Rabid (1977)

rabid_poster

  • Writer: David Cronenberg
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Starring: Marilyn Chambers, Joe Silver, Frank Moore
  • Medium: Shudder (Streaming)

Synopsis

After a motorcycle accident (conveniently right outside a plastic surgery center), Rose (Marilyn Chambers) is in a coma, and her injuries are worked on by Dr Keloid (Howard Ryshpan). When she wakes up, she has an unexplained mouth in her left arm pit, which is thirsty for blood. Everyone who gets bit turns rabid and seeks out other victims, creating an epidemic in Montreal.

Review

rabid_marilyn
Marilyn Chambers is on the phone – she wants to start making mainstream movies

David Cronenberg’s early work is a good view into what was to come with his engagingly weird imagery. Like ShiversRabid has a sexual undertone that leads to the outbreak that puts the city in peril. In tone, it acts like a sequel to Shivers, even though the stories are different. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Shivers, but, to me, this film seems a little more polished. Then again, that just may be the long layoff since watching Shivers, a movie I wanted to like more than what I did. This film, I had no expectations going in, so maybe that helped me like it a little more.

Marilyn Chambers was looking for a mainstream movie after working in porn. Looking into it, Cronenberg originally wanted Sissy Spacek for the role. I didn’t think Spacek would have been a good choice, but, then, it got me thinking. Maybe Cronenberg did not intend for the sexual undertones in this film. Maybe Chambers, with her porn star notoriety and natural sexual appeal, brought that into the movie. On second thought, the arm pit monster does appear to come out of a vagina. With the sexual tones, I doubt that was actually a coincidence.

The joke is always about porn and soap opera actors not being able to make the leap to feature films, but I thought Chambers actually did a pretty good job, even if much of the non-horror pieces were a bit melodramatic. There are also very realistic actors supporting her, especially Joe Silver as the business partner behind the plastic surgery center and Frank Moore as Rose’s boyfriend. I felt the bit players all did their roles quite well, too.

A part of frustration for some viewers will be the appearance of the arm pit monster. Why did it appear? No one knows, and the movie never attempts to theorize about it. The closest is when Dr Keloid examines Rose and asks if it hurts. It doesn’t. Soon after, he is victimized. Things just happen, and it spreads.

rabid_closet
The Rabid Zombie attack

Kind of like the last film I watched, Blood Car, the scenario gets a bit repetitive, and you wonder how close to the end you are getting. However, for me, it took longer to get to that repetitive feel in this movie (probably because the characters or the actors playing them were more engaging), and, when the government tries to make things right, I had not yet checked out, like I had with the other film.

Whether or not you understand what is happening with this outbreak, the film normalizes everything. Sure, I don’t know what the arm pit monster is all about, but, once accepted as this film’s reality, everything progresses in a logical manner, so it is pretty easy to follow. There is not too much in effects work needed. The monster looks fine. Everything else is pretty much just makeup work and alka seltzer foaming out of people’s mouths. Without the extravagant effects, it kept the story real and believable.

Film Rating: 7 Rapid Zombies out of 10 | Would like to watch back-to-back with Shivers to see how the two compare.

Advertisements

Blood Car (2007)

bloodcar_poster

  • Writers: Alex Orr, Adam Pinney
  • Director: Alex Orr
  • Starring: Mike Brune, Anna Chlumsky, Katie Rowlett
  • Medium: Shudder (Streaming)

Synopsis

A vegan kindergarten teacher, Archie (Brune), is trying to develop an environmentally friendly alternative fuel in a world where nobody drives cars anymore due to the cost. He has limited success with wheat grass. After an accident mixes his blood with the wheat grass, he realizes his new motor runs on blood. With a new fuel source discovered, the government watches him. Due to the type of fuel, Archie needs to continue to find ways to fill up his tank, which goes against his vegan sensibilities.

Review

bloodcar_mygirl
My Girl, Anna Chlumsky

It’s an interesting premise and starts out well enough, reminding me of Napoleon Dynamite. The reminder is because everyone’s performance is understated, and it almost sounds like the actors could fall asleep at any time. Does that make sense? Gas prices have risen to $36/gallon, which was more of a concern back when the movie was released than what it is right now. There is some humor like kids going to the car graveyard to have sex in the back of a car because no one drives them anymore or parks them in remote places.

The lead being a vegan is, of course, not a throwaway characteristic, as it leads to much of the humor in the movie, especially when Archie realizes that blood is his alternative fuel, and, in tears, he kills some animals before realizing it is specifically human blood that runs his engine.

After he shows up with his car to the organic stand (where he had been buying his wheat grass), which is run by My Girl Anna Chlumsky, who has a big crush on Archie, the hot girl at the Meat Stand across the way, played by Katie Rowlett (future wife of the co-writer and director), sees her chance at raising her status by being inside a car, so she trades sexual favors for the feeling of superiority, blatantly talked about in a speech she gives at the drive-in.

bloodcar_guy
The vegan out shooting animals

I checked the time thinking it had to be close to over, but it was only 35 to 40 minutes in, as the movie runs out of steam pretty fast. He is driving and needs to pick up the meat girl. He runs out of fuel. He freaks. He kills someone. He picks up the girl. Repeat. By the time the government aspect really comes in, it’s a little too late to pick up the interest again. This was an instance where I think the low budget hurt a film and also the stretching into a feature length film. It was like a Saturday Night Live sketch turned into a movie that should’ve been kept as a sketch. Maybe turning this into a 30-minute short would’ve been perfect and would’ve kept the interest until the final credits rolled.

Film Rating: 5 Gallons of Wheat Grass out of 10 | If they could do the reverse of the norm and re-film this as a short, I think they would have a success.

Black Christmas (1974)

blackxmas_poster

  • Writer: Roy Moore
  • Director: Bob Clark
  • Starring: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Andrea Martin, Keir Dullea
  • Medium: Shudder (Streaming)

 

Synopsis

It’s Christmas time. a 13-year-old girl has been found dead in a local park, and a sorority house is receiving distressing telephone calls, as some of the girls start to disappear. Is it Jess’ (Olivia Hussey) boyfriend (Keir Dullea), who does not want her to abort their baby? Is it someone else entirely (the caller keeps referencing “Billy” and telling “Agnus” not to tell what they have done)? The police put a trace on the phone to try to find out where the calls are coming from, only to find out they are coming from…inside the house.

blackxmas_olivia
If someone comes up your trellis in this movie, RUN!

Review

 

Although not the first film to do so, Black Christmas is credited as one of the original “call from inside the house” films. The idea is considered cliché now, but it was still pretty fresh when this film was created. The film itself, although dramatic when the police discover where the calls are coming from, does not make the premise a secret, as you know from almost the beginning where the killer is. The calls are unnerving as the killer uses multiple voices in what is the only insight into the killer’s mind, allowing the viewer to come up with his/her own back story.

The film is well-made. The acting is great with Olivia “Juliet” Hussey, John Saxon, Margot “Lois Lane” Kidder (who plays her part very well – of course, her character is drunk most of the time she is awake…), and Andrea “Aunt Voula” Martin. The story keeps moving with plenty of levity at the expense of Sergeant Nash and real concern from the police once the complaint of the caller is taken seriously. For humorous purposes, maybe Marian Waldman (as Miss Mac) camps up the character a little, but I think she was even believable as the House Mother.

The tense scenes are built-up more by waiting for those phone calls and the bizarre exchange from the other end. The kills themselves are not too shocking and tense. It’s everything around the kills that builds the atmosphere, and I think it is a perfect blueprint for what’s going to come in future slasher films, with a few of the scenes seemingly to influence the “greatest slasher film” of all-time…that being Halloween. The John Carpenter film has the seemingly perverted phone call to the heroine (we find out later it was just her friend eating an apple) and then being on the phone while a friend gets strangled…sounding like a dirty phone call instead. There is another scene where Jess’ boyfriend emerges from the shadow, which I think is Halloween’s greatest visuals, as Michael Myer’s mask suddenly becomes visible from the shadows. Also, there would be many holiday-themed horror films to come after.

blackxmas_saxon
10 years later, it’ll be his daughter, Nancy, giving him a call at the station

Some people will complain about the open-ending, but I think it works. On the one hand, I’d love to know Billy’s story. Why was he there? Just a random house to be at? What did he do in his past? I have my ideas. Of course, with the motives not explained, I get to come up with my own back-story for him, which is great. You don’t always need to have the killer explained. The randomness of it can make it even more frightening.

 

The styles are fun to watch. The rotary telephones. There is the ’70s kitsch while watching it, but I feel like the film still holds up well. While you may put on films from a previous decade and laugh at its cheese factor, I didn’t catch that at all in this movie. Bob Clark (who would go on to direct another holiday classic – A Christmas Story) knew what he wanted, and the final result shows that he was able to get the performances he needed from his actors and was able to display just the right amounts of the story.

Film Rating: 8 telephone calls out of 10 | Another example of how the 70s may have been the greatest decade for horror. I have not yet seen the remake but think I may see how much integrity they were able to keep.

31 (2016)

31_poster

  • Writer: Rob Zombie
  • Director: Rob Zombie
  • Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake
  • Medium: Shudder (Streaming)

Synopsis

A group of sideshow workers get kidnapped on Halloween to play a game called 31. They have 12 hours to kill or be killed. The thing is: no one has ever survived until the end of the game.

Review

The film starts out in black and white with the killer Doom-Head (Richard Brake) delivering a big monologue to his latest victim. The speech is written and performed like Exorcist III was on, and they wanted to steal Brad Dourif’s Gemini Killer performance, going so far as to talk about how long cockroaches can survive after decapitation (the Gemini Killer talks about how long a human head can continue to see after decapitation). I don’t know if the idea was to emulate or pay homage or just blatantly rip off the performance, but, based on a later character, I’d go with the latter.

31_doom
Doom-Head invoking Brad Dourif’s Gemini Killer

The sideshow workers are traveling by van to their next spot. In Rob Zombie fashion, they all have that white trash quality he writes so well. You have Sheri Moon Zombie as the lead female, and Jeff Daniel Phillips (who looks like Rob Zombie) as the lead male, just like in his film, The Lords of Salem. I have a feeling the scenes in the van and everything before the kidnapping is to make you think what a fun-loving group and maybe get some sort of connection to the group, but…I don’t know…I didn’t feel anything.

After the kidnapping, Malcolm McDowell, in white wig, along with Judy Geeson and Jane Carr, set the game in motion. If you are familiar with The Most Dangerous Game or The Running Man, then you know the plot. I’m not going to say anything negative regarding recycling the plot because it can be done well…I remember enjoying the film Slashers, which used the plot and tied it to a reality tv show. In this case, though, it’s set in 1976, and the killing is just for the amusement of the three. Still…that being said, there really isn’t anything new in the storyline here.

There is an attempt at emotion after the first kill, but I didn’t feel it. It didn’t heighten any emotions. The first killer is a nazi midget, who gets a lot of screen time, but the other killers get limited screen time before they are dispatched. Lew Temple plays one of the killers, and, if the part was not meant for Bill Moseley, then Lew just did his best Otis Driftwood impersonation. At times, he actually sounded like Bill Moseley. Can you fault Rob Zombie for ripping off one of his own most popular characters? Anyway, the nazi midget isn’t all that appealing, and the others are not on screen long enough to have any impact…until Doom-Head is called upon again. I guess he is supposed to be the “cool” villain. Again…he didn’t do much for me – he doesn’t pull you in like the Firefly clan did.

Issues I had with the way the film played out:

  • Meg Foster lasts for quite a while and delivers a couple crippling blows to the killers. Then, she ends up getting killed so easily. It didn’t seem to fit with what went before.
  • There seemed to be a lot of slow-motion. They didn’t need to pad the time because it ran well over 90 minutes. My thought is that they needed some emotional scenes as deaths were discovered. Since the actors may have had limited ranges, they decided to go with silent, slo-mo to cover up the inability to emote.
  • Sherri Moon Zombie is the final survivor. Would love to see a Rob Zombie movie where she gets killed off first. That would be surprising. Her surviving until the end is getting boring.
  • Neither the “good guys” nor “bad guys” draw you in one way or the other to get you involved. You just watch the action unfold without any attachment.

The positives:

  • The soundtrack was great. I would buy the album.
  • Sherri Moon Zombie is not as unlikable as she was in The Lords of Salem. This time around, she’s just blah. Didn’t like her. Didn’t dislike her. She seemed to underplay her role a bit more this time around.
31_goodguys
Jeff Daniel “Rob Zombie” Phillips and Sheri Moon Zombie

Film Rating: 4.5 Clowns out of 10 | I almost rented this movie off Amazon. Thank god I saved my money and lucked out to have the film appear on Shudder instead. Deciding if I’d watch it again. I tried a second viewing of The Lords of Salem and couldn’t get through it. This one is slightly better, so maybe I could try a repeat viewing eventually.

Exorcist III (1990)

exorcist3_poster

  • Writer: William Peter Blatty
  • Director: William Peter Blatty
  • Starring: George C. Scott, Brad Dourif, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders
  • Medium: SHUDDER (Streaming)

Synopsis

Based on William Peter Blatty’s book, Legion. A supposed exorcism took place in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC. Around the same time, the notorious Gemini Killer was put to death. 15 years later, killings are happening again, using the same modus operandi as the Gemini Killer. The only problem is that the press were leaked incorrect information about what the Gemini did (this allowed the cops to ferret out all the crackpots who claimed to be the killer), and these new killings are displaying the real trademarks of the Gemini. The victims, however, are all connected to the supposed exorcism of Regan McNeil. On top of all that, there is a man in isolation at the hospital who claims to be the Gemini Killer. He is never allowed to leave his room, and he actually appears to be former priest, Damian Karras, who helped perform the exorcism and fell to his death down those famous flight of stairs. It’s up to Detective Kinderman to figure out what is going on.

exorcist3_friends
Ed Flanders and George C. Scott taking over as Father Dyer and Detective Kinderman

Review

First off, this is a review of the original theatrical version. There is a director’s cut that has been recently released to Blu Ray by Scream Factory. Although I am dying to do so, I have not yet purchased or viewed this edition. Also, I have read the book this is based on. It’s been awhile, but I absolutely loved the book, which I thought was a much better story than the movie. The director’s cut supposedly follows the book a bit more.

This film is definitely a worthy successor to one of the most famous horror films of all time. That alone is not an easy task. It’s fiction, but I would love to re-read the original novel, The Exorcist, to see relationships built (possibly even the film adaptation). My only critique is that the film starts with Father Dyer (the young piano-playing priest in the original) saying he needs to comfort his friend, Detective Kinderman (the detective from the original), because he gets sad every year on this day because it is the anniversary of Father Karras’ death. Detective Kinderman says the same story about Father Dyer. They both make it seem like they are consoling the other, when both need it. The critique is that I believe Kinderman met Karras during the investigation in the original story. Karras dies at the end. In this film, it is said that Kinderman and Karras were basically best friends, but I don’t know if they really had the time to develop that much of a friendship prior to Karras’ death. Minor thing. Having them as close friends adds to the tension and drama, so I let it slide.

There are plenty of freaky scenes in this movie. More jump scares, though, than the religious freakiness of the original. Even though you know a scare is coming, it doesn’t stop you from jumping in your seat when it finally occurs.

The tone is different from the original movie, which I think makes for a great sequel. Instead of seeing the same events play out for a second time, it uses the events that happened in the original to drive the continuing story of the same characters in a believable way. The story itself may not be believable (depending on your belief system), but you can see how the same characters would be pulled back into a connected storyline. It is an interesting story and almost, for a time, a bit of a whodonit, followed by a howdhedoit.

Top notch acting. George C. Scott seems to lose grip on his anger pretty quickly (maybe too quickly), but I thought he gave a wonderful performance. I bought into his drama. He was a likable hard ass.  It’s been 15 years, so people change. But, I thought I remembered Kinderman being a bit more mellow in his demeanor during the original. Ed Flanders’ Father Dyer still has that happy, showman attitude. He is a great character, and Flanders plays him to perfection. Despite her character being a bitch, Nancy Fish plays Nurse Allerton with this wonderfully subtle caring and nice demeanor, even she outwardly appears pissed all the time. All the other bit players (the old patients, the fellow cops, the doctors and nurses) do a fabulous job as well. Then, there is Jason Miller, who portrays the body of Damian Karras, who may have been possessed by the spirit of the Gemini Killer as life left him at the bottom of the staircase. His screen time is somewhat limited, but seeing the familiar face was a treat, and he delivers a great performance. When I first saw the film and even watching it 25 years later, I am floored with Brad Dourif’s performance as the essence of the Gemini. He became one of my favorite actors because of this film. Despite being in a straitjacket, he emotes showmanship. His range goes from soothing to rage in an instant, and it is quite a sight to behold.

exorcist3_jump
The ultimate jump scare

When I first saw the movie, I thought the ending seemed a little out of place. The mostly talky piece suddenly devolves into an exorcism with crazy visuals. I was interested in reading the book to see if there was more to this ending because I felt like I was missing something, like maybe they had to cut the scene or the build-up to the scene because it kind of seemed like it came out of nowhere. After reading the book and seeing that this ending was nowhere to be found, it made the book that much better because I was on board with the provided ending. I guess the book ending matches what was originally filmed as well, but the studio wanted a big exorcism in the finale, so Blatty lost out. I look forward to seeing how the ending plays out in the director’s cut.

Film Rating: 8.5 Wonderfull Lifes out of 10 | Despite the lackluster The Heretic and the couple versions of the fourth installment being let-downs, it is nice to see that a blockbuster, near perfect original film can still have such a worthy sequel.

Night of the Creeps (1986)

notc_poster

  • Writer:  Fred Dekker
  • Director: Fred Dekker
  • Starring: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow
  • Medium: SHUDDER (Streaming)

Synopsis

Alien slugs land on Earth, turning the people they inhabit into zombified “Creeps.” Their human host kills a couple, and cop, Ray Cameron, stops the killing. The killer is frozen (can’t remember why OR if they ever said why he was frozen). Many years later, a couple “nerds” try joining a fraternity (Chris wants to join to impress a girl) and, in the midst of a fraternity prank, unfreeze the killer, unleashing the alien slugs. It’s up to an aged Ray Cameron, Chris, JC (Chris’ friend), and Cynthia (object of Chris’ desire) to save the day.

notc_lively
Best Friends: JC (Steve Marshall) and Chris (Jason Lively)

Review

Well, I believe this was a rental back in the day, and my friend and I loved it. Can the goofy likings of a teenager hold over when an old fart re-watches it so many years later? Quite simply, the answer is yes. This wasn’t the first time I had seen the movie since my original watching as a teen. Whenever I can find this one, I will give it a watch.

This film, to me, embodies why 80s horror was so great. It’s a horror-comedy. The comedy isn’t making fun of horror films. It’s just a funny movie that also happens to be a horror film (like Shaun of the Dead). It builds characters that you actually like. It throws in a scene that touches the heart. It has everything you could ask for from this genre.

The story is simple. Aliens inhabit humans, and inhabited humans try to kill uninhabited humans. This movie isn’t like a “body snatches” type of movie where you don’t know who has been affected. Those that are affected look and act like zombies. The host is dead and gets killed. The only problem is that the slugs escape and look for their next body. There’s a touching conclusion to the events. Aside from the horror piece, you have the side-stories of the old cop, the “nerd” pining for the beautiful girl, and the strong friendship.

The actors do a wonderful job. Right. No Oscars given, but everyone performs like you’d expect and even elevates the characters. Tom Atkins is wonderful as the old cop. He is a bad ass and ends up teaming up with the kids after he is brought onto the case when the corpse from (I think it was the 50s or 60s) is unfrozen. He is pretty much an asshole, answers the phone with a pessimistic “Thrill me” greeting, but has a heart of gold. Jason Lively does an excellent job as the main “nerd,” who embraces the hero role that he is thrust into. Jill Whitlow is likable as the beautiful, popular girl who teams up with Chris. Steve Marshall gives possibly the best performance (or maybe just had the best character), as Chris’ best friend. He is on crutches because his legs cannot support him. He offers the most heart-warming scene by way of an audio cassette. He is the one that pushes his friend along and assists him to meet his goals, even if, deep down, he would rather not have his friend succeed.

The effects are dated. The make-up itself is done well, but the appliances when the human hosts are shot or split open are obvious effects pieces. When creating a horror-comedy, the effects not being on par with what WETA can do works well with the proceedings and does not take away from the film.

notc_thrillme
Thrill Me: Tom Atkins as Ray Cameron

Despite its goofy premise and comedy and lots of horror references (different character names are revealed to be Raimi, Landis, etc.), they are not afraid to put in a serious scene or build a little character. I don’t know. Seems like that balance is sorely missing when I watch films trying to fall into this vein nowadays. Maybe it’s always been a tough balance to achieve.

Film Rating: 8 Banshees out of 10 | If it’s on your streaming service, give it a watch. It’s well worth it.

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

  • notld90_poster
  • Writers: John A. Russo, George A. Romero
  • Director: Tom Savini
  • Starring: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles, Bill Moseley
  • Medium: SHUDDER (Streaming)

 

Synopsis

A re-telling of the 1968 classic. The dead suddenly start walking, and they are attacking and then feeding on any humans they can. The one benefit is that the zombies are slow and weak. The biggest problem is that their numbers keep growing larger.

Barbara and her brother are at a cemetery when they are attacked. Barbara escapes, but her brother does not make it out alive. Barbara finds an empty house for shelter and is soon joined by Ben, who is in the same boat. Eventually, they find out a couple families are holed up in the cellar. They must battle the zombies and each other to try to make it through the night.

notld90_ben
Tony Todd as Ben, trying to fight back a zombie

 

Review

I thought I remembered renting this back in the day shortly after it hit home video and don’t remember really thinking much one way or the other. I liked the original but just glossed over this one. Throughout the years, Night of the Living Dead (1968) grew on me more and more, and the tension is just amazing. I wanted to give the remake another shot and finally found it available through SHUDDER. I was doing my best to watch this movie on its own merits and stop comparing it to the original, but, really, can anyone get the source material purged from their memory before watching a remake?

With make-up effects maestro Tom Savini helming this film from the director’s chair, I expected some great effects and was not disappointed. With the film being in color, the effects could not be hidden in the shadows of black-and-white film. The zombies really seemed to be highlighted in this movie and with good reason. The blood, the decay – all done very well.

The story also takes some interesting turns thanks to some revisions by screenwriter (and original director) George A. Romero. He took the original script by himself and John A. Russo and fashioned it for a new generation. Whereas the original had a black lead (really unheard of in horror at the time), the focus shifts a little more towards Barbara this time, although Ben is still the driving force to try to save the group. Although the role of Ben was not written for a specific race, racial tensions were still high in 1968, and the film could be seen as a fight for racial equality. This film, with Barbara a much stronger character and hero, it could be seen as the feminist fight. It’s the only redeeming factor for a scene between her and Cooper towards the end of the film.

The acting is done well, with Bill Moseley doing a spot-on re-creation of the Johnnie character, and future Candyman (1992), Tony Todd, portrays the Ben character perfectly. The other bit-players do their parts well, although Tom Towles sometimes goes a little overboard portraying Harry Cooper. The big difference in character is Barbara. Instead of a mostly catatonic character, she becomes a strong lead and is believably portrayed by Patricia Tallman. I believe she could’ve kicked my ass.

notld90_barbara
Barbara kicking ass this time around

 

Maybe it’s my own maturation, but I think this film has aged very well, and I’m not sure why I wasn’t impressed my first time around.

Film Rating: 7.5 don’t say zombies out of 10 | I don’t see this version replacing the original in my rotation, but I don’t see waiting another 20+ years to view it again, either.