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Featured Post - The 2021 Halloween Marathon

It's that time of year again. When the weather starts to get chilly and the leaves change. I love Fall and everything that comes with it...

Friday, October 15, 2021

Halloween II (1981)

Horror movies have spawned many sequels over the years. Of all of them I think this might be the best or at least the cleverest. This movie takes place immediately after the end of the original Halloween. Michael has picked himself up off the yard where he landed at the end of the movie and is wandering the neighborhood, injured but still ready to grab another kitchen knife and continue his work. 

While this is going on Loomis is still looking for him and the girl that got away, Laurie Strode, has been taken to the hospital. Remember she was pretty beat up after her encounter with Michael. Eventually he finds out where she is and heads off to finish the job, which isn’t a good thing for the staff. As he makes his way thru them, collecting quite a body count, Loomis is grabbed and removed from Haddonfield. Seems that the state officials want to distance themselves from accidentally releasing a mass murderer. Though Loomis does make his way to the hospital for a final showdown with Michael. 

I really like this movie and think that having it pick right up at the end of the first was a genius idea. They basically continue right along with the same night of terror. Laurie is still traumatized, and Jamie Lee Curtis is great again in her role. Pleasence is also awesome reprising his role as Loomis. He manages to play right on the edge of overacting without crossing the line. He also gets more screen time as Curtis spends a lot of the movie in a hospital bed. Much like the first movie we get a great stalking/chasing sequence to finish up things. Only this time it is in a creepy hospital. 

In my review of Halloween, I mentioned that I don’t consider it a slasher movie because the kills aren’t as in your face. In this one they are more like what you would expect from a slasher flick. A security guard takes a hammer to the face, needles are driven into eyes and temples, another person is cooked alive in a whirlpool, and we even get someone drained of all their blood. That last one makes quite the mess and provides a bit of slapstick. There are a lot more kills and many of them are on screen. Carpenter didn’t direct this so his less is more attitude from the original isn’t carried over. 

I have two big complaints about Halloween II. First is without Carpenter at the helm the stalking scenes where Michael is pursuing Laurie aren’t nearly as good. The setting of the hospital has a lot of potential but there isn’t much tension built up. The other big thing that was a huge mistake is giving Michael a backstory and motivation. It is in this movie that we find out Laurie is his sister and that he wants to kill her much like their older sister and the beginning of the first movie. I liked it better when he was the shape. No reason, no motivation, just a force of nature that wanted to kill. Pure evil plays much better. 

In the end we have the same great actors, Curtis and Pleasence, given a good script that continues the story. There are more kills, and they are executed nicely on screen. While not nearly as good as the original I still give Halloween II credit for doing its own thing. If you haven’t seen this one it is a worthy sequel. Now onto Halloween III.


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Halloween (1978)

This is another of those movies that I feel a bit silly reviewing. Even the most casual of fans has to know about the original John Carpenter classic that launched the franchise. But since I’m doing a retrospective on the series, I figured it was necessary to preach to the choir just a bit.

The movie kicks off twenty years in the past where we see a teenage girl getting frisky with her boyfriend. He leaves afterwards, and someone sneaks up on her stabbing her do death with a kitchen knife. We quickly discover that it was her younger brother Michael, basically just a kid. Then the action shifts to the “present” or twenty years later. Dr. Loomis is getting ready to transport the now adult Michael for an evaluation to see if he can be released. Not much chance of that since according to the good doctor he has been starring at the walls for the last couple of decades. But when the car arrives to pick him up the patients are wandering around in the dark and Michael soon steals the car and takes off. Where is he headed? Home of course.

The rest of the movie is Michael stalking some random high school girls that happen to be babysitting kids on Halloween night, targeting one in particular. Her name is Laurie Strode and she had the misfortune of dropping the keys off at the old Myer’s house while Michael was hiding out. He literally went home you see. Loomis arrives in town and with the sheriff starts hunting Michael aka. the Boogeyman. After some deaths he finally starts chasing Laurie, but before he can get her Loomis shows up and Michael ends up dead… or does he?

Before anyone fires off an angry email about Laurie being Michael’s sister and that it wasn’t all random please stop. Remember that was added in Halloween part II so here it is all random and unexplained. I’ve always preferred that because Michael is much scarier when he doesn’t have a backstory. In this movie he is just the shape, an evil killing machine that doesn’t need motivation or reason. If you have the misfortune of meeting up with him, you die. That is way scarier so when I watch this one, I try and forget about the attempts later in the series to explain the character. Hell, the more they try and explain him the worse the movies get.

The lighting, camera work, music, and setting all work together to make Halloween as scary as any movie you will ever watch. Many of the fans have seen this one so much that they have become calloused to how great it is. There are scenes where Michael is in the background and we the audience can see him, but the characters can’t. Other times the characters do see him and then just as quickly he is gone. But my favorite bit is where he steps out of the shadows behind the Laurie Strode character with only the white of his mask being visible at first. These aren’t simple jump scares, but instead are creepy and set the tone for the action.

Many cite this and Black Christmas as the first slasher movies. I’ve never felt like the original Halloween was a slasher movie. It doesn’t have the in your face kills and gores that those movies feature. Instead the kills here aren’t as over the top and you don’t see knives or blood splashing everywhere. You get one simple stabbing and a couple strangulations. They are slightly disturbing when you realize this is likely how a serial killer would get rid of his victims, but it certainly isn’t the bloodbath that we would see in the slasher craze of the eighties. Halloween instead focuses more on the characters, especially Laurie and Dr. Loomis. Jamie Lee Curtis is great as Laurie and pulls of the horror of seeing all of her friends killed very well. But it is Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis that is most memorable. He basically steals every scene that he is in and has all of the best lines, both serious with his monologues as well as some funny one liners.

There is a reason that Halloween spawned a franchise. It’s a classic that caught everyone by surprise and became part of the culture. And while I don’t consider this a slasher movie it also helped spawn that phenomenon that dominated the nineteen eighties and beyond. This is a must see if you consider yourself a horror movie fan.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Night of the Lepus (1972)

The movie opens with a grave warning about messing with the environment. It uses the example of a population explosion of rabbits after the natural predators have been wiped out. It shows just how destructive they are before the credits roll. Then we meet a rancher who loses his horse when it breaks it’s leg in a rabbit hole. Frustrated he calls his friend Elgin at the college for help. In turn he enlists a scientist named Bennet to look for a solution.

The twist is that they don’t want to use poison or pesticides to eliminate the rabbits. Mostly due to the threat of what it could do to the other animals and the land. So, Elgin tests out a serum that will cause birth defects and kill enough of the offspring to keep the population under control. He is testing them on some captured rabbits, one of which his daughter takes a liking too. She swaps it for one out of the control group without them knowing and then asks to keep it. The thing gets away and rabbits doing what they do soon all the rabbits are suffering the effects of the serum. What they didn’t realize is the result are rabbits that are very hungry and never stop growing. Now they are as big as cars and killing everything in their path.

Giant killer bunny rabbits… that is a silly idea for a movie. If I’m going to be honest it really doesn’t work as a creature feature. The filmmakers do their best to try and make them look terrifying, but I never thought our characters were in any real danger. No matter how big they are these are just fuzzy bunnies after all. There aren’t any chills or terror to be had in Night of the Lepus, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good movie, intentionally or otherwise. This is an entertainingly funny flick that I’ve always enjoyed. I love how much the actors sell the story and play it straight despite the absurd premise. This is what those modern filmmakers that make silly parodies are trying to achieve, only here it works because everyone was taking the project seriously and doing their best work.

RAWR... I'm a monster!
The cast is incredibly good for what is just a goofy drive-in flick. Our rancher is played by the legendary Rory Calhoun, who most of you reading this will know from Motel Hell but I remember from so many westerns I watched as a kid with my grandpa. Stuart Whitman who had a long career in television and movies as well as being nominated for an Oscar (sadly not for Night of the Lepus) is the scientist. His wife is played by the legendary Janet Leigh of Psycho and The Fog fame. Yeah, she is Jamie Lee Curtis’ mom too, but I love her in Carpenter’s epic ghost story. This is also notable as DeForest Kelly’s last non Star Trek movie role. You can see that there is a ton of talent here.

The special effects work is solid. The rabbits are brought to life with the use of miniature sets and an admittedly silly looking costume. The miniatures look decent and are top notch work for that sort of thing. The rabbit getup that they stick someone in to interact with the cast looks like one of the creatures you would see on Lost in Space. Which is to say not very good. Though this didn’t bug me too much as it sort of all plays into the charm of Night of the Lepus. Again it is about giant killer bunnies!

Paced well with lots of action right away this movie never lets the audience think too much about what they are watching. Sure, it is silly, but if it entertains then who cares? I certainly didn’t and recommend this movie. Sit back, turn your brain off, and enjoy.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, October 11, 2021

Séance (2021)

This popped up on Shudder and I’m always down for a new horror flick this time of the year. Honestly Shudder has been releasing some interesting stuff, so I figured what the hell. I mean the movie was pitched as a haunted girl’s school flick so… cool. Be warned I’m going to avoid the worst spoilers but there will likely be a couple just so I’m able to talk about the movie. If that bugs you jump to the last paragraph to see my recommendation.

Students at an all-girls school are in the bathroom trying to summon a ghost. Stuff happens and they get spooked, though it all turns out to be a big prank. Unfortunately, one of the girls, Carrie, ran off to her room and we see that someone or something comes out of her closet and attacks her. Her body is found outside under her window. They think she fell but we know she was pushed! This opens a spot at the very competitive institution, and we get a new student named Camille brought in to take her place and even her room!

The same clique of girls that were around with Carrie start hazing the new girl. She fights back and punches are thrown. This gets them all detention where they decide to work together. I guess working together means have a séance to talk to the dead girl’s ghost. Contact is made and things get spooky from there. Is the ghost come back to get revenge on the girls? Was it even one of the girls who killed her? Or could she be back for some other reason? Oh, and who the hell is Camille?

Séance isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch. There are scenes that seem to go on too long, especially when trying to establish how mean the girls are to Camille. It gets repetitive and the hurts the momentum they have built up. Not sure that this movie had to be ninety minutes long and could have used a few trims here and there. What I did love was the plot itself. It isn’t often that a movie has a twist I didn’t see coming. What I thought was going to be a straightforward haunting turned out to be part ghost story and part slasher. That was a neat trick and was executed well. The identity of Camille and how she connects to everyone was also cool.

I liked the cast and thought that the actresses were very good in their roles. I also thought that all the supernatural stuff was handled very well. There are some legit creepy bits and scares. They are telegraphed a bit and predictable but still effective. We also get some kills, especially at the end. Throats get cut, necks snapped, and heads crushed. Much of the gore is CGI but they don’t linger and except for that last gag it isn’t too obvious. For a low budget movie I was happy with what I got and applaud their efforts.

This isn’t an all-time classic that I will watch every year, but it is a perfectly good and fun way to kill some time. I always like catching some new movies each October to spice things up and Séance, while mild, fit that need. Head on over to Shudder and check this as well as many of the other fun movies they have available. I recommend it!

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)

Let me begin things off with letting you all know that I’m not normally a huge found footage movie fan. Though I’ve been blown away by a couple in the past like As Above So Below, and The Bay. When they are done well, they are fun, when they aren’t it gets boring… very boring. But I have heard folks talking about this one for a couple of years now and thought I’d give it a chance. 

This South Korean movie kicks off with some kids messing around in a supposedly haunted asylum. They apparently were live streaming because they disappeared and now a new online ghost hunting team is going to investigate the place. Though they aren’t supposed to be there and will have to sneak in. They meet up, horse around, walk thru the woods, go into the asylum, and run around screaming a lot. Along the way we find out that the internet crew is faking stuff to freak out their guests, they bring independent investigators along you see, until they aren’t faking it. The place really is haunted, and they have pissed it off! Unfortunately, the “Captain” of the program is so obsessed with clicks that it is far too late by the time they try to escape. 

If you are a fan of found footage movies you may dig Gonjiam. It checks all the boxes including running and screaming, nausea inducing camera work, and lots of padding. People seen to enjoy this, but I don’t. The story here is paper thin and consists of people being assholes for money. That is why they go into the asylum and why they mess with the people they brought along as guests. We get lots of padding where they are eating supper, playing around in a car, teasing each other, and walking in the woods. This eats up about twenty minutes and is painful to get thru. I found it tedious. 

Now when they get to the place it does get creepy in spots. There are gags with arms getting yanked in boxes, scarves with a mind of their own, noises, a creepy doll, and lots of shadowy stuff happening in the background where the characters can’t see it. There are points in the movie where it is sort of scary and I can see why fans of this movie dig it so much. But in addition to how slow it was to start they keep going back to the well with these same types of scares which gets repetitive. The stuff doesn’t work the second or third time you try it. You have to give me something new to sink my teeth into if you want to keep my attention. Then again this just might be my innate dislike for the found footage genre speaking. 

If you like this movie then I totally get it and won’t argue with you. Personally, if you are going to make a found footage movie you need to give me a real story that keeps me guessing. You know like any movie should have. Just saying. This is why I have said and will continue to say that this kind of flick enables lazy filmmaking cloaking itself in the “I want to make it feel real” spiel. Real life is mostly boring guys so give us something fun to watch. This was not it and I’m going to recommend everyone pass on Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Night of the Lepus (1972)

The movie opens with a grave warning about messing with the environment. It uses the example of a population explosion of rabbits after the natural predators have been wiped out. It shows just how destructive they are before the credits roll. Then we meet a rancher who loses his horse when it breaks it’s leg in a rabbit hole. Frustrated he calls his friend Elgin at the college for help. In turn he enlists a scientist named Bennet to look for a solution. 

The twist is that they don’t want to use poison or pesticides to eliminate the rabbits. Mostly due to the threat of what it could do to the other animals and the land. So Elgin tests out a serum that will cause birth defects and kill enough of the offspring to keep the population under control. He is testing them on some captured rabbits, one of which his daughter takes a liking too. She swaps it for one out of the control group without them knowing and then asks to keep it. Well the thing gets away and rabbits doing what they do soon all the rabbits are suffering the effects of the serum. What they didn’t realize is the result are rabbits that are very hungry and never stop growing. Now they are as big as cars and killing everything in their path. 

Giant killer bunny rabbits… that is a silly idea for a movie. If I’m going to be honest it really doesn’t work as a monster movie. The filmmakers do their best to try and make them look terrifying, but I never thought our characters were in any real danger. No matter how big they are these are just fuzzy bunnies after all. There aren’t any chills or terror to be had in Night of the Lepus, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good movie, intentionally or otherwise. This is an entertainingly funny flick that I’ve always enjoyed. I love how much the actors sell the story and play it straight. This is what those modern filmmakers that make silly parodies are trying to achieve, only here it works because everyone was taking the project seriously and doing their best work. 

Rawr I'm a killer bunny!
The cast is incredibly good for what is really just a silly drive-in movie. Our rancher is played by the legendary Rory Calhoun, who most of you reading this will know from Motel Hell but I remember from so many westerns I watched as a kid with my grandpa. Stuart Whitman who had a long career in television and movies as well as being nominated for an Oscar (sadly not for Night of the Lepus) is the scientist. His wife is played by the legendary Janet Leigh of Psycho and The Fog fame. Yeah, she is Jamie Lee Curtis’ mom too, but I love her in Carpenter’s epic ghost story. This is also notable as DeForest Kelly’s last non Star Trek movie role. There is a ton of talent here. 

The special effects work is solid. The rabbits are brought to life with the use of miniature sets and an admittedly silly looking costume. The miniatures look decent and are top notch work for that sort of thing. The rabbit getup that they stick someone in to interact with the cast looks like one of the creatures you would see on Lost in Space. Which is to say not very good. Though this didn’t bug me too much as it sort of all plays into the charm of Night of the Lepus. 

Paced well with lots of action right away this movie never lets the audience think too much about what they are watching. Sure, it is silly, but if it entertains then who cares? I certainly didn’t and recommend this movie. Sit back, turn your brain off, and enjoy. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Friday, October 8, 2021

Slaxx (2020)

A movie about killer pants… well that is something I’ve never seen before. I know that I’m late to this, but it was on my radar, and I do eventually get around to watching newer stuff. This flick follows our main character, Libby, an eager young lady excited to be starting a new job at an environmentally and socially responsible clothing store. It is run by a charismatic man and feels more like a cult than a store. But maybe that is because I’m old and don’t understand how fashion works.

Getting on with things Libby’s first night on the job is a lock in where they put out the new collection before opening to a large crowd on Monday. This is important as the doors can’t be opened until the system allows them to be. One of the biggest items to hit the shelves are new jeans that automatically shape themselves to your body making you look awesome. But these pants have a terrible side effect, they are pissed off and will kill you in gruesome ways! A bunch of secrets are revealed, and the pants are given a tragic backstory. Yeah, that was a weird sentence to write but this is that kind of movie.

There are going to be some spoilers here in my review so if you don’t like that sort of thing and haven’t watched Slaxx yet let me stop you right here. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie and am going to recommend it and don’t want to ruin it for anyone. Cool? Alright then let’s dig in. The story, characters, and “monster” are all absurd and I loved it. The fact that the movie plays it seriously despite the fact we are watching CGI pants stroll around the screen killing people only adds to the fun. Most of the scenario is played for laughs though it does get a bit serious at times. This is especially so with the origin of the killer trousers. Let me explain.

The supposedly responsible fashion chain has been experimenting with genetically modified cotton plants in India. If that isn’t bad enough, they are also using child labor to harvest the crop. Hell, when one unfortunate thirteen-year-old girl is drug into the machinery they don’t even toss the batch out. That is how the pants are possessed by an angry spirit whose life was cut short. The consumers and employees who support the company that brought about her death are all fair game and get taken out.

Speaking of that we need to talk kills. There is a lot of CGI not only with bringing the killer pants to the screen but with the deaths as well. Still there were some satisfying gags in Slaxx that I wanted to mention. Hands get chewed off by zippers, an annoying fashion YouTuber has her neck snapped, and yet another person is eaten down to the bone by a swarm of jeans. That was fun. But my favorite kill is also the first. We get an extended bit where an unfortunate employee wearing a purloined pair of pants is squeezed to death. Her waist gets very squishy, and insides come out. I dug it. Toss in some Bollywood song and dance numbers and you have yourself a fun movie.

This is a magical combination of low budget, well written, and creative storytelling that I don’t often get to see. Slaxx is deserving of all the buzz it was getting last year and if you waited to watch it like I did then wait no longer. It is worth your time. Head on over to Shudder (whereas of the writing of this it is currently streaming) and check it out.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer