|Perfect pumpkin pyramid.|
Halloween falling on a Friday this year messed up the holiday for a lot of people. For people who like to both go to parties and stay in and watch movies, it forced them to make a choice. In my small redneck town, and many others I suspect, trick or treating was postponed until November 1st. Why? Because a stupid high school football game was tonight. If a football game fell on Christmas, you’d move the fucking game, not the holiday. So I guess I’ll dress up and hand out candy tomorrow, on the day when the radio stations start playing the same seven Christmas songs on a 24-hour loop.
|My humble Jack o'Lantern|
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985)
Ever since watching “A Garfield Christmas Special” last December, I’ve been interested in revisiting the fat cat’s corresponding Halloween special, originally aired as “Garfield in Disguise” but known as “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure” ever since. While the Christmas special was one I had on tape as a kid, and watched incessantly, the Halloween special has never been a nostalgic favorite for me. Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure I ever saw “Garfield in Disguise” as a kid. If there was ever a day to revisit a Halloween special, today would be the day.
The half-hour one-off begins with Garfield snoozing soundly in his bed, as the tubby tabby is prone to. Awoken by an obnoxious announcement from Binky the Clown, the cat suddenly realizes its Halloween. Garfield has no interest in the holiday until, ever the glutton, he realizes it’s a night to load up on candy and sugary treats. Pillaging Jon’s attic for a cheap pirate costume, Garfield heads out with Odie, realizing the dog would get him a second bag of candy. While on the hunt for chocolate, the pets stumble into a local legend of ghostly pirates and hidden treasure.
as wide a demographic appeal as possible, you see what a blatant, pandering creation he is. His generic ‘tude, his affinity for napping and lasagna, his sarcastic call-backs to his owner’s cluelessness; all is extremely calculated. The fat cat’s reaction to Halloween is counter-wise to my own. He sees the day only as an excuse to get even fatter on candy. He has no respect for the lore, mystery, or feel of the day. Of course, Garfield learns his lesson but, because this is a kid’s show, he still goes home with a fat sack of candy. Kind of negates the moral, doesn’t it?
People do like “Garfield in Disguise” though. It even won an Emmy! A recent interview revealed that the special was made with a far more noble goal in mind then most usual “Garfield” merchandise: To scare the shit out of kids. On their search for candy, the two pets climb onto a boat and float over to a strange house. There, an old man tells them a story. In a probably unintentional reference to “The Fog,” he talks about how a hundred years ago, a group of pirates buried their loot here before passing on. And now, their spirits will return. The old man flees, stealing the animal’s boat. (One of the episode’s few truly funny gags.) The two hide, convinced there aren’t any ghosts… Until the spectral pirates pull themselves from their watery graves. They spin around the room, spooking the critters, before grabbing their gold and leaving. The animation here is the best in the special, the ghost moving in a very fluid manner. It’s never scary, not to an adult’s eyes, but it is a little spooky, enough so to elevate the entire special.
Really, if it wasn’t for the ghost pirates, I don’t think anyone would remember “Garfield in Disguise” at all. The musical style wasn’t a good approach for a series built around a character making pithy comebacks. Still, I bet this made an impression on young viewers. I, personally, remember the vampire episode of “Garfield and Friends” more. Maybe I should track down a copy of that for next Halloween. [5/10]
The Tingler (1959)
Another way in which this year’s Six Weeks of Halloween has been deficient for me: Not enough Vincent Price! And not a single William Castle movie. Price has long been the face of Halloween for me and “The Tingler,” which so perfectly combines many of the things I love about the genre, is just the right movie for October 31st. The movie is probably best remembered today for the outrageous gimmick Castle designed for it. When the Tingler is freed in a movie theater during the film, buzzers in random seats throughout the theater (along with a few likely plants) would activate, roughly simulating the creature’s bite. Beyond its fantastic gimmick, “The Tingler” remains one of William Castle’s best films.
Vincent Price plays Dr. Warren Chapin, a pathologist studying the effect fear has on the human body. While autopsying bodies over the years, he’s noticed that people who have died in intense fear frequently have cracked spines. He and his science partner, the fiancé of his wife’s much younger sister, have named the sensation the Tingler. The only thing known to dilute the sensation is the act of screaming. A friend of Chapin, the owner of a silent theater, murders his deaf-mute wife by frightening her to death. This provides Warren with a fresh specimen of the Tingler, which is actually a physical creature that grows on the spine when humans are frightened. It’s only a matter of time before the crawling creature gets loose, paralyzing people with its vice-like jaws.
a floppy rubber prop. The creature is tugged around on a frequently-visible fishing wire and never appears convincingly alive. The Tingler is just small enough that the movie has to cook up incidents where it can be a threat. The critter attacks Price while he sleeps or surprises people in a dark movie theater. The movie’s premise is fun in the kind of improbable way that only flicks from this era can pull off.
Despite a set-up that can best be described as “lovably silly,” “The Tingler” does feature some legitimately creepy moments. The movie is notable for containing the first acid trip ever put to film. Hoping to experience true fear, Chapin takes an experimental drug his young college gives him. Though never identified as such, Price just dropped acid. And he’s on a very bad trip. Though Price’s sweaty, shouting performance is hammy, the sequence is effective. The best moment is when he stumbles into the lab skeleton and really starts to freak out. As stand-out as that scene is, “The Tingler” features an even better bad trip of sorts. While alone in her room, the doors and windows slam shut around the theater owner’s deaf-mute wife. A figure rises from the bed, obscured by the sheet. She pulls the sheet away, revealing a hideous deformed man. Hairy hands reach through windows, tossing axes. The deaf-mute woman, unable to scream, has to express her terror facially. The sequence, aside from music, is silent, providing an eerie feel to the potentially hokey effects. The scene climaxes when Martha enters the bathroom. The film is in black-and-white except for this moment, when bright red blood flows from the sink and fills the bathtub. A severed arm, dripping with blood, beckons from the tub. The scene is surprisingly freaky and the movie never surpasses it.
his previous collaboration with Castle, Price plays the hero of “The Tingler.” Chapin discovers the Tingler, learns how to stop it, and helps those around him. He’s a generally good guy. Save for one attribute. Chapin is so devoted to science that he has alienated his philandering wife. Every night, she is out with a different man and makes no secret of this. She’s also the owner of the family fortune. She refuses to allow her sister to marry Warren’s poor lab assistant too. Midway through the film, Chapin pulls a revolver on his wife, seemingly having had enough. He interrogates the woman, locks her in his lab, and pulls the trigger. Quickly, the film reveals that the gun was filled with blanks and all of this was a gambit designed to merely frighten her. Still, it makes you question Chapin’s motive. Enough that you wonder if he intentionally drugs Martha with LSD, leading to her death, though the film never confirms this. It’s a good part for the ever-likable Price and shows off his range some.
My favorite moment in “The Tingler” is not the scariest one. However, it might be the most interesting. A deaf-mute woman running a silent movie theater is a nice touch to begin with. It also, rather blatantly, sets up the finale. The Tingler is left in the apartment above the theater when, accidentally, it’s let loose. The creature waddles its way into the auditorium, biting a woman on the leg. The film focuses on the movie playing on-screen in the theater. The screen goes black. Price’s voice comes over the loud speaker, assuring the audience there’s nothing to be afraid of. The Tingler then wiggles into the projection booth, crawling over the projector. Again, Castle’s camera focus on the theatrical screen. The film breaks, the silhouette of the Tingler squirming across the screen. Price speaks again, instructing us to scream for our lives. Imagine watching this in a theater in 1959. Castle’s “Percepto” gimmick of joy-buzzer infused seats was almost unnecessary. In this moment, the movie brilliantly breaks the fourth wall. The Tingler is suddenly in the theater, your theater, and could attack anyway. This makes it clear how smart Castle was, how aware he was of the power of the screen and the affect it has on the audience. Way before “The Blair Witch Project” convinced people it was real, William Castle had perfected the art of breaking fiction’s promise of safety.
Island of Terror (1966)
“Island of Terror” is a film I’ve heard about for quite some time. It was one of the few pairings of director Terence Fisher and leading man Peter Cushing to be made outside Hammer Studios. Heck, it wasn’t even an Amicus production! After reading about the film on the AV Club’s annual horror marathon list, my curiosity ran too high. It was time to track down a copy of “Island of Terror” and give it a watch. (Also, I wanted a transitional film from the quint horror of “The Tingler” to the nastier gore of the next movie I planned to watch tonight. This seemed to fit the bill.)
Set on Petrie’s Island, a tiny island off the coast of Ireland, “Island of Terror” begins when strange dead bodies begin to disrupt the small community. If you could call them “bodies.” They’re nothing but piles of flesh, their bones removed and sucked dry of their fluids. Three scientists, two old pros and a young hot shot (and his girlfriend, who insisted on coming along), fly in to investigate. They soon discover the Silicates, marrow-sucking organisms accidentally created in a bid to end cancer. Most frighteningly, the Silicates divide like cells hourly. Unless they’re stopped soon, the monsters will devour everyone on the island. Unfortunately, the Silicates are near impossible to kill.
the Triffids. The Silicates are bright green, resembling moss, but move around like giant amoebas. The movie skirts against comedy, since the Silicates are so slow-moving, that they should be easy to avoid. The script has to give them impenetrable armor and a quickly multiplying life cycle to make them creditable threats. (Also, they appear to bleed chicken noodle soup whenever they divide.) However, the method in which the Silicates devour their victims is truly nightmarish. Long tentacles, topped off with barbed suckers, emerges from their bodies. The appendages need only grasp an arm or leg before they start to feed. With an awful sound that best resembles a straw sucking at the bottom of a milk shake, they suck their victims dry. The deflated, bloody bodies left behind are not a pretty sight. The process seems agonizingly painful. As far as horror movie deaths go, having my innards slowly sucked out by slimy monsters would definitely be the one I’d least like to experience.
The Silicates are convincing special effects, even if they slightly resemble vacuum cleaners. The movie makes the most of the slimy monsters. An early attack scene has a major character falling to the creature’s grasp, the man being sucked dry just off-screen. A suspenseful moment has Peter Cushing’s arm being snared. Writhing in agony, his friend has to cut his arm off to save him. Though the act is kept off-screen, I sure didn’t expect the movie to go there. The finale has all the island’s survivors gathered in a tavern. The Silicates fight their way in, their tentacles dragging across the glass, and falling through the overhead windows onto unsuspecting victims. It’s a surprisingly tense scene, recalling “Night of the Living Dead” and other siege pictures. It’s a bit of a bummer when the heroes crazy plan begins to work, the Silicates expiring just in time. That feels a little like a cheat.
phantom pain. Edward Judd plays Dr. David West. His introduction reveals this as a movie from 1966. He is seen in the morning with Toni, a beautiful young woman who is wearing nothing but an oversized T-shirt. The two trade some double entendre laced dialogue before the other scientists walk in, interrupting the love-making that surely was about to happen. A funny dialogue exchange happens, before the quartet gets on a plane, where Toni makes it clear she intends to finish what she started. Carole Grey is lovely to look at in the part and is quite a bit more likable then your usual screaming damsel. The movie also loads its supporting cast with likable Irish actors, their accents adding a lot of color to film.
“Island of Terror” also ends on a chilling note. A Japanese scientist, miles away from where the rest of the film happened, enters a laboratory. From off-screen, we hear him scream, followed by the hellish sound of the Silicates feeding. Creepy. “Island of Terror” isn’t quite good enough to be a forgotten classic but the film does have unique monsters and a likable cast doing their thing. For people who have seen everything Hammer and Amicus have to offer, but want more of Fisher and Cushing working together, give it a look. [7/10]
The Burning (1981)
Hey man, it’s just not Halloween without a slasher flick. Last year, I watched “The Prowler,” my vote for best eighties slasher ever, at least outside the big franchises. That movie featured spectacular gore effects from Tom Savini. In 1981, the first wave of American slasher was still going strong, so Savini was busy. Like that film, he also contributed effects to “The Burning,” another flick dismissed by the mainstream as sleazy, cheesy trash but beloved and well-regarded by the hardcore retro-slasher crowd.
“The Burning” follows the slasher playbook fairly closely. It begins with a crime in the past. At a summer camp, the kids pull a prank on the surly groundskeeper Cropsy. The prank goes horribly wrong, resulting in Cropsy being burnt to a crisp. Five years later, the hideously deformed Cropsy gets out of the burn ward. Vengeance on his mind, he returns to the summer camp, seeking the same kids, who are now teenagers. His trusty hedge-clippers in hand, Cropsy goes to work slashing and cutting through anyone in his way, onward to his intended targets.
the Cropsey Maniac. Though the details tend to vary from location to location, the consistency with Cropsy is that he’s in the forest, he’s mad, and he’ll kill anyone he catches. It’s a legend designed to keep kids in their cabin at night. With this in mind, “The Burning” is told like a camp fire story. (“Camp Fire” would have been a good alternate title for the movie.) The film acknowledges this connection by featuring a camp fire scene in which the story of Cropsy, as shown earlier in the movie, is told. It’s an effectively creepy moment, focused on the faces of the actors and the shadows around them. At the very end, the movie reprises it, suggesting that Cropsy may be dead but his legend will live on. “The Burning” isn’t even the only movie inspired by the Cropsy legend. The less-polished-but-nearly-as-good “Madman” from the next year built upon the same lore. (There was also that muddled documentary but we don’t talk about it.)
Something that elevates “The Burning” above the many other slashers that came before and after is its sense of location. Unlike most of the “Friday the 13th” flicks, this summer camp is in season. The kids and counselors mingle, their relationships being both friendly and antagonistic. The characters in “The Burning” aren’t much more defined then your usual slasher bait. Most of the guys, like bully Glazer or pushy Eddy, are jerks. The girls, like shy Sally or Karen, are mostly delineated by their (usually not very good) relationship with the guys. Only the horny nerds, like Jason Alexander’s Dave or Fisher Stevens’ Woodstock, are memorable. Instead, “The Burning” does a great job of capturing the summer camp experience. You can feel the sticky heat of the day and the refreshing coolness of the water. The forest is realistically dark and difficult to navigate. The rocks and near-by mill are caked with dust and grit. The relationship between the teens is realistic. Even jock Glazer gets a humanizing moment, after a humiliating session of sex with his girlfriend. Sure, the characters are more-or-less generic slasher bait. But they’re generic in a way that seems plausible.
the famous raft sequence. A group of campers approach an abandoned canoe. The scene drags out, slowly building suspense as the kids near their inevitable fate. Cropsy leaps from the canoe, clippers high, silhouetted against the summer sun. In a manner of minutes, he takes out the whole gathering of teens. Fingers are cut, throats are stabbed, heads are bashed, and victims fall, bloody, into the water. The scene fades to red, knowing its done a good job. There are further impressive gore scenes. Cropsy’s make-up is blatantly unrealistic, resembling a melted candle. His demise involves an axe to the head and a torrent of blood being vomited. Yet that raft scene overshadows everything. It earned the movie a spot on the Video Nasties list and a place in gorehounds’ hearts.
Rick Wakeman’s electronic score is also a cut above the rest. Aside from Alexander and Stevens, the movie also features a bit part from a young Holly Hunter. Behind the camera, it was the first movie produced by Miramax, the Weinsteins even co-writing the screenplay. I guess non-slasher enthusiasts won’t think much of it but us die-hards know “The Burning” is one of the best. [8/10]
Trick r’ Treat (2007)
As originally planned, “Trick r’ Treat” was intended to be a late-in-the-year surprise for horror fans, a seasonal treat for Halloween. Instead, despite receiving positive reviews at festival screenings, the film sat on a shelf for two years. In that time, “Trick r’ Treat” built up a reputation as the next horror classic. When the film finally saw a general release in 2009, it arrived with a built-in audience. I suspect if I saw “Trick r’ Treat” when it was originally planned for release, I would have liked it a lot more. Seeing it after getting hit by the hype train, I was disappointed. Since then, however, “Trick r’ Treat” has become a true cult classic. It has become many people’s go-to Halloween movie. Many consider it the best Halloween movie since, well, “Halloween.” The late, lamented FearNet use to run it for 24 hours on the 31st. Sam, the film’s pumpkin-headed avatar of All Hallows Eve, has been merchandised almost as much as Freddy or Jason at this point. Now, there’s even a sequel in development. Separated a few years from the hype, what do I think of the film now?
Set in the town of Warren Valley, Ohio, the film follows four separate stories, each happening on Halloween night. Each are connected by Sam, the physical embodiment of the holiday. The first concerns an elementary school principal who gets nasty revenge on his ill-behaved students. The second is about a group of trick r’ treaters exploring a local legend – a crashed school bus full of mentally ill children – and playing a mean trick on one of their classmates. The third story is about a quartet of young women, looking for dates for the Halloween celebration, especially one for the virginal Laurie. The last story concerns a mean old man who hates Halloween and has a close encounter with Sam.
Pulp Fiction,” after all, is one of my favorite movies. “Trick r’ Treat,” however, tells its stories simultaneously. The tales interconnect, the events crossing over. This has a bad side effect of constantly interrupting the flow and pacing of each story. “Trick r’ Treat” plays in starts and spurts. When the film focuses on one story for an extended period of time, this is when it works best.
Another thing I disliked about “Trick r’ Treat” upon first viewing was its mean-spirited content. Kids are not safe in the world of “Trick r’ Treat” and perish regularly. I love Halloween but dead kids is not part of the fun for me. However, on this viewing, I began to see the morbid humor behind the film’s actions. As Principal Wilkins buries a student he just murdered in his backyard, he’s constantly interrupted. His neighbor yells at him. His son shouts constant interruptions from the house’s windows. The kid is so annoying, that you expect the man to murder him next. Instead, the film has a morbid punchline for a twist ending. The humor works best in the last segment, when mean Mr. Kreeg is constantly pranked by Sam. I really love this concluding segment’s ending, when Kreeg finally gives Sam what he wants. Once you get in its specific frame of mind, the film is blackly funny.
Though there’s a lot to like about “Trick r’ Treat,” one element keeps me from liking it fully: That fucking werewolf scene. The middle story, about the twenty-somethings looking for dates to a Halloween party, is easily the weakest part of the film. None of the characters are likable. There are obnoxious and annoying. Laurie’s quest for a date isn’t very compelling, especially compared to the higher stakes of the other stories. There’s a jokey moment here, where every man she sees on the street is already taken. That’s definitely the low point of the movie’s humor. The conclusion is thuddingly obvious. Turns out, all the girls are werewolves and their “dates” are their meals for the night. The man stalking Laurie turns out to be Principal Wilkins, a decision I don’t care for. The “predator becomes the prey” turn-about is easy to see coming. As the girls transform into wolves, Marylin Manson’s cover of “Sweet Dreams” play, which is a groan-worthy soundtrack choice. Finally, the werewolves tearing off their skin as they transform has been done before, and better, by “The Company of Wolves.” For that matter, “The Company of Wolves” did the Little Red Riding Hood thing first too. This one stinky segment drags down the whole movie.
I first reviewed “Trick r’ Treat,” during the mini-review days of the blog, I said it didn’t beat “Creepshow” at its own game. This is true and the movie probably should have ditched the comic book motif altogether. My preferred Halloween horror movie is still “Ghostwatch” and it’ll probably remain that way. However, on the 31st of October, with a bucket of candy in my lap and a glass of cider in my hand, “Trick r’ Treat” goes down pretty easy. [7/10]
The Babadook (2014)
Every year, I endeavor to see a newly released horror movie, preferably in the theaters. Because, while Halloween is about revisiting old favorites, it should be about new discoveries too. Of course, I did see a new horror movie in the theater this season, “Dracula Untold.” But that barely counts. I had other options, like fucking “Ouija,” ugh. The horror movie I really wanted to see, though, was “The Babadook,” a new Australian film that has been getting rave reviews and had a scary as hell trailer. When I saw “The Babadook” crop up as a new release On-Demand…. Well, it’s not the theaters but it’ll do.
The film follows Amelia and her son Samuel. Samuel’s father died in a car crash, while Amelia was in labor, on the way to the hospital. Samuel’s birthday is never celebrated on the actually day since it reminds Amelia of her husband’s death. Amelia is very stressed ut and Samuel, an eccentric child obsessed with magic, monsters and cobbling together his own inventions, is difficult to live with. On night before bed, Samuel pulls out a book Amelia has never seen before. A sinister pop-up book, it tells of a figure named the Babadook, a boogeyman who appears in your home, if you let him in. Then he’ll enter you, make you kill your pets, make you kill your kid, and then he’ll kill you. Once the Babadook finds you, there’s no way to get rid of him. The monster is real, comes knocking at their door, and Amelia and Samuel go mad.
Many factors make “The Babadook” so fantastically effective but two in particular stand out. The first is the performance of Essie Davis. Amelia is in a very unpleasant mood, constantly. Davis is not afraid to play a character that is perpetually stressed, exhausted, and terrified. She commits fully to the part, creating an incredibly nuanced and brave performance. Noah Wiseman as Samuel is also incredible. Wiseman has to play a kid that is both annoying and sympathetic in equal measure. When Amelia is controlled by the Babadook, and trying to kill her own son, you have to believe that she is frustrated enough to do so. Similarly, when her son ties her down, forcing the monster out, you have to believe that his love is true enough to do so. Wiseman succeeds. Together, the two make the central characters of “The Babadook” intensely worth caring about.
Great horror movies are never just about what they’re about though. “The Babadook,” at first, appears to be a film about how being a parent can be fucking terrible. When you have a kid, you never get much sleep, you’re always high-strung and worried, being pulled in many directions all at once. Is it any wonder some mothers kill their children? They take over your life. “The Babadook” is about this, of course, but a more important purpose reveals itself. In time, the Babadook appears to Amelia as her dead husband, promising her that they can be together again if she brings him the boy. The Babadook becomes a symbol of trauma. Once he finds you, you can never get rid of him. Even after Amelia stands up to the monster, he doesn’t go away. Trauma, whether it be from the death of a love one, the end of a meaningful relationship, or any other horrible thing, never truly goes away. Instead, you learn to live with it. You learn from it. The ending of “The Babadook” is incredibly cathartic and well-earned.
Thank God for Halloween. October has been rough, for personal reasons totally unrelated to this blog. Lots of crazy shit happened. However, on Halloween, I feel different. The whole world feels different. At one point today, I was so fucking happy I almost felt like crying. This is why this day is special. It brings something out of me that isn’t there during any other month. The spirits walk the Earth and the spirits walk in me too. I hope it was that way for all of you as well.
I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to do these Six Weeks. I didn’t make it to a corn maze or a haunted attraction. I didn’t get to dress up in my awesome Herbert West costume because trick or treating got moved. However, I did accomplish other stuff. I went to a horror con and had a good time. I went to “Rocky Horror” and had a good time. Mostly, I watched a spooky shit ton of horror movies. Final tally?: 157 total things watched, 93 movies, 57 TV episodes, and 7 shorts. Holy crap. That’s a record. It wasn’t easy and maybe I overdid it. But that’s a geeky number I can be proud of.
2014’s Halloween season wasn’t as good as last year’s. Maybe there was no way it could be. But did I have fun? Sure did. Make some memories? You bet. Live the season to the fullest? Yep. It’s now November 1st and I can look back and say “I did it.”
2014’s Halloween Horrorfest Blog-a-Thon is concluded. Onward to the next one. Happy Halloween. God bless. Thank you so much. See you again soon.
|Haunting the pumpkin patch.|