More Cultish Horror and Dated Mayhem
By Kristin Battestella
It’s October! That means it’s time for more eighties cult creepies, dated sf scares, metaphysical frights, and otherwise campy or horrific fair.
Audrey Rose – Director Robert Wise’s (The Sound of Music, West Side Story) 1977 child horror movie isn’t really that much of a horror film, but rather an abstract psychological eerie. Then again, I suppose it says something about today’s desensitization when battling for her reincarnated soul Susan Swift (Harper Valley PTA) just comes off as very annoying kid with a serious set of scream pipes. Fortunately, the adult leads Marsha Mason (Chapter Two, Drop Dead Fred) and Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs, must I go on?) keep the film watchable thanks to spiritual debates, reincarnation dialogues, tearful action, and upsetting misaction. With such metaphysical topics, it’s also very tough to come to a finite conclusion, but the story never feels like it is a swinging New Age groovy exploration, either. Though the beliefs may be far reaching globally, the stars keep the trauma intimate- and I must say that NYC apartment is damn cozy in its opulence!
Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness – These 1987 and 1992 sequels from writer and director Sam Raimi (Darkman) get progressively further away from the great zombie gore of the original Evil Dead to become more campy comedy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Dead II still offers plenty of chainsaw wielding fun for a frat party of yore. The preposterous undead and retcon after retcon could get irritating if you really thought about it, but why should you? Star Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice) creatively dashes off one deadite after another to keep the pace bemusing and lively. For Army of Darkness, we’re treated to the unusual combination of medieval undead and reanimated skeletons battling against corny 20th century quips and heroics. Yes, it sounds dumb, and new audiences will most definitely balk at the thought of Harryhausen-esqe battle skeletons. Nevertheless, it looks 14th century on form and every joke still nails it.
Hellraiser – BDSM gone awry! Writer and director Clive Barker’s (Lord of Illusions) interdimensional torment fest still scares me just a little bit. The claustrophobic camerawork allows for some great jump out moments, the gore is just right, and the teen in peril plots are done quite reasonably. Ashley Laurence handles herself versus Doug Bradley’s unnamed but intelligently sinister Pinhead, and the latent speculation on pain of the utmost coming from someone else’s idea of the pinnacle of pleasure offers several layers of perversion. Sure, some of the cheap 1987 style shows in Clare Higgns’ (The House of Mirth) fashions, but does it hamper the kinky, sexy, murderous gravitas? Nope. Yes, the plethora of sequels might not be the best, but seriously, a 3D remake crosses the line!
The Howling- Something wolfy is apaw for Dee Wallace (E.T.) ‘pre-Stone’ in this 1981 wolf effects dream. Director Joe Dante (Gremlins) isn’t afraid to have a few winks and wit tossed in for the audience and the attention to lycan designs still looks good. The transformations aren’t horror for horror’s sake; they earn time with both twisted delight for some and bestial torment for others. There are a few creeps and scares to spin with the sexy and kinky as well. Okay, there are probably a few hokey things. However, the over the eighties topness we expect is actually quite tame amid the 1981 maturity here. Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) is always a treat, and the women on both sides of the silver are treated as strong, intelligent, and independent whilst also being no less scared, sexy, or perpetually in peril. Hot diggity dog!
Night of the Comet – Now this has some 1984 hairstyles and essential montages of the day! Catherine Mary Stewart (Weekend at Bernie’s), Robert Beltran (Star: Trek Voyager), and Kelli Maroney (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) have a fun look at chicks takin’ it to doomsday along with some solid tunes and horror wit. However, the plots here are a little uneven, I must say. Zombie scares, romance, and science fiction disturbia- it’s almost as if three separate films get stuck together. Why are we dealing with evil scientists? I though there were zombies about? Oh, but those New Wave Devo guys were undead? Really? There is a bit too much and yet not enough going on, but the comedy and lack of taking things too seriously keep this one watchable-Tempest high scores aside, of course.
Waxwork- A fine cast- including Zach Galligan (Gremlins), Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl), Michelle Johnson (Blame It on Rio), Dana Ashbrook (Doesn’t anyone else remember Girlfriend from Hell?), David Warner (Titanic), and Patrick Macnee (yes, him again)- begin wonderfully in this 1988 first of several evil melts run amok. The assorted effects from the werewolf and vampire bads look great, and the vignettes per wax display have just the perfect amount of creepy, bloody, scary, and sexy. Unfortunately, a lot of the good falls apart for the final act. Though the gore in the museum free for all finale is very creative, the lame explanation about a voodoo apocalypse and the 18 baddest of the bad limps to the finish, leaving you scratching your head if you think too long about it. Thankfully, there’s plenty of humor to keep it all fun.
And one for the Novelty Alone
Village of the Damned – John Carpenter’s (Halloween) 1995 remake has a very sweet cast, indeed: Christopher Reeve (in his last film before his riding accident), Mark Hamill, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Pare, Kirstie Alley, and Meredith Salenger. I mean, that’s Superman, Luke Skywalker, Crocodile Dundee’s Woman, Eddie without the Cruisers, Saavik, and Natty Gan! Unfortunately, all the talent is for naught as creepy kids who should have had a good beat down dominate the barely there adults. Obviously, she has done drama well, but Kirstie Alley is totally unbelievable as a government scientist here, becoming almost as laughable as her best comedy. Poor Christopher Reeve is stuck as the man alone struggling needlessly against these dang alien kids and none of it really makes that much sense. I suppose this might not be that bad and is still watchable and entertaining for the stars. But it could have been so much better- and we expect a lot more from Carpenter.