Horror in July Fun!
By Kristin Battestella
Stay indoors in the air conditioning and let the witchy good mayhem, scary old schools, and assorted beasties put more chills up your spine!
Burnt Offerings – For only $900, Karen Black (Five Easy Pieces, The Day of the Locust), Oliver Reed (Oliver!, Gladiator), and their aunt Bette Davis (Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, All About Eve) rent a spooky California mansion for the entire summer from kooky Burgess Meredith (Rocky, Grumpy Old Men) and his sister Eileen Heckart (Butterflies Are Free). You know this is too good to be true! Director Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) takes his time with Robert Marasco’s source novel, developing the happy characters in the first half hour then building the mystery and haunted house disturbia towards the sinister changes to come. Although the 1976 design is quite dated- ascots, station wagons- the period flair is now cool and backwater scary style. The Dunsmuir House filming location is so, so sweet, too- and oh, that chauffeur! Yes, it’s merely PG and has obvious similarities to Phantasm, but there are still plenty of scares, innuendo, and twists to delight here.
Don’t Look Now – Donald Sutherland (MASH) and Julie Christie (Doctor Zhivago) star as a grieving couple in this 1973 creepy based on a story by Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca) and directed by Nicholas Roeg (The Witches). Though it looks older than it is thanks to the fashions and hair, the grainy filming and jumping intercuts work the chills nicely in tandem with intimate and personal photography adding character depth and loss. There’s lots of symbolic water, red, and religion as well; but the visual layers and intelligence stand out amid the natural locations and seventies browns. Those Venice locales are pure sweetness, too. However, the lack of Italian subtitles and slow pacing in getting to the big finish might make a few things confusing to some. Of course, the nudity is tame for today’s audiences, but the infamous sex scene may still be a little too spicy- as in ‘how many different Kama Sutra positions can we get in here’ spicy. Yet, the scene has purpose for the characters- not just the T-n-A of today’s horror. In fact, modern pointless slice and dice can learn a thing or two from the complexity here.
In the Mouth Of Madness – John Carpenter’s (Halloween, The Thing) 1995 film about a horror writer in a disturbed small town boasts a fine cast including Sam Neill (The Tudors, Jurassic Park), Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur, Planet of the Apes), Jurgen Prochnow (Dune), John Glover (Smallville), and David Warner (The Omen). Yes, it’s easy to assume this is another foul things afoot in the sleepy hamlet ala Stephen King, but there’s much more psychology and mind versus reality here. The music is very dated heavy metal, the visual design looks more bad eighties than mid nineties, and things are slow and confusing to start. But these twisted bizarrities are kind of the point. What is fiction and what is real? Are dreams blending with reality or vice versa? The scares, gore, and performances are all juicy, and build nice and twistedly to the conclusion.
Let Me In – There’s a lot this 2010 remake gets right- the abstract parental photography, disturbing performances, bully storytelling, and creepy mystery. It’s focused scenes with Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) are genuine and well played. However, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) should have stayed with this unique or what we don’t see youth examination instead of breaking away for over the top deaths and action. Though my niece says the book is very different, this film version seems overlong and too mature for its audience. Do 12 year olds really comprehend all this sex and blood? Yet, this is not for adults and seems too of its age. Where did we get this juvenile horror trend and premature exposure to predators and prey? Cursing, killing, eighties sounds and styles- it all seems absurd for today’s pre-teen. This film is not a ‘vampire romance.’ The players seem advantageous, cruel, manipulative. Does Abby periodically make new 12-year-old friends so they grow old and remain indebted to her? Are we to feel sorry for an old vampire in a child body who likes little boys? Is this supposed to be about innocence and bullying or maturity and vampire souls? The unanswered questions and youth fluff over the adult substance undoes the good for me here.
Practical Magic – This 1998 chick fest ala Charmed or Sabrina the Teenage Witch starring Oscar winners Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) , Nicole Kidman (The Hours) , Dianne Wiest (Hannah and Her Sisters) and Emmy winner Stockard Channing (The West Wing) is a little hokey and uneven in its whimsy and darkness. Is it a cute magic romance or a cautionary tale on the misuse of witchcraft? There’s plenty of stereotypical heavy love and light witchy ways, but director Griffin Dunne (The Accidental Husband) never gets as real or scary as I might have liked. Viewers looking for such can also find some latent lesbian undertones, too. Which is it all supposed to be? Nevertheless, the fine performances and magical fun in several charming scenes keep this one a toe on the watchable side I think. Fans of the cast can enjoy and mystical ladies of all ages can have a night in here. The chicky soundtrack, however, has got to go!
Session 9 – Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) wonderfully executes this taut psychological thriller and smartly tells his 2001 tale in the gloriously eerie Danvers State Hospital for premium naturally spooky effects. Both Peter Mullan (Red Riding) and David Caruso (CSI: Miami) are on form, keeping the viewer intelligently guessing as to all the mystery and paranoia right up to the end. Unfortunately, everything falls apart for the finale. There are so many suspenseful and horrific possibilities, and any one of them was possible here. Yet none actually happens in this disappointing end. For all the smarts and interesting strides made beforehand, Anderson and co-writer Stephen Gevedon (Oz) leave you scratching your head at the unexplained conclusion. Claiming the deleted scenes on the DVD resolve everything doesn’t help, either.
Blood of the Vampire/The Hellfire Club – I know I often cite the charm and charisma of some of these hokey old B horror pictures, but some are just downright bad. The double billed fun here- with old time drive in slides and concession commercials before, during, and after the features-was very nostalgic, even the highlight. Blood of the Vampire’s formulaic Victorian Transylvania looks the part, but seriously bad make-up, stilted plotting, and ill acting can’t save the mad scientist hysteria here. With no featured, dynamic horror stars, it’s really tough to care about the would be mayhem turning hokey. Likewise, lovely outdoor locations, sweet costumes, and heady décor can’t carry The Hellfire Club. An all too brief appearance by Peter Cushing and swift cavalier action with swords and horses can’t overcome the simple fact that there really isn’t any sex and fears here as the title suggests. Actually, these two films have nothing in common and I have no idea why they were put together.
Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) – I confess, I didn’t make it halfway thru this remake of the 1984 Freddy Kruger classic from music video director Samuel Bayer (the guy who helmed ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ folks!). The dream sequences and deaths are absolutely unimaginative; the supposedly special crutch here was the decision to make Jackie Earle Haley’s (Watchmen) uninspired Freddy an all out pedophile. Horrible as it is to say, this was also not as disturbing as it should have been. Yes, some of the sequels made Kruger a little too funny and tongue in cheek. But he was kinky enough, nastily licking the chicks and zipping out dirty one liners. He’s the son of a hundred maniacs, if that doesn’t suggest something nefarious I don’t know what does. New Nightmare blended the mix of real and refresh far more wonderfully, and I really, really hope this means these damn Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes remake folks are going to finally let these great horror franchises lie.