Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween 2010: Catch-Up

While I was doing my Romero report card, I was, naturally, watching other stuff. What I've really been working on viewing, was the original "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." I love this show. People uses the term "Monsters of the Week" show like its a bad thing. As a horror nerd obsessed with the various archetypes, icons, and myths of the genre, I love anything that revolves around exploring those concepts, especially in new, modern ways. Honestly, I'd take the simplistic pleasures of the Monster of the Week show, in comparison to the mythology heavy genre shows that are popular now. Those shows inevitably wear me out by focusing so tightly on a continuing story.

"Kolchak" is pure comfort food for me. It's like curling up with a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. Most of my movie watching takes place late at night. These two effects combined have the unfortunate side-effect of putting me to sleep in the middle of an episode. So, I'll only post reviews of the episodes I made it through, hence why they are so completely out of order.


The Night Stalker (1972)
Something about the Kolchak character really resonates with me. He is similarly brave, rushing headlong into god knows what terror, but also somewhat cowardly, hiding and screaming in terror. He was a full-on cynic, critical and dismissive of most people around him, but also always in search of “the truth,” no matter the cause. This first film showed them still figuring out the character’s angles. Kolchak living with a girlfriend or staking a vampire right in front of police seems to contradict his later protrayels, but his gritty narration is on display and the genes of the character are laid down here. If nothing else, Janos Skarsky is a great villain, a frightening vampire from an era when a vampire in a modern setting was still a novel idea. This is certainly one of the best made-for-TV horror films. (7/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “The Zombie”
The big difference between the movies and the TV series is the importance of its supporting cast. Kolchak and Vincenzo’s chemistry is one of the most consistently satisfying elements of an often mix-bag series. The eventual addition of Updyke and Ms. Emily to the cast added other appropriate foils to play Carl off of. As for this episode, it’s the show at its scariest. It’s an unique take on the zombie mythology, and the title monster is certainly one fo the most physically imposing of the series. It’s final is also really intense, with Kolchak, one again, confronting the monster in its lair. (8/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…”
I’ve always had a hard time getting into this one. The science-fiction based monster never fit in as well as the more traditional creatures. The story doesn’t exactly come to a statisfying conclusion either. The strongest point about this one is the great guest cast, including the first appearance of the Ghoul and Dick Van Patten. (6/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “The Vampire”
This episode is pretty derivative of the first movie, in a lot of ways. With her constant screeching, the vampire doesn’t make the most threatening of nemesis. The giant flaming cross at the end is a nice visual but Kolchak getting away with staking a vampire in front of the authorities twice strains believability. This one also suffers by removing the office cast from most of the episode.

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “Firefall”
Have I mentioned how much I love the opening sequence for this series? The way it starts out light and cheerful, how it perfectly sets up the Kolchak character by having him carelessly throw his hat, and then slowly gets darker and darker? And then gets literally darker at the very end, as the paranormal premise of the show is subtly made apparent? Anyway, this is a good episode. It provides a creative threat for Carl to deal with (I love how threadbare he gets as he goes without sleep) and wraps it up in an interesting, though slightly obvious, mystery. (7/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “The Devil’s Platform”
Definitely the show at its silliest. It’s nice to see Tom Skerrit show up, but the supposedly limitless powers the devil provides him seem pretty limited. The devil dog is a pretty silly element, as is how Kolchak ends up saving the day. Honestly, the devil isn’t a vampire or a Bigfoot. You can’t really just kill it and be done with it. And, really, considering what kind of character Carl is, it seems odd that he should confront the devil and not ask any of the big questions that brings with it. (4/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “Bad Medicine”
This is one of the first episodes of the series I can remember seeing. So, even if it’s a flawed episode, I have some fondness of it. The monster, an immortal Indian shaman, makes for an exciting monster of the week, especially as played by Richard “Jaws” Kiel. However, his obsessions with jewels is rather silly and the way he’s dealt with rather unconvincing. The show also leans on bringing in guest stars as exposition spewing experts pretty hard in this one. (And would again in the future.) Still, I like it. (7/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “The Spanish Moss Murders”
Probably my favorite episode of the series. Yes, the monster springing from a comatose man’s subconscious is a bit of a cliché now, but the bayou boogieman is flat-out the scariest monster from the show’s entire run. Also, extremely effective is the final scene, when Carl confronts the monster in its sewer lair. When Kolchak’s familiar straw hat gives him away, it’s a good example of how this show so effectively combined laughs and thrills. (9/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “The Energy Eater”
This would probably be a weaker episode if it wasn’t for McGavin and guest star William Smith having such good chemistry. The guest stars usually weren’t this involved with the story, usually only showing up for a scene or two, but Smith is an important component here. The monster being an invisible, building-wide threat is an interesting take as well and this show’s conclusion is surprisingly pleasant. (7/10)

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker” “Horror in the Heights”
Another episode that prospers greatly from pulling from obscure mythology. The Rhakashi, a cannibalistic demon that takes the shape of its victim most trusted friend, is a really powerful idea and one the show pulls out extremely well, even with the cheesy seventies effect. Cliché as it is, the Jewish community the episode takes place in also allows for a number of great guest stars and some colorful character writing. Definitely an above average outing. (8/10)

My Soul to Take (2010)

I wouldn’t call this the return-to-form we were hoping from Craven, but I did end up liking it a lot more then expected. I really cared about the characters, something that was completely unexpected. The movie is melodramatic in spots, but the goofiness reminded me of Craven’s output in the early nineties, like “Shocker” and “The People Under the Stairs.” Yes, it’s silly, but in an endearing sort of way. (7/10)

The Mummy (1959)
First off, it was a smart idea to remake the Kharis story instead of the original, Imhotep storyline. Secondly, the English atmosphere goes an extremely long way. Without that, this would probably be a completely routine exercise, but that London fog adds so much. Finally, Cushing and Lee are, naturally, fantastic. Even if he doesn’t have any speaking lines, Lee does a lot with his eyes and body language. And, of course, Peter Cushing is as badass as ever. The way he goes at the moment with a spear is one of the most memorable moments here. (8/10)

Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
A pretty weak sequel. It feels very cheap, from the cakey mummy make-up to the cheesy Egyptian props and settings. The story of immortality and brotherly rival is at the very least different. This is also fairly gruesome for its time period. (The mummy stomps on a guy’s head at one point, squishing it. Yes, it’s off-screen, but still pretty nasty.) Still, you get the impression nobody was really invested in the material here. (6/10)

The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)
Man, I thought the last one was weak. Part three feels even more routine and tired then part two. And, yeah, even the mummy design is a step-down from the lousy effects in “Curse.” The white wrapping makes him look like a bad Halloween costume. “Under Wraps” had a better looking mummy. I think it was a really bad idea for Hammer to set any of their Mummy films in Egypt. They just didn’t know how to make sand dunes creepy. (5/10)

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)
I like a lot of Hammer’s offerings from the early seventies. They were sexier, more modern, and more daring then some of then the increasingly tired sixties output. This story is completely unexpected. A tale of reincarnation gone evil, it takes a number of surprisingly twist and turns before ending up at its chilling ending. (An ending that brutally subverts the title’s expectations.) Valerie Lennon is gorgeous, by the way. The cleavage-exposing Egyptian get-up they have her wearing is fantastically sexy. (7/10)

Carnival of Souls (1962)

I also caught this one as a midnight showing at the Apollo. I was really hoping the late-night, old-building setting would add a lot but it, sadly, didn’t. Yes, it drags a bit in spots, but this movie is a classic for a reason. It really is just as much an art film as it is a ghost story, and you can read so much into its themes and subtext. The final scene at the carnival are hypnotic, the stuff of nightmares. (9/10)

Night of the Demons (2010)
This one had me from Linnea Quigley’s cameo on. It’s certainly bigger and bolder then the original, but not in an intrusive way. It effectively rumps up the story for modern audiences. I like the characters and the creature effects. It’s trashy, anything-goes tone is what really works here. Very few recent horror films capture the tone of eighties exploitation films as well as this one did. See it for all the great cleavage on display, if for no other reason. (7/10)

Tremors (1990)
Nostalgia is one of the main things that drive me as a movie fan, obviously. I loved the “Tremors’ movies when I was thirteen. They’re such cool monsters and the desert setting really causes the series to stand out among other creature features. Its such a clever premise too, taking the “land shark” idea and really running with it. The film starts out with a good idea and then plays with it throughout. This first movie also features a fantastic ensemble cast. Kevin Bacon is goofy as heck but it’s really Fred Ward, Michael Gross, Reba McIntyre, and especially Victor Wong. Sure, it’s barely horror and the series would become even less horrific as it went on, but this is a good time. (7.5/10)

Horror Remix: Halloween
It was fun to revisit the original “Night of the Demons” after watching the remake recently. Honestly, as a film, it’s a little too well-made, well-liked, and creative compared to the usual Horror Remix fare. Luckily, the evening was saved by the rest of the program. What we saw of “Primal Rage’ made it look gloriously misogynistic and unhinged. “Hack-o-Lantern” dragged a bit at the end, but you can’t really undersell the value of gravelly voice Satantic grandpa or the delirious hair-metal, laser-eye-shooting devil woman rock video dream scene. Finally, “Hollowgate,” a hilariously inept, completely bonkers escapee from late eighties shot-on-video hell, wrapped the evening up on a fantastic note. It’s a shame that this is the last Horror Remix of the year but it’s a good note to take the season out on. (8/10)

Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996)
A decent follow-up. First off, it was a great idea to bring Fred Willard and Michael Gross back. While the cast here is nowhere as strong as the original, Helen Shaver is a pretty decent addition. I like how the heroes of the first film became something of celebrities in-between films. I’m not sure how I feel about the Graboid’s metamorphosis. It shakes (har) the premise up but, at the same time, I’m not sure it makes sense that giant worms change into raptor like, heat-sensing, pack monsters. The early CGI has not aged well at all either, even if the practical effects are still great. Still, it maintains the first’s sense of fun. (6/10)

Let Me In (2010)
A really admirable remake. As too be expected, it’s not as quiet as the original. The one or two additions they made to the vampire character were questionable and there’s some unforgivably shoddy CGI. However, the heart of the story is maintain and this version is, in some ways, darker then the original. Owen is certainly a lot creepier and perverted then the original’s Oskar. It handles the issue of Abby’s gender fantastically, by the way. The two young actors are also great, maybe even better then the original’s performances. It was also wise to ct out some of the original’s subplots. The pool finale here is definitely inferior though, and feels a bit tacked on. And, yeah, I got a total nerd boner when the Hammer logo popped up. It’s not an essential remake but it’s an intelligent, faithful, and in some ways superior, treatment of the material. (8/10)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Seeing as how this always pops up in books about the best horror films, I was kind of disappointed to see a film that was more offbeat thriller or dark comedy then straight-up horror. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are fantastic here. (Ironic, that Crawford plays the calm one here, consider how crazy she supposedly was in real life.) The movie rears up against camp as Davis gets crazier and crazier and I found most of the subplots extraneous. Blanche, despite playing a helpless victim for most of the story, does show herself to be more passive-aggressive then expected by the end. The ending is really strange though appropriate. It’s surprising that such an off-beat film would be a hit and wind up inspiring an entire wave of “hag horror.” But it is an entertaining film, an interesting take on sibling rivalry and washed-up fame. (7/10)

Willard (2003)
A really criminally underrated film. It was the film that made me the huge Crispin Glover fan I am today. He so perfectly captures what it’s like to be an awkward, isolated nerd. I really can’t praise his performance enough. The set-design for the film is also brilliant. The old house is so perfectly brooding. The accordion driven score is great too.

The story is a really mixed bag. Yes, Willard progression from bullied, to bully is handled perfectly, and the film rightly shows him becoming what he hates. The way Ben leads a rat rebellion against his human oppressor is pretty silly though and overdone. Willard’s love for Socrates also pushes believably. It gets creepy, which I suppose is the point, but creepy in a way that’s not plausible. The inevitable revenge story feels far too formulaic. R. Lee Ermy is hilarious, doing his typical schtick, but it would’ve been nice if the movie had made Mr. Martin more then the one dimensional villain he is. Love interest Kat is similarly underdeveloped. (And badly acted.) Socrates’ death is heartbreaking though and the breakdown of Willard’s home situation works far better. The new ending is emotionally sweet but definitely thematically wrong. I really love the performance and ideas at the heart of the film and wish the rest of it was as strong. However, this flick really deserves a much bigger cult following then it has. It begs to be rediscovered on DVD. (Also, this is a completely superior remake of a cheesy, surprisingly hard-to-find older movie.)

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