NOVEMBER 2, 1998: The notion of extend-ing "Scanlines" for Halloween seemed like a good one before it turned into a monster project. With writers vying left and right for their favorites, there are still so many gaps. No one mentions Vincent Price, whose role in The Pit and the Pendulum scared the bejesus out of me as a kid and still stands as my favorite horror movie. Everyone wanted to write on The Lost Boys, that stylish cinematic valentine to MTV. No one even touched Italian horrormeister Dario Argento or Roger Corman or Brian De Palma, though four people wanted to do Texas Chainsaw. Horror, my friends, is a very personal thing and most people choose their own hell when it comes to getting scared.
Still, within you'll find more than the usual butcher's dozen to guide you into the video aisles this Halloween from witches to maniacs. Just don't forget to lock the door when you turn out the lights.-- Margaret Moser
Bram Stoker's Dracula
Interview With the Vampire
Also released in 1987, Near Dark won the critical competition against its contemporary The Lost Boys, but not the commercial one. Director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days) has plenty style of her own, as well as a much better script (which she co-wrote), one that evokes Rice continually, particularly in the theme of a wizened soul trapped in a child's body. Like The Lost Boys, the film's use of leather and attitude reeks of rock & roll, with Lance Henriksen as the badass coven leader, Bill Paxton as a gleefully sadistic throat-ripper, and lots of gunplay. At the heart of it all, a young, beautiful Adrian Pasdar and an equally lovely Jenny Wright consummate a wholesome, Midwestern version of vampire love -- as opposed to the Eurotrashy pairing of Deneuve and Bowie in The Hunger. Like that film, Near Darknever utters the word "vampire."
Finally, there's Neil (The Crying Game) Jordan's adaptation of Rice's own Interview With the Vampire, not surprisingly stylish to the extreme, but winged in one fell swoop by the terrible miscasting of Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat. High gloss, high goth production values, a terrific performance by Kirsten Dunst as nine-year-old vamp Claudia, and a yeoman's effort by Brad Pitt as Rice's Hamlet figure, Louis, but Cruise may just as well be Tom Hanks or George Clooney. That is to say, neither Stoker nor Rice's true vision of some creature lurking in the shadows waits to steal your life in this film. -- Raoul Hernandez
This is not entirely new. The sexy-witch genre started long ago, before even Elvira, with movies like Veronica Lake's I Married a Witch and Kim Novak's Bell, Book and Candle. Even from these far from humble beginnings, the genre has evolved, approaching in recent years something of an art form. The many witch movies of the past 10 years display a vast spectrum of witchiness. Three standouts of the decade are Teen Witch, The Craft, and The Witches. The differences between the witches depicted in each just go to show how many options are available for the witchy gal of our era.
High school and sorcery are a perfect match, probably because so many things about high school cry out for hexing. In The Craft, our heroine is the good girl who's new in town. She immediately falls in with a crowd of three, known around school as "the Bitches of Eastwick." It becomes clear that the designation is apt when the clique starts "calling the four corners" and wreaking magical havoc in their Limited and Benetton outfits (product placements abound). Only the sympathetic character is not corrupted by power, so a showdown between the forces of good and forces of evil (think supernatural catfight) inevitably ensues. While this could have been a kick-ass girl-bonding movie, it degenerates pretty quickly into hair-pulling and sniping. The Craft also interestingly enough turns the Goddess of Wicca into a male deity, whom the girls lustily describe as "filling them up." Moral: Even witches are not immune to teensploitation.
Teen Witch, Sabrina's 1980's prototype, is way more inspiring, however hokey it is. This movie is so Eighties it hurts, with everything from white boys rapping up a storm in the school hallway to cheerleaders jiggle-dancing in the locker room to the hysterical song "I Like Boys." For retrophiles, it doesn't get any better than this. This is a world in which tutu skirts are the height of fashion, there's a Madonna clone named "Shana," and reference is made to Punky Brewster. It is also a world in which a newly 16-year-old Louise Miller, nerd extraordinaire, finds out she is a witch.
From frumpy to fabulous, our heroine wastes no time working her magic on everyone from the sadistic English teacher Mr. Weaver to Brad, the studly football hero. Granted, the movie has the predictable feel of a sitcom. Between the dearth of character actors, the valuable lessons learned, and the textbook backfiring of good intentions, some may scoff. They would, however, be in the wrong, for this is a masterpiece of both the teen and witch genres. Louise the nerd, bubbling over with sexual energy and social ambition, becomes cool. Louise the witch, erratically powerful, learns how to rightly use her strength. Teen Witch is an all-around delicious flick, both despite and because of the afterschool special quality of its message.
If, on the other hand, you're going for old school scary, there's no contest. Based on a Roald Dahl book, Nicholas Roeg's The Witches is a film surprisingly faithful to the creepiness of the original. A recently orphaned boy encounters the Grand High Witch (played by a slinky, ice queeny Anjelica Huston) while on vacation with his grandmother. This is one of those films that is a children's movie only in theory. In reality, you'd be better off celebrating Halloween by reading your kids the original Grimm's Fairy Tales (the ones about beautiful maidens being decapitated) than showing them this. Despite a few child-appropriate moments, the overall scenario (witches are everywhere and all they want to do is kill children in awful ways) may prove to be too traumatic. Anjelica Huston's bloodthirsty sexiness, however, increases the film's appeal for the older set. It also shares with the aforementioned teenybopper witch movies a plot that centers around cute chicks wielding colossal power. At home, with a TV projecting this archetype, isn't at all a bad way to celebrate the holidays. -- Ada Calhoun
Texas Chainsaw Massacre Pt. II
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
By the Seventies, moviegoers had seen their share of monsters and even a few Norman Bates-type characters. But nothing could prepare them for Tobe Hooper's twisted foray into the heart of the Lone Star State. Here, what was perceived as the most stable of institutions, the American family, is the beast. With that, it's no coincidence that the scariest scene in the film takes place at a dinner table. Hooper's vision is horrid yet engrossing. His subtle touches (background radio bulletins repeating gory crimes throughout the state) and grotesque characterizations make rural Texas seem like a hellish place where only the strong survive. But the worst part about this vision is that despite its sensational aspects, it never seems too far from what could be the truth.
Amusing in some areas and disappointing in others, the sequel follows Texas Ranger Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) in his crusade to destroy the chainsaw family. Returning from the original cast is Jim Siedow, who's now a renowned chili chef (using human ingredients) and acts as the head of the family that now includes Chop-Top (with an exposed steel head plate), a dead Grandpa, and the clan's pride and joy, Leatherface (Bill Johnson). Make-up wizard Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow) provides expert blood and guts, but as a whole, the plot drags and the suspense is minimal. The best thing is its unending silliness. Considering that the rest of the films are difficult to stomach more than once, this actually has several laughs with Hopper's overdramatics and his special chainsaw holster.
Leatherface encompasses much of the stark horror of the first Chainsaw, utilizing a scary environment (Texas backwoods), torture (person being nailed to a chair), and redneck cannibals (Mama eatin' eyeballs from a cereal bowl). It centers on two yuppies (Kate Hodge and William Butler) in a Mercedes Benz (an updated contrast to the original's "hippies in a van") who have a run-in with a loony, gun-toting gas station attendant. Fleeing, they enter the woods and encounter Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) and his family (including Viggo Mortensen as the seedy Tex). The odds are evened up when weekend survivalist Benny (Ken Foree) enters the picture, armed to the teeth with militia gear. The action is quick with a speed metal soundtrack underscoring chases and Foree's Rambo-like heroics. Also effective is the clichéd yet spooky swamp setting, which makes escape all the more difficult for the protagonists. Superior to both Part II and the subsequent Next Generation, the film's frenetic energy and haunting visuals convey the story with punch and style. Although it initially went unnoticed, it's one of the better Bs of the decade, offering an equal share of chills and thrills.
You probably guessed that Next Generation (originally Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre) was shot before part-time Austinites Zellweger and McConaughey began acting opposite the likes of Jodie Foster and Meryl Streep. Here, they're seen preparing for stardom by starring with groundbreaking local actor Robert Jacks. After all, Jacks can be considered wickedly innovative since he was the first (and only) actor to portray Leatherface as a cross-dressing vivisectionist (which is actually in line with the series' real-life inspiration, Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein). Despite such dramatics, this is a bad remake rather than a sequel. It begins with teen nerd Jenny (Zellweger) and three friends leaving their prom only to total their car in the Texas backwoods. The systematic character elimination is predictable and rendered clumsily by director Kim Henkel (co-writer of the original). Rehashing old gory gimmickry (meat hook through the back), Henkel introduces an ambiguous plot twist that links the chainsaw family to an international society of sadomasochists. Zellweger suffers as the bedraggled heroine, being punched, kicked, and even licked on the face (yuck!) for much of the film while McConaughey is disgustingly convincing as Vilmer, a tortuous psycho with a remote-controlled leg brace. It's a meek echo of the original Chainsaw, but not without its own sick charm. Considering visual eccentricities like Leatherface in drag and the concept of a fraternity of horrormongers, the film has a few redeeming qualities, but not enough to make it truly memorable. -- Mike Emery
Child's Play was exciting, interesting, and surprisingly funny. I was surprised, there was some horror but not an incredible amount. I liked how when someone thought Andy did something bad like kill someone or something the person would discover evidence in a creepy way that proves Andy innocent. I also was impressed with the camerawork and thought the special effects were very good. -- Eli Black (eight years old)
Werewolf of London
War of the Worlds
Although eclipsed in both critical and box-office success by Universal's other major horror film of 1935, The Bride of Frankenstein, Werewolf of London is notable as the studio's first filmic study of lycanthropy. Many of the elements that later became part and parcel of the cinematic werewolf legend as presented in The Wolf Man and its sequels, such as transformations brought on by the light of the full moon and surviving victims of werewolf attacks later becoming lupine monsters themselves, make their debut here. However, it doesn't take a silver weapon to kill this werewolf, and there's an antidote to the condition in the form of an exotic moon plant. Henry Hull is stolid but acceptable as the obsessed botanist Dr. Glendon, and his fellow wolf man, Dr. Yogami, is portrayed by Oland (best known for his Charlie Chan movies). Valerie Hobson and Byington round out the cast as the neglected wife and her meddling aunt. Although a handsome enough production, Werewolf of London rarely rises above the level of a standard melodrama. The make-up and transformations are less impressive than in later Universal horror films, and the werewolf bears more resemblance to Mr. Hyde than Larry Talbot. Still, for lovers of Universal horror films, it's an entertaining enough 75 minutes and isn't likely to scare the kids. The first side of Werewolf of London is in CLV, with the film's climax presented in CAV format. There's also a trailer from the Realart re-release during the Fifties and a large selection of stills and lobby cards from the film. Although the image and sound are as good as can be expected, it would certainly be nice if Universal would remaster their classic horror library in DVD format. That would give die-hard fans something to howl about.
A number of movies from the science-fiction film boom of the 1950s are imbued with Cold War paranoia and a deadly fear of "the bomb." Producer George Pal's War of the Worlds, loosely based on H. G. Wells' novel, wasn't the first film to externalize America's fear of annihilation through the construct of invading aliens; Howard Hawks' The Thing had James Arness as a malevolent, blood-drinking "super carrot" from outer space. But where The Thing limited its conflict to an isolated battle between a group of humans and their alien antagonist at an Arctic outpost, War of the Worlds is global in scope. Although most of the film is focused on the Martians attacking the Los Angeles area, there are plenty of memorable images of worldwide destruction. Pal updated the mechanical tripods of Wells' novel in favor of more streamlined alien weaponry. The manta-shaped Martian war machines with their cobra-hooded heat rays is one of the seminal images of Fifties science--fiction films. Gordon Jennings and his crew of technicians won an Academy Award for special effects for their impressive contributions to War of the Worlds. Neither the script nor the lead performances are outstanding, but the film moves along at a brisk pace and is far superior to most other efforts in the genre. This remastered laserdisc is presented entirely in CAV format and occupies three sides of two discs. Also included are the trailer to another Pal science--fiction classic, When Worlds Collide, and for the first time a home video version of War of the Worlds is presented with stereo sound. With laserdiscs getting harder and harder to find, they're also getting less expensive in some cases, and War of the Worlds can often be found at less than its original price.
Carpenter's version of The Thing is less a remake of the Howard Hawks 1951 version than a more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story "Who Goes There?" on which both were based. The film opens in Antarctica with a sled dog running from a pair of Norwegian men in a helicopter, who are attempting to kill the animal. The dog finds safety at a nearby American base and the Norwegians end up dead, leaving the Americans with a mystery and a whole lot more (although they don't realize it at the time) on their hands. After investigating the Norwegian camp and a crashed alien spacecraft, the Americans, led by pilot Kurt Russell, begin to put the pieces together. When the dog metamorphoses into something indescribable, the men are faced with the fact that they are up against an enemy that can literally look like anyone or anything. The Thing is paranoid, bleak, uncompromising, and thankfully devoid of a traditional Hollywood happy ending. Led by Russell, the ensemble cast is outstanding, but the real star of the film is Rob Bottin's imaginative creature effects. Bottin, who was responsible for the werewolf make-up and transformations in The Howling the previous year, takes full advantage of the myriad possibilities that the alien's power provides. Although he composes the music for most of his films, Carpenter elected not to do the score for The Thing himself, opting for Ennio Morricone instead. Morricone's music for The Thing, with its throbbing baseline, is reminiscent of other Carpenter scores and is quite effective. The laserdisc version of The Thing is letterboxed and includes the theatrical trailer. Truly disturbing at times, The Thing isn't for the squeamish or for dog lovers. Others looking for a Halloween treat might want to give it a try.
A haunted house in suburbia? Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper took this odd concept and ran with it, creating one of the best fright films of the Eighties, Poltergeist. The Freeling family, who reside in the sleepy subdivision of Cuesta Verde, seem about as normal as can be. Except for the fact that their youngest daughter talks to people who live in the family's television. Things go from fine to bad when the mysterious forces move from the television into the house itself, and from bad to worse when they kidnap the little girl during a thunderstorm. The parents (well-played by Williams and Nelson) first have to find someone who will believe them, then must find a way to reclaim their daughter from the malignant forces that have her imprisoned. Poltergeist has a wicked sense of humor, although it never crosses the line into camp, and leads viewers on a well-paced thrill ride. The special effects were created by Industrial Light and Magic, and are quite well-done. Zelda Rubinstein is also memorable as the diminutive psychic. As with many DVDs, Poltergeist has a letterboxed version on one side of the disc and pan-and-scan on the other, with subtitles and dubbed dialogue in several different languages. The picture and surround sound are crisp and well-defined. If your idea of Halloween is a haunted house, but you'd rather stay in your living room, try Poltergeist. Just don't leave the TV on when it's over. -- Bud Simons
Far superior to Michael J. Fox's imminently forgettable Teen Wolf, the other wolfman redux of the Eighties, American Werewolf in London, written and directed by yukmeister John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers), finds David Kessler (Naughton) backpacking through the moors of Scotland when he and college pal Jack (Dunne) are mauled by a werewolf. Shipped off to a London hospital and minus one shredded friend, Naughton recoups only to fulfill the prophecy of the movie's title. Startling dream imagery and some flashes of gore poke fun at horror movie archetypes, but are also genuinely scary. Anyone who endured last year's marginally related Julie Delpy-Tom Everett Scott sequel can testify that 15-plus years of technical wizardry sometimes don't mean diddly. Most enjoyable, however, is the goofy fun Landis and company are having playing against audience expectations. And as the American Werewolf at the center of it all, Naughton proves sarcastic, bright-eyed charmers existed long before George Clooney was learning the Facts of Life.
In his campy vamp time capsule of Eighties chic, Schumacher uses a cast jam-packed with Bop bigshots along with gory comic book goofiness to tell his story of rock & roll nightstalkers in the fictional "murder capital of the world" Santa Carla (real-life Santa Cruz). For these wayward cool kids of the night, it's all mesh tops and mousse, long hair and leather jackets (plus one dangling earring). But equally as interesting is looking at these actors in terms of their career tracks: Watch then-unknown Jason Patric debut his chiseled jaw and ram heads with then-cool Kiefer Sutherland years before they were rivals for Julia Roberts' love; watch Jami Gertz in her brief stint as a screen siren; watch the two Coreys at the 14-minute mark; and who knew Dianne Wiest was in this thing? Unlike more complicated takes in the vampire canon, Lost Boys maintains a fairly blue-collar attitude toward the mythology: It's just holy water, blood sucking, and stakes through the heart here. But like the memorable INXS soundtrack song of the same name, Schumacher is more interested in giving us a "good time tonight," as he intersperses shots of the glitzy, towering rollercoasters, the shrill cries of those riding it out, all to remind us: Hey, you love this stuff.
Even sillier is Frankenhooker, the ridiculous cult knockoff of the gothic classic that, although it opened at the beginning of this decade, still maintains the Eighties offensiveness of a pre-PC era. When tinkering scientist Jeffrey's fiancée is sliced and diced in a bizarre gardening accident, he seeks out the perfect body with which to reassemble her sundry parts. Armed with his special strain of "supercrack," he lures a gaggle of big-bosomed, drug-loving hookers to his hotel room who, upon smoking the stuff, are impelled to do such things as scamper about scantily clad, rubbing each other in ecstasy until -- quicker than you can say Marion Barry -- their bodies explode. It's easy to jeer at the appalling dearth of acting talent here, or at the ludicrous plot barren of plausibility or suspense. It's simple to be provoked by such angry, hostile treatment of female body parts. I contend, however, that it is more difficult to find the traces of Mary Shelley's 19th-century novel. Okay, it's impossible to find. But Frankenhooker does offer an assortment of laughs, especially for the discriminating connoisseur of soft-core porn, and while not quite as technically adept as the former two, any movie with a beefed-up überpimp named Zorro fretting, "Where my bitches at?" gets my vote. -- Sarah Hepola
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Halloween IV: Return of Michael Myers
Halloween V: Revenge of Michael Myers
Halloween: Curse of Michael Myers
A bad sequel to a good movie, Halloween II begins moments after the killing spree. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is rushed to the hospital, but the nutty Myers is hot on her trail. Donald Pleasence reprises his role as Loomis, but he and Curtis are wasted here. The main concentration is on gross-out effects and lame chase scenes. During the course of the film, it's learned that Michael and Laurie are related, explaining his obsession with her. This, however, is an inane angle that weakens the first film yet serves as fuel for future sequels.
The strength of Halloween III lies in the fact that the studio actually had the audacity to bill it as an actual sequel. There's no slasher, no Curtis, nothing remotely connected with the other films. There's even a scene where the original Halloween is shown on TV, proving that this is an altogether different universe. Nonetheless, this sci-fi-based story about a man bent on destroying kids is fun stuff and even better than subsequent chapters in the series. Replacing Myers is Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy), owner of Silver Shamrock, a company that produces bestselling Halloween masks. It's no wonder these masks are selling well as their TV ads are played incessantly with a maddeningly catchy jingle. The plot unfolds when it's learned that anyone wearing these masks on Halloween and watching a special broadcast will have a deadly trick played on them. Backing him up is an army of robots and his own personal knowledge of the occult. The result is quite entertaining, despite the fact that audiences were tricked into expecting a slasher and instead got robots. Not to be overlooked this time of year, III is an oddity that surpasses expectations with its unpredictable quirk.
Myers returns in Halloween IV, the first of three horrid non-Curtis films. He's been comatose for 10 years, but guess what? He wakes up on Halloween! Why? To return home and kill more people (especially little niece Jamie, daughter of Curtis' character, Laurie)! As Frankenstein's creature was reduced to a foolish hulk in its later films, so is Myers in this picture. The mysterious stalker has become another Jason, which is disappointing. Pleasence returns as Loomis, ranting and raving as he does best, but the whole effort is trite and unoriginal.
Michael's back in Halloween V and he still wants to kill his niece. This time it should be easier considering the two share a telepathic link, but the lethargic maniac can't seem to catch the little girl. There's momentary suspense, but nothing special. The end is ridiculous, as a man in black comes to the aid of an imprisoned Myers. This sets up the next sequel that's even worse.
In Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, his target is great-nephew, baby Stephen (son of Jamie who's aged some 15 years since Revenge). This is a mess that deconstructs everything that made the original intriguing. Michael's psychopathic tendencies are explained (sort of) and mystic druids are introduced to make things even more convoluted. Pleasence is back, which is a plus, but this ends up as the sad swan song for the great character actor. Hokey yet stylish in some areas, this is another variation on the indestructible killer that's instantly forgettable. -- Mike Emery
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