Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Scream 2

Film: Scream 2
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

When Wes Craven wrote and directed Scream, he made something that worked on multiple levels. It was a completely self-aware horror movie that openly played with the tropes of the genre. At the same time, it was an effective slasher movie in its own right. Scream wouldn’t have been anything like the success it was if it hadn’t been a good slasher itself, and the fact that it literally told the audience the tropes it already knew and had fun with them made it the genre rewrite it was. So what the hell do you do with Scream 2?

Well, what you do is you continue to play with the tropes of the genre, and you also play with the various ideas of sequels. We’re told at one point that the rules of the sequel include a bigger body count and more violent kills all the way through. One of the things that isn’t mentioned but is specifically played with is the fact that at least one survivor from the first film isn’t going to make it to the end of the second film.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Brain that Wouldn't Die

Film: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

As a fan of Mystery Science Theater, I’ve at least seen a version of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Any dedicated fan of the show will tell you that it was Mike Nelson’s first film in the theater, the first episode after the departure of Joel. That’s all well and good, but I’d never seen this without the silhouettes at the bottom of the screen. I also evidently own two copies of it, one on a large collection of mostly crappy horror movies and one on a two-disc set. Why I would need two copies of this is, honestly, beyond me.

I can save everyone a lot of time by just stating that The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is the original recipe version of Frankenhooker, but that doesn’t quite do justice to the insanity of this film. Young doctor Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) is assisting his father (Bruce Brighton) in surgery. The patient dies on the table, but Bill believes he can revive him using unorthodox methods that he has developed in his off-hours research. He does, and while his father disapproves of his methods and the fact that Bill has evidently been stealing body parts to experiment on doesn’t affect his pride in his son saving a life that would have otherwise been lost. It’s also worth noting that Bill’s fiancĂ©e Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) works in the ER as a nurse because of course she does.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


Film: At Eternity’s Gate
Format: Blu-Ray from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I watched At Eternity’s Gate last night and, while there was more than enough time for me to write and post a review (these normally take me 20-30 minutes), I couldn’t bring myself to do it. One of the main reasons for this is that I fell asleep in the middle of the movie. This is a rare thing; I don’t often fall asleep in a film, especially when I’m not particularly tired. This is one of those strange cases where my falling asleep isn’t necessarily a negative. There’s something about this film that lends itself to that sort of reaction.

The film is more or less a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s (Willem Dafoe) last several years. It covers his meeting Gaugin (Oscar Isaac) and their strange bromance, as well as the most productive period in Van Gogh’s life. The film also puts forth a controversial idea regarding Van Gogh’s death, which I will not spoil here. It seems to…not quite whitewash, but put a very different spin on the man’s life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Skeleton Key

Film: The Skeleton Key
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

There’s something I find particularly interesting and effective about the sort of horror that plants itself firmly in the middle of the bayou. Voodoo often gets a bad rap in films. There are a lot of movies that portray Voodoo as a sort of evil black magic whose practitioners are wicked people bent on controlling the will of others. That’s not true, of course. Voodoo is a religion with rituals just like any other. I think it’s that bayou—the swamp, the alligators, the feel of a brooding evil that makes the connection for people. The Skeleton Key looks like it’s going to go down that path, but it doesn’t. Rather than painting Voodoo as a sort of dark and sinister religion, this instead veers into the practice of Hoodoo.

And really, therein lies the problem. A lot of the Voodoo in movies is actually Hoodoo, or Hudu. Both are prevalent in Louisiana and Haiti, and both seem to have come to the Western Hemisphere via the slave trade, but they are substantially different. Where Voodoo is a religion, Hoodoo is more a sort of folk magic, a series of spells and incantations that can give the practitioner great power. For us, it’s easy to get them confused, since a great deal of what we associate with the religion is actually the folk magic.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Off Script: Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight

Film: Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight
Format: AMC on big ol’ television.

I was never a huge fan of the Tales from the Crypt television show. It always seemed to me like a cheap knock-off of The Twilight Zone, albeit one that focused a lot more specifically on horror. Episodes were bookended by an appearance of the Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir), a skeletal puppet prone to terrible horror-based puns. I can’t speak for the episodes, but the Crypt Keeper sections were pure camp, and it was never really something that interested me. Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (also called Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight) follows the same pattern, albeit in a feature-length format.

In this case, we’re led to believe that the Crypt Keeper is directing a film. The opening sequence shows something typical of the television show—a woman has killed her husband and is apparently talking to her lover while the husband’s body dissolves in a bathtub of acid. Of course the husband (an uncredited John Larroquette) wakes up and starts to stalk the murderous wife. Just as he’s about to attack, we hear, “Cut!” and we get our CK intro, who tells us he’s already finished a movie that he calls Demon Knight. So in the opening sequence (and again at the bookend close), we’re very much in the realm of meta.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Film: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

I’ve gone on record as saying that I like the Universal monsters as a general rule. Of them, I’d have a hard time picking a favorite between Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man. I like the monster because he’s probably the most sympathetic of all of the Universal monsters. He’s the one most easily misunderstood. Frankie is sort of the poster child for anyone who’s ever felt a misfit in this life. The Wolf Man, though, is the most tragic of the creatures. He is, at heart, a good man who has been cursed by something he didn’t ask for and didn’t deserve. Having them both in one movie? I couldn’t wait to watch Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man when I bought a set of Frankenstein movies recently.

Despite his top billing, though, this is far more a vehicle for the Wolf Man, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.). Of course, with any monster sequel from this era, we need to start by resurrecting the monsters. The Wolf Man is first, as a pair of vagrants break into the Talbot family tomb to steal the jewelry they heard Larry was entombed with. They find a surprisingly preserved corpse instead of the bones they were expecting, and when they remove the branches of wolfs bane from the body, he reanimates. And of course it’s a full moon, so he goes lycanthrope on our hapless thieves and wakes up miles away in a hospital having been allegedly dead for four years.