this point, the technicians are putting the final touches on the doll, using a machine to place the new eyes in the doll’s head (they did everything else by hand, so why not the eyes?). Somehow the machine malfunctions, shooting some electricity into the doll which, apparently, brings it back to life—although we don’t find out until a little later. The manager is told to hold onto the doll until they can show it at some presentation, but he never makes it home, thanks to Chucky. Meanwhile, Chucky finds Andy and all hell—meaning, Chucky—beaks loose.

I like how they continued the story using Andy (Alex Vincent) as he's now orphaned and living with a foster family. How he was constantly blamed for doing the horrible things that Chucky was actually doing was cool (the note on his homework to the teacher, found in the basement with the electric knife). However, the kid was a terrible actor when he did the first one and he isn’t any better in this one, but it’s good to see the same actor nonetheless.

The special effects were well done and executed as believably as they could do it, seeing that it’s tough to make a doll come to life during the pre-CGI era. In the first film, there were a lot of far away shots where they used a small person or child to make it appear the doll was walking or running around. They never had any shots like that in this movie, but I wish they did because some of those shots in the first film wigged me out a little.

Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky nails it again in this one (if they ever decide to make another “Chucky” movie, they better have him on board because it won’t be the same without him) and I might note here that I think the first two films are the only semi-serious films made because the following sequels started making him a one-liner cartoon serial killer. But the close-ups showing the doll talking had a great synchronization going with Dourif’s voice, which makes for an eerie and believable quality.

Overall, the film doesn’t have many surprises and it goes along like an archetypal slasher flick, but it’s still enjoyable, even so. But with all the typical storyline that plays out, the most entertaining part of the film is the climax at the Good Guy factory. Without giving it away, the way it ends is terrific.

So, what’s my final “bit” on Child’s Play 2?

Even though the film was made in 1990—and we know that the early horror films of the 90s were very outlandish and out there—Child’s Play 2 has the feel and reminiscence of an 80s horror flick. It’s a perfect film to watch right after the original, all during the great season of Halloween. So wait until dark, turn off all the lights, keep your toys in plain sight, and put in your Child’s Play DVDs.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Universal Sudios Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood

As some of you may know, I usually use this blog as a site to review films, both in theaters and on DVD or Blu-Ray. But I’m going to post a review of my night at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood. I’m going to keep it short and sweet, since maybe you don’t want to read any rants or praise about an amusement park attraction. However, I have a fresh in my mind, so let’s do this. Hopefully, you have an idea or a little knowledge of the Universal Studios park because I’m not going to get too much into the everyday rides and attractions they have featured there. So if I mention some details or physical aspects of the place, I hope it doesn’t lose you.

Back in 2007, I first heard an advertisement on the radio about this event taking place over there. It mentioned that patrons will be able to walk around in the back lot and go through many haunted mazes, so I was very intrigued. However, I wasn’t able to go that year, so I waited with bated breath for a chance to visit the following year.

2008 couldn’t get there any slower and the month of October finally arrived. A buddy and myself took the trek to Universal Studios, visited for the day and waited patiently for the sun to set. The way the park set it up that year was to have everyone with a Horror Nights ticket wait in a certain area of the park while they kicked everyone else out. As soon as that happened and 7 o’clock reared it’s frightening head, the lights in the park went out and the excitement began.

The featured attractions that year were the three icons of fright: Leatherface, Jason and Freddy. It was awesome! We, first, went to the Tram ride- the Terror Tram- and enjoyed the ride in the dark until they suddenly stopped and told us we had to walk the rest of the way. From then on, we followed the directions of cloaked workers with flashlights throughout a pathway.

The highlight for me was waking in front of the Bates Motel, featuring the scene recreation from Psycho III, with the high school reunion happening after an apparent bloodbath. We kept going through this area, past the motel and up towards the Bates Manor, which was another treat for me to see this iconic building and have it only a mere twenty feet away from me. After that, we were motioned to keep going through some maze and then it was through the plane wreck set from War of the Worlds.

The rest of the night, we went through the various mazes they featured throughout the park, getting the shit scared out of us. Man, I was in heaven! It was such an awesome event! Even the little puppet show they had with Chucky yelling obscenities at everybody was great. At that moment, my buddy and I vowed to come back again the following year, and we did!

2009’s event was great as well. You could see the popularity making it grow, as the event had a little longer lines and went a tad longer for us. 2010, I decided to introduce my wife to the event and she, not being a big horror fan, was scared out of her mind. In 2011, my wife and I visited the park with two mutual friends of ours and had somewhat of a good time as well.

The one thing I had noticed over the last few years is that the park became more and more crowded every year. Of course it’s attributed to the popularity of the event, so I really can’t complain. Or can I?

In 2008, my buddy and I were able to see every single maze and take the Terror Tram twice that night, still being able to call it a night at 11 PM. 2009 was a little busier, but we were still able to see everything before 1 AM. 2010 and 2011 started really showing the signs of the event’s popularity because the whole park was packed and we were only able to see a fraction of the mazes. I follow the event’s designer, John Murdy, on Twitter and noticed he advised people to visit on Sundays because there were less crowds to deal with. So, days after my 2011 visit, I told myself that next year I’d make it a point to come to the event on a Sunday.

Yesterday, after purchasing my tickets for my wife and I about a month ago, we went to the event to enjoy the park with less crowds.

Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed as I drove up Lankershim to Universal Hollywood Drive was that there was a backup of vehicles. Then, as we drove up, heading to the parking structure, signs read that the event was sold out. As an unusual addition to this, parking attendants were motioning vehicles to park in the further parking structure signaling to me that this place was going to be packed.

Sure enough, it was.

The line for the Terror Tram was all the way up the escalators and beyond. I was stunned. Although the line moved fast, it was still a long wait for more of the same I had seen before. The walk in the back lot was a little different this year, a little shorter, and not as enjoyable. Seeing that I had already seen the Llorona and Alice Cooper mazes last year, I decided to check out the Universal Monster Remix maze, which is, more or less, the everyday monster house maze they feature daily at the park. After leaving there, I decided to search out the Silent Hill maze. Being that it was near the Jurassic Park Ride, we had to take the multiple escalators down just to get there, and saw that the maze had a 70 minute wait. We started waited through the line, up and down, in and out, waiting and waiting…I finally looked at my wife and said, “Let’s go home.” Knowing how much I love Universal Studios and how much I look forward to Halloween Horror Nights, she tried to persuade me to stay, but I couldn’t take it.

We went home and I felt no regrets about it.

A few things I wonder about this event: How many tickets are sold before it’s determined that it’s sold out? There seemed to be a shitload of people there, so how about making that number lower? Universal Studios must make a TON of money with this park everyday and it’s overpriced concessions, can’t they cut back the maximum capacity to let people have fun? I know a lot of people were raving about the place when we were there, but it seemed like most of them were drunk or high, which I’m sure enhanced their enjoyment of the place.

For me, all I’ll take back from this place is seeing so many faces looking miserable as they wait, wait, and wait through those long lines for up to 2 hours only to enjoy a 15 minute maze. Is it worth it? I think not. My wife suggested that maybe we buy front-of-the-line passes next year, but we still have to deal with the packed park and the craziness that ensues from it.

No, it’s not worth it.

My final “bit” on Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood?

Skip it. If you’re like me and enjoy the history of the studio’s back lot, take a day off during the week, buy yourself a VIP pass and get a great tour of the place. I love the movies over the years that have been filmed there and distributed by the studio, but I hate the gigantic crowds the place gets. For a good scare during the Halloween season, do what I’m going to do next year: find a haunted hayride and visit one of the many other parks (like Knott’s Berry Farm or Magic Mountain) to get yourself scared within some frightening mazes. Or better yet, make your own…get together with some of your neighbors and make your own fright maze. Halloween Horror Nights is overblown and over-hyped. Until they cut down the maximum amount of people that they cram in the park, I’m not coming back.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

"It's almost time, kids...the clock is ticking. Be in front of your TV sets for the horrorthon, followed by the big giveaway. Don't miss it...and don't forget to wear your masks. The clock is's almost time."

Following the trend of watching Halloween-themed movies this October, I went ahead and watched one of my favorites from the Halloween franchise, the Michael Myers-less, 1982's Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Constantly bagged by critics and angrily overlooked by most Halloween fans, this film is still one of my favorites of the 1980s cheesy horror flicks and I really don't mind that it doesn't include the famous pale-masked serial killer we've all come to grow and love. What it does have is an outlandish plot, a gruff protagonist who gets the girl very easily, and an over-the-top villain who's evil for no apparent reason.

Yes, the movie is laughable and really can't be taken seriously, but there's a quality about it that makes you overlook the absurdities of the plot. So you do have to check your brain at the dooror at the very least shut it down before popping this into your media playerthere's no doubt about that, but that's what made the horror movies of the 80s great, right?

Well, the movie starts with an older gentleman running forwhat appears to behis life, holding onto something as he does. He appears very spooked and we see a car is coming after him as he manages to elude it, getting help from a lowly gas station attendant down the street. The man is brought to the local hospital where we meet our protagonist, Dr. Dan Challis (the great Tom Atkins) for the first time. He treats the older gent and takes note of the man's claims that "they're going to kill us all." Later that night, a nondescript man in a suit comes in and kills the old man. He then leaves and, as Dr. Challis follows and watches, gets into his vehicle blowing himself up with gasoline. The next day, the man's daughter, Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin), shows up and meets Dr. Challis, telling him that her father told her of some goings-on at the Silver Shamrock factory that may have led to his death. She tells him that she wants to look into the place and Dr. Challis decides to go with her to help. What they find there is some really weird shit.

For many of you who associate the Halloween franchise with Michael Myers might find this film a little strange seeing that it has nothing to do with the masked killer whatsoever. As a kid, I, too, thought this outing was a little odd and preferred not to watch it when I had the chance. It's there, when you correlate it with the franchise as a whole that it's most noticeable as an anomalous chapter to the whole story. But if you've ever read or heard John Carpenter's idea for the franchise, you'd understand what this movie was supposed to be. See, Carpenter saw Halloween II as the end of Michael Myers. I mean, come on...Loomis and Myers went up in flames in the blast and we saw Michael fall beside Laurie Strode and burn, practically melt, to death. How do you continue a franchise with the main baddie gone? No, what Carpenter wanted to do, was to have a different story every Halloween, sort of an anthology of movies throughout the years, and I thought that was brilliant. But, alas, the horror audiences of the 1980s weren't ready for that.

The performances in Halloween III: Season of the Witch are pretty much what you can expect since the actors didn't have much to work with. The story is pretty crazy, so I give them props for being as straight-faced as they were. Tom Atkins, as he is in every film I've seen him in, is the every-man, playing it cool and getting the girl so easily.  Anyway, he, at least, has two children that he promises his ex-wife he'd take trick-or-treating, but decides to forget about that to go and join this strange woman to investigate some novelty factory in some other town. Stacey Nelkin as the love interest played her part very well, considering how her character ends up. And let's not forget the villain, Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy), as the owner of Silver Shamrock and master of the diabolical scheme to kill everyone on Halloween, all for the sacrifice for Samhain...I think.

Even though this film was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, the whole movie is very Carpenter-esque, which is probably because the cinematography was done by Dean Cundey who worked a lot with John Carpenter. The film has a very eerie mood and can be very frightening at some times, which I think had a lot to do with Cundey's skills.  Not only the cinematography, but the music definitely makes you think of Carpenter, since heas well as Alan Howarthwrote the eerie score for this film.

One thing you better prepare yourself for is the commercial jingle you'll hear throughout the film. It's the song for Silver Shamrock Novelties, selling the Halloween masks seen on screen. Basically it's to the tune of "London Bridges," but be ready for it sticking in your brain regardless. I can hear it right now, as a matter of fact.

The scenery is pretty cool as they shot most of the film in the town of Loleta, California (called Santa Mira in thefilm). It's an appealing small town near the coast, but works perfectly as a place where everything just doesn't seem right.

The film features some pretty gruesomeyet coolkill scenes. I found myself squirming in my chair during some of these scenes, because they're that horrific.

But, for the most part, this movie is silly fun. I mean, unless you don't think a factory in the 1980s is able to create lifelike robots posing as people and the same factory to have the means to steal one of the boulders from Stonehenge to bring to America then you'll have to problem with the logistics of this movie. I won't give away the ending, but I must implore to you to please understand, this movie was made in the early 80s and we didn't have many television channels like we do today, so keep that in mind when you see that last scene.

By the way, a few cameos in this film: one from the original Halloween movie that you'll see on TVs a couple of times and the voice on the television commercial that tells us "it's almost time" is director Tommy Lee Wallace.

My final "bit" on Halloween III: Season of the Witch? It's a bit of nostalgia for me to see this, especially being that it's a movie from the 1980s. Capturing the feel of October is a tough thing to do, seeing that it was more than likely filmed at a different time of year. I love the idea that Carpenter was trying to go with the franchise and kind of wished he was successful at it, but the better decision was made at resurrecting Michael Myers to return and return and return. This is definitely a must-watch for me every October and it can be seen in order from part one or just view it as a standalone flick. If you look at Tommy Lee Wallace's oeuvre of films, you'll see that this is probably his best piece of work...but that's not saying much. No offense to him because I love this flick.

Thanks for reading and have a Happy Halloween!

You can reach me on Twitter: @JustCallMeManny.