HHMC, PART IV

19. The Frighteners was a big stepping stone for director Peter Jackson, as this was the first movie of his to feature extensive CG and visual effects work (courtesy of the then-expanding Weta Digital), which would ultimately lead him to his next big project, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s also one of Michael J. Fox’s last movies in a leading role, as he would soon semi-retire from movie making due to his struggle with Parkinson’s. This movie is so good in places that it’s easy to forgive its shortcomings. The CG effects still hold up reasonably well for something produced in the mid-’90s, and even the more cartoonish-looking effects seem appropriate, given the horror-comedy atmosphere of the plot. Michael J. Fox is also perfect for the role of Frank Bannister, a “psychic investigator” with the ability to interact with ghosts, who he then uses to scam people out of money. The movie isn’t flawless; it runs a bit long for something like this (especially the Director’s Cut, which adds a handful of extra scenes but hits the two-hour mark as a result), and though Fox’s ghost pals are clearly there for comic relief, they’re not quite as funny as they could have been. In addition, horror vet Jeffrey Combs shows up halfway through as a crazed FBI agent, but after a few amusing scenes he quickly becomes an annoyance. Still, The Frighteners is a blast if you can dig the idea of a supernatural thriller crossed with an offbeat, macabre and occasionally screwball comedy. As Leonard Maltin put it, “definitely not for all tastes but a wild time for those who get into it.”  3.5/5

20. Trick ‘r Treat was a nice surprise. Originally planned for a theatrical release in October 2007, it was held back, presumably due to fears of being wiped out by Saw IV. Then October 2008 came and went, and it continued collecting dust. It was finally released direct to DVD in October 2009, sentenced to rot on the shelves of whatever video stores are still remaining. It took some strong word-of-mouth for me to realize this movie might be better than most other low budget direct-to-DVD horror movies, and I’m glad I finally got around to checking it out. It’s been described as a Creepshow-style anthology movie, but the narrative here is much more interwoven. While Creepshow was a collection of distinctly different segments, the several mini-stories shown here are carefully connected; they all take place in the same town (mostly on the same block, actually) and the characters pop in and out of each other’s tales. It’s clear that writer/director Michael Dougherty loves Halloween, as this movie perfectly captures the very essence and atmosphere of the holiday – something that hasn’t been done this well since probably John Carpenter’s original Halloween. It’s also a nice throwback in parts to the tongue-in-cheek horror anthology shows like Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside (themselves throwbacks to the EC horror comics of the ’50s), which often had a sinister twist at the end of each story. And Dougherty may have created a future horror icon in “Sam”, mysterious trick-or-treater and upholder of Halloween traditions. If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s too damn short. At roughly an hour and 15 minutes, it feels more like an hour-long television show than a feature film, and we don’t get to spend much time with the characters before we’re shuffled along to the next bit. Regardless, this movie is destined to become a cult favorite, and deservedly so.  4/5

21. To even things out with a typically bad direct-to-video horror movie, I didn’t have to look any further than Mirrors 2. Despite being a pretty crappy affair, Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors at least had some entertainment value, courtesy of a few insanely gory deaths as well as Kiefer Sutherland, who no doubt filmed his scenes while on break from 24, but forgot he wasn’t playing Jack Bauer (seriously – the scene where he screams and points a gun at a nun like she’s a terrorist concealing a nuclear bomb is worth a viewing alone). But Mirrors 2 doesn’t have Kiefer, nor does it have Aja. Instead we’re stuck with Victor Garcia (who directed the equally forgettable Return to House on Haunted Hill), and Nick Stahl, who appears to be trying to counterbalance Kiefer’s overacting by…not acting. Like Kiefer in the original, he plays the new nightwatchman of the Mayflower department store, which is now open for business after relocating to New Orleans. The abandoned and decrepit Mayflower in the first one at least provided an eerie setting, but there’s nothing scary about a well-kept department store (except their prices, perhaps?). Additionally, it’s not a demented demon hiding in the mirrors this time around, but a former employee who was murdered and wants little Nicky to help expose the people who covered it up, because she apparently saw Stir of Echoes before getting snuffed out (how’s that for six degrees of Kevin Bacon?). Considering all of her victims are people who had something to do with her death (and you’d figure this out not even halfway through), you never feel like Stahl or any other character are ever in danger, the way Kiefer’s wife, kids, and sister were in danger just because they knew him. There’s also a brief subplot involving a pair of detectives who suspect Stahl is behind the deaths, which is fucking stupid seeing as how everybody’s death is clearly self-inflicted. Garcia attempts to one-up Aja in the gore department, but it’s occasionally undercut by the use of cheap-looking CG effects. I also find it curious that while a few characters who barely had anything to do with her death are killed off in slow and gruesome ways, the person who actually killed her is simply sucked into a mirror and killed off-screen. Bitch needs to get her priorities straight. 1.5/5

22. Pet Sematary Stephen King adaptations are a mixed bag. For every The Shining, there’s, well, a total piece of shit. I guess Pet Sematary falls somewhere in the middle; it’s one of the more well-known and competent movies to be based on a King novel, but it’s still pretty bad. I had always remembered it as the one with the murderous little kid running around, but seeing it again I was surprised at how long it takes to get there. It’s about a doctor and his family who move to a small town in Maine, close to a nearby road where trucks drive by at apparently 8 billion mph. The doc befriends a neighbor (Fred Gwynne, aka Herman Munster), who repeatedly warns him to keep his children and pet cat away from the road. There’s also an accident victim at the doc’s place of work, who winds up coming back as a ghost (sure, why not?) to warn the doc not to explore the outer bounds of the local pet cemetery (spelled “sematary” by the local kids – I wonder how good the school system is there?), and on top of that, Herman Munster warns him that while the cemetery has the power to bring pets back from the dead, they never come back in a friendly manner. I heard this movie was originally going to be called Asshole Gets Warned By Multiple People Multiple Times But Doesn’t Fucking Listen, but for some reason they changed it. Anyway, the family cat dies from (surprise) a speeding truck, and so the good doctor takes him to the Pet Sematary to revive him, presumably because he’s too chickenshit to explain the pet’s death to his kids. And just as that song said it would, “the cat caaame back, the verrry next daaaay…” but just as the Herman Munster said it would, it comes back a nasty little furball (even by cat standards). So I spent the rest of this movie just waiting for the doc’s kid to bite the dust, and sure enough he lets the kid wander towards the road one day, where he promptly gets his shit ruined by a truck, whose driver is too busy listening to The Ramones to bother driving under the speed of light. And again, despite multiple warnings by Herman Munster and the Random Ghost Guy, he revives his kid, who sorta resembles the human version of Chucky as he goes on his little killing spree. After wasting Herman Munster and his own mother, the little shit is finally put down for good by the father, who no doubt realized his mistake once his kid started gutting people. Only now, the dumb bastard tries to revive his wife, despite being (once again) warned by Random Ghost Guy, who just can’t take the hint that this guy is never gonna listen to him. You can probably guess what happens next, but at least we get another Ramones tune during the credits.  2/5

23. Scream can be thanked or blamed (depending on where you stand) for issuing the late-’90s “teen horror” craze, despite being infinitely superior to the I Know What You Did Last Summers and Urban Legends that followed it. The first half of the ’90s saw horror icons Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers and just about everyone else dying out at the box office, and horror in general was on a steep downward slope (Leprechaun, anyone?). Expanding on the meta self-awareness that Wes Craven brought to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise with New Nightmare, Scream (with a screenplay by Kevin Williamson) gave us characters that recognized the unspoken “rules” of horror movies, only to inadvertently break them along the way. It’s just a fun movie all around, and while some people may bitch that it’s not real horror, they’re not the types of people you’d wanna hang out with. There’s references to other horror movies aplenty, although I don’t know what version of Halloween they’re watching during the party scene, which keeps jumping around to different parts of the movie (continuity, people!). Of course this movie is a bit outdated in places (it takes place before caller ID was a staple in every household, and one character is accused of being the killer simply because he has a cell phone), but that just adds to the fun in a way.  4/5

24. House of Wax (2005) actually isn’t bad as far as mainstream horror remakes go, even if its intended audience were people who had probably never heard of Vincent Price. Some understandably balked at the stunt casting of Paris Hilton, but truth be told, she’s no worse than the loads of other wooden actors who typically grace the horror genre. In addition, the printing of t-shirts reading “On May 6th, Watch Paris Die” were in a similar campy spirit to the 3D marketing ploy that the 1953 House of Wax used to lure people into theatres. As for the story itself, it was a smart move to focus on a group of 20-somethings who stumble upon the wax museum (here expanded to include a full deserted town), rather than the “curators” themselves. And the set designs are impeccable; this is one of those movies that’s worth watching for the visual effects alone. The kills are gruesome enough (obviously Paris gets one of the worst), and though I made this mistake myself, lead killer Brian Van Holt should not be mistaken for Channon Roe, who played “Jock #1” in Can’t Hardly Wait, aka the friend of Mike Dexter’s who tells him he can’t break up with his girlfriend just yet, because her dad got them tickets to see Pearl Jam. Just so ya know.  3/5

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One Response to “HHMC, PART IV”

  1. […] As such, it was rushed into production and filmed in 11 days, with hack DTV director Victor Garcia (Mirrors 2) and, for the first time in the franchise’s history, someone other than Doug Bradley playing […]

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