The Evil Dead (1981)

This review is part of the 31 films of Halloween review series

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The Evil Dead is a bit of a strange film. While it is a straight horror film (unlike its two sequels) it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and enjoys being quite controversial.

The Evil Dead sees five friends heading off to a cabin in the middle of nowhere (will people never learn?) to enjoy a break from college.

The first few minutes of the film are filled with tension with the action cutting from the kids car, to a truck to something mysteriously racing through the woods and the pace rarely slows down from here.

After narrowly avoiding an accident with the truck and coming a cropper on a bridge the guys finally make it to the cabin which, while a bit dirty is pretty homely and they settle in comfortably. That’s when things start to go a bit weird.

One of the girls is drawing a clock when she sudden seems to become possessed and starts randomly drawing a face of some sort; during dinner the cellar hatch starts banging and on investigation Scott and Ash find a book with some disturbing images in it, a knife and a tape recorder which, of course, they decide to play.

There’s a bit of exposition on the tape with a professor explaining about the Book Of the Dead, demon possession and how they are released. Low and behold, the voice on the tape reads out some incantations and something is the wood wakes up.

One of the girls, Cheryl, hears a noise and heads outside to investigate and, in quite a disturbing scene, she’s attacked by trees and brutally raped by them. At this point I should note that I’m watching the “uncut” version of the film. In the UK when it was first released the film was heavily censored and wasn’t widely available on VHS until 1990. The film was actually banned in Germany until 2016.

Cheryl manages to break free and runs through the forest pursed by an unseen force that flies through the trees, knocking them to the ground as whatever it is rushes towards Cheryl who is struggling to get into the cabin.

This part of the film is incredibly well shot: the menace you feel from not being able to see what is chasing Cheryl, and the knowledge that it must be huge and powerful because of the way it knocks over the trees is quite frightening.

Cheryl understandably wants to leave and Ash begrudgingly agrees to take her into town but they’re unable to escape as the bridge has been destroyed.

Returning to the cabin, Ash continues to listen to the tape and Shelly and Linda are trying to be psychics by guessing cards, from across the room Cheryl starts calling out the correct cards and turns to reveal she’s been possessed by the spirit of a “deadite” and they’re rather pissed off that they’ve been disturbed.

From this point on the film enters pretty standard horror film territory, albeit in a far more over-the-top and gory manner than most of its contemporary films and I think its this OTT-ness that has made the film the cult classic it is today.

The effects are quite poor (you can see an actress is wearing a mask at one point) and the possessed voices are laughable but that all adds to the charm of this film.

A couple of things I do like about this film is the fact that we don’t see the big bad enemy in the woods, that’s left to our own imaginations, and the second thing is that this film doesn’t fall into the “final girl” trope that seemingly pervaded horror films of the time.

Watch this is you want to view something that doesn’t take itself to seriously but can still provide plenty of scares.

What We Do In The Shadows

This review is part of the 31 films of Halloween review series

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What We Do In The Shadows is a mockumentary that follows the lives of four housemates living in suburban Wellington, New Zealand. So far, so normal, right? Well, all is not as it seems as the housemates are in fact all vampires.

The film opens with us being introduced to Viago, played by Taika Waititi, who is 379 years old and has trouble rising out of his coffin of an evening. He the takes us through the house and introduces us to 183 year old Deacon, 862 year old Vladislav (who used to be a bit naughty had was nicknamed Vladislav the Poker due to his love of poking people to death with sticks) and Petyr who, at 8000 years old, is the oldest member of the household.

The housemates have problems that we can all relate to – Deacon hasn’t done the washing up for 5 years, Petyr won’t help out with any of the chores and Vladislav’s idea of dusting to to drag a dead body down the hall.

Their harmony is disrupted when Deacon’s familiar Jackie brings her ex-boyfriend Nick around for dinner, the vampires chase Nick around the house but he manages to escape, only to be captured and turned by Petyr.

We fast forward a couple of months and Nick appears to be enjoying his life as a vampire, particularly being able to fly around which annoys the others as they’re worried the neighbours will see. The one downside to becoming a vampire is when Nick is out with his mate Stu (a human) and steals a chip off of his plate. After eating it we’re treated to a scene of Nick violently puking up blood for a good two or three minutes which is as funny as it is gross.

Nick’s other problem is that he can’t keep his mouth shut and goes around telling anyone that will listen that he’s a vampire which they tolerate as they like Nick’s friend Stu so much – he’s introduced them to cell phones and the internet which allows them all to watch a sunrise again.

Nick’s big mouth gets them into trouble with a local Vampire killer and when the police show up Viago has to hypnotize them so they don’t notice anything suspicious – which works but they do point out that there are no smoke detectors in the house!

The acting is great and you really believe that these guys are vampires and housemates. There are plenty of really great special effects (a bat fight!) and these don’t feel forced or intrusive in any way, and they’re all really well done.

While there isn’t much of a plot, the film moves along at a fast paced and you’re kept entertained throughout. In fact I was a little upset it was over and it could certainly run longer that it’s 1 hour and 26 minutes.

Watch this film if you’d like a bit of comedy along with your gore.

Joker

We’re taking a brief break from our 31 Days of Halloween Films to take a look at Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix as the titular clown.

Set in the late 1970s or early 1980s (a year isn’t explicitly mentioned but the clothing and look and feel of Gotham indicate it’s somewhere in this time frame) the film opens to a newscaster announcing that garbage strikes are ongoing and that civil unrest amongst the population is growing.

We’re introduced to Arthur Fleck, a street clown who is obviously down on his luck and cuts a rather sad figure – he’s beaten up by a bunch of kids in the first 15 minutes of the film which indicates how pathetic he is.

We know there’s something “not quite right” about Arthur as, after manically laughing for a good few minutes (he has a condition), he asks his social worker to have his doctor up his medication. It’s this “condition” that’s caused some controversy amongst reviewers and audiences: it’s obvious that Arthur is mentally ill and is let down by the system when funding is cut and he loses access to his support system and medication. Many have questioned the representation of Arthur as mentally unstable as being “dangerous” and “damaging” and I can certainly see their point – we don’t really see Arthur as a sympathetic character and he uses his mental illness as an excuse for his actions.

As the film progresses, both Arthur and Gotham both begin to spiral out of control with Arthur becoming increasingly unhinged and the City becoming more and more lawless. After being attacked on a train Arthur finally snaps and kills his attackers while dressed in his clown makeup, an action that resonates with the city’s inhabitants and begins an “anti-rich, anti-establishment” movement with people roaming the streets wearing clown masks in solidarity with the killer clown.

Arthur’s relationship with his mother is quite an odd one. While we’re not aware of his age (I’d guess mid-thirties), he still lives at home with his mother (and even bathes her at one point which was rather uncomfortable to watch) and is very much controlled by her. It’s this relationship which is the driving force behind his final breakdown and change from Arthur into the Joker character.

Robert De Niro makes an appearance as a stereotypical talk show host who shows a clip of Arthur embarrassing himself during a stand-up routine which further distances Arthur from society and sets him on a path to death and destruction.

I don’t want to give one of the major twists in the story away but I do have to question the validity of Arthur’s narrative. His descent into mania means that he’s an unreliable narrator. Like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, the story we see depicted on screen is what Arthur wants (or allows) us to see and we need to question whether he’s actually telling us the truth or if what we’re seeing is his ideal version of events.

This lack of clarity does present a bit of a problem – did what I watch actually happen or is it the imaginings of a madman? In a way the film is trying to be too clever for its own good, but in another way it’s also a further expression of Fleck’s unhinged state.

I didn’t recognise the director’s name (Todd Phillips) so when I discovered that he is the director of Starsky & Hutch and the three Hangover movies I was surprised as they’re not the most arty highbrow films. Joker is wonderfully shot, tight framing on Phoenix’s face makes for unsettling viewing, the composition of the shots evokes memories of Taxi Driver and The French Connection and the lighting conveys the emotional undercurrents of the characters. The one thing I did find a but jarring was the score – the heavy cello music just didn’t do it for me and I found myself concentrating of the music rather than the scene at some points.

This isn’t a typical “Superhero” (or should that be “Supervillain”?) origin story. It’s dark, gritty and feels like its happening in the real world, not some comic book creation and while we are introduced to a young Bruce Wayne this film is far removed from the current DC Superhero universe.

If you suffer from a fear of clowns (Coulrophobia if you want to get fancy) then stay away from this film as in the final third pretty much everyone is in a clown mask, it’s also probably important to note that Joker is a lot scarier that this year’s other clown Pennywise (in a rather disappointing It Chapter 2) – a scene in Arthur’s appartment made me physically flinch from the violence.

Overall, Joker is a good film but it’s not great. Phoenix puts in a solid performance as Fleck and will probably get an Oscar nod for his work but the uncomfortable subject matter and the way it’s handled knock a point off for me.

Watch this film is you’re in the mood to be disturbed and don’t mind being left with some questions.

Goosebumps

This review is part of the 31 films of Halloween review series

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For those of you who aren’t twelve, Goosebumps is a series of 62 (yes, sixty two!) books that featured child characters in mildly scary situations. The series was first started in 1992 so it was a bit late for me to read although I was aware of the titles thanks to the eye-catching covers I would see in the bookstores.

Goosebumps follows Zach, a high school kid who is moving from New York to small town America following the death of his father. He’s introduced to his reclusive next door neighbour Hannah, her controlling and odd-ball father and high school geek Champ.

After breaking in to Hannah’s house to check that she’s okay, Zach and Champ find a bookshelf filled with locked books by the author R.L Stine (a rather over-the-top Jack Black). Zack unlocks a book titled “The Abominable Snowman Of Pasadena” and all of a sudden a giant Yeti creature appears and reeks havoc in an ice-skating rink.

After sucking the Abominable Snowman back into its book, Stine reveals that he was a lonely child that came up with a variety of monsters to scare his childhood bullies, as time went on his monster became real and the only way to keep them under control is to lock them back in the books that he wrote.

Stine decides that he and his daughter Hannah need to leave town, but before they can escape another one of Stine’s creations escapes their book – Slappy the ventriloquist’s dummy (also voiced by Jack Black).

Slappy releases all of the creatures from Stine’s books, allowing them to rampage through the town. He then burns all of the books in order to prevent Stine from recapturing them. It’s now up to Zack, Hannah and Champ to save the town from evil gnomes, aliens, werewolves, a giant praying mantis and Slappy (amongst others).

There isn’t much of a storyline to this film, it’s pretty much monster, love interest, monster, bit of comedy, monster, ending, but then there doesn’t really need to be much of a plot as it is aimed at a rather young audience (probably why the scares are pretty limited too).

The special effects are pretty average too, considering the film is only 4 years old the creature effects look quite dated and a bit ropey and as a result the film is let down by this quite a lot.

Jack Black’s performance is also a little odd, I’m not sure what he’s trying to convey with his character and I don’t know if it’s because he’s playing Stine and voicing Slappy the dummy but there’s just something in his performance that seems a little “off: – I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong with it so if you can explain it to me, drop a comment below!

All that being said, it’s not a bad film, it’s just not overly good – but then I’m not the intended target market so I’m probably missing the point.

Watch this film if you’re going to be doing something else but would like some noise the background,

Scream

This review is part of the 31 Films For Halloween Series

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It’s hard to explain the impact that Scream had on cinema (audiences and in general) when it came out 22 years ago. Slasher movies had long been out of mainstream favour, and those from the 1970s and 1980s were either thought of as “cult classics” or laughed at for how cheaply they were made. Scream was able to re-invigorate the genre and bring it to a whole new generation with its self-referential jokes, shock tactics, inventive murders and a twist ending.

Scream is set in the all-American town of Woodsborough and opens with Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) receiving a phone call. Initially we think that it’s a wrong number but the call soon turns sinister and we understand all is not as it seems.

The opening 10-or-so minutes were revolutionary at the time – I don’t want to ruin it for you so there’s spoilers below (don’t read them if you want to get the full experience of the scenes).

Click To Show Spoiler

All of the marketing – the trailer and the film poster – prominently displayed Drew Barrymore so everyone assumed that she would be a major character in the film. The fact that Barrymore was killed off within the first 10 minutes of the film was a massive shocker for audiences – I mean they killed Drew-Frickin-Barrymore!

Usually in a film of this genre, Barrymore would have been the final girl, the sole survivor, after all that’s what you expect from a big-name star, right? Big stars were never killed off but screen writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven (of A Nightmare On Elm Street fame)  turned that expectation on its head by gruesomely butchering Barrymore’s character in what has now become one of the most iconic murder scenes in film history (in my humble opinion at least).

After the opening sequence we’re then introduced to  Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) – whose mother was murdered a year earlier – and her group of school friends. They’re the usual bunch of American school kids: there’s a jock, a joker, a nerd – you get the picture.

Sydney is at home alone (her Dad is handily out of town – imagine that!) and receives a phone call. You can recognise the voice as that of the person who spoke to Casey, the call gets increasingly abusive and culminates with the caller emerging from Sydney’s closet and chasing her around the house. She’s saved by her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) but when a cell phone falls out of his pocket Sydney begins to suspect that Billy may have been the caller and escapes from the house.

The killer continues to target Sydney and her friends with the film culminating in a series of attacks at a house party and the killer finally being revealed.

The cast is well rounded and as well as Sydney and her friends we have hard-nosed reporter Gail Weathers (played with great energy by Courtney Cox in a role as far-removed from her “Friends” character Monica Gellar as you can imagine) and local deputy Dewey (David Arquette).

The story zips along at a good pace and is only slightly bogged down by the secondary storyline of Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) being in jail for murdering Sydney’s mother and the twist ending was a real surprise when I first saw the movie – and I don’t usually get caught out by things like that.

Scream is well worth a look if you’ve not seen it before, and certainly worth revisiting if you’ve not seen it for a while.

Watch this film if you’re in the mood for a slasher film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and will reawaken your interest in the genre.

 

Addams Family Values

This review is part of the 31 Films For Halloween Series

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Addams Family Values was released 2 years after The Addams Family but is set around 9 months after the first film (if Morticia knitting a three-legged baby grow at the end of the first film is an indication of timings).

Baby Pubert joins the Addams clan and it’s no denying he’s the son of Gomez as the young boy has both Gomez hair and moustache. His arrival unsettles Wednesday and Pugsley who are worried that the new arrival will lead to one of them being replaced. Comedy ensues when they decide to “play” with the child and come up with a series of more gruesome games which somehow Pubert is able to escape.

Gomez is worried about the strain on Morticia having to look after 3 unruly children and so the hunt for a nanny begins and we’re introduced to Debbie Jellinsky (played by the always hilarious Joan Cusack), a perky young woman who couldn’t be more opposite to Morticia and the rest of the family. She quickly makes an impression and is taken on as the new nanny, but the question is does she have an ulterior motive?

It’s soon revealed that Debbie is actually “The Black Widow”, a serial killer who goes around marrying eligible, rich bachelors murdering them on their wedding night – and it looks like she’s got her eyes set on Uncle Fester.

While there is a storyline in that Debbie is trying to get her claws into Fester, the main jokes come as a series of one-off gags played mainly by the children and while it is nice to see Christina Ricci (Wednesday) have more material to get her teeth into the jokes can feel a little forced and disjointed. Debbie realises that she’s not going to be able progress with her plans with Wednesday and Pugsley around so she arranges for them to be sent off to a summer camp run with naieve joy de vivre by the Grangers (a fabulously camp Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski).

Of course, the summer camp is everything that Wednesday and Pugsley detest in the world – it’s full of polite, peppy kids that enjoy playing in the outdoors and it’s a world away from what the young Addams are used to. The introduction of the Summer Camp is just shoe-horned in plot device. Despite the quality of the cast in these scenes I feel that a lot more could have been accomplished in the short time they were on screen.

And sticking with wasted opportunities, the humour just seems to fall flat in this film. Debbie has one meagre attempt at office Fester and then decides he can’t be killed and takes him away from his family instead. I would have loved to have seen some more murder attempts that were really off the wall but the writers decided to stick to lack-luster one liners that just don’t seem to have the spark or the originality of the first film.

It’s a real shame as the basic plot had a lot of promise, it just seems to get bogged down in comedy for the sake of comedy and is missing the dark self-referential humour that made the first film so different and much funnier that this one. Even over-the-top performances by Ricci, Cusack and Raul Julia can’t rescue this film from being just “okay” rather than good or great.

The only time that I laughed was when Wednesday had been tortured by Disney songs and attempted to smile – it was perhaps one of the creepiest things I’ve seen and was worthy of an Oscar nomination!

If you’re going to watch one Addams Family film this Halloween I’d actually recommend you watch The Addams Family as I think it’s a lot better that its sequel.

Watch this if you’re in the mood to see some murderous kids and a wonderfully over-the-top Joan Cusack.

The Addams Family

This review is part of the 31 Films For Halloween Series

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The Collider Halloween Movie Marathon only listed “Addams Family Values” as one to watch but as I haven’t seen The Addams Family since before 2013 (which was when I started keeping track of all of my viewing) I thought I’d squeeze this film on as a little bonus.

Based on a comic and then a 1960s TV series, The Addams Family turns the American ideal on its head with the family attempting to live up (or should that be down?) to the American Dream but getting it comically wrong.

The titular family consists of head of the house Gomez (a marvelously hammy Raul Julia), his vampish wife Morticia (played with obvious glee by Angelica Houston), their children Wednesday (the fantastically deadpan Christina Ricci in one of her first big screen roles), Pugsley (Jimmy Workman in one of his few movies), Uncle Fester (played by Christopher Lloyd with his usual madcap energy) and faithful manservant Lurch (Carel Struycken who I can say is as creepy looking in real life having been fortunate enough to meet him).

The story centres around the sudden reappearance of Uncle Fester who had been missing for years. Unbeknownst to the family, Fester and his “Doctor” (fake Fester’s mother) are scam artists trying to get their hands on the family fortune.

The family starts to suspect all is not right with Fester when he can’t remember certain important facts and events, however certain actions seem to allude to his true roots.

The Doctor (in a wonderfully over the top faux-German accent) persuades Gomez that he is perceiving a problem that doesn’t exist and they re-welcome Fester back into the fold.

As the movie progresses, the fake Fester begins to have feelings for this strange family – and we start to wonder if perhaps they’re closer than he realises.

The movie is a masterpiece in set design, lighting and sound design (both with the sounds in the movie and the music). The effects still stand the test of time even though the film is almost 30(!) years old, and the jokes are still fresh and relevant even today.

There’s plenty of humour for all ages so adults definitely won’t feel left out – and it’ll probably go over younger children’s heads so you don’t have to worry too much about having to awkwardly explain something!

One of the highlights for me was the school play scene – I think I’ve seen so much fake blood since The Shining or It Chapter 2!

While this may seem like a simple black comedy, at it’s heart is a movie about love, acceptance and what it means to be family. It’s actually quite a heartwarming tale under the fake blood and witchy allegories.

Oh, and it wouldn’t be a film from the 1990s if it didn’t have a title song by a well known artist – in this case MC Hammer…. Enjoy!

Halloween (2018)

This review is part of the 31 Films For Halloween Series (Note: this review was originally published on the 27th October 2018)

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If you’ve seen Halloween II, Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch, Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers, Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later and Halloween Resurrection then….. you have completely wasted your time. According to Halloween (2018) none of the events in these films happened and any reveals in the films have been retconned. Heck, the opening title sequence is a pumpkin rotting backwards which pretty much shouts “We’re turning back the clock folks!”

So, with that in mind Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to Halloween (1978), Michael Myers is no longer Laurie Strode’s brother (dealt with quite eloquently by Laurie’s Granddaughter who brushes the suggestion off as an invention that helps sell a story) and Michael has spent the last 40 years in prison after being caught at the end of the first film.

The story starts with some internet journalists visiting Myers in his mental institution to get material for a podcast they are putting together. One of the bright sparks has the idea to wave Michael’s mask at him in order to illicit a response and is most upset when he doesn’t get one – well, the guy hasn’t spoken a word for 40 years, I don’t think waving a William Shatner mask at him will make much difference.

Now, it wouldn’t be a horror film without a few coincidences would it? It just so happens that Myer’s psychiatrist studied under Dr Loomis (he even sounds a bit like him which is a nice, if slightly freaky homage), the podcasters visit the day before Halloween (I know, right?!) and Myers is due to be moved to a more secure facility that very night (wow!). Of course, the prison transfer doesn’t go to plan (do they ever?) and Myers is able to escape to wreak slasher terror yet again on the town of Haddenfield.

So, where does Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) fit in to all this now the brother/sister connection has been removed? She’s been spending the past 40 years preparing to get her own back on Michael – to the extent that she trained her 8-year-old daughter to shoot (but this is set in America so that might be normal, I don’t know) and caused the kid a fair amount of psychological harm which resulted in her being taken into care at the age of 12.

Laurie lives on a compound just outside Haddenfield and seems to have removed herself from life – although she begrudgingly talks to the podcasters after they offer to pay her $3000. She has a fractured relationship with her  adult daughter (played by Judy Greer) and her dick of a husband (those two really don’t go together at all – sack the casting director!) but seems to have a reasonable relationship with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). When Laurie gets wind of Michael’s escape she goes to look for her family to keep them from Michael’s clutches.

Why is Michael fixated on Laurie? It’s sort of explored in the film – I always thought it was some form of twisted admiration as she was the only one that really fought back but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

There’s Michael’s usual slasher routine – make sure you keep an eye on the background at all times just in case you miss him – it’s almost like he has a little checklist he needs to follow: Blue overalls? Check! Freaky mask? Check! Big ass knife? Check! Still, it’s a Halloween film so what are you expecting?

There are some nice references to the original film – some scenes are almost near-perfect recreations of those from 1978, there’s also an interesting interaction (in more ways that one) between Dr. Sartain and Officer Hawkins. It’s also great that they didn’t mess with the music – the original theme was a freaky as hell and it would have been terrible if they had tried to modernise it but thankfully John Carpenter’s piercing piano is still there.

I’m not going to going in to any more detail as I don’t want to spoil the scares for you, but it certainly follows the horror movie rules. One character to watch out for though is Julian (played by newcomer Jibrail Nantambu) who will move on to great things I’m sure.

Is the film better for being a direct sequel to Halloween (1978)? Not really as it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference but it does allow them to fix the messes that were Halloween H20 and Resurrection.

While you don’t have to have seen Halloween (1978) before seeing Halloween (2018) I would recommend it so that you can understand some of the insider references and nods to the prequel. Overall it’s a good film and perfect for viewing at this time of year – just don’t get a hot drink in case you jump and spill it in your lap!

If you’ve haven’t seen the first film the following Screen Junkies “Honest Trailer” will explain all (spoilers, obvs)

Hocus Pocus

This review is part of the 31 Films For Halloween Series

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Okay, so I’m giving my age away here but I remember watching hocus Pocus at the cinema on a school trip. I loved it 26 years ago and I still love it today so I’m afraid this review is a bit biased!

Hocus Pocus centres around the Sanderson sisters: Winifred (a glorious scenery chewing turn by Bette Midler), Sarah (a vampish Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (a scene stealing Kathy Najimy).

The film opens in the 17th century if the sister’s getting up to no good by using children’s souls to keep them eternally young. A young boy called Thackery Binx tries to stop them and is turned into a black cat for his efforts.

The villagers come looking for Thackery and his sister and end up capturing the sisters. Before they’re hanged, Winifred vows they will return to reap all of the children’s souls when a virgin lights a black flame candle.

The film then fast forwards 300 years to the “present” day vs introduces us to Max (Omri Katz) , a Halloween sceptic and new boy in town, his little sister Dani (Thora Birch in one of her first roles) and love-interes/local-girl Allison (Vinessa Shaw).

After a couple of run-ins with the local town bullies, Max and Dani meet up with Allison and they decide to ditch the traditional Halloween festivities of parties and trick or treating and head to the Sanderson sisters’ cottage.

As luck would have it, Max finds both a lighter and the black flame candle (would you believe his luck?!) and after a near miss with a black cat, he manages to light the candle and in doing so brings back the Sanderson sisters – what a mistake-a to make-a! A fight ensues and Max, Dani and Allison barely manage to escape with the witches spellbook.

The witches venture out into the modern world and this is where I think the film misses a trick (or treat.. get it?!) . Apart from some minor confusion over some sprinklers and tarmac they cope with the modern world very well all things considered.

The first half of the film is spent setting up the characters and plot and the second half is spent with the witches causing havoc around the town and the kids trying to stop them (without any adult help, of course).

I don’t want to go into too much detail as I’ll ruin the surprises and laughs, but look out for choreographed walks and vacuum cleaners!

When you think that this film was made before the wide use of CGI and the majority of effects are practical, they stand the test of time surprisingly well, especially the cat effects which could have really let the film down.

It’s a great film for all of the family and despite being almost 30 years old it still stands the test of time.

Watch this film if you’re in the mood for a laugh and don’t want to think about things too much.

31 Films For Halloween

The guys over at Collider have put together a list of films to watch over the 31 days of October – and of course they’re all halloween themed!

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Not one to turn down an excuse to watch a film I’ve decided to play along and you can read my reviews of the films as I watch them. I’ll be updating this article as I post them so make sure you check back soon!

  1. Hocus Pocus
  2. Halloween (2018)
  3. Addams Family Values (plus bonus a Addams Family review as I hadn’t watched it for ages)
  4. Scream
  5. Goosebumps
  6. What We Do In The Shadows
  7. The Evil Dead
  8. The Evil Dead 2
  9. Army Of Darkness
  10. Beetlejuice
  11. A Nightmare Before Christmas
  12. Halloween III
  13. Psycho (1960)
  14. Casper
  15. The Witches of Eastwick
  16. Practical Magic
  17. The Witches
  18. The Craft
  19. ParaNorman
  20. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  21. The Monster Squad
  22.  Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2014)
  23. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  24. E. T
  25. It (Chapter 1 was suggested but I’m going to watch the original 1990 T.V mini-series)
  26. Frakenweenie
  27. Sleepy Hollow
  28. Halloweentown
  29. Young Frankenstein
  30. Trick r treat
  31. Halloween (1978)

Long Shot

I’ll get two things out of the way before I start this review:

  1. I am a huge fan of Charlize Theron and she can pretty much do no wrong in my eyes (Yes, I even forgive her for the awful Aeon Flux)
  2. I think thought Seth Rogen is a bit of a one trick pony that can’t really act.

The pairing of these two struck me as rather odd, but then that’s the whole point of this film: two people from very disparate walks of life get together and find love. Yup, it’s a millennial version of Pretty Woman (but better and less sleazy).

This one of of those films that I figured they’d put all of the best bits in the trailer and the rest would be fluffy filler material that lead from one gag to the next.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This film is a laugh-riot from start to finish – I can’t remember the last film that had me chortling through the whole movie rather than just select parts.

The story revolves around journalist Fred Flarsky (Rogen) who quits his job after his newspaper his bought out by an aging Australian Media tycoon (remind you of anyone?) who’s got quite a close relationship with the President of the USA who used to star in a popular TV show (remind you of anyone?)

Theron plays Charlotte Field, the put-upon Secretary of State who has sacrificed her ideals and life in order to get to a position of power within the government. When the President announces to her that he won’t stand for a second term  as he wants to get into the movies (let’s hope life imitates art on this one) Field seizes the opportunity to stand for President.

A chance meeting with Flarsky at a benefit evening brings together the former babysitter with her ward and she signs him onto her team to pep up her speeches and comedy and romance ensue.

Now, as I said, Theron can do no wrong in my eyes and that’s certainly true with this role. She plays Field with a warmth and depth that really brings the character to life on the screen and her comic timing really shines through as well.

When I saw the trailer I thought “Here we go, Rogen does prat falls and that’s his role in the movie.” Well, I will freely admit that I sorely underestimated him and his acting ability.

Rogen plays Flarsky as a bristly but lovable character that likes to rail against big media and has deeply rooted principles. This causes him a few issues with not only his career but his relationships with friends too.

And, while there are a couple of hilarious prat falls from Rogen, the chemistry he has with Theron and the depth he brings to Flarsky really make you invested in his character and the relationship he has with Field. I have to say I was truly surprised at his acting in this film and will certainly look at him in a different light from now on.

While this film is a comedy there are some serious undertones to it. Sure, it doesn’t go into the depths of political manoeuvring that the excellent TV Series Madam Secretary does, but it does give insight into the types of sacrifices people in places of power have to make in order to achieve at least part of their goal – although I can’t imagine Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice negotiating a terrorist deal while high on illegal substances!

It’s not often I say to people that they need to see a film but this is one of those rare films that you have to watch. If the preview audience I saw the film with is anything to go by you’ll love it – there was even clapping which I’ve only ever heard once before (and that was a Michael Moore documentary!)

Watch this film if you’re in need of a pick-me-up and fancy a romantic comedy that’s actually comedic and not as soppy as hell.

Pet Sematary (2019)

I don’t know what it is about Stephen King’s books that seems to make them so difficult to translate to the big screen – the recent success of IT aside (which I thought was a really poor film in comparison to the T.V Mini-series), there hasn’t been a truly successful Stephen King adaptation and unfortunately the 2019 version of Pet Sematary continues that tradition.

I’m a big fan of Stephen King, and the Pet Sematary novel is a masterpiece of suspenseful and terrifying writing and the 1989 film version does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of King’s novel – the sight of a creepy Gage wielding a scalpel is rather scary.

Gage in Pet Sematary (1989)

Gage in Pet Sematary (1989) (source)

So, how does the 2019 version hold up?

Not very well I’m afraid.

The film starts off trying to be a bit clever by alluding to the horrors that await (a poor script and bad editing being two of them) as we come across an idyllic looking house only to see a bloody hand print on a car window, a smear of blood on the porch and some footprints leading into the house, there’s then a clumsy cut to a car full of a cute all-American family traveling to a new life in the town of Ludlow, Maine.

The film massively failed my watch test – I checked it 32 minutes in to the film which is a really, really bad sign that I am not interested at all. The plot is slow to develop, the scares a non-existent (save a few loud truck noises that I think have been included just to make sure you are awake) and the acting is pretty poor – so much so that I really couldn’t get invested in any of the characters except the cat – and if you can get acted off the screen by an animal then you really do have a problem.

Father of the family, Louis Creed, is a Doctor who is tired of working a graveyard shift in a city E.R room so has uprooted his family to a sleepy town. As a city E.R doctor I would imagine that Louis has seen his fair share of horrific trauma and death which is why him being so distraught over the death of a teenager named Victor Pascow seems to be very out of character – does he behave that way over every patient he loses? If so I don’t know how he manages to retain his sanity. Later in the film, Rachel needs to be aware of the kid’s name so the writer’s shoehorn a scene in to explain how she knows it in such a clumsy way it makes no sense for Louis’ character.

Mother of the family, Rachel, is a barely functioning basket case who is haunted by the death of her sister. How do we know this? She explains it to us in a conversation she has with her husband. Now, bear in mind these two are married and have a child aged 9 (and a toddler as well) so wouldn’t you have thought they’d have discussed this at some point before this? Well, not according to the writers! Yes, it’s important to know Rachael’s backstory but to have her talk about how her sister died to her husband of at least 9 years is so very, very lazy.

I was hoping that the film would be rescued by the appearance of John Lithgow’s character of “Jud” but even he couldn’t pull this film out of the grave it had dug itself and was really just phoning his performance in, there was no depth to it at all even when he had some emotional points to talk about. I don’t think that’s Lithgow’s fault at all, he’s an excellent actor, I just don’t think the directors knew what they were doing half the time.

The storyline revolves around the titular “Pet Sematary” which is on the family property and the creepy Indian Burial ground beyond (and we all know that they’re a great place to hang out, don’t we). When the family cat is hit by a car, it’s buried in the Indian burial ground and comes back – but it’s not quite the same lovable cat that the family knows. Then, when a further tragedy strikes and one of the children die, Louis is drawn back to the burial ground even though he knows the consequences and nothing good can come of his actions.

I think the directors, set designer and lighting guy must have sat down and read “Filmmaking for Dummies” (yes, that is a real book) because if you want a horror cliche – you’ve got it! Fog in a forest? Check! Lightning and thunder? Check! Weird animal noises? Check! Random noises in the attic? Check! Doors opening and closing when you’re the only one in the house? Check! I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture.

The first hour and a bit is a pretty pedestrian affair: the directors and editor missed lots of opportunities to add in extra scares and jumps which would have livened things up considerably but if you can get through that then the final 30 minutes turns into quite a passable film.

I had avoided details of a plot change as I didn’t want it to ruin my enjoyment of the film (as limited as that turned out to be) and I won’t write about it here as I do think it takes something away from what is probably the best scene in the film if you know about it, but what I will say is that it allows for an interesting twist that I didn’t see coming and made for an intriguing end to the film.

Click the following section to read my thoughts on the changes – spoiler alert obviously!

Spoiler
So in the book and the 1989 film, Gage (who’s around 3/4 years old) dies and is brought back by the sematary. This was always a bit problematic for me as unless he totally sneaks up on you and hits you with a surprise attack or you’re asleep surely fighting off a toddler would be pretty easy – especially for a grown man.

This version changes the dead child from Gage to Ellie who, at 9 years old (and possessed by the power of the woods), is a bit more of a formidable foe and the fight between her and her father in the “Sematary” is brutal and quite difficult to watch but it’s far more believable to be afraid of a 9 year-old than a toddler. Also, as I wasn’t aware of the change (I’d kept away from the trailer and all reviews) it made the scene when Gage runs out into the road more impactful as I wasn’t expecting Ellie to be the one to get hit.

This switch was a welcome change and one that makes sense and partially rescued what was shaping up to be a completely dire film.

Watch this film if you haven’t seen the original (or you’ll probably be disappointed) or if you’re in the mood for a movie starring a sassy cat.