Child’s Play 2 and The ABC’s of Death Part 1 :: October Movie Scarefest

OCTOBER SCARY MOVIES

Child’s Play 2 (1990) and The ABC’s of Death (2012) 

It’s October and round these parts we are celebrating in a big, spooky way all month long. As part of that celebration, we have upped the ante to a horror double-feature each weekend, as well as featuring other “spooky” themed posts during the week.

For our first October Movie Scarefest weekend we include the second of our newest “horror franchise”, where we see the return of the killer possessed doll, and his “best friend forever” Andy, as well as some familiar faces from Logan’s Run, Twin Peaks and Beverly Hills 90210.

Our other film is actually more like 26 films all-together, as 26 different directors craft their horror short film that correlates with a letter from the alphabet. This could have been the most brilliant anthology feature ever, but many of the “letters” crossed lines into a level of disturbing that is just not for us.

Child’s Play 2 is the story of a somewhat ridiculous return of Chucky, who was almost completely destroyed in the first feature. Through a string of bad decisions and coincidences our “Buddy” doll is reunited with his “one true pair” best friend. The death count is way up, as are the special effects, but I’m not sure the story improved.

The ABC’s of Death is the first film in what looks to be a series wherein 26 directors are each given a letter of the alphabet. With this letter they have to produce a word, and with that word create a short horror film to go along with it. At times this worked in very unique and entertaining ways, but more often than not the vision was horrific in a very unpleasant/I can’t watch this kind of way.

So, hey everyone, better get comfortable, bring lots of snacks, stay hydrated and arm yourselves for danger and terror because this is going to be a long and creepy night. And, dont’ forget to stay tuned for more horror themed posts all month long.

As always, we welcome and request any and all of your horror movie suggestions. You can give us some titles in the comment section, or email me directly at lyrique.discorde@gmail.com (Laura), or my husband at chuckemorgan@gmail.com (Charles).

Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.

Also, if you are a producer or promoter of any independent horror films we would love to watch and review here, just reach out to us and send us a viewable copy and we will put it as part of our regular horror installment.

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Child’s Play 2 (1990)
Written by Don Mancini
Directed by John Lafia

Child’s Play 2 begins two years after the first film. The movie opens to close-up shots of Chucky being rebuilt from near scratch by the “Good-Guy” PlayPals doll company in some feeble attempt to prove that the accusations about a “killer doll” were false. We hear mention that Andy Barclay was in the State’s care, and his Mother Karen institutionalized for corroborating her son’s story, though there are no mention of the detective who witnessed the doll in his murderous, and animated, state. Are we to believe that the detective denied what happened, allowing young Andy to be taken from his Mother, and his Mother to be put away in a mental facility?

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During the rehab work on Chucky one of the men working on him is electrocuted through Chucky’s eyes, though it isn’t exactly made clear if it was intentional from Chucky, or not. The CEO of the company orders his assistant, Mattson (hey, look, its Greg Germann from Ally McBeal – good thing Chucky doesn’t have a “waddle“) to cover up the accident and get rid of Chucky.

Andy is eventually taken in as a foster child by Phil and Joanne Simpson (hey it’s Jenny Agutter from Logan’s Run, The Avengers, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier). He leaves his social worker, Grace Poole (hey, it’s Grace Zabriskie – Laura Palmer’s Mom from Twin Peaks). At the Simpson’s Andy meets their other foster child, a teenage girl named Kyle (hey, this is fun, there’s Christine Elsie who played misunderstood bad girl Emily Valentine from Beverly Hills 90210).

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Mattson  takes Chucky away in his car, stopping at a corner store briefly. While he is out of the car Chucky phones Grace Poole ( how did he know where to call?) to find out where Andy is, pretending to be a long-lost relative of the boy. He then carjacks the car and orders Mattson to drive outside the Simpson household, by gunpoint, from the backseat. Somehow Mattson doesn’t notice its the doll holding him up until right before Chucky suffocates him with the bag from the corner store.

In the house, Chucky accidentally activates “Tommy” another “Good-Guy” doll (does everyone have these horrible dolls?) and destroys him with a special ornament of Joanne’s, and then takes the time to bury “Tommy” in the garden (seemed like a waste of time, but okay – I guess this foster home ain’t big enough for two “Good-Guys“).

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The ornament that Phil values more than his foster kids

The next morning Phil grounds both Andy and Kyle for breaking the special ornament as they both vehemently deny doing it. Later that night we see Chucky tie Andy up to his bed, and almost pull the voodoo soul-switch spell on him, but he is rudely interrupted by Kyle, who has broken her grounding and is sneaking back in through Andy’s bedroom window.

When Phil finds Andy tied up and Kyle in the room with him he looks to punish them again, but after Andy claims Chucky was really the one that tied him up, Phil throws him in the basement.

What follows is a series of confrontations and deaths, as Chucky attempts to get close enough to Andy to cast his spell that will transfer his soul from the doll, to Andy’s human body. Oh, and a lot of poorly made decisions and wrong place at the right time scenarios that made for much eye-rolling.

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There is a “Final Girl” in this film, as is a set-up for the next movie in the series (at least if you watch the “extended ending“).

Thoughts from my husband:

I enjoy more than half of the Child’s Play films, and find that I like Child’s Play 2 a little better than the first film. While the story line in the first movie is slightly stronger, I find the pacing, and effects, of the second movie to be superior. Add to the fact that Chucky’s body count has actually increased from the first one making him a more convincing threat.

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While there are some flaws to be pointed out during the film (I watch too many “Cinema Sins“), they are not numerous enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the film.

Giving Brad Dourif more lines other than “C’mon Andy, let’s play hide the soul” was a brilliant move. In this sequel Chucky’s extended dialogue puts him on par with Freddy Krueger in the “wits” department.

The only fault I can really name is that with the number of times that Chucky is actually alone with Andy you’d think he’d have been able to switch souls a few times over, especially since it seemed to only take about five seconds for him to do it in the first film – but Chucky continues to get distracted by stupid shit, ultimately dooming himself to life within a “Good Guy” doll.

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A few fun facts:

Writer Don Mancini stated that in an early draft of his script, the film was set during the Christmas season; this would have explained why so many Good Guy dolls were in the factory during the finale.

Chucky appeared in a tuxedo at the 1990 Hall of Fame Awards to advertise the theatrical release of the film. He was introduced by Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).

Chucky at the Horror Hall of Fame Awards in 1990

Child’s Play 2 opened as the #1 film at the box office.

All of Brad Dourif’s voice-over work for Chucky was recorded in advance so they could match up Chucky’s mouth with the words. Because of this, Dourif rarely appeared on set. Instead, recordings of his voice would be played back for Alex Vincent to go by.

Chris Sarandon was originally going to reprise his role as Detective Mike Norris from the first film, but his scenes were cut from the film due to budgetary issues.

The original script had an opening scene of a court hearing dealing with the events of the previous film. Catherine Hicks was to reprise her role of Karen Barclay in this sequence but it was cut before filming began. Elements of this scene appeared in a similar courtroom scene in Curse of Chucky (2013).

Despite not reprising her role Catherine Hicks was constantly on set for the sequel to see her husband, Kevin Yagher, who operated the anatomic Chucky doll.

The Good Guy doll Tommy is named after original Child’s Play director Tom Holland.

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The murder of Andy’s teacher and the final showdown at the Toy Factory are both elements of Don Mancini’s original Child’s Play script that failed to make it into the first film.

Child’s Play 2 was Christine Elise and Adam Wylie’s film debuts.

Angry moments with a “Good Guy

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The ABC’s of Death (2012)
Written by Ant Timpson, Nacho Vigalondo, Adrián García Bogliano, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Marcel Sarmiento, Simon Rumley, Jon Schnepp, Dimitrije Vojnov, Yudai Yamaguchi, Noboru Iguchi, Simon Barrett, Ti West, Kaare Andrews, Bruno Forzani, Hélène Cattet, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Srdjan Spasojevic and Lee Hardcastle
Directed by Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Hélène Cattet, Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, Jason Eisener, Bruno Forzani, Adrián García Bogliano, Xavier Gens, Jorge Michel Grau, Lee Hardcastle, Noboru Iguchi, Thomas Cappelen Malling, Andres Morgenthaler, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Simon Rumley, Marcel Sarmiento, Jon Schnepp, Srdjan Spasojevic, Timo Tjahjanto, Andrew Traucki, Nacho Vigalondo, Jake West, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Adam Wingard and Yudai Yamaguchi

The ABCs of Death is a 2012 American anthology horror film produced by Ant Timpson and Tim League. It contains 26 different shorts, each by different directors spanning fifteen countries. It premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. In 2013, it was released on VOD January 31 and in theaters March 8.

The film is divided into 26 individual chapters, each helmed by a different director assigned a letter of the alphabet. The directors were then given free rein in choosing a word to create a story involving death. The varieties of death range from accidents to murders.

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S is for Speed

A contest was held for the role of the 26th director. The winner was UK-based director Lee Hardcastle, who submitted the claymation short for T.

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I had high hopes for this film as both my husband and I are huge fans of short story collections and anthology series, especially in the horror and science fiction genre. Though there were some genuine standouts plot wise, and some incredible cinematography and make-up artistry, as well, there were far too many disturbing stories that felt more than gratuitous, and highly unnecessary.

The worst dealt with sex acts with children, animal cruelty, a miscarriage, and body mutilation done from extreme body image hatred (though I could argue the latter did hit a huge emotionally-triggering societal message on self-hatred and body image). At times the film felt like it had too many directors that were bred on Faces of Death in the 80’s, or were going for shock value without rhyme or reason. There is a difference between horror and horrific, and too many times I had to hide my eyes because I’m a firm believer in “there are some things you can’t unsee.”

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H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion

That said, there were some high moments and some really great shorts in the bunch, namely E is for ExterminateH is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion and S is for Speed.

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F is for Fart is the strangest story I’ve ever seen on film, D is for Dogfight is incredible in terms of cinematography and storytelling, Q is for Quack is so very clever, and L is for Libido is too disturbing to discuss.

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F is for Fart

There is a sequel arriving in theaters on Halloween, but I’m not sure I can make it through another one, even for the gems.

Thoughts from my husband:

I think its easy to say I like anthologies, as much as I like short stories. While it is difficult to do a good short story (props to Harlan Ellison and Robert Bloch, true masters of the short story), it is equally difficult to do a good short cinematic anthology (props Rod Serling). Like a good short story, an anthology segment needs to pull you in quickly, bring you up to speed, and deliver a one-two punch, sometimes in less than five minutes.

A few of these stories in this film do an admirable job at it. Unfortunately, 90% of these stories fall short, with 5% of them being just downright disturbing (Timo Tjahjanto, you know I’m talking to you, shame on you).

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Exterminate, Hydro-Electric and Speed are all well-worth checking out. Too bad that only burns up about fifteen minutes of this two-hour film. The rest of the time would be better spent perfecting popcorn flavors.

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Q is for Quack

A few fun facts:

The opening shot of each of the 26 short films features the camera panning away from something red, for example, a red dinner tray in the “A” film, a red circle on a characters headband in the “S” film, etc.

The child featured on the movie poster is the son of director Kaare Andrews. He is also featured in Andrews’ segment in the film.

The characters name ‘Frau Scheisse’ means literally translated ‘Mrs. Shit” in German.

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John Carpenter’s The Ward and Child’s Play :: Saturday Horror Movie Double-Feature

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John Carpenter’s The Ward and Child’s Play :: Saturday Horror Movie Double-Feature

Our latest installment of the Saturday Horror Movie Double Feature includes a new film from a classic horror movie director set in a psychiatric hospital in the sixties, as well as the start of another horror franchise, this time instead of killer flying balls we have a killer living dolls in this series.

The Ward is a rather brilliantly told story that has a twist that on one hand could have been taken as contrived, but is actually well executed, enough so to make it a surprise ending, something that is often hard to accomplish in film these days. Child’s Play is a movie I feel like I should have seen when it was released, especially since I think I saw every other horror movie out that year at the drive-in, but somehow the franchise escaped me until the recent reboot (of sorts) that we reviewed here, about a year ago.

So, why don’t you make yourself comfortable, keep away from any creepy dolls, pop some popcorn, and give our double-feature a read. We watch the movies so you don’t have to, or so you can feel inspired to. As a reminder, we will be doing these reviews every other week, trading off with our year-by-year at the drive-in feature (except in October when it will be horror movies double features every weekend). Stay tuned for more and send us your horror movie suggestions. You can give us some titles in the comment section, or email me directly at lyrique.discorde@gmail.com (Laura), or my husband at chuckemorgan@gmail.com (Charles).

Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.

Also, if you are a producer or promoter of any independent horror films we would love to watch and review here, just reach out to us and send us a viewable copy and we will put it as part of our double-feature.

We will be doing all weekends horror in October, so we welcome some suggestions to add to our scary-cinematic-play-lists and queues.

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The Ward (2010)
Written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen
Directed by John Carpenter

The Ward starts out in typical Carpenter fashion, with action, in this case a somewhat obstructed view of a girl being murdered in what seems to be a psychiatric hospital. We then shifted to the view of a hospital hallway that lengthens, as the camera pulls back, and the title comes into view. Oh how I love a good title treatment, and a horror movie that pulls you in right from the start.

We then find ourselves out in front of a farm house in North Bend, Oregon, where a young blonde woman in a torn white slip sets said house on fire and stands in front of it, in a daze, watching the house burn. The police arrive and try to help her, or at least move her from the blaze. She screams and tries to fight them off, to no avail, as they take her away in cuffs and then deliver her eventually to the North Bend Psychiatric Hospital. It is at said hospital that our story really begins.

Amber Heard plays the blonde firestarter, Kristen, who seems to be completely confused with how she has wound up in an institution. She is shown to her room but not before she sees a room full of other young women her age. I am reminded of the film Girl, Interrupted, which was also set in a psychiatric hospital in the sixties, and I find myself curious and hoping that we learn all the others’ stories.

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We do not so much as learn about their stories as we do their unique personalities and mental instabilities. Some of the women seem much more stable than others, and they all seem to possess strong, defining traits.

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Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca) is an artist with a journal full of drawings of all the patients, including one that has been murdered in the hospital by the other patients, Alice. Lyndsy Fonseca, who was in both Kick Ass films and Hot Tub Time Machine, also played the “daughter on the couch” on How I Met Your Mother (too much time spent listening to your Father drone on and on about himself may lead you to be institutionalized – be warned). Iris was my favorite of the supporting characters, and I do wish her character had stuck around a little longer.

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Emily (Mamie Gummer) is the free-spirit, tough character who is somewhat similar to the Angelina Jolie role in previously mentioned Girl, Interrupted, just way tamer. She acts out on purpose, speaks her mind loudly, and tries to intimidate those around her. She seems to have all this bravado to hide the guilt of her participation in the killing of Alice. Mamie was on the short-lived TV series Emily Owens, and is Meryl Streep’s daughter.

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Sarah (Danielle Panabaker) is a narcisstic, flirtatious character that seems to be the token “mean girl” of the group. This fact makes it somewhat confusing when Alice is described as the mean one. She is the least flushed out of the women in the hospital.

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Zoey (Laura-Leigh) acts as if she is a little girl trapped in the body of a young woman. She sucks her thumb, carries around a stuffed toy rabbit, and seems to be the most emotionally traumatized in the bunch. Kristen seems to be the most protective of Zoey, and tries to eventually take her along on an attempted escape.

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The ghost of Alice seems to be after all the women in the hospital, despite what the main nurse (Susanna Burney), hospital guard (D.R. Anderson), and the main doctor (Jared Harris) seem willing to believe. Jared Harris is fantastic in this, though he is another character I wish had been more flushed out and given a little more screen time to. He was the best part of our last double-feature night’s film The Quiet Ones, and is becoming an interesting actor to watch for, to me.

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I will not give away, or even hint at, the ending. I will just say that this movie is worth checking-out and watching on your own. Just do yourself a favor and avoid the film’s Wikipedia page as it gives all of it away.

All in all, I really enjoyed it, and loved how it contained a strong female cast who were never naked or perceived as weak, troubled and traumatized, but not weak. The film was tasteful in the way it was unraveled, not leaning on gore and nudity (even the shower scene was done tastefully) for cheap scares and thrills, but on actual story development. My only complaint? I think they could have done a better job with the way the ghost/demon appeared.

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Thoughts from my husband:

As a long-time John Carpenter fan I was glad to see that he is back in force. One of the things you can count on with a Carpenter film is that he starts off with some type of action and has few lull points in-between. Such is the case with The Ward.

This is a film that warrants a second viewing due to random statements made throughout the film by various characters hold a completely different meaning once you’ve seen the ending (no spoilers here), as well as making you see certain scenes in a different perspective.  Its interesting how many recognizable actors are crammed into a film with only eight main characters.

Also worth noting is how much suspense Carpenter was able to insert into the film without much blood or gratuitous gore. The film also has no nudity. In a lot of ways this film harkens back to his “Halloween” days.  This film is definitely worth checking-in.

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A few fun facts:

On the audio commentary, Jared Harris asks John Carpenter why he did not compose the soundtrack, John replied “quite frankly, I’m just too old.”

All the actresses did an on-line search to learn their individual dance moves for the dance sequence. (Note: I LOVED the dance scene!)

Dance scene

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John Carpenter’s first full-length feature film since Ghosts of Mars (2001), and his first feature not shot in Panavision since his debut Dark Star (1974).

“Attempted escape”

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Movie clips and movie score :: The Ward

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Child’s Play (1988)
Written by Don Mancini, John Lafia and Tom Holland
Directed by Tom Holland

A new franchise for us is the Chucky series, and this first film is a well-executed origin story. It develops the rules of this “monster” and gives us just enough history to understand where the evil has come from. We also are introduced to a sympathetic family, single Mother Karen (Catherine Hicks) and her very young son Andy (Alex Vincent). Chucky is a little different than other possessed toys I’ve seen in horror stories, this one has an attitude and a mouth on him, he’s not just violent, but all-around unlikable. This is an interesting detail because it gives the doll more humanistic character, and makes it seem all that more alive.

This movie looks and feels so late eighties, from the hair, to Karen’s long trench coat, to the way detective Mike (Chris Sarandon) talks, walks, smokes and presents himself, to the way the city is captured on film. There is one shot of the building that Karen and Andy live in that looks almost exactly like the building that Sigourney Weaver lives in, in Ghostbusters. Just the presence  alone of Chris Sarandon is so eighties to me, what with his notable roles in both Fright Night (1985) and The Princess Bride (1987).

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We start the story off with Mike chasing down notorious killer Charles Lee Ray (played so well by Brad Dourif, even if he has very little screen time), the final showdown taking place in a toy store (how plot convenient) where Charles (known on the street as Chucky) conjures up his voodoo-learned powers in order to transfer his soul into something else.

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In this case the closest thing is a Good Guy doll (i.e. some weird crossbred Raggedy Andy and Cabbage Patch creation).

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The night of young Andy’s birthday his broke and overworked Mom buys said possessed doll from a peddler (really, a peddler? Is that what we called them?) in the back alley of the department store she works at (honestly looks like a crack alley right behind a fancy department store). Chucky tries to play off an innocent talking doll act, biding his time until he can seek revenge on his murderer (detective Mike), but he’s impatient and has a nagging anger problem, so violence starts pretty quickly.

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Andy’s babysitter, his Mom’s best friend Maggie (the oversexed, redhead best friend played by Grease’s Marty) is the first casualty, after Chucky chases her through the apartment and right out the kitchen window (they live on a high rise floor, Andy and his Mom). The small sneaker marks on the floor lead the police to think Andy is the killer, and that he is not mentally well since he keeps talking about the doll that did it.

Chucky vs. Maggie

We get another glimpse into a psychiatric hospital (and another electric shock treatment death), and a lot of crazy doll violence. This one had quite a few “jump scares” in it and reminded me of how much possessed, evil dolls freak me out. The movie has its share of laughs, too, making this a fun and scary romp of a horror film – a great way to start the series. I look forward to what comes next.

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Thoughts from my husband:

Why do some franchises survive thirty years after their first film, and why do some just fade away? Primarily the good ones develop a formula and stick with it, without arbitrarily changing it to suit just to crank out a next film. Such is the first three, and sixth, Child’s Play films (we’ll get to the others eventually, stay tuned).

This film gives you a serial killer who hedges his bets by learning voodoo in order to place his soul in another form. Of course, it wouldn’t be a good horror film unless the forms he takes is either a) so horrifying it begs description, or b) so innocuous you can’t imagine it being a threat. Chucky wound up with b after being killed in a toy store and presented with limited options, being stuck putting his soul into a Cabbage Patch kid rip-off (Cabbage Patch kid would have been more terrifying).

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Our killer doll is then given to Andy, a disgustingly sweet six year old. This leads to Chucky doing what Chucky does best, cursing and killing whoever pisses him off. The downside of this resurrection, besides being in a three-foot tall, anatomically incorrect doll, is that the longer he stays in one form the greater the odds he will be stuck in in, and be mortal again. Fortunately Chucky finds a loophole and starts tracking Andy and his Mom down to solve this doll-dilemna.

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There’s a reason Child’s Play has lasted this long, and that’s due to the fact that the writers found a way to have fun while sticking to the rules they set in this first film – and the fact that kids have a tendency to want some of the creepiest shit toy companies can come up with doesn’t hurt the horror of it all either.

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A few fun facts:

Chucky’s full name, Charles Lee Ray, is derived from the names of notorious killers Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray.

To help get into the right mood for Chucky, Brad Dourif would run around the recording studio, work himself up into a real frenzy and then deliver his lines. This would often leave Dourif feeling drained after each take. In fact, he nearly fainted after recording Chucky’s scream when he gets burned alive.

“Charred Chucky”

In the scene where Chucky runs behind Maggie in the hallway, Chucky was actually played by Alex Vincent’s younger sister.

Original writer Don Mancini stated in an interview that his original script toyed with the audience a bit longer, making them wonder if young Andy was the killer rather than Chucky. This idea was used by Kevin Tenney in Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996).

In an interview, Don Mancini said in the original script, Child’s Play (1988) was at first a satire on toy marketing and merchandising for children, before the idea morphed into a horror film instead.

The original plot idea was to have life-like Good Guy dolls that had blood and latex skin. If the kids tore the latex skin, they could go out and buy Official Good Guy bandages. In a blood-brother pact, Andy cut his own hand and mixed his blood with Chucky’s, thus causing him to come alive and become human.

The working title for the film was “Blood Buddy,” which seems to confirm the widely believed notion that the film was inspired by Hasbro’s My Buddy toy doll, which also dressed in denim overalls and a striped shirt.

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Hasbro’s My Buddy doll

Catherine Hicks (Karen) and Kevin Yagher (Chucky’s creator) met on set and were married a year later.

Child’s Play (1988) continues a theme in Tom Holland’s films of people seeing something supernatural, but they can’t get anyone else to believe them. For example, Scream for Help (1984), Cloak & Dagger (1984), and Fright Night (1985).

The film was released on the same date (November 9, 1988) as the opening scene, when Charles Lee Ray transfers his soul into the doll.

Child’s Play (1988) was disowned by the studio, MGM/United Artists, because of qualms with the film’s subject matter, and accusations that it promoted violence to children. Universal bought the rights for the sequels.

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The deafening silence of experiment experience and what looked a lot like an ending for Mike, Reggie and that persistent Tall Man :: Saturday Horror Movie Double-Featu

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The Quiet Ones and Phantasm IV: Oblivion :: Saturday Horror Movie Double-Feature

As we near the end of August and head into the spookiest season of all (just wait until October, we may overdose you readers on horror double-features), we ended our Phantasm franchise-a-thon (well, until the fifth and final installment is released) and took a visit a cinematic trip back to the 1970’s via Hammer pictures to bear witness to a “based on a true story” college experiment gone wrong for this installment of our Saturday Horror Movie Double-Feature.

The Phantasm series quasi-ended (they thought it was the end when the 4th went “straight to video“) in a state of confusion, leaving much to the audience’s interpretation. The Quiet Ones had its share of confusing moments, too, especially in terms of the title (mentioned once in the film, though no one was ever quiet), and in the “was it true, wasn’t it” regard. It was a unique take on the “found footage” genre though, with some pretty good performances and an actual ending (though there were still questions leftover).

So, come on, have a seat and take a look into the night of macabre we found ourselves in. We watch the movies so you don’t have to, or so you can feel inspired to. As a reminder, we will be doing these reviews every other week, trading off with our year-by-year drive-in feature, so stay tuned for more and please send us your horror movie suggestions. You can give us some titles in the comment section, or email me directly at lyrique.discorde@gmail.com. Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.

Special note: We will be doing all weekends horror in October, so we welcome some suggestions to add to our scary-cinematic-play-lists and queues.

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The Quiet Ones (2014)
Written by Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, John Pogue and Tom de Ville
Directed by John Pogue

The Quiet Ones starts rather disjointedly, with an apparent classroom setting/audition for a filmmaker to join in a dangerous, and somewhat reviled experiment led by Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris)  who has been usurping university grant money to keep his obsessive test going.

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The test subject is a young pale girl who at first glance fits that “every possessed girl in recent horror movies” look, you know the one, long dark hair, paler than death skin, sunken wide dark eyes that are best to cast that dead doll eye stare with. This is Jane (Olivia Cooke), who is locked behind a door with a slide window to peer into, and who is subjected to countless loud playings of Slade’s Cum on Feel the Noise and Telegram Sam. I guess the professor hoped to find healing powers to be found in Glam Rock (hey, it always makes me feel better).

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Professor Joseph has two rather gullible sidekicks helping him out. One is a striking blonde, Erin (Krissi Dalton) who we get the impression is in love with the professor and the object of affection (which she indulges now and then) of the other sidekick, a stoner stereotype, Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) who seems to be there to give the illusion that this is all harmless.

The experiment has to do with a hypothesis that the Professor is trying to prove is that there is no possession or supernatural happenings, that it is all mental illness manifestations. Jane is seemingly haunted by a girl, or is it a doll, named Evie, or is she Evie herself, or has she made-up Evie in her mind completely because of a yet completely diagnosed illness?

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The film-maker is a naive, young student, Brian ( who seems to be so far out of his element that you have to wonder (often) why he stays. He falls hard and fast for young Jane, who when she isn’t channeling (or manifesting) evil Evie is quite winsome and rather heartbreaking. Or is that damsel in distress quality just one that Brian is manifesting?

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The movie has some scares, though any of the “jump scare” variety seem to all take place at the end of the film. Mostly though, it is an interesting study on human behavior, scientific studies that veer into obsessions (usually brought on by personal loss), and the thin line between belief in the supernatural and the complexities of mental illness. I enjoyed certain elements of the characters, most especially in Jane herself. It was interesting to watch all her layers unfurl, the hopeful victim so sure that the Professor can cure her, the vibrant young woman who wants to shed her young girl trappings and experience a real life, and possibly love.

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I really enjoyed Olivia Cooke’s performance as Evie. I’ve enjoyed her work on the TV series, Bates Motel, but this really took her to phenomenal places in her acting. Jared Harris is superb, too, another actor I enjoyed immensely as a reoccurring villain in the Fringe television series.

What is real and what isn’t, what is faked and what is fantasy, and what is truly a possession or a bad case of post-cult-stress-syndrome all becomes so convoluted that at times the movie became hard to follow. There were plot points that veered off in confusing directions, and a reveal that happens towards the end that I feel wasn’t executed in the right way. The end though, especially the real life photos shown in the credits, was well done.

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All in all, some great performances, compelling writing and set-up, and a decent ending. That said, the movie could have used some extra editing in a few key scenes, and some better constructed suspense to give the reveal and ending an extra punch.

Thoughts from my husband:

Its a little known fact that I grew up on Hammer films. How can you not enjoy the feeling of tension that actors, like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, are able to portray in well-written scripts, with little need for gratuitous gore. It was a sad day when they stopped making films in the late 70’s. In The Quiet Ones they seemed to have come back with a vengeance. Not only is this a found footage done right, but it is well-paced, with minimal graphics, much like the Hammer of old.

My only complaint would have to be the over-used “based on a true story” caveat that seems to be used in everything, ad nauseam, in so many categories. Other than that, it is well-worth checking out.

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A few fun facts:

The film is loosely based on the Philip experiment, a 1972 parapsychology experiment conducted in Toronto.

Hammer Films is a film production company founded in 1934, in the United Kingdom. The company is best known for a series of Gothic “Hammer Horror” films made from the mid-1950’s until the 1970’s.

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Phantasm IV: Oblivion
Written and Directed by Don Coscarelli

Here we are back with the Morningside gang for our last (for now) installment from the Phantasm franchise. We meet back up where we left off, with Reggie attached to the wall of the Tall Man’s latest mortuary by MANY sentinels, Mike has taken the hearse with a coffin and is heading to Death Valley, which honestly seems like too ominous of a place to go in this universe, but hey, its better than Funeral Mountain, that we see a sign for, I suppose. Jody is still part sentinel, part human (maybe?) and keeps visiting both Reggie and Mike to give them directions, or lead them astray. We also get to see the origin story of the Tall Man.

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There was a hell of a lot of confusing, convoluted plotting in this film. At times it felt too cut and paste with all the “extra footage” used from the first film, at other times there were too many variables and too little answers to wade through. My other problem with this one was the lack of lightness and humor.

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The other had moments of levity, usually gifted to us by Reggie and his foibles with women and his now characteristic one-liners, but most of that was missing this time around. Yes, our favorite Ice Cream Man is pretty worn out now, and yes, he’s probably lost his sense of humor, what with The Tall Man taking over the earth one small, nowhere town at a time, but I missed the old Reggie.

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There were some small Reggie moments, especially when he rescues the woman from her overturned car (overturned to avoid running over a turtle), but it wasn’t near what we’ve grown accustomed to. The third film remains my favorite, especially for the trio of Reggie, Tim and Rocky, who together brought both humor and warmth to the dark tale, as well as introduce a kick ass female character (Rocky), which was also a missing element in this installment.

I look forward to the fifth and final movie, if it ever is released (it originally was slated for an October 2014 release, but now is listed as 2015). Now on to our next franchise – stayed tune to find out what it will be!

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Thoughts from my husband:

Phantasm IV is my third favorite of the franchise (running very close with the first film). This one takes the surreal, dreamlike quality and ups it by utilizing a lot of cut footage from the first film in order to make you feel as if you were dealing with flashbacks, leaving the viewer to form their own conclusions as to how the story ends.

I myself feel that the end scene is the true ending of the franchise (at least until Phantasm 5 comes out next year) mainly due to small hints given throughout the film. Primarily The Tall Man telling Reggie point blank that it’s all in Micheal’s mind and Jody whispering that he actually died in the car crash, leads me to believe that everything from the end scene in the first film to before the last scene in this film takes place in Mike’s mind as a coping mechanism for the loss of his entire family.

I’m sure with what’s in mind for the next film, that theory will be shot to shit. But, still a franchise worth checking out and deserving of a Blu Ray release.

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A few fun facts:

One very difficult scripted sequence required filming on Wilshire Boulevard, the largest street in Los Angeles, only it had to be devoid of any people. As closing this major thoroughfare would be impossible and massively expensive, Don Coscarelli and his crew came up with a novel approach. Just minutes before sunrise on Thanksgiving holiday morning, the crew was ready to film, guerrilla-style, with the key actors A. Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm. They took over the street, without permission, and had ten uninterrupted minutes of filming with absolutely not a soul in sight. They only had that roughly ten minutes to film, but still managed to shoot the scene as they wanted it.

Roger Avary, a self-confessed hardcore fan of the Phantasm series, wrote an epic screenplay originally called Phantasm 1999 A.D. as a follow-up to Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994). It was set in a post-apocalyptic near future, featuring Bruce Campbell as a co-star. As the time passed and they couldn’t get the budget needed (around $10 million) Don Coscarelli wrote and directed this fourth installment as a pre-cursor to the project, that was conveniently re-titled Phantasm 2012 A.D. before sticking into Phantasm’s End as the definitive title. Ultimately, when the financing for such an ambitious sequel couldn’t be secured, the idea was scrapped altogether.

The synopsis for the canceled Phantasm’s End script written by Roger Avary goes as it follows:

“The year is 2012 and there are only three U.S. states left. Between New York and California is the wasteland known as the Plague Zone. Unfortunately, the evil Tall Man controls that area. Since many people are dead, the Tall Man is able to make thousands of dwarf slaves for his planet daily in the Mormon Mausoleum. Besides him, the other residents are “baggers,” human-like creatures that are infected by the Tall Man’s blood, the dwarves, and, of course, the silver spheres, all trying to break out of the barrier that contains them and into the real world. A group of hi-tech troops are sent in to destroy the red dimension where the Tall Man gets his power. Reggie follows so he can find Mike after a series of nightmares he had. Will they be able to finally destroy the Tall Man for good?”

The dwarf that gets shot in the face with the hand-gun by Reggie was played by a very young Wendy Coscarelli, Don Coscarelli’s daughter.

Don Coscarelli’s son, Andy, as well as fans Todd Mecklem and Roger Avary have cameos in the Civil War flashback.

The dagger seen in the film is the same prop used in the first of the franchise, Phantasm (1979).

This installment in the franchsie, is the only in the series to not end up with a character being pulled through a glass.

Tribute to all 4 films – goodbye (for now) Phantasm series

Captain Tight Pants takes on the Invasion of the Gunn-worms and The Real Mike Returns to the hunt for the Tall Man :: Saturday Horror Movies

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Captain Tight Pants takes on the Invasion of the Gunn-worms and The Real Mike Returns to the hunt for the Tall Man :: Saturday Horror Movies

Its that time again, time to grab your favorite snack and your favorite hand to hold when you get frightened, as we share another Saturday Night Horror Double Feature. This time around we decided on an early film from Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn, a film my husband actually did background work in as one of the many bodies/hands within Michael Rooker’s wormified creature. The whole family had recently enjoyed the hell out of Guardians at the theater, which got us talking about James Gunn, and movies he’d done in the past. Of course, this was paired up with the next installation in the Phantasm franchise that we are making our way through in preparation for the fifth and final film. It was nice to see the main cast return to this universe, with no oddly cast replacements for any of them. This one may be my favorite of the series (so far).

We started with Gunn’s early film that starred one of his key players, Michael Rooker, who played Merle in The Walking Dead cable series, and was also most recently seen in Guardian’s of the Galaxy as Peter Quill’s somewhat foster Father, Yondu. The movie also featured one of my favorite’s, Nathan Fillion, as well as Elizabeth Banks and a blink and you might miss her appearance by Jenna Fischer, as a smalltown version of The Office’s Pam. The movie is part horror, part smalltown love story, part comedy, and part Sci-Fi alien invasion. Oh, and it features a couple of cheesy 70’s-80’s songs that are way worthy of being part of one of Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Tapes (Guardian’s of the Galaxy), another recognizable “Gunn-ism”.

Back to the original Morningside crew, and this time it is the original crew, we watched the third in the series. This was a good next in the series, miles and miles better than the second film, so much so that I honestly think you could skip the second and jump to the third with just a brief prologue to fill in the fact that The Tall Man has taken his human consumption/abduction show on the road. This film also had a lot of fun/funny moments that made for some choice banter between Charles and I, and by the end it sets up the fourth film perfectly, leaving you wanting to know what happens next (something I did not feel at the end of the second). My only real complaint is I wish they’d let just one of their female characters stick around for more than one movie (but at least this one didn’t die by the end).

Alright, so sit down and join us for this installment of the Saturday Horror Movie Feature. As a reminder, we will be doing these reviews every other week, trading off with our year-by-year drive-in feature, so stay tuned for more and please send us your horror movie suggestions. You can give us some titles in the comment section, or email me directly at lyrique.discorde@gmail.com. Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.

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Slither (2006)
Written & Directed by James Gunn

The small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina, is not very memorable really. It is full of small town people with small town dreams, some slightly bigger than others, but none that take them very far from their comfort levels. You have the new sheriff, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), who looks a little too handsome for the town, and seems a little too smart, too, but his unrequited love for his high school sweetheart seems to keep him from moving on.

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Said sweetheart, Starla (Elizabeth Banks, who is honestly ALWAYS Miri from Zack and Miri Make a Porno to me) had dreams of a better life which led her to marry the older, but not so wiser, Grant Grant (yes, first name same as the last, played by Michael Rooker) who seems hopelessly devoted to her. Starla is a teacher in town and appears likable and friendly to everyone she comes in contact with, yet very disinterested in the advances of Grant in the bedroom.

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One more night of rejection leads Grant to wander out to the local karaoke bar which gifts us a very awkward and scared delivery of Boy George’s The Crying Game. The karaoke performance is spot on to many a singer I’ve seen in my own nights at karaoke, as does the rest of the bar’s patrons, who all seem like just who you would find going in to those kind of somewhat divey establishments. Grant is approached rather aggressively by Brenda (Brenda James) who is the younger sister of someone Grant once dated, and who has carried a torch for this double-named guy since she was ten years old. She drags him out to see the tree she defaced with their initials and tries to have her way with him in the forest. He shuns her advances, saying his wife will worry, and is about to escape unharmed when a meteorite type rock crash lands in their proximity.

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They go to investigate and Grant finds a slimy looking pod thing that oozes and is bug like in appearance. It releases a stinger that lands right in Grant’s chest and we are off to a half-zombie/half-alien small town takeover.

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The movie has a lot of gross-out moments that I could have done without, a reliance that comedic horror films sometimes overdo, but the characters and their wit and banter kept me watching and enjoying. Nathan steals many of the scenes, especially when it is he and teenage survivor Kylie (Tania Saulnier) on the run, and Kylie rescuing him from a slither-fied deer (though Nathan’s Bill will swear it was the other way around). The scenes between Grant and Mrs. Grant, serenaded by Air Supply, have their moments, too. Though it did have quite an ick factor when Grant and Mrs. Grant do it in his possessed by slither-worm-alien things state (how did this have no effect on her?)

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The start of the film (pre-Grant being stung by the slither) and the last half of the film, when Grant and his posse try to fight back/escape are the best bits. The middle of the movie got away from itself for awhile, and lost me some in the process – especially the bad fat suit gone enormous Brenda, who has been binge eating in the barn, explodes millions of worm babies – if you think that sounds gross, it was worse to watch.

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All in all, I am glad I saw it, especially to glimpse the start of Gunn’s style, take in some of the witty dialogue, and for Nathan Fillion (pretty sure I’d enjoy him standing against a blank wall reciting the alphabet, though), as well as Tania Saulnier (who looks a lot like Juliana Hatfield to me) who plays Kylie.

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Thoughts from my husband:

With the success of Guardians of the Galaxy we felt the need to pop out James Gunn’s first studio release, Slither (although one of his earlier writing credits is one of my favorite movies, The Specials – check it out sometime). And while his directing has matured over the years, fortunately his humor hasn’t.

Having had the pleasure meeting and working with both James Gunn and Nathan Fillion while working on Slither, I can assure you my opinion of this film is not biased. It is a fun take on the alien/zombie genre – a lot less serious than his earlier writing credits on the remake of Dawn of the Dead.

From the believable one-liners, to the honest representation of a small, Southern town (who would have known there were that many rednecks in Canada, where the bulk of the movie was filmed), the movie constantly pulls you in, even during the lull spots. For a directorial debut, Gunn finds a way to make camera shots enhance some of the hokey effects, and Nathan Fillion is hilarious as a small town sheriff.

The writing holds up better than many big budget horror movies, even self-explaining what could have been considered a major plot hole near the end (when Bill survives the half-slither tentacle attack and it is explained that it takes both to turn someone). Definitely worth checking-out seeing as it covers the three major “B’s” blood ()A LOT, breasts – a couple, even if they aren’t Elizabeth Banks (though you do get some side-boob action), and beasts (quite a few, from Rooker’s metamorphosis, to Jabba the Hutt’s cousin, to the giant head and womb monster).

Check it out sometime.

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My husband, Charles, getting zombified for Slither‘s premiere.

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My husband (zombie in the back) with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion, at the film’s premiere.

A few fun facts:

Actress Jenna Fischer disclosed on a TV talk show that she got the role of Shelby as a “birthday present” from her spouse at the time, director James Gunn, after another actress dropped out of the movie. Being a big fan of zombie films, she always wanted to play a zombie; upon hearing the news, she screamed with joy.

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Rob Zombie has a cameo as  the voice of Dr. Karl, talking to Starla on the phone.

Writer/director James Gunn has a cameo as a fellow teacher as Starla’s school.

Dangled above the street at the beginning of the film and on stage later at the Deer Cheer celebration you can see “Henenlotter’s Saddle Lodge presents Deer Cheer” signage, a clear reference to cult horror writer/director Frank Henenlotter, famed creator of Basket Case (1982) and Brain Damage (1988).

At about the 48-minute mark, When the mother tells her two daughters to go to bed, the one on camera right is reading a “Goosebumps” story by children’s horror author R.L. Stine entitled: “The Girl Who Cried Monster.”

In the opening scene as they pan down the street, you can see “RJ McCready’s Funeral Home“. RJ McCready is Kurt Russell’s character in The Thing.

Sam Raimi’s patented “Evil Force Cam” is used during the beginning when the monster is discovered.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, the alien slugs from Slither can be prominently seen in a display case in The Collector’s collection

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Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)
Written and Directed by Don Coscarelli

My first reaction to our return to the Phantasm universe was….welcome back Mike (A. Michael Baldwin). Previously replaced by James Le Gros who I moaned and groaned about in our last installment, since the third film was not backed by a major studio, Coscarelli was able to work with whomever he wished.

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The original Mike wasn’t the only one to return to the third Phantasm, we also saw the return of Mike’s dead brother, Jody. It was nice to see his character come around, and plot-wise worked for Jody to communicate between both realms, though if he was taken when he was dead into the other dimension, why did Jody continue to age? (besides the obvious, that the actor, Bill Thornbury, obviously had aged).

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We were also introduced to two new characters, another young boy (younger actually, and tougher, than Mike was at the start, and another female character to join Reggie in the quest to rescue Mike and destroy the Tall Man.

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Tim, played by Kevin Connors, was a survivalist who was making it on his own a’la Kevin McCallister (Home Alone) style times a thousand. His toys turned to weapons were one of my favorite things about the movie, creative and inventive, this infused some lightness and humor to the movie. His rapport with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) was as strong as Reggie’s connection with Mike, and a older brother/younger brother relationship develops quickly.

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Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) is another survivor who is wandering about with her presumed girlfriend when she happens upon Tim and Reggie in the mausoleum. Her girlfriend dies pretty quickly, leaving Rocky to either go off on her own or team up with Reggie and Tim. The latter predictably happens, and Reggie becomes his typical douche-self (he’s a decent character until ANY women around), but Rocky shoots him down over and over again, the best when she handcuffs him to a motel bed. Rocky’s character reminded me a little of The Walking Dead’s Michonne.

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Of course, Rocky does not stick around, much like all the other female characters that come along in this franchise. She lives, but goes off on her own, leaving Reggie and Tim, and also leaving the movies. I hope we get to see her again – after all, she was the only female to not die, or become one of the Tall Man’s minions, in the franchise.

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Mike is revealed to be part metallic ball/sentinel (we get a name for the possessed, evil Pokemon type balls) under his skin that left us wondering if he and the Tall Man are related (is that why Tall-ey is always after Mike, who he calls “BOY”?)

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As I wrote in the post’s introduction, I really enjoyed this movie and think it is as strong, if not stronger, than the first movie. I think if you keep in mind that the Tall Man takes his show on the road (though we still don’t know why) — the only real plot point revealed in the second film — than you could just skip it completely, much like the original Mike had to.

Now, all I have to say is, bring it on part four, bring it on.

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Thoughts from my husband:

On the road to getting my wife prepped for Phantasm 5, we finally arrive at my favorite of the four films. This is my favorite because you combine the higher production value from the second film, with the dreamy pacing of the first film, sprinkle in a few subtle explanations with a liberal dosage of mythos that are finally given names (i.e. the balls being called sentinels, and the bodies that are allowed to maintain some personality being called “Lurkers”), and you get the third installment of the Phantasm franchise.

We find out that the sentinels are the brains of the abducted dead, and the dwarves are the bodies. We are also left with the nagging suspicion that the Tall Man is nothing more than a “meat puppet“, as well (we’ll cover that in the fourth film – stay tuned). And, as in the previous two films, we get to watch Reggie’s attraction towards girls young enough to be his daughter unfold fruitlessly.

While not as heavy in the gore department as the previous two films, its still a spooky, road trip as you move from deserted town to town that the Tall Man has left in his wake. And while some may consider these towns up and vanishing a “plot hole“, I submit that they are all small towns in Idaho, and who gives a shit about those (editor’s note: I do not subscribe nor condone to my husband’s defacing of parts of the world, like France and Idaho and Connecticut).

After this comes the origins of the Tall Man.

A few fun facts:

After the mild box-office results of Phantasm II (1988), Universal Studios chose not to personally pursue a sequel but did offer to distribute it should Don Coscarelli and associates make it themselves. With no casting restrictions this time, Coscarelli offered the role of Mike to his original performer, A. Michael Baldwin, who returned to the role after almost 16 years.

An alternate ending was filmed but not used: Reggie and Tim travel up to the wild regions of Alaska. Reggie digs a small hole in the ice and Tim places a little case (containing The Tall Man’s gold sphere) inside. Subsequently, Reggie puts a metal plaque over the hole and seals it up. The plaque reads “Here Lies The Tall Man – R.I.P.”. Reggie then says “Now, all we have to worry about is global warming” and they walk off.

Reggie Bannister was the only cast member to be present on set every single day of principal photography, either acting or helping behind the camera.

Production started in late 1992 and wrapped in mid 1993. The distribution of the project was then put on hold by Universal for almost a year. After a very limited theatrical release in 1994, the movie went straight to video in 1995.

The interiors were shot at a real mausoleum called “Angeles Abby Mausoleum” and situated in Compton, California.

The dream sequence where Reggie and Jody rescue Mike from The Tall Man’s lair is the first time in which the four main actors in the series, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury and Angus Scrimm are all reunited again on-screen after 15 years.

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The man from Morningside takes it on the road and antique store artifacts that turn Jesus into a vampire :: Saturday Horror Movies

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Saturday Night Horror Movies :: Phantasm II (1988) and Cronos (1993)

Back to the Horror Saturday Double Features, we gathered together to watch a sequel to one of the films we watched last time around, and an early film from a favorite filmmaker of mine that has some interesting ties to his new television series, The Strain. My husband is on a quest to take us through the Phantasm-franchise building up to the release of the fifth and final feature, so we started the night with number two of said movie-quest. I went with an early Guillermo Del Toro film after listening to his return to The Nerdist Podcast interview this past week, where he talked a lot about his vampiric research and some of the challenges of working as a filmmaker when you are faced with having to lose some of your “dream scenes”. It was interesting to see some of Del Toro’s cinematic roots and comparing and contrasting them with some of his more recent films (many that have been written about here at Lyriquediscorde).

We went with Charles’ choice first, catching up where we left off on our last Horror night, a sequel that came nine years later and feature both a bigger budget, and a studio mandated replaced actor. This was a movie that I actually saw at the drive-in soon after its release, and it is the one I recall scenes from the most. Written and directed by Don Coscarelli, everyone returned (at least those who lived through the first film), including the writer/director, except for lead character Mike. I guess six years in an asylum makes you physically mutate? At least that’s what the studio must have though their audience would assume.

My selection was a Mexican vampire horror film, written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro. This was my first time with this film, and a second view for my husband who saw it back when it was released. As with many of Del Toro’s other films, Ron Perlman plays a central character, and the dark look and feel, and filtering, that seem to be signature to his films are there, as well. Though there was a significant absence of strange creatures that I’ve come to expect from Del Toro. I have always been a lover of vampire lore, and this was definitely an interesting take. The movie feels more gothic vampire tale than horror scare storytelling, but if you like FX’s new series The Strain I urge you to give this one a watch.

So, here we go, another night of terror times two to share with you. We will be doing these reviews every other week, trading off with our year-by-year drive-in feature, so stay tuned for more and please send us your horror movie suggestions. You can give us some titles in the comment section, or email me directly at lyrique.discorde@gmail.com. Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.

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Phantasm II (1988)
Written and Directed by Don Coscarelli

Phantasm II starts literally right where we left off at the end of the start of the franchise, with a strange twist of fate ending where Jody’s death turns from supernatural to an explain away car crash, with Mike and Reggie thrown together, Reggie falling into the “big brother” role, trying to assure Mike that all is normal. The ending felt confusing at the end of the original movie, so I was glad to see it start the next film, hoping that this would help explain the circumstances and flush out the story more.

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Well, confusion persisted as we were immediately greeted by a replacement Mike, cast by a studio mandate with relative newcomer James Le Gros, who honestly looks nothing like the original actor he was replacing.

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(I know, Reggie, we don’t recognize Mike either)

I wondered aloud if this was a change that continued through the rest of the franchise, and here is where it gets weirder – no, they revert back to the original actor, A. Michael Baldwin. So, I questioned further – was A. Michael not available? No. Was he not interested in continuing the series? No (obviously not, as he’s in 3 and 4, and slated for 5). Turns out the studio told Coscarelli that he could only use one of the two actors again (Reggie Bannister as Reggie and A Michael Baldwin as Mike), but not both. The studio suggested Brad Pitt, who they did not go with, and then James Le Gros.

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In my opinion, Le Gros was a poor choice. He may have been “easier on the eyes“, but he was harder on the emotional believability. As Mike, he showed no complexity of emotion, no overarching grief for his brother, no palatable fear from what had happened, his experiences in the asylum, nor the dreams that continue to unfold and come true. His performance is flat, from start to finish, and this stands out even more because the previous actor was the complete opposite, bordering sometimes on over-emoting.

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The rest of the movie? Well, for a film that had the biggest budget of the entire franchise, it suffered from spending more attentions on the special effects and less on the actual plot. There were so many holes in what was happening that at times it was difficult to just “accept” and go on. First off, why is The Tall Man suddenly taking his show on the road after all his years and years and years at Morningside? Why now? And, if he’s really going town-by-town and decimating the entire population, then robbing their graves of their bodies, leaving the cemeteries nothing but headstones and holes in the ground, how is this not on the news? How is the FBI not involved? How is it that only Reggie and Mike, and Mike’s “dream girl” Liz, know about this?

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Also, if there has been nine years past, and if Mike has been in the asylum for seven years, then how is he only nineteen years old? He was fourteen nine years ago? Can the Tall Man control time and throw fogs of invisibility over entire towns?

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Don’t get me wrong, there were good parts here. I enjoyed the evolution of the orbs, and found the Tall Man’s mortuary helpers interesting. I also enjoyed Liz, who did bring some emotional complexity to her role, a character I hope continues on, as well. I also enjoyed revisiting some “horror” scenes I have remembered since first seeing the film, including the “Tall Man” spinal appearance, and the line: “You think that when you die, you go to Heaven. You come to us!

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Also, I love Reggie’s DIY gun!

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Thoughts from my husband:

As I mentioned in the last horror night post, this is one of my favorite horror franchises, however this is my least favorite of the films, mainly due to the fact that it was the only studio mandated film of the franchise. As is the case with most (not all mind you, Evil Dead franchise being an exception) indie taken over by a major studio, they really screwed up the director’s vision towards the film with Phantasm 2.

Much of the appeal of the franchise is that dreamy/what the fuck feeling you get from the story line in 1, 3 and 4, which seems to be missing in this one. To the director’s credit, he did do the best with what Universal mandated (for instance, the actor they used as Mike was bad enough, I cannot imagine a young Brad Pitt in his place).

It did, however, pave the way with the continuation of the franchise the way the director wanted to in the next two films.

A few fun facts:

One of the undertakers can be seen filling a plastic bag labeled “Mr. Sam Raimi” with ashes. “Ash” is the name of the character played by Bruce Campbell in the The Evil Dead series, directed by Sam Raimi.

One of the headstones in the film bears the name “Alex Murphy”, a reference to RoboCop.

Writer and Director, Don Coscarelli, has admitted to following direct influences by Universal during the making of the movie:

> The illusory style of the first movie was discouraged and a more linear plot line with voice over narrations of various characters was required.

> No dreams by characters were allowed in the final cut.

> A female lead had to be added as a love interest for Mike.

Don Coscarelli has revealed that some elements of this movie were influenced by Stephen King, specially a few aspects of his novel Salem’s Lot. A small part of it at the end, when the characters go out on the road chasing down vampires, gave him the “road movie” idea of Mike and Reggie chasing The Tall Man.

The casting of James Le Gros has had a conflicted effect on the cast members. LeGros reportedly enjoyed his time on the production and got along very well with the cast and crew. Nowadays, Don Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm, and Reggie Bannister all speak glowingly of their experience with him. A. Michael Baldwin, however, appears to remain bitter about the incident: in the audio commentary for Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, he twice referred to Phantasm II as “the film which shan’t be named” and has stated in a podcast interview that he considers it a terrible movie.

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We missed you Mike, and we agree with you.

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Cronos (1993)
Written and Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

I recently listened to an interview with Guillermo Del Toro on one of The Nerdist Podcasts (a respite from my horrible work commute) and my curiosity was peeked when he spoke about the experience he had writing and filming Cronos. I am a huge Del Toro fan, as previous posts here will attest to, and felt I was missing something by not ever seeing the film he spoke of, so when we were putting together our two movie choices for our double horror feature night I decided to choose Cronos.

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At the start of the film we are introduced to the Cronos’ history, or at least a brief glimpse into it. The look and feel of this part of the film reminded me some of Coppola’s Dracula film, and I found myself immediately drawn in. I do wish the film had spent a little more time in the origin story, as I was curious at the actual origin of the Cronos device and would love to have learned more about the insect living inside.

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The film does not dwell long on this part, though, and instead we are brought forward in time and are introduced to Jesus Gris, an aging husband and grandfather to the young Mercedes who reminded me a lot of the lead character in Del Toro’s film Pan’s Labryinth, who is also named Mercedes. This makes me wonder if this is meant to be the same character, or just an archetype that Del Toro has painted to play his young girls who face familial and/or childhood terror of one kind, or another.

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Jesus is an antique shop owner and comes to be in possession of the Saint statue that holds the Cronos device. He seems to be aware of its value, or is curious of its unusual nature, enough so that he removes it from the Saint statue and sells the statue, sans Cronos, to Angel (Ron Perlman) who pays a great deal of money for it.

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Angel is an interesting character. An American Ex-Pat who seems to be in Mexico not of his own accord. He is living with his dying Uncle who treats him horribly, often abusing him both verbally and physically, and sending him out on constant hunts to find the Cronos device that he believes will cure him of his fatal ailings.

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Jesus and his Granddaughter, Mercedes, examine the Cronos device after hours, and one such examination activates the device and activates Jesus, as well. His wife notices that he looks younger, and as his midnight thirst eludes, he keeps drinking tons and tons of water and stares longingly at a bloody pile of raw meat in the refrigerator, he is starting to change. Vampirism is not immediately apparent, but something is happening here.

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The transformation of Jesus, and his relationship with his wife and Granddaughter, are what I really loved in this film. The drama with Angel and his aging Uncle De la Guardia, I found less interesting, though I understand that this was the crux of the plot’s movement to have Jesus have to ultimately face death. I guess, for me, I would have rather him have had to come to terms with his life and the idea of eternity differently, maybe in response to his wife’s aging.

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That said, his rift with Del la Guardia, and Angel eventually attempting to kill him, does lead to an interesting interlude between Mercedes and Jesus that share some of the dynamics of Leon and Mathilda, in Leon: The Professional. Mercedes is tough and clever, and not the least bit afraid of using violence to defend her family. She is a tough character, full of emotional complexities and inner strength that is refreshing to see in a young female role.

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There are a few questions I had about the story, like why did Jesus continue to refuse the Cronos device to De la Guardia? He had no real knowledge that De la Guardia was a bad person, nor do we get a sense that Jesus is wanting to protect the world from the device (though the latter would have made sense to his character). Is it an act of spite because Angel trashed his antique store looking for it? Or, is it a selfish need of Jesus to possess the device? Does the device act somewhat like the ring in the 8 series, obsessing its owner to the point of madness? Maybe we are meant to interpret on our own, if so, I like the idea that Jesus is protecting the world.

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As a fan of the new FX show, The Strain, I enjoyed the movie even more, as I recognized both character archetypes and similar vampiric conduits in this film, and in the show. I will not go into too much detail as I’d like to encourage anyone reading to go and check out The Strain, I will just say bugs and aging owners of antiques seem to be a constant in Del Toro’s tales of vampires.

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I am very glad I got the chance to watch this film, and hope to also check out another of Del Toro’s earlier films, The Devil’s Backbone, sometime soon.

Thoughts from my husband: 

Its always nice to see a director’s early work, and see how much it influences their later creations. Its easy to see parts of Pan’s Labyrinth, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and the new series, The Strain, in this movie. While not much of a “horror” film, but more a suspenseful retooling of the typical redemption story line, it is still an enjoyable film, nonetheless.

A few fun facts:

Guillermo del Toro met with Universal in late ’93, where they told him they wanted to buy the rights to this film so they could remake it. del Toro’s response was “Who wants to see Jack Lemmon lick blood off a bathroom floor?”.

The alchemist at the beginning of the movie is named Fulcanelli, which was the pseudonym of a famous french alchemist of the late 19th/early 20th century, who mysteriously disappeared in the 1940s and whose real name and identity has never been known.

All of the original Cronos devices created for this film were stolen when production was completed. They were never recovered, so the Cronos devices that Del Toro owns are replicas.

The two De La Guardia characters were deliberately intended to be somewhat unreal, like comic book characters. Del Toro explains in his commentary that he did this as a sort of revenge against Hollywood films that having Mexican characters that are rather stereotypical.

The names used are: Jesus Gris and Angel de la Guardia, which translates to “Grey Jesus” and “Guardian Angel“. Angel, guards his uncle, and Jesus has gray hair and, eventually, grey skin.

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How was this EVER a poster for the movie? There is no character like this woman, and this gives a completely WRONG feel to what the movie really is.

A house full of childhood fears realized and a mysterious man from Morningside :: Saturday Horror Movies

scary saturday headerSaturday Night Horror Movies :: Poltergeist (1982) and Phantasm (1979)

We took a bit of a Saturday Night Horror Double Feature break, but we came back just like the first inhabitants of Cuesta Verde, though we did leave the kitchen furniture alone. For our return engagement we decided to each pick a film from our childhood/adolescence, choosing a film that stuck with us and at one time terrified us to see if they still lived up to our memories. I chose a film that preyed on all those childhood fears we all keep with us, a film that was one of the first scary movies I ever saw in the theater. My husband chose one that left a mark on both of us primarily for its unanswered questions and iconic scenes with tall, suited up morticians and knife yielding, flying silver orbs.

The first choice was mine, a 1982 modern classic (the 80’s still qualify as “modern”, right?) co-written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, about a family whose home is invaded by the undead and whose youngest daughter is taken into the other world whose portal is located in a childhood closet. The movie, which originally scared my thirteen year old self, still doled out a few jump scares and caused chills to dance up my spine, this time around, though, hitting on a different set of embedded fears, the ones of a parent.

My husband’s selection was also a start of a horror franchise that first hit theaters at the end of the seventies. This one I did not see at the time of release, but years later as part of a “must-see” movie marathon with a horror fan boyfriend who introduced me to this series, as well as the Raimi/Campbell Evil Dead franchise. Though I did not remember every twist in the plot, the soundtrack music, and the iconic scenes in Morningside mortuary were alive and well in my movie memory bank. The “Tall Man” feels like a precursor to the Slender Man of current “creepy pasta” fame.

So, without further delay, we take you into our past to share with you two films that still linger in our horror memories, and hold a place in our own movie collection. We welcome your own thoughts and comments about the this week’s Saturday Horror Movies, and would love to hear recommendations for future viewing choices. Feel free to drop a suggestion in the comments below, or send an email directly to lyrique.discorde@gmail.com. Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.

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Poltergeist (1982)
Directed by Tobe Hooper and written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor

Poltergeist was my first real introduction into a cinematic family haunting story. It was a movie that heaped on the scares I had as a child, universal “kid fears” really, with the horrific clown doll, the tree that appears to have a face and outstretched arms inconveniently located right outside the children’s bedroom window, the monster in the closet, and finding yourself lost from your parents. We all had those fears as kids, some more tangible and visceral than others, and the filmmakers toyed with this in the film, bringing these terrors to life. I had a tree that loomed outside my bedroom window that when the moonlight hit just right seemed to have a face that stared in at me. I had those irrational closet fears, too, though I have to attest to never having a hideous clown doll in my possession. If I had I would have lost it quickly, something I still find myself puzzled at that Robbie doesn’t do, especially since the clown in question seems to terrify him even before the real terror begins.

poltergeist_06Watching the film again as an adult, though, I found new fears tapped on that I hadn’t acknowledged, or really felt, before. The old kid fears have now manifested into parent fears, the fear of losing a child, of harm coming to your children, and worst of all, you not being able to do anything to save them. The idea of your children being terrorized, taken and toyed with, it is a miserable feeling to contemplate, and I felt the chills and innate fears that this movie dished out when watching it this time around. JoBeth Williams’ portrayal of Diane Freeling, a mother who traverses an emotional landscape that starts with curiosity and almost delight that turns fast into gut-level terror and desperation. Her performance and perspective got to me enough so that there were moments I actually had tears welling in my eyes.

MV5BMjIyNDIwMjg1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQyMDUwNA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_The film starts us out with a glimpse into the family dynamic that makes up the Freelings. We are not just handed a cookie-cutter family, but we are given a realistic young-ish couple who have worked to have a nice home and stable life to raise their kids in, but who are still their own people, with insecurities that age brings, desires that still being into each other provides, and their share of relatable flaws. Diane and Steven are realistic to me, and not some overly-fictionalized, image of the “perfect” cinematic “mother and father”. The kids read real, too. They fight, they act selfishly (even after her sister has been stolen and their house is completely taken over by the dead, Dana, the eldest teen daughter, still manages to have time to make out with someone – as the very noticable hickey on her neck at the end of the film shows), they don’t listen, and they are scared of believable things like storms and clowns (really, why did Robbie keep the damn clown in the first place?). They even have a family dog.

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The Freelings actually remind me a lot of the Lambert’s from the Insidious franchise from James Wan and Leigh Whannell, a commonality comparison that doesn’t stop there actually. A relatable family terrorized in their home and the taking of one of their children the basis of both films, both done in a way that feels real, even in the most unreal of moments. Its no wonder I love both films so much.

insidious-movie-2010-8This time around watching Poltergeist I was taken by the adult’s story, Diane’s especially. She is the real hero in this film, the believer from the start, the strength that persists throughout all of the story, and the one who goes into the unknown to bring back her child.

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JoBeth Williams was wonderful in this, her characterization of Diane both complex and realistic. Moments when she was communicating with Carol Anne through the television, when she was reacting to Carol Anne’s cries of terror that she could not soothe or help, when she feels Carol Anne move through her, and those last scenes, when she physically is kept away, over and over, from her kids, yet she still persists, screaming at the unknown forces to leave her children alone, are powerful moments that throw hefty emotional punches. Diane really is my favorite in this story.

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I love her relationship with her husband, Steven, in this. Their playfulness at first, their shared strengths, their partnership, and the love that is obvious between them. I also really enjoy her interaction with psychologist/ghost hunter Dr. Lesh. The shared flask, the moments of honest admission of fear, the bond they seem to forge quickly is an interesting detail that I enjoy watching. Their is humor peppered into this film that is often missing in a lot of horror films today, but that I think really helps to make up the humanity in a story like this one.

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The movie itself is filled with recognizable Spielberg-isms. Cinematic cues that are impossible to miss if you’ve seen any of his iconic films. There is the kiss in the glow of the closet turned portal between Diane and Steven, which is a recognizable silhouette that was used in E.T. (when Elliot kisses his blonde school mate in the same way that ET sees in the classic movie back at home) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (between Indy and Marion), and the scenes in the muddy swimming pool when Diane and the skeletons surface and face off which visually seems identical to some of the Indiana Jones scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are other moments, too, in the use of music, the planned community neighborhood which looks like the same one from E.T. (and actually is the same neighborhood that Spielberg later used in E.T.), and the sibling dynamics that are very Spielberg. I like it, though, being able to recognize these things, it adds this “insider” feel to the movie watching experience.

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All in all, the movie still holds up and though it did not scare my daughters like it did me, they both enjoyed it – a lot.

Thoughts from my husband:

The film still holds up well as a family-friendly scary movie, one that you can still feel safe watching with your kids without having to worry about dealing with their nightmares. Its nice to see the atypical white family reaction to haunting has never changed, “what does one do when shit starts flying around your house? Make a game of it, rather than the logical time to get the hell out of Dodge reaction”. Besides “Coach” and the Mom, is anyone else who was in this film still alive?

A few fun facts:

The production crew used real human skeletons because it was cheaper to purchase them instead of plastic ones.

Steven Spielberg’s premise for Poltergeist was based on the history of Cheeseman Park in Denver, Colorado. The park was originally a cemetery, which was converted into a park during city beautification efforts in the early 20th century. The man hired to move the bodies scammed the city of Denver into overpaying him, and the city quickly ran out of funds to pay for moving the dead. With no money left in the coffers, the city decided to simply leave the remaining ‘residents’ buried in unmarked graves underneath the sod. The park was completed as scheduled, but supernatural occurrences have been reported ever since.

During all the horrors that proceeded while filming Poltergeist, only one scene really scared Heather O’Rourke: that in which she had to hold onto the headboard, while a wind machine blew toys into the closet behind her. She fell apart; Steven Spielberg stopped everything, took her in his arms, and said that she would not have to do that scene again.

Heather O’Rourke, who played the little girl Carol-Anne, and Dominique Dunne, who played the teenage daughter, are buried in the same cemetery: Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Dunne was strangled into brain-death by her boyfriend in 1982, the year of the film’s release. Six years later, O’Rourke died of intestinal stenosis.

JoBeth Williams had a supernatural experience during the making of the film. Whenever she came home from filming, the pictures on the walls of her house were crooked. Everytime she fixed them they would hang crooked again. Zelda Rubinstein also had an experience when a vision of her dog came to her and said goodbye to her. Hours later, her mother called her and told Rubinstein that her dog had passed away that very day.

The house used to film this movie is located in Simi Valley, California where it still stands today. The family who owned it when this movie was filmed still live there today.

Though on-screen credit goes to Tobe Hooper, a wealth of evidence suggests that most of the directorial decisions were made by Steven Spielberg. In fact, Spielberg had wanted to direct the film himself, but a clause in his contract stated that while still working on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Spielberg could not direct another film. Members of the cast and crew, including Executive Producer Frank Marshall and actress Zelda Rubinstein, have stated that Spielberg cast the film, directed the actors, and designed every single storyboard for the movie himself. Based on this evidence, the DGA opened a probe into the matter, but found no reason that co-director credit should go to Spielberg.

Despite being a horror/thriller film, there are no murders or fatalities depicted in the film. Body count: 1 (the bird in the cage. Tweety).

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Phantasm (1979)
Directed and Written by Don Coscarelli

As I mentioned earlier, the memories I retained from this movie through the years were the music, which is immediately recognizable to me, and the iconic mortuary scenes at Morningside, including the stark surfaces, the silver orb, the Tall Man himself, and the cinematography of the framed shots whenever in Morningside, which add to the chilling suspense of the scenes as they unfold. Watching this again for the first time since the first time I saw the start of the Phantasm franchise I found myself noticing entire parts of the movie that I had no recollection of, which has me concluding that those missed scenes were probably not seen due to being distracted by making out with said boyfriend who brought the movie over to my house to watch together one night.

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I did think that seeing the movie in it entirety would grant more of an understanding of the story, the motivation of The Tall Man, or deciphering of the ending, but it did not. The movie is oddly paced and leaves a myriad of questions unanswered, which can make one lose interest in the movie, as my oldest daughter did, or make for some interesting speculation and mutual looks of confusion, as my youngest daughter and my own reactions were made of. All that said, the movie is still an interesting watch, albeit a dated one, and cannot help to leave the viewer as off-kilter and on-edge as the movie itself is.

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We start this film with a sex scene of sorts, a standard for many seventies horror and slasher films. I say “of sorts” because honestly when you look closely at the body positioning of the graveyard couple as they “get busy” you have to wonder how they can actually be having any kind of sex like that. It looks more like too bodies, splayed out flat, on top of each other. Whatever their half-hidden bodies are actually up to, the choice of location is a poor one, as is the guy’s choice in girl’s, because as we are soon to realize, she is really a disguised he, as in a gender and body shifting Tall Man hidden in the shape of a blonde, horror movie bombshell. If you blink though, you’ll miss the flash of identity revealed, and yes, even when you see it, it does leave you confused.

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The blonde/Tall Man in disguise kills her sex partner and we are then given a glimpse into a Morningside hosted funeral. At said funeral we meet Reggie, the victim’s brother, and his prodigal son of a best friend, Jody, who has seemingly returned home after his own parents’ death to help take care of his thirteen year old brother. Jody is rather shitty at the whole parenting thing, and seems to be more parented by the thirteen year old, who fixes his car, drives said car, and shadows brother Jody to make sure he is okay. Their sibling relationship is an odd one, and though one could explain away the younger brother, Mike’s, obsession with Jody as part and parcel to his abandonment issues after losing his parents, it still borders on creepy when Mike follows Jody everywhere, spying on him at the bar, trying to sex up that cursed blonde in the cemetery (seriously, does anyone have indoor, non-graveyard sex in this town?) and even when Jody is just driving during the day.

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Mike is spying on the funeral when he accidentally spies the Tall Man (this time not disguised as a sex-obsessed/murdering blonde) lift a heavy coffin by himself, and shuttle it away suspiciously in the back of a hearse, instead of putting it in the ground. The Tall Man is tall menacing, tall (obviously), lumbering, and full of unknowns. We never quite understand his motivations about anything, nor do we have any answers to what is in the other plane of existence, what he does with the corpses he steals away, or what he needs with Jawa-looking dwarfed versions of the dead.

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Things happen, warnings and wishes are ignored as Mike becomes the late Seventies version of irst season Carl Grimes (i.e. The Walking Dead), never staying in the house, the car, his bedroom, the antique store (yes, that one was an odd choice), or ANYWHERE is brother asked him to stay safe within. The movie draws to a close and so many questions remain open and unanswered that its hard to feel that there was any ending at all. There is a twist, but because of all the other confusions it is hard to feel the twists impact. It does make me want to watch the rest of the series, even though I know that the franchise has still not answered all the questions. Maybe they will finally give us some closure when the fifth is released next year and we revisit the Morningside funeral home.

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Thoughts from my husband:

With the upcoming release of Phantasm 5: Ravager (Yay! Finally! Final answers!), I was glad to sit through this being one of my favorite 70’s horror movie franchises, a franchise that has taken thirty-five years to conclude, and without a reboot! Angus Scrimm is just as an opposing figure as he was then, in 1979, not bad for a character who technically only had five lines in the entire film, one of which I still use on our son (“Boy!!!” <insert Tall Man bellow>). I only wish there had been some merchandising for this film, as I would love to own a blade-laden orb for our living room. You just can’t go wrong with a film that crams aliens, alternate worlds, living dead dwarfs and remote control killer balls in it.

A few fun facts:

The genesis of the story came to Don Coscarelli in a dream. One night, being in his late teens, he dreamed of fleeing down endlessly long marble corridors, pursued by a chrome sphere intent on penetrating his skull with a wicked needle. There was also a quite futuristic “sphere dispenser” out of which the orbs would emerge and begin chase.

Don Coscarelli got the idea of The Tall Man’s living severed finger while drinking from a styrofoam cup. He punched his finger through the bottom and started moving it. He loved the visual effect of it and decided to include it in the story.

The film was originally rated X by the MPAA because of the famous silver sphere sequence, and because of the man urinating on the floor after falling down dead. Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin made a phone call in a favor to a friend on the board. Thanks to him, Phantasm was downgraded from the original dreaded X-rating to a more acceptable R. Champlin’s positive review was quoted on the film’s promotional posters.

This film’s original running time was more than three hours, but writer/ director Don Coscarelli decided that that was far too long for it to hold people’s attention and made numerous cuts to the film. Some of the unused footage was located in the late 1990s and became the framework for Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998). The rest of the footage is believed to be lost.

There are several references to Frank Herbert’s Dune, including a bar named “Dune” and a scene where Mike is forced to insert his hand into a black box that inflicts pain as part of a test.

Co-Producer Paul Pepperman approached Angus Scrimm at a sneak preview of Kenny & Company (1976) and told him that Don Coscarelli had written a role for him in his next production. When informed that he would be playing an alien, Scrimm became very excited and immediately asked to know what country his character would hail from. Pepperman said: “He’s not from another country, he’s from another world.”

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A day (or a few) in the haunting of the Lambert family vs. the never-ending :: Saturday Horror Movies

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Saturday Night Horror Movies :: Insidious Chapter 2 (2013) and The Monkey’s Paw (2013)

Well, it’s been awhile readers, since we held a Saturday Night Horror Movie Double Feature evening, so to kick the year off with what we hope to have as a twice monthly night and next day review, we chose two rather recent movies: one a sequel from a favorite horror writer/director of mine, and the other,  a “made for cable” re-telling of the short story/parable touting the proverbial “be careful what you wish for” warning.

Our first film choice was a rollicking, jump-scare filled fun follow-up (ending?) over-flowing with homages to the horror movie in general. Horror sequels (and so on) are often a staple to the genre, with countless scary movie franchises, enough to fill an entire year of double feature choices. That said, the making of a good “next chapter” is not a given, and more often than not the second (or third, or fourth) feel like they are “trying to hard” to keep up the momentum of their predecessors. With that in mind, we hit the play button and waited to see how this “what happens next” would play out.

The second half of our double-feature would have been better suited as an episode of an anthology series, or a third story in a trilogy of cautionary tales. On its own it felt overwhelmingly long and drawn out, becoming a chore to get through. Because the story is well-known enough that the viewer knew that “no good would come of this” it did not require the slow unfolding of plot. Instead, we came to choose this one hoping for a new take on an old story. Much like “Monkey Paw” wishes, not every choice is a good choice.

Onward we go, and I hope that you enjoy the choices and reviews that follow. As always, please share your own thoughts about the films if you have seen them yourself. We love horror film recommendations, too, so feel free to drop a request for our next double feature horror night coming soon, either in the comment section, or to me directly – Laura at lyrique.discorde@gmail.com. Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.

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Insidious Chapter 2 (2013)
Directed by James Was and written by Leigh Whannell and James Wan

James Wan’s horror film’s are favorites of mine due to his inspired use of music and lighting, his nods to past horror films, as well as his sometimes quiet slow build of a story that usually involves human frailty and connection with family, love, fears and flaws. Losing a child, or having a child lost within illness, is a parents’ worse fear, especially when said parents feel that they cannot help, or control any of the circumstances. When we first met the Lambert family we met a not so perfect family, one with their own challenges and tensions, especially for wife and mother Renai, a songwriter who with her family have just moved into a new home not so long after the birth of their youngest daughter. We see the strain that change has on the family, but also sense a connection between that transcends the stress in a way that sets you off believing that this family is strong and resilient.

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I would say that we would not guess how strong and resilient they will need to be, but come on, these are horror films and we know that peril and, well, horror lie in wait for them in the not so distant future. We watch the terror and devastation that happen when their young son, Dalton, is haunted and then subsequently taken by a yet unknown entity. As the story unfolds we find out that this is not a house haunting as we come to expect with scary family plots, but a family haunting with a generational legacy that was “erased” from the father and husband, Josh, when he was young, and hauntingly afflicted. We all have skeletons in our family closet, but these skeletons are part of a portal to a kind of purgatory where the evil “others” are ripe for living vessels to shadow, and take over.

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I liked the first film quite a bit, despite a few questions it raised, and background story I wished to know more about. Perhaps that is part of what makes this sequel so enjoyable in that some of those questions, and backgrounds, are answered and explained.

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The last thing we saw of the Lambert’s, Josh had been able to bring their son back from the other side with the help of Elise, who can speak/communicate/see the dead. Some of it was reminiscent of the ending of Poltergeist, when the mother in that scenario entered the other realm to bring back their daughter, with the help of another speaker/seer/dead communicator woman. Elise does not survive though, and Josh, we see that he may have not come back alone, as the last shot is of a horrific looking old woman from the not so sweet hereafter. Was she a “ghostly hitchhiker” catching a ride with Josh, or has she possessed Josh completely? Or, as we come to find out, is it even the woman at all within Josh, or someone/something else?

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The defining difference between Chapter 2 and the first story is pace. This is not a slow reveal. Instead, this is a fast-moving tale fraught with what my family likes to call “jump scares“. There were moments where I my heart was leaping into my throat over and over again, so much so that I had to hit pause to catch my breath. Music is hugely impactful, helping to keep the chills on the surface of my skin, and my body poised nervously at the edge of my seat.

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Besides the scares, we are gifted some back-story, and some now-story with Grandmother Lorraine, and ghost-hunters Specs and Hunter, who I thoroughly enjoyed (especially Specs). They take up the cause where Elise was prematurely taken from. They dig up the VHS tapes that Elise recorded back when she first met a younger Lorraine and Josh, and enlist the help of Carl, who was there with Elise back in the day. Elise still acts as leader even from the grave, and it is this posse’s search and discovery that I think stole the movie.

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I do wish we learned a bit more about the legacy, especially a deeper look into Lorraine herself who we learn is able to see the dead, as well. I also wish that the “big bad” had a more flushed out history. What I do think was done spectacularly is the seemless tying together of Chapter 2 into actual scenes and scenarios from the first film. I do not want to spoil anything, but when you get there, you will know. I love when a series rewards the viewer for being there from the start, and these moments felt like that to me in the best way.

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Will there be a Chapter 3? I see where there is possibility, even for a Prequel, but with James Wan’s publicly announcing his retirement from horror (please don’t let it be true) that may just live in the land of fan-fiction and fantasy. We will just have to wait and see if we have seen the last of the Lambert family.

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Thoughts from my husband:

“What I liked best about the film was the director’s skill at utilizing music to foreshadow away the coming scares, but to enhance the scare as it is happening. So many films use music in a way that gives away what’s coming, but Wan uses music right when it is happening, making it all that more powerful. I also liked the tying in of loose threads not only from the movie we were watching (Chapter 2), but its predecessor. All in all, I was pretty much happy with this sequel.”

A few fun facts:

During the scene in which Specs and Tucker analyze the footage of young Josh, The Panasonic VCR logo has been worn away in places so that it reads ‘Panic’ instead.

When Specs and Tucker enter Elise’s house, there is an African Tribal painting hanging on the wall. It is the same painting seen hanging in Daniel’s study in Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) and in the Grandmother’s house in Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) – More rewards to frequent horror movie fans/viewers.

A majority of the film was shot inside Linda Vista Community Hospital, which also doubles as the abandoned hospital that the characters visit.

There is a cameo shot of James Wan  on a computer wallpaper with Specs and Tucker.

Notable horror movie homages: 

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Psycho: The character of Parker is written with many parallels with Norman Bates, including a scene in a shower, and, well, “Mother issues“.

The Shining: Josh’s downward spiral closely resembles that of Jack Torrance.

Sleepaway Camp: The flashback with young Parker and his mother is nearly identical to a scene in Sleepaway Camp.

Carnival of Souls: The 1962 film version is shown playing on television.

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Something’s Wrong

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The Monkey’s Paw (2013)

Based on the well-known horror short story by William Wymark Jacobs that includes the infamous “three wishes” set-up with the inevitable “be careful what you wish for” moral of the story, this film brought out by Chiller (cable horror network) attempts to give us a new spin to the age old tale. Unfortunately, they do a poor job of adapting the short story to a long-playing film, making the long in “long-playing” the key component to a movie that feels like it will never end, and not in a good way.

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We all know the story of three wishes, and maybe that is where the trouble starts. Knowing the set-up and the cautionary tale makes it a challenge to find ways to shock and engage the audience, but horror in general is full of well-known tropes and there are many examples of how this can be down in fresh and startling ways. This is not one of those examples.

At the start of the film I had hopes that they could pull it off. We see a sneak peek of a young boy kneeling beside his beaten and bloody, and seemingly dying, Father who hands him the magical paw passing on his warning about wishing for things. We then fast-forward to a garage full of co-workers, one that we assume is the young boy grown-up, and watch how the players and pieces start to fall in place. The predictable “good looking” young lead has a terminally ill Mother, an unrequited love for his ex-girlfriend, and a douche-bag boss, right there we already see the potential “three wishes” right? But, at the start, they turn some of those expectations around, finding the young man off at a bar with his drunken, quick-witted, older, jaded co-worker, Tony Cobb, who gets taken on a ride of wishes, and wish-envy, that at first plays unexpected, and then goes somewhere that just never works for me.

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I actually found myself wanting to pause the movie and check how much more time remained multiple times during the movie, frustrated and exhausted with poor writing and execution. Once the two main characters, Cobb and young Jake, leave the bar it is all downhill. There is poor motivation on everyone’s parts, ridiculous mistakes made, and know authentic feeling choices or characterizations ever made. Even the one strong character, Cobb, is ruined after leaving the bar. Honestly, my over-arching feeling with this one is “please be over soon“.

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There is no continuity, no follow-through of motivation or choice, and every plot point is so muddied by bad writing and too long of film time that nothing even makes sense after awhile. The movie went past of place of irritation, to confusion, to not caring at all anymore except to wanting to use my own “three wishes” to make it all end already.

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I do not want to ruin the plot further (plot? was there one?, but I also want to make certain that I do not recommend this one, at all. At best, this should have been part of an anthology series or movie, at worst, it maybe should never been made.

Thoughts from my husband:

Here is the problem, I respect Chiller’s attempt to put out a box-office type movie. It stands to reason that in order to have original films on your network you have to create some yourself, the problem being, in an effort to save money it seems that they took a short story that was available in the public domain and asked ‘Bob in accounting’ to update it. This in the past has always been a great 20-40 minute anthology episode type tale, not a 92 minute film made in time specifically to slide in-between commercials.”

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Groundhog Day for Ghost Girls vs. What Crawled Out of Your Butt to Kill :: Saturday Horror Movies

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Saturday Horror Movies :: Haunter (2013) and Bad Milo! (2013)

The only real “theme” or “connection” between this week’s selections would be the year of release, both films released this year. Beyond that, though, these films could not be more different. Both films I knew very little about before viewing, and only ended up streaming their trailers right before we watched.

The first film, a startling, sad story of a girl who seems stuck repeating the same day in the early eighties, the day before her sixteenth birthday. Abigail Breslin, who is best known as plucky Olive in Little Miss Sunshine, is brilliant in this film, carrying the majority of scenes herself, and spanning  a myriad emotions as she uncovers the secrets to her situation. Stories that involve time, whether alternate time, time travel, or convoluted time, are always a fascination for me, as are plots that turn the expected upside down, which this film pulled off quite well.

The second film is a very strange mix of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and another horror film from 2013 that we have featured on “Saturday Horror Movies“, Hell Baby. A dark comedy with a heavier than expected commentary on absentee Fathers and taking responsibility for your own emotions in life. I expected shocking and silly, and ended up surprised by the delivered message (though it was still graphically shocking, but not all that silly).  Though, perhaps the biggest shocker was that a film about a man who gives birth anally to a demon could have a message at all.

Pour yourself a tall glass of something that warms you and I will do my best not to spoil you, as these are both such recent movies. I would love to hear your feedback and reactions if you have seen either film, as well as your suggestions for upcoming Saturday Horror Nights. We are up for anything in the horror genre, and from any era, as well, so please give us some recommendations and requests, either in the comments, or you can email me at lyrique.discorde@gmail.com.

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Haunter (2013)
Directed by Vincenzo Natali and written by Matthew Brian King

At first glimpse of Lisa’s (Abigail Breslin) posters in her room I was immediately reminded of my own adolescent bedroom, what with Siouxsie Sioux, The Cure, Depeche Mode and The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder, along with a eye-catching album cover of David Bowie’s Low. This is how we meet Lisa, a sullen, angsty teenage girl on the eve of her sixteenth birthday in the eighties. But, this is no John Hughes tale, and her family isn’t about to forget her sweet sixteen, no, instead they will never reach it, as we are quick to see, the eve of Lisa’s birthday is the day and night that she and her family seemed destined to live out, in near exact detail, over and over again. 

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Lisa is the only one aware of the time and day duplication, and though she tries to challenge her parents and little brother to see if they will “see” the repeats to, it is seemingly to no avail. Is this a nightmare that Lisa is stuck in? Is it some kind of purgatory? Is she a ghost, or are her family ghosts, or is there something else all-together going on? And, what of her brother’s imaginary friend Edgar, is he the stuff of a typical young child’s imagination, or does he have something to do with all of it, too? Who and what are being haunted, and who is the “haunter“?

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The onus of the film lies on Lisa, and as I previously mentioned, Abigail Breslin does a fantastic job of playing out all her actions and reactions. Performance-wise I am reminded of John Cusack’s Mike Enslin, in 1408, who plays out most of the movie with just him in a room at a haunted hotel. Story-wise, I am also reminded of parts of Twin Peaks, not so much in look and feel, but in the way death comes-a-calling. There are similarities to the film The Lovely Bones, as well, though since I have not seen that film, nor read the book, I can only repeat what my husband and oldest daughter said of the comparison.

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Stephen McHattie does a good job at playing a “big bad”, though I have to admit for most of the film my husband and I thought he was Lance Henriksen, as the actors do share a strong resemblance. McHattie was a great “big bad” in the SyFy series Haven, as well, when he portrayed Reverend Ed Driscoll, though he looked enough different (and enough like Henriksen here) that it was not until I looked the movie up that I made the connection. His role, though effectively creepy and challenging, was the one missing piece in the film, to me. I found myself wanting more character motivation and more of a clear-cut, meaningful backstory, then we are presented in the film. I would go on, but as I mentioned before, I do not want to spoil.

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The ending has a bit of a soft, feel good, happy ever after feel to it, which to some may sit funny since this is a horror film, but to me, I was rooting for a good outcome, so I was glad for it. The inclusion of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ The Killing Jar as the screen faded to black, and the credits began to roll, was a stellar choice, fitting perfectly with the time, and a nice nod to Lisa’s Siouxsie tee shirt she wears for most of the film. To me, the music, the bedroom posters, and Lisa’s brother’s Atari system PacMan game were enough to time stamp the start of the film, without needing the eye-roll inducing Rubik’s Cube. I have a major pet peeve when anything that is set in the 80’s includes a Rubik’s Cube in plain sight. Listen, I was a teenager in the 80’s, and let me tell you, there were not that many Rubik’s Cubes just lying around.

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Beyond that, though, the film captured the time and place, even when such things shifted, in a very evocative way. The cinematography was notable and well-crafted, adding eerie feelings and stunning steps back in time to a well-told tale. My favorite visuals taking place when we see the earliest inhabitants of Lisa’s family house, done in a way that recalled 1920’s film strips.

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Though this is not a film filled with “jump scares” or gore, it had spooky moments, and psychological twists and turns that had me riveted, and interested, all the way through the unfolding of Lisa’s story. This was a good time, and an interesting take on the “haunted house” story (a favorite horror genre of mine).

The Killing Jar :: Siouxsie and the Banshees

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Bad Milo! (2013)
Directed by Jacob Vaughan and written by Benjamin Hayes and Jacob Vaughan

Oh boy, where do I start with this one? How does one begin to write about a movie about a man who has a demon that lives in his butt which when he is stressed he births and said butt-demon runs off and feeds off the perceived source of the stress (i.e. the man’s boss, co-worker who loses his presentation, in appropriate infertility doctor, and possibly his pregnant wife)? Is it possible to watch a movie like this and take it seriously, or is it just a out to shock horror-comedy taking “potty humor” to a new, low level?

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Surprisingly, the movie, though full of a lot of shock value moments (especially the scene in the alley), had heart and an actual message to it. Milo is a genetically inherited “issue” that causes the men in the family to manifest all stress and fear into a demon inside of them. These men swallow their fears, worries and anxieties until they cannot hold them inside any longer, and then the terrible stomach problems come, and they persist and worsen, until they are birthed into a bad, bad thing. Milo is Duncan’s (played by Ken Marino, best known from The State and Veronica Mars) anxiety manifested demon. Milo is sharp-toothed and feral, a demented cross between E.T., a gremlin and something that really looks like what might picture a polyp looking like, if it had big eyes and fangs.

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Milo just wants to be loved, comforted and allowed to live inside a calmer, more peaceful and happy Duncan. But Duncan is a mess of stress and abandonment issues, which have been ignited by his wife Sarah’s (played by Community’s Gillian Jacobs) desire to have a baby. This parental need expressed has unleashed Duncan’s abandonment issues caused by his own Father leaving for “his own good” when he was very young. He fears that he is not good enough, that his horrible job won’t last and that with the presence of Milo, perhaps his own child would be better off without him, and maybe he should leave, just like his Father, for his child’s “own good“, as well.

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Duncan has to make peace with his “demons“, find a way to deal with his anger and anxiety and fears, in order to be not only a parent, and husband, and employee, but to also put to rest “Bad Milo”. These are not the subjects usually of gross-out, shock humor, are they? Bad Milo! is definitely a unique take on the tale of parental abandonment, a plot that has been around since Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and well before. Is the moral of the story to watch your stress, or watch your ass? I will let you judge for yourself, if you dare.

Sock Puppet Therapy

A Resurrected Killer Doll vs. A Reconstructed Slasher Killer :: Saturday Horror Movies

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Saturday Horror Movies :: Curse of Chucky (2013) and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

The original theme for this Saturday Double Feature was going to be new chapters to horror franchises, but one of the films we chose to watch had a audio glitch so we switched out one for a movie that is somewhat meta in its take on the slasher killer trope, where all famous cinematic killers are real, and a new one is attempting to be born. In some ways, I suppose it fits into our original theme, after all.

Our first film is a rebooted tale about the notoriously iconic doll that we all know as Chucky. Killer dolls have always been a guaranteed “jump scare” trigger to me, ever since I was scared out of my wits as a child by the Zuni fetish doll of Trilogy of Terror, thus I have never seen any of the “Chucky/Child’s Play” franchise, so this was more of an introduction, than a new chapter.

The second film, as I previously mentioned, starts off as a documentary on slasher killer legends, and centers on a new one set to join the ranks of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. The film features some familiar actors from the horror genre, with Robert Englund (Freddy Kruger from The Nightmare On Elm Street franchise), Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina Barrons from the Poltergeist franchise) and Scott Wilson (recently as Hershel Greene in The Walking Dead Series).

Both films were great horror fun this week, so pop some popcorn (we have a few boxes of movie style left) and join us for a little taste of Curse of Chucky and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Please leave your thoughts in the comments, and let us know if you have seen the films, or go and see them after reading, and tell us what you thought. Also, please leaver your recommendations and requests to watch and review on upcoming Saturday Horror Movie nights – we are always looking for a few good scares around here!

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Curse of Chucky (2013)

A mysterious package containing an iconic doll from the late 80’s arrives at the door and no one questions it which starts off our tale of inevitable horror and has me wondering “has no one in a horror movie never seen a horror movie?” I mean, we all know that strange dolls or artifacts sent to you anonymously will always end up being evil, right? Well, not this Mother and daughter. The daughter, who is wheel chair bound, brings in the box that is addressed to her overbearing Mother (yet another horror trope that should signal danger ahead) and smiles, unconcerned, as she opens it. The Mother does not make it until the next day, and the mysterious gifted doll sits on a chair in the corner with a serenely innocent look, but we all know what is going on behind those dead doll eyes.

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The daughter Nica, played by the daughter of the iconic “voice of Chucky” (Fiona Dourif) welcomes in her estranged sister, her sisters husband and daughter and their stereotypical “hot blonde nanny“.

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The young girl, Nica’s niece, takes an instant liking to Chucky, and action that is more understandable of a reaction, we can assure ourselves that a little girl has most likely not seen any horror films, and it is a talking doll (though creepy, one has to admit). The niece, Alice, begins telling her Mother that Chucky has debunked God and warned her that they are all going to die. This is dismissed, of course, and the family persists in both drama and infidelity. The nanny is of course the other half of the cheating, but as a small twist, she is having the affair with the wife, Nica’s sister Barb.

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Horror strikes at night, it seems, and as the family tucks in to go to sleep we know that the doll will soon be waking up. Nica is the first to catch on when we get a more clear cut back story about Charles Lee Ray, and also a through line of connection to Nica’s family.

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The movie both pays homage to the original series, for instance when Nica cuts his head off Chucky’s and watches as it re-assembles itself, Chucky getting back up to attack again, and also in the final, pre-credit scenes between Alice and Chucky. The pre-credits also feature a guest star from the original franchise, Tiffany, who may be the key to the re-appearance of Chucky, and his soul-inhabitant, Charles Lee Ray.

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The return of the “Bride” (but stay tuned to the end of the credits for another franchise return)

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Oh, and killer dolls still give me “jump scares” (some things never change).

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Behind the Mask: The Rise Leslie Vernon (2006)

Imagine a world where movie psycho killers were real and were part of what took down the tourism and economy of the town’s they took place in. Now imagine that an up-and-coming news journalist (Taylor) decides to find herself the next Michael Myers, Freddie Krueger or Jason Voorhees and produce a documentary about him. And, what if this discovered psycho killer involved said journalist in the set-up of his next big slasher kill? If you were the journalist, would you try to stop it?

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Meet Leslie Vernon, he comes from a broken and violent home and is rumored to be dead. He has surrogate parents who are made up of a slasher killer and his “survivor girl” who he married. Leslie is set on being the next best killer, and his Daddy-of-choice (played by Scott Wilson) is convinced that the world needs evil in order for there to be good, so hey, psycho, slasher killers are necessary. For any horror movie fan, especially fans of the slasher franchises, this is the movie for you – it goes beyond homage into meta storytelling, and is one hell of a good time.

That said, all my co-horror movie fans out there, keep your eyes open for moments and mementos from past films. Here’s a few to look out for:

The first time Taylor interviews Eugene and his wife, a Lament Configuration puzzle box from Hellraiser can be seen sitting on a table.

Doc Halloran’s (Robert Englund’s) wardrobe (and beard) is nearly identical to that of Donald Pleasence’s character Doctor Loomis from the Halloween films.

When Leslie is applying his makeup while being interviewed about his target, the song playing in the background is the same as that heard at the end of The Shining, where Jack Torrence appears in the photo: ‘Midnight, The Stars and You,’ sung by Al Bowlly with the Ray Noble Orchestra, 1934.

When Leslie first takes Taylor and her crew to meet Eugene and his wife, the car parked in Eugene’s driveway is the same color, make and model as the car seen in The Evil Dead films.

(There is plenty more, so keep your eyes peeled and a notebook close at hand)

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Packed full of horror guest stars, it is Robert Englund’s turn as the “Ahab” (a Moby Dick reference to describe the Van Helsing trope of one who challenges the big bad beast). You can just tell that Englund loves being such a horror movie star, the joy impossible to ignore as he tries to save the new “survivor girl” and stop the media from making Leslie into something notorious.

Will Taylor get her story, or become Leslie’s story?

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I strive to not spoil any plots, but I will tell you that it is worth “staying through the credits” to see a set-up for a sequel (which is rumored to be called B4TM – Before the Mask), as well as hear a clever inclusion of Talking Heads’ song,  Psycho Killer.

Psycho Killer :: Talking Heads

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It is a great mask, isn’t it?

A Bates Motel Movie Without a Motel versus A Retold For Profit Haunted Sleepover :: Saturday Horror Movies

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Saturday Horror Movies :: The Bates Haunting (2012) and House On Haunted Hill (1999)

No theme to be seen for miles this week, and in some ways I suppose it showed. Neither film really blew me away, though there was definitely one that was all those miles better than the other. Our first film came from the Red Box machine at the local grocery store. I had a few credits to use and admittedly I was drawn to both the reference to Psycho/Bates Motel and the mention of it being a theme park based horror film, so into the Saturday Horror Movie mix it went. The other film was chosen solely because after watching, and enjoying, the original House on Haunted Hill I was curious about seeing the nineties remake, helmed in part by William Castle’s daughter, Terry Castle. Neither quite lived up to their predecessors, though I did enjoy some of the cast in the second film. They cannot all be winner weeks, though, can they?

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The Bates Haunting (2012)

Oh my, what a let down this film was. First of all, there was not only no real connection to Psycho or the Bates Motel, but there was no motel to speak of. In fact, there was even a moment in the dialogue where the owner’s of the theme park state that often they get calls for reservations for a motel that is not there at all. The family in question surname is Bates though, and at the very end we do catch a blink-and-you’d-miss-it glimpse of someone dressed up like Norman as Norma, from the original film, but beyond that, there was nothing else. The movie poster, though, actually shows a replica of the Bates house, with a shadowy “Norma” type figure in the window, which I can only guess was meant to help attract people like me to the movie.

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To be honest, I think I might have liked the film more if they had left the imagery and the suggestion of connection off of the whole movie. The fact that it is based on a real place – The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride at Arasaha Farm, in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania – would have been enough to peak my interest. I actually enjoy a good indie horror film, and am a fan of scary stories told about theme parks. That said, for a better experience in indie horror and an almost theme park experience, I would whole-heartedly suggest you seek out the film Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead, which does pay homage and connect to the movie it uses in the title, is based around a horror convention, and though filled with a reasonably unknown cast, is actually a scary good time.

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The one, and only, saving grace for me was the character of Clyde, played by Dante Lucca. He had a few witty one-liners, that may not even have been that wittily written, but he did deliver them with that sarcastic dead pan delivery that I have a soft spot for. His character is never fully flushed out, nor his friendship with Agnes, but in some ways it was refreshing that he was friend and sidekick, and not contrived love interest. There were moments when Agnes, played by a Jean Louise O’Sullivan, who could pass as Lana Del Rey’s younger sister, and Clyde seemed almost Scooby Doo gang in their rapport with each other, and both actors seemed to try to transcend the material. I actually found myself briefly wondering what Kevin Smith and/or Joss Whedon could do for both of these actors.

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There are brief (very brief) appearances by both Bam Margera and Ryan Dunn, both from Jackass fame, among other things. Ryan’s was at least good for a laugh as the angry pizza customer, Bam, on the other hand, was a blink and he’s gone appearance which had me asking “wait…was that Bam?” I can only assume that they were either friends of the filmmaker, or of the actual theme park that the movie was based on, in Pennsylvania.

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Plot wise, this film had no real merit. There were moments where we discussed the possibility of twists and plot turns that would have both helped to make sense of the story, and had some uniqueness to the film. Alas, none of the ideas came to fruition. Instead, we had decisions made that had no sense to them, characters who had no defined characteristics, and an ending that felt so clumsy and thrown together that I was not even sure the actors believed it.

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They are all wondering where the plot went, too.

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House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Alright, so perhaps it is unfair for me to review this film so soon after watching the original, but watching the original is what made me want to give the remake a try. I am a big fan of cover songs, and though remakes do not always make my list of top movies, there are exceptions to every rule. Dark Castle has had my attention before, especially with the films Ghost Ship and RocknRolla, so with their involvement, as well as William Castle’s daughter producing, I had high hopes. The cast is pretty noteworthy, as well. Overall, I did like the film. There were things I took issue with, and comparisons that I could not help but make, but on the whole this movie does a good job at paying homage to the original, and taking strides to make the movie its own.

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The movie starts in a much different way, with us meeting Price (named in honor of Vincent Price, who played the original role of Fredrick Loren) at one of his places of work, Price Amusement park, where an odd pair up of singer Lisa Loeb and freshly blonde from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer set, are being shown the scariest of roller coasters. We witness, soon after, Price on the phone with his wife. We are quick to see that their marriage is just as dark and doomed as the original Loren marriage, and that this could lead to the very same end.

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Famke Janssen does a fantastic job at playing the vitriol and jaded Evelyn Stockard-Price, who seems to take much glee in questioning her husband Price’s sexuality, and trying various ways of killing him. She decides a sleepover at a haunted house is in order, and what better place but the old insane asylum with a sordid and evil history, where the patients took over once in a very violent way.

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Location was so much of what I loved about the original, that this switch did not sit well with me, though I do rationally see why they made the choice.

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Geoffrey Rush’s Price never works for me. He seemed to be trying to hard at playing his best Vincent Price, and it came off as forced too much of the time. I wanted him to be campy yes, but to take that camp into a different direction that would play off the much tougher and colder Famke Janssen portrayal. Their chemistry was non-existent, and he was never quite convincing as the leader and host.

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As for the guests, I was torn between liking some. Taye Diggs and Ali Larter worked wonders for me as Eddie and Sara. It was a welcome change to have Sara be stronger and a seeming survivor, not turning into a screaming stereotypical damsel in distress. Taye was strong and sensitive, charismatic, and had me rooting for his survival from the start. Others I disliked, though. Bridgette Wilson-Sampras’ Melissa Margaret Marr seemed more super model than television journalist. I missed the older and more jaded tones that the journalist from the original brought to the mix. Also, Chris Kataan as Watson Pritchett was distracting with what felt like an intentional impression of Robert Downey, Jr. He never seemed to land on any character traits long enough to care about him, or take him seriously.  He honestly seemed terribly miscast.

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This remake runs an additional twenty minutes, and because of this there is an entire extra level to the plot that the original does not have. The asylum is necessary to take this deviation from its predecessor, and taking it as its own makes these big changes a little more palpable. But, coming off the original so recently, I honestly had a rough time with this change. For me, it turned the movie into a stereotypical, predictable horror movie, instead of a creepy thriller that leaves you wondering.

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I did enjoy the inclusion of Marilyn Manson’s cover of Sweet Dreams, originally by the Eurythmics. A nice addition to feature a cover song in a “cover” movie.

Sweet Dreams :: Marilyn Manson
featuring scenes from House on Haunted Hill

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Want to take a roller coaster ride back to the 90’s with Lisa Loeb and Spike?