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Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Frighteners (1996)

You know Peter Jackson was awesome before the Hobbit movies. Bad Taste, Dead Alive, and Meet the Feebles were must watch movies for me. I was a bit worried when I heard he was going to make a “Hollywood” movie with Michael J. Fox, but I shouldn’t have been. I mean he did cast Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, From Beyond) and Dee Wallace (Cujo, The Howling) in meaningful parts. I did say he was awesome, didn’t I?

Fox plays a phony ghost hunter named Bannister. I mean the ghosts are real, he just has an agreement with them. They haunt someone and he goes in to “clear” the house for a nominal fee. This has been Bannister’s life since his wife died a few years earlier. He ends up running his game on the Lynskey’s after smashing their fence with his car. While there he notices a number on Ray Lynskey’s forehead. Not long after Ray dies of a supposed heart attack and doesn’t go into the light. So yeah Bannister has a new friend following him around. Ray convinces him to talk to his wife Lucy, who Bannister realizes now has a number on her forehead as well. This leads him do battle with a supernatural reaper that only he can see.

Figuring into all of this action is the fact that the town has a horrible history. Years before an orderly, played by Jake Busy, got homicidal and went on a killing spree. Involved with the killings was a young girl named Patricia. While he got the death penalty she was just institutionalized. Eventually she got out and is a patient of Lucy Lynskey. Is she connected to the reaper killing people all over town? Um… yeah. This leads to some fun at the abandoned hospital as Bannister goes mano y ghosto with the bad spirits all to save Lucy who he is falling for. Dude you know her husband just died, right?  

Bannister and his "helpers"
Well damn I found another nineties horror movie that is great! Possibly it was a good decade for the genre after all. Here director Peter Jackson has his own interesting take on the ghost story. The ghosts interact far more with the living than they do in a traditional haunting story. Bannisters “helpers” have unique personalities and fight against the bad ghost that is killing the living. Instead of being a tool to drive the plot they are actual characters. Along the way Jackson not only gives us an interesting story but creates his own set of rules for ghosts. They can be good or bad just like they were in life. The only reason they remain on Earth is that they didn’t go into the light when they died and not necessarily because they are tortured or have unfinished business. Also, you can kill a ghost, which is odd.  

That part about being good or bad is important when Fox’s character decides the best way he can fight a spirit is if he is one. The only plan he has to be the hero and save the girl is to die! This same logic also explains why a particular FBI agent is still around after losing his head. Speaking of the agent I need to talk about the cast. There are two specific people that I want to mention. First up is Jeffrey Combs, who plays Dammers from the FBI. He steals every scene that he is in. The guy has issues having dealt with the paranormal as an undercover agent for years. It has clearly unhinged him, and his performance is a blast. Plus, crazy guy with an Uzi always makes for a good time!

Jeffery Combs is awesome yet again!
The other performance that has to be mentioned is that of Dee Wallace. You aren’t sure if she is sympathetic or not. Spoiler… she most certainly isn’t. As much as Combs is memorable so is Wallace. She plays the Patricia character up to the max. Starting off as sad and sympathetic before going full on nuts running around with a shotgun. Her best line is, “I’m in the mood for a little vivisection!” I’m looking at a signed photo of her from the Frighteners as I write this review with that very inscription on it! This is one of her best characters in a horror movie and that is saying a lot if you check out her IMDB page for her credits.

The Frighteners is a fantastic movie that I highly recommend. It has scares, some gore, and a lot of humor. It combines everything that Jackson did in his earlier movies with a great cast and good budget. Here is a filmmaker that didn’t let the big Hollywood studios ruin what he was all about and I love this movie all the more for that fact.

© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Army of Darkness (1992)

So here we are with the third and final installment in the Evil Dead movie franchise. And yes, I know there was a remake, but it doesn’t count. I’m not saying it’s bad, but I just don’t care about the rehashing of an already perfect movie. So as far as the movies go this is the end and what a good way to wrap things up… Until the T.V. show which is also pretty good.

At the end of Evil Dead II Ash is sucked into the portal and dumped in the middle ages where he shoots a deadite and the movie ends. For Army of Darkness they rewind things a bit and instead of killing a deadite he is captured by Arthur’s men and hauled off in chains. They toss him into a pit thinking he is one of Henry’s men, whom they are fighting with. But instead of being killed by the deadites in the pit he does his “Ash” thing and kicks some butt. He climbs out and sets Henry, who was also captured, free with the rest of his men. Then he seemingly takes over the castle. The wise man tells him that he needs to get the Necronomicon so they can send him back home and to save them from destruction. Of course, he screws it up, he is Ash after all, and following him back to the castle is an army of the dead lead by his own evil doppelganger.

This movie is awesome. The tone continues to shift from the horror of the original Evil Dead to the slapstick action that was part of Evil Dead II to eventually full on comedy in Army of Darkness. Here they full on “stooge” with eye pokes, slaps, and sound effects. I understand that many fans of the original Evil Dead are annoyed by this because they think it is too silly. Honestly, I can totally see where they are coming from. I love this movie and the other Evil Dead flicks equally, but for different reasons. To me that is what makes this franchise completely unique in that all three of the movies are able to change dramatically but yet are equally entertaining. I can’t think of another franchise that has pulled that off.

"Bad" Ash
In addition to the stooges gags the dialogue is cleverly written to give Ash as many quotable lines as possible. There is a lot of silly stop motion effects work that harken back to Harryhausen, as well as some actual puppets, and actors suited up as deadites. Is it seamless? No it isn’t, but that is part of the fun. The ending of the movie has Ash back in the present doing battle with the deadites at S-Mart. But why you might ask? Wasn’t the book supposed to banish the deadites once and for all? He screwed up the words again so now he has to protect housewares from the scourge of the dead.

I’m a huge fan of the Evil Dead franchise. While I love them all equally Army of Darkness is the first one that I saw in the theater on it initial release so it will always have a special place in my heart. It is also the movie where I personally feel Bruce Campbell became the personality that we all identify him as now. The silly, wisecracking character actor that we all love starts here. If you are a horror fan you have to watch this one at least once. It is recommended.

© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer