Week 4 of my two month long horror binge leading to Halloween brings me finally to October! Time to bust out the classics as well as a brand new mind bender and a hidden… gem? This week started out as a grab bag of goodies but tied together nicely in the end. Apologies for the late post as I was under the weather all last week BUT that did afford me time to revisit some excellent recent horror movies that I’ll review in week 5. Now, Satanic witches, a new type of zombie, dream killers, and robot girlfriends await…
Black Sunday (1960)
Directed by Mario Bava
Black Sunday opens as a witch, played by Barbara Steele, and her paramour are being sentenced to death for Satanic sorcery. She places a curse on her family seeing as it is her brother spearheading the whole ordeal before the angry mob HAMMERS A METAL MASK FULL OF SHARP SPIKES INTO HER FACE. Only perhaps two minutes in and we are confronted with this shockingly bloody and brutal scene. That is an opener!
Two hundred years later a pair of doctors traveling through the area happen upon the tomb of the witch. While battling a humorously large bat creature one of the Doctors accidentally breaks the crucifix protection of the tomb, breaks the window to said witch’s coffin, and bleeds a little on the corpse… as is prone to happen. This is bad news for the nearby descendants of the witch as this sets in motion the curse.
This is a movie that has long been on my “list of shame”, a classic gothic horror film that I should have watched long ago. In fact, I probably still have a neglected VHS of this in a box somewhere. I am thankful at least for waiting to watch a higher resolution format than that old VHS because this is a beautiful black and white movie.
The camera is given plenty of room to roam through scenes moving from character to character across large interior sets. The lighting in these sets gives the film solid contrast and a crisp look. The “exterior” sets are even larger though less open with fake trees, tombstones, and what is surely a painted backdrop of the sky giving these scenes a somewhat surreal look. There are real exteriors that also look nice but lose some of the sharpness in film quality.
As I mentioned above that opening really grabbed me but my interest was waning for much of the first act. It is not a slow film, though, if moves forward at a good pace. I think I had a hard time jumping on board with the premise itself. There are love story elements that, not unlike the next movie in this list, just didn’t work for me as the characters are given very little time to form any kind of bond. However, the real driving force of the plot was the curse as curried out by the witch and her paramour. Once the threat was underway I was back on board.
Black Sunday has some legitimately creepy sequences and a few (particularly one) visual effects that are truly impressive and clever. This is an Italian/American production so the dialog has been overdubbed. It is not a foreign language film, though, that was just the way these films were produced. That fact mixed with acting styles of the time make for some ‘off’ but not bad performances. Effective tension, creepy atmosphere, great cinematography, and some grotesque make-up work add up to a solid Gothic horror film. Oh, and maggots. Remember when I said the Italian directors love maggots back in my Week 1 post? Yep. Maggots aside, my gut reaction was to rate this 4 giant plot forwarding bats out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? Definitely! Gothic horror featuring witches, curses, and undead creepy dudes is just the thing for some Halloween viewing.
The Hive (2015)
Directed by David Yarovesky
In the Week 2 and Week 3 posts I went on a summer camp horror bender and it seems I just can’t get away from crazed campers. This is no slasher film though. The Hive is a recent sci-fi/horror film that opens with our main character awakening alone in a cabin and clearly infected with something. The plot unfolds as he pieces together what exactly has lead to this point. Described as “Evil Dead meets Memento” elements of those films are present… and more. There is a lot going on in this movie conceptually. Perhaps too much for it to masterfully nail down any one element.
I won’t spoil anything and this is the kind of movie that benefits from knowing as little as possible going in. I do, however, want to break down a few of the aforementioned elements but will leave out the more unique ideas. Evil Dead and zombie movie comparisons are fair and this is one of the more effectively used aspects of The Hive. Some scenes involving the infected play like Evil Dead 2 style twisted comedy. I would have liked to see more of this side of the movie but much of the run time is dedicated to other plot lines and ideas.
Much of the film is presented in a sort of jumbled manner which is what draws the Memento comparison though that is not really accurate. The story is primarily told though a series of flashbacks and, for the most part, play out in forward order. This is an effective device for keeping the audience’s attention in that way of withholding information making the viewer wait for the whole story. Separating the promotional material’s boast of a Memento like experience from what the film actually offers (shouldn’t blame the product for the salesman’s boast, right?) I am fine with this style of storytelling.
The weakest element of The Hive is the love story. While the film spends time to develop a bond between two characters the actual time frame is so short that I just don’t buy it. It is a major factor behind the main character’s motivations yet feels so flimsy and unnecessary. The fact that the film dedicates much of itself to the flimsy love story when it could expand on any one of the many more interesting concepts is a detraction.
On the upside, The Hive is a gorgeous looking film. It may not have the greatest cinematography but it does have a unique look with insane, over-the-top colors that pop off the screen. Even if some of the visual choice don’t make 100% sense (black lights?) it sure does look cool. The make-up is one of the stand out elements of this film. Like the lighting and set design in portions of the movie, the make-up is brash and extreme but executed so well. The infection looks disgusting and horrifying even if the lead actor makes no attempt to sell it from a performance standpoint. Speaking of performances, I did not care for the main character which obviously hurt my viewing experience but I did enjoy the supporting cast and other infected.
There is a strong sci-fi concept I did not even touch on in this review that I liked a lot as well as few standout creepy, tension filled horror sequences. Mixing sci-fi and horror is by no means a new idea but this film makes a valiant attempt to mesh some interesting ideas into a one unique whole. It’s downfall is that perhaps to tries to shove one genre too many or just tries too hard in general. The end of the film felt a touch too pretentious (and manipulative) to be satisfying. Oh, and I am clearly not the target demographic for this film as seems to be aimed at a closer to teen crowd.
Apparently I had a more negative view of this movie upon gather my thoughts for this review than expected. I was entertained during my viewing but thinking back on the flaws has me second guessing my initial star rating. I’ll stick with it though because the strenghts of the movie make it worth a mild recommendation. 3 “oh my God, look at their eyes” out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? There are some good horror sequences but ultimately doesn’t feel like Halloween to me.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Directed by Wes Craven
We invited some friends over for a Saturday movie night and this was movie #1 in our Wes Craven double feature. My first viewing of this was so many sequels and so much Freddy hype after the fact that I was unsure of what this film would be. Everything I knew of wise-cracking dreamland maniac Freddy Kruger had turned me off of the franchise before I was all that familiar with it. Even as a kid I liked my horror serious and the further you go into the franchise the further away from serious horror you get. At least until Craven stepped back in with New Nightmare.
This first entry is seriously creepy, though. The now iconic slasher was brand new and the movie presents him as a menacingly mysterious threat. There are a a few hints of goofiness that would later run wild through the franchise but overall Freddy is a scary villain born of a terrifying concept. You can’t sleep or you are dead… and you HAVE to sleep eventually. This put a brilliant spin on the slasher genre breathing creativity into the all-important “kill scenes”.
Beyond the premise and villain A Nightmare on Elm Street succeeds so well in large part to Wes Craven’s ability to present surreal, dream-like sequences that play as genuinely creepy. The girl in the plastic body bag, eerie slow motion passages, and Freddy’s boiler room dream setting pull the viewer into the nightmares right alongside the characters. What keeps this from being a 5 star film for me is some less than stellar acting and a rather nonsensical ending. This umpteenth watch of A Nightmare on Elm Street felt like 4 telephone tongues out of 5 though.
Good Halloween watch? Of course! I have seen this movie so many times at this point and it still continues to entertain me. If you are unfamiliar with this 80s horror classic what are you doing with your life? Stop reading this and go watch it. No, not the 2010 remake, the original.
Deadly Friend (1986)
Directed by Wes Craven
The second in our Wes Craven directed double feature was the hot mess that is Deadly Friend, something none of us had seen before. I only just recent discovered it’s existence while looking though a list of “bad 80s movie trailers”. The trailer was actually not that bad, it intrigued me enough to track a copy down. What the trailer didn’t do, however, was prepare us for what this movie really is. The key theme and driving force of the movie is completely absent from the trailer.
What the trailer presents is some kind of either Carrie-style horror story and a slasher thriller revolving around a sinister looking Kristy Swanson. What you get actually get initially is basically Short Circuit. A boy genius and his robot, BB, move into a new house and befriend the local paperboy and the girl next door. The trio of teens pal around in typical 80s family movie fashion complete with trying to retrieve their basketball from the crazy lady’s fenced in yard across the street and dodging local bullies. The tone of the movie, the style of the score, and the robot (did I mention there is a @#$%! robot in the movie?) all scream family film. Then it gets messy. We were all so confused as to what we had just stepped into. The trailer doesn’t show a single frame or mention of BB the robot, clearly a major focus of the movie. What had I gotten my guests into when I suggested Dead Friend as the 2nd half of our Wes Craven night?
A large element of the plot revolves around the girl next door, played by Kristy Swanson, dealing with her abusive father. A gory dream sequence early on hints that Deadly Friend does indeed have horror aspirations. [SPOILERS] After the girl next door takes a lethal spill down some stairs at the hand of her father the tone of the movie shifts. By this time BB has meet it’s end at the hand of the shotgun wielded aforementioned crazy lady across the street. Well, our boy genius is not only a robotics expert and A.I. level computer programmer but also a bit of a brain surgeon. Do you see where this is going? Yep.
Wes Craven considered this one of his worst films but after some research it turns out he is not entirely to blame. If the original cut of the movie, the PG-13 love story/science fiction family film titled Friend, was bad that would be his fault. There is no saying if that film was good or not as that film has never been released. After the initial cut of the film was completed test audiences were disappointed when they showed up to watch the new Wes Craven film expecting something like his previous film A Nightmare on Elm Street released just two year prior. Studio executives suddenly realized they had the “well known horror director” Wes Craven and despite green lighting a PG-13 family film thought it would be best to turn it into a horror movie to capitalize on Craven’s reputation. Craven himself took the project as an attempt to buck that reputation and show he could do more than just horror.
At that point studio heads ordered re-shoots. A new opening, dream sequences (you know, because Elm Street), and gory murder scenes were added. As well as a nonsensical closing scene that puts the nonsense of Elm Street‘s closing scene to shame. Character development and scenes forwarding the film as a love story were cut. As far as I can tell the film bombed upon release and has been virtually buried for many years.
This is a lot of set-up without actually getting to what I thought of the movie. Personally, watching this will a room full of friends was a blast! The first act, the part that seems most like what the original idea of what this film was meant to be, had me worried and SO confused. Earlier I mentioned that there is no saying if the original vision of this movie would have made for a good film but it is safe to assume it would have not been great. The family film elements had charm and I was enjoying the hi-jinks of our teen leads but there were also unintentionally laughable and eye rolling moments.
Once the tonal shift begins the gore and horror elements clash so much with the first act that one can’t help but laugh. Not to mention Deadly Friend has one of the most insane and over-the-top death scenes ever. We cheered at the excess and ridiculousness of it. I won’t spoil it in case you decide to watch the movie but if you don’t just search “Deadly Friend Basketball”. Tonally the movie is all over the place but studio interference aside this was a bonkers flick anyhow. Even the family friendly version had to have included the fact that our main character drugs his own mother so he can take the car to steal the corpse of his dead friend then proceed to drive all over town, corpse in tow.
When it comes down to it Dead Friend is a bad movie with some questionable acting but a fun watch. The cinematography and directing is middle of the road. It fails as a horror movie as there is no scare factor at all but I have the feeling had it remained a family film it wouldn’t be as memorable as the franken-genre mess it became. Once I figured out where the movie was going I applauded it’s ridiculousness but when events start to spiral out of control it does well to convey a sense of dread. As a thoroughly entertaining watch if you approach Deadly Friend with a certain mindset I rate it 3 robot hands out of 5.
Good Halloween watch? If you’ve got friends over looking for a fun watch that you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) take seriously sure, throw Deadly Friend in.
All the Halloween Horror movie reviews!
- Week 1 – Demons (1985), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), and Trick or Treat (1986).
- Week 2 – Fun Size Horror: Volume One (2015), Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2015), He Knows You’re Alone (1980), Sleepaway Camp (1983), Sleepaway Camp II (1987), Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), and The Burning (1981).
- Week 3 – Madman (1982), The Final Terror (1983), Sleepaway Camp III (1989), and Cheerleader Camp (1988).
- Week 4 – Black Sunday (1960), The Hive (2015), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Deadly Friend (1986).
- Week 5 – Pontypool (2008) and It Follows (2014).
- Week 6 – Housebound (2014) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
- Week 7 – Grim Prairie Tales (1990), Escapes (1986), and Tales of Halloween (2015).
- Week 8 – 10 Essential Halloween Movies!