Monday, October 31, 2005

Monster Movie Mon - Some Series and Unfortunate Events

First of all, in honor of this most Eeeeeevil of holidays, I've posted the latest installment of "The Many Faces of Eeeeeevil."

And now, to wrap up my Monster Movie series, I'll talk about, well, monster movie series. Plus, my Top 10 Movies I Couldn't Really Fit In The Other Categories. So, have a read, and then get prepared for a barrage of rugruts banging on your door demanding free candy.

Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts

For some reason horror movies seem to lend themselves more to long-running series more than just about any other genre; many times, the sequels will get more and more self-referential and self-parodying as time wears on. Of course, they also seem to lend themselves to really, really crappy sequels as well. The following are the series which, when taken as a whole, maintain the highest level of entertainment value.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: A prime example of the shifting in tone over the course of a series. The first Nightmare was an atmospheric, creepy, scary film, and the only horror movie my dad ever refused to let me watch when he rented it because he was afraid it would freak me out too much. But as the sequels progressed, Freddy's penchant for one-liners became more like an obsession; by the time of the fourth film the death scenes were crafted to give him as many bad puns as possible to say. Still, there were enough interesting and entertaining sequences throughout even the later, lesser installments to keep this series at the top of my favorites list. While the first one is probably the best straight-horror film of them all, I'll always have a special place in my heart for pt.3, Dream Warriors, which had not yet succumbed to total tongue-in-cheek, but which was, at the same time, really really cheesy. But, it had some cool effects, some nice death sequences, and one of my favorite movie lines ever: "He's the bastard son of a 1,000 maniacs." Now that's quality stuff right there! And I can't mention this film without talking about the so-bad-she's-funny actress who played the character Taryn; just watching her own special brand of over-acting makes the movie worthwhile. At one point one of the other actors accidentally calls her "Turn," a scene which Rebel Monkey and I reran several times one night trying to make sure we heard what we thought we heard. A few weeks later, when the Core 4 went to see the local production of Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical, we both noticed one particularly strikingly scenery-chewer, prompting us to look at each other and exclaim "It's Turn!" So you see, the Nightmare movies have enriched my life on many levels.

Phantasm: I'm a little bummed; there was a deal on the table for the creator of the series to do a new trilogy of these, but it's fallen through. Hope he finds another backer, because I'm looking forward to seeing the story play out. Right now, though, my biggest regret is that the majority of this series is not yet available on DVD. The storyline is a little hard to encapsulate; there's a mortician, referred to as The Tall Man, who takes corpses, reanimates them in a process that turns them into Jawa-lookalikes, and sends them through some sort of portal to another world. Aiding him in his quest for corpses are a bunch of flying silver orbs, which like to plunge into people's heads and drill right through. I haven't seen the sequels in forever, so I can't recall all of the twists and turns that come out later, but man, does it get freaky.

Evil Dead: An interesting case, since each movie in the trilogy each substantially different in tone than the one before, and yet the changes are kind of organic, with the slapstick and highly stylized action becoming more pronounced with each installment. The first one is still my favorite; despite the low budget (or maybe partially because of it), it remains one of the creepiest films I've ever seen. The third installment, Army of Darkness, is my least favorite of the three; I still like it, but it is more of a horror-comedy movie than a horror-with-some-comedy movie.

Friday the 13th: The mother of all never-ending horror series. I must confess, I still have not seen pts. 6-8 (a.k.a. Jason Lives, New Blood and Jason Takes Manhattan); I keep meaning to have a big ol' F13 film-fest, but never have gotten around to it. The first few films in this series hold a special place in my heart, since I can remember having to break into my own house in order to get to see the first two . . . I was probably 7 or 8 at the time. My parents were out on the town on one Friday the 13th evening, and my uncle was taking care of me. This was during the brief period of time that we actually had a cable channel that was willing to go that far outside of town, and since It (the capital I is no mistake, the name of the channel was It) was showing the first two films in the series that night, my uncle decided to take my two slightly older cousins and myself over to my house to watch them. Of course, the house was locked, and I was too young to have a key (although, to be honest, by the time the house burned down before my junior year of college I still didn't have a key), and so we were forced to find a way to open the never-used door to my bedroom just enough for scrawny me to slip in and unlock the back door. We got that TV on just in time to find out who the killer was in pt.1 and were halfway through pt.2 when mom and dad got home. Good times.

The Howling: There were quite a few series vying for inclusion on this list, but the werewolf series The Howling beat the others out for one reason, and one reason only: The Howling III: The Marsupials. That's right, The Marsupials. A movie about a band of reclusive, Australian marsupial werewolves. If that doesn't merit inclusion on some sort of list, I don't know what does. The first film is pretty entertaining as well, as is the direct-to-video pt.6, The Freaks which features a carnival sideshow filled with actual monsters. Most of the series is pretty cheesy, but in an enjoyable way if you like that sort of thing. Plus, c'mon: marsupial werewolves!

Quite a Menagerie of Monstrosities

So, while coming up with all of the different categories for my Halloween horror movie tribute, I came across several movies that didn't want to easily fit into any of the categories I created, so after trying desperately to come up with themes to accommodate them and not finding any that were really satisfactory, and definitely none that could support more than two or three of each, I finally said "screw it" and just lumped them all together into one, final, "catch as catch can" category; the ability to do this is why my OCD is only borderline. Due to the special nature of this category, we have double the number of movies.

Dagon: Probably my favorite Lovecraft adaptation. Yes, there are some borderline-slapstick sequences that make me cringe, but overall I've never seen any film capture the atmosphere of Lovecraft's Elder God stories quite so well. Some very creepy moments. Another example of a film whose commentary increased my enjoyment of the overall film.

Frailty: This one is sort of borderline horror; it might be better classed as "supernatural thriller." But this tale of a family man suddenly convinced he can see demons is well worth a watch, no matter how you categorize it.

Hellraiser: While a couple of the sequels had some interesting ideas and scenes, none of them can compare to the original. It's really amazing just how big of a horror icon Pinhead became after this first film, since he's really such a small part of the overall plot of the film; the power of having such a strong visual design, I suppose. The rebirth of the evil brother scenes are gross, but cool; the final execution of the evil brother, though, is mainly just gross; I know when I first watched it at Ol' Vick's house when we were kids, I couldn't watch it, the hooks through the flesh wigged me out. Have seen this one many, many times, still love it.

Relic: One of the few one-time-viewing movies on this list. On one level I was disappointed in the way the movie adapted the book, with its insane compression of the time frame and its butchering of character arcs. At the same time, the creature design was one of the coolest, most original designs I've seen in ages, and the action and FX were enough to get me to forgive the film for its divergence from its source material.

Jeepers Creepers: I know some folks were disappointed by the big reveal of the Creeper's real nature, but it didn't bother me. Granted, I enjoyed the earlier parts of the film when he was undercover, so to speak, much more; that one shot when the sibling drive by him at his house gave me chills. Very creepy. Overall, the fun dialogue and great chemistry between the siblings made this one of my favorite horror flicks. I also liked the sequel quite a bit, even though it's a totally different style of horror film; personally, I liked the fact that they decided to do more than just copy the first one.

Final Destination: I really liked the conceit of this film, and the fact that Death is a nebulous, invisible force was a nice touch; on the commentary they mentioned that at one point there were plans to create a CGI "face" for Death, I'm so glad they didn't. Again, I liked the sequel, which had a lot of fun with the Rube Goldberg death scenes, but the first one remains the superior film in my books.

Needful Things: I remember watching this at the Satellite Twin $1 theater in Stillwater during the Parker days; I also remember Coronela's roomie at the time getting up and leaving in the middle because she couldn't stand watching people being so awful to each other; I also also remember G'ovich's roomie at the time turning to me and making a joke about the Baptist minister getting beat up by the Catholic priest, to which I replied that it was obviously only because he wasn't a Southern Baptist. Oh, yeah, and the movie was good, too; one of the better film adaptations of King's work.

Pumpkinhead: One of those films that I went into with extremely low expectations, and was subsequently very impressed when it turned out not to suck. This tale of supernatural revenge was actually pretty well thought out, acted, and executed; the same can not be said of the sequel.

Children of the Corn: Okay, ignoring the horrible, Don King-esque hairdo of the possessed Isaac at the end, this is actually a pretty well done pseudo-slasher film. The homicidal children are creepy, and the sense of menace they project is believable. Even most of the stuff with He Who Walks Behind The Rows is pretty good, again, ignoring the awful Isaac make-up at the end. Good grief, what was the director thinking? Avoid the first sequel at all costs, since it decides to blame all of the events of the first film on toxic corn; this after a scene where some cops are killed by stalks of corn being hurled through the windshield during a windstorm, which in light of the removal of any supernatural overtones made no sense whatsoever. The third installment was a bit of an improvement, going back to the He Who Walks Behind The Rows idea, but I haven't seen any of the later ones, although I am curious about Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return just to see if they've decided to stick with the ridiculous make-up job or not.

Creepshow: The only portmanteau film on my list, and it's only a borderline portmanteau at that; for those too lazy to go to Google, a portmanteau horror film is basically an anthology film with some sort of through-line connecting the stories. For example, Cat's Eye is a portmanteau film connected by the cat who travels through each story; Asylum is connected by the story of the new psychiatrist who is doing his rounds, hearing each story; in this case, the connection is the comic book which houses each of the stories. What makes this only borderline portmanteau is that there's no real storyline involving the comic itself, as opposed to the sequel in which the comic book is part of an animated storyline. But I digress . . . I love the way the film serves as an homage to the classic EC horror comics, and incorporates the comic book panels into its design scheme. Probably my favorite stories are the one with the demanding wife and killer beast, and the one featuring Stephen King himself as the white trash victim of a strange meteor. I also enjoyed 2/3 of the sequel; the raft sequence was pretty disturbing, and the undead hit-and-run victim ceaselessly chanting "Thanks for the ride, lady" to his murderer has been burned into my brain forever.

And, that pretty much wraps up my horror movie coverage for now. I'm sure there are several "classic" films that I omitted (Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Manos Hands of Fate), but I stand by my Favorites list . . . for the most part. Because I'm also sure that there are some awesome films that somehow slipped my mind, and which would bump some of these others out of the list faster than you can say "Candyman Candyman Candyman!"


Zinger said...

I look forward to your review of the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise as we enter the holiday season.