Little Shop of Halloween Horror Fests

Halloween may be over, but as usual, I’ve still got a few left over Halloween Horror Fest reviews to write.  So don’t get too comfortable, you’re not safe just yet…

The Wolf Man (1941)

Yes!  This is what it’s all about – classic Universal Monsters!  The Wolf Man is one of my favourite movies of this type.  It’s massively influential – most of the folklore we know about werewolves was actually created for this film – and it’s great fun for Halloween.

Larry Talbot (the legendary Lon Chaney Jr) returns to his ancestral home (actually set in Wales, fact fiends!).  He reconciles with his father (an excellent Claude Rains), and tries to find his place in the community.

When defending a friend from a wolf attack, Larry is bitten by the creature.  Of course, there’s no prizes for guessing that the beast was a werewolf (human alter ego played by another horror legend, Bela Lugosi).  Larry is condemned to become a werewolf too, as his life takes a tragic turn.

The Wolf Man boasts great performances, a fantastic score and a story that is pretty much definitive in the realm of cinematic lycanthropes.  Larry Talbot’s story is both thrilling yet sadly ill-fated.  Iconic make-up effects from Jack Pierce also help to create an unforgettable monster movie that’s amongst the best from Universal.  And it’s set in Wales.

9/10

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Geeky plant shop worker Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) is downtrodden, unsuccessful – and has a crush on his colleague Audrey (Ellen Greene).  Seymour discovers a strange plant which he names Audrey II.  The mysterious plant has an appetite for blood, and flourishes when it feeds on Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend.  Soon the amazing Audrey II becomes a sensation, bringing fame and fortune to Seymour – but at what cost?

Now I’m no fan of musicals, but I’ll make an exception for Little Shop of Horrors.  It has a fun story, some great songs and a quality cast  – including cameos from some comedy greats.  Frank Oz directs, and the whole movie is a gruesome treat from start to finish.  A different, but wholly appropriate, Halloween movie.

8/10

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

The final film for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest is another from my beloved Hammer Films.  Lust for a Vampire forms part of an unofficial trilogy, sandwiched between The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil, being loosely based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”.

Beautiful Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard) arrives at a girl’s finishing school, situated somewhere vaguely Eastern European.  However, Mircalla is actually a reincarnation of  Carmilla – one of the evil, vampiric Karnstein clan.

The school headmaster (Ralph Bates) pledges his unholy allegiance to Mircalla and visiting author turned school teacher Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnson) falls in love with her.  But pupils and local villagers start to die off – and soon suspicion falls on the Karnstein’s and their demonic resurrection.

In Lust for a Vampire, Hammer plunge into more sexually explicit themes, resulting in cheap titillation and camp silliness.  This approach has caused the film it’s fair share of harsh criticism over the years.  Indeed, the story is a little cheesy and predictable, but the boobs’n’blood approach has never been an issue for me, unsurprisingly.

In fact, I found that there’s plenty to enjoy in this movie: terrific gothic sets and atmosphere – always the hallmark of Hammer – are really effective here.  It lacks a Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, yet the cast have a decent stab at creating a novel tale.

Any cringe worthiness generated by Lust for a Vampire can just as easily be enjoyed as “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” 70’s kitsch.  An entertaining film that whilst not a major shining jewel in Hammer’s crown, is still pretty much unmissable.

8/10

The Curse of Halloween Horror Fest 2019

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Hammer’s only venture into lycanthrope-based horror in the movies, The Curse of the Werewolf is a great example of the studio doing what they do best.  There’s no Pete or Chris, but we do get an early chance for Oliver Reed to demonstrate his talent.

Apparently the movie was based on a book called “The Werewolf of Paris”; the location shifted to Spain when a planned film about the Spanish Inquisition had to be abandoned – and the Spanish sets were forced onto this production.

Reed plays Leon, who the audience learns has had a troubled upbringing.  Born on Christmas Day and conceived from a rape, Leon is cursed to become a werewolf.  With love and comfort, his curse is kept under control.  He falls for his employers daughter, who is engaged to another man – and soon Leon’s hidden wolf is out of control.

The Curse of the Werewolf is something of a gem in Hammer’s crown.  The story has tension and drama courtesy of Director, Terence Fisher – and the special effects are adequate for the time.  Reed is engaging as Leon, inviting our sympathy though the audience realises he is doomed.

The result is a monster movie that’s both entertaining and moving, with a depth not often witnessed in a Hammer horror.

8/10

Misery (1990)

You can’t beat a bit of Stephen King, and Misery is one of his best – the book is great, the film is a masterful adaptation.

Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a best selling novelist, who crashes his car on a snowy Colorado road.  He’s rescued and nursed by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be Paul’s number one fan.  But Wilkes discovers that Sheldon has killed off her beloved character, Misery, and his experience goes downhill faster than his car did.

Trapped in Annie’s house and confined to a wheelchair, how will Paul escape before Annie’s descent into murderous madness is complete?

Directed by Rob Reiner, Misery has tension and pace enough to keep anyone on the edge of their seat.  Caan is excellent; Bates is on Oscar winning form as the disturbed woman switching from kindly to evil in a heartbeat.

There’s nothing supernatural in Misery, but this story is certainly horrific.

9/10

A Symphony of Halloween Horror Fest

King Kong (1933)

Halloween is, for me, all about monster movies.  You can keep the gore-fests, jumpy scares and cheep thrills – monsters are where it’s at.  And you don’t get a better creature feature than King Kong.

Released way back in 1933, this monochrome marvel is still pure excellence.

Daring filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) leads a crew to a long lost island in the middle of nowhere.  There, leading lady Ann Darrow (the legendary Fay Wray) is kidnapped by locals as an offering to their god, Kong.  Kong turns out to be a giant ape, who goes gooey-eyed for the blonde bombshell and fights off numerous prehistoric rivals to keep her safe.

The crew attempt a rescue, but only Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) survives to rescue his sweetheart from her captor.  Denham decides that Kong should be central to his new venture; hatching a plan to capture the ape and take him back to civilisation as his star attraction.

It’s incredible that this film isn’t far off being a century old.  King Kong has a fantastic story and superb special effects that still hold up to this day.  It’s full on entertainment – and one of my favourite films of all time.

But is King Kong horror?  Well, Kong features in my old Horror Top Trumps set – so that qualifies as a definite YES.

10/10

Nosferatu (1922)

More black and white thrills next, with another magnificent movie that really should not be missed.  F W Murnau’s Nosferatu is a chilling piece of early horror cinema, even after all these years.

The film follows the plot of the book Dracula, with a few alterations to (unsuccessfully) avoid claims of plagiarism.  Our hero, Jonathan Harker (or whatever name is used in whichever version you see) is sent to deal with some real estate for the mysterious Count Orlok.  The Count, however, is a vampire – who traps the hero in his castle and makes his way back to Harker’s home town, bringing death with him.

In 1922, the art and language of cinema was still being developed, leading to some strange visuals this movie – such as a ghostly horse and carriage speeding along in a bizarre manner.  Yet the final film is filled with startling, shadowy imagery that maintains a sense of unease, thanks to some genuinely innovative work.

Murnau manages to create some masterful moments of suspense, and Max Schreck as Orlok – whether rising from his grave, or shadow rising eerily up the staircase (a true iconic moment) – is spellbinding.

An early classic of cinema, Nosferatu helped develop cinematic vampire folklore – and still delivers a sense of dread with its uncanny visuals.

10/10

John Carpenter’s Halloween Horror Fest

They Live (1988)

“I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass – and I’m all out of bubble gum!”

Yes, this legendary quote from Wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper can be heard in They Live, another masterpiece from John Carpenter.  It’s a film I resisted watching for many years, as I labelled it just another dumb 80’s macho-man action flick.  Yet there is so much more to this film than that.

Piper plays an out of work drifter, scrabbling for employment and finding a home in a run-down shanty town.  The discovery of a special pair of sunglasses reveals to him that the world is under the control of grim looking aliens, who are using subliminal messaging to subdue the human race to their nefarious will.  So Roddy joins the underground and begins to fight back against the evil alien masters…

It might be more action/sci-fi than straight out horror, but there’s plenty in They Live to qualify it for Halloween Horror Fest.  The bad guys are pretty gruesome, and so is the nature of their plans for the human race.

But it’s the clever social commentary that makes this movie so great, and worth repeated viewings.  The evils of consumerism are revealed as methods to control the people.  Carpenter is attacking unrestrained capitalism, and the ways that media and society combine to keep us all oblivious to exploitation.

Only mildly successful on release, They Live has become a cult film and infiltrated popular culture.  Unsurprising, as the truths it exposes are still sadly prevalent today.  And that’s the scariest thing of all.

CONSUME.  CONFORM.  SUBMIT.  BUY.  NO IMAGINATION.  STAY ASLEEP.  OBEY.

9/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2019

A lonely forest at night.  The full moon peaks through the gnarled branches, as the wind whistles a mournful lament.  In the distance, a wolf howls… and the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, involuntarily.

It’s October, and that means it’s time for – Halloween Horror Fest!

For the last few years, I’ve spent the month of October watching a load of scary movies.  Some spooky; some creepy; some funny – and some shit-your-shoes-off horrifying.

And then I write a little review.  Like this…

The Frighteners (1996)

Okay – so The Frighteners isn’t a full-on horror film exactly, but it has plenty of supernatural elements that make it ideal viewing for this time of year.  And anyway, we needed to watch something that wouldn’t scare the little ‘un too much, if she overheard it while trying to get to sleep upstairs!

Michael J Fox stars as Frank Bannister, a one time architect turned dodgy psychic investigator.  Bannister can actually communicate with spirits, but chooses to employ his ghostly buddies to help him exploit customers with phoney exorcisms.

Except townspeople are dying from fatal heart attacks, and Frank suspects that the ghost of a deranged killer is behind it all.  Unable to convince the law that his supernatural powers are genuine, Bannister becomes the chief suspect – and must clear his name and stop the killer.

Directed by Peter Jackson, this film makes a decent attempt at being spooky, funny and entertaining all in one go.  Quality performances from Fox and the cast (including a small role for the great John Astin) – combined with the directors flair and skill – keep the film rolling along enjoyably.

The special effects were state of the art in 1996, and still hold up well today – with several creepy moments realised with CGI that is actually tastefully done.

The Frighteners just manages to steer away from becoming silly, and remains good fun.  Ideal for a Halloween movie that won’t cause nightmares, it’s like Most Haunted with a plot and (more) laughs.

7/10

More macabre movies soon…

Halloween Horror Fest Has Risen from the Grave (again)

Beetlejuice (1988)

Time for a change of pace for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest.  Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice is a spooky comedy horror, showcasing more of the Director’s trademark bizarre imagination. 

Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) are a happily married couple, living in their dream house.  They wind up dead, due to an unfortunate accident, and haunting their old home.

When a new family move in, who turn out to be less than ideal inhabitants, Adam and Barbara attempt to scare the new householders away.  After all their attempts fail, they’re left with no other choice than to recruit Beetlegeuse (Michael Keaton) to do the job for them.

Keaton is manically brilliant as sleazoid Beetlegeuse; a deranged, disreputable “bio-exorcist” with a seedy demeanour.

Burton manages to keep the film entertaining and lighthearted in his own goofy way.  Beetlejuice never becomes morbid or grim, instead it’s a fun (though dark) fantasy that oozes creativity.

8/10

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

In which good old Christopher Lee returns as Dracula, in his third outing as the Count for Hammer. 

This time around, Drac is out for revenge when is castle is exorcised by the Monsignor (Rupert Davies).  Not having anywhere to hang out, the Count is somewhat peeved and decides to enact his vengeance on the Monsignor’s virginal niece, played by lovely Veronica Carlson.

Hammer courageously attempt to avoid re-treading the same old formula in this film, though in reality the blueprint is never cast too far away.  The actors all do a fine job, including Davies, Carlson and Barry Andrews as Paul, the token heroic figure.

Lee is fantastic of course, with commanding presence and evil red eyes creating a powerful Lord of Vampires.  And the sets look great, like Kiss of the Vampire, bigger and more realistic than earlier efforts.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave isn’t a completely successful entry in the series, but it’s a professionally produced and entertaining film in the Gothic Hammer horror tradition.  Well worth a look.

7/10

Halloween Horror Fest House of Horrors

Ring (1998)

OK: so here, we’re talking about the Japanese original movie, Ring (or Ringu) – not the Hollywood remake.  I’m not making any kind of elitist statement, I’ve just never seen the American version. 

Mrs Platinum Al introduced me to this creep-fest some years ago; I’m only surprised it’s not been viewed as part of our Halloween Horror Fest sooner.

A cursed video tape is being passed around; whoever views it dies a week later.  A reporter is investigating the story, and finds that the video isn’t just an urban myth when it strikes close to home.  With time running out, she must determine the origin of the tape and find a way to stop it.

Ingeniously creepy, Ring takes a novel idea – that sounds like exactly the type of urban legend that could be out there – and capitalises on it.  Watching the English subtitled version ads to the sense of mystery, as the viewer slowly pieces the facts together along with the protagonist.

Recommended for its imaginative premise and macabre scenes, you won’t want to watch Ring alone!

8/10

The Exorcist (1973)

I first saw The Exorcist as a student, when I was about 19.  This was in the days when the film wasn’t on video or allowed on TV, and thus it held a reputation beyond all others as the scariest film anyone would see, ever. 

A late night showing after a week of anticipation left me, at the time, convinced that this notoriety was justified.  I slept with the light on for several nights after.

But then a year later, I persuaded some other friends to go and see the movie too.  They found The Exorcist amusing more than anything, and I too was wondering what had frightened me so much.

I’ve not seen the film since then, other than catching parts of it whilst showing on TV (times have changed).  I was unsure what I would make of it.  Surely, its ability to horrify would have decreased still further after all these years?

Whilst I wasn’t terrified watching the movie again, I was greatly impressed by the whole spectacle.  The Exorcist is scary, but it’s also a very engaging and brilliantly told tale.  The acting is top quality and believable, and most of those infamous scenes still have the ability to shock.

Film critic Mark Kermode reckons this is the best film ever made.  I wouldn’t agree with that rating, but The Exorcist is a terrifically thrilling film.

William Friedkin, the Director, succeeds in making a movie which seems horribly realistic – and thus very believable.  Still powerful after all these years.  Essential viewing!

9.5/10

From Beyond the Halloween Horror Fest

The Omen (1976)

Widely regarded as a classic of the horror genre, I was never a huge fan of this movie when I first viewed it as a teen in the late 80’s.  Despite the high regard that The Omen was held in by my peers, I just didn’t find it that scary.

Watching the film again now, though, I was much more impressed by the clever story and formidable performances. 

Gregory Peck plays Robert Thorn, a US Ambassador in Italy.  When his wife, played by Lee Remick, has a stillborn child, Thorn is approached by a priest to adopt another baby as their own.  They name the child Damien, and following the family’s move to London strange things begin to happen.

A priest (Patrick Troughton) warns Thorn that the boy is the Antichrist.  Though sceptical at first, Thorn begins to investigate with a photo journalist (David Warner) also caught up in the case.  Death and destruction is always on their heels, but is it deadly coincidence or evil incarnate?

Excellent performances and a tight, fast paced narrative made The Omen far more interesting this time around.  The Director, Richard Donner, does a good job of creating a malevolent atmosphere and the chills keep coming.

Creepy rather than jump-out-of-your-skin scary, never the less The Omen stays in the mind long after the finale.  Far better than I’d given it credit for.

8/10

From Beyond the Grave (1974)

I remember first seeing this film years ago – a late night showing on TV when I got home from the pub!

From Beyond the Grave is another Amicus anthology movie.  Featuring four short stories, they are linked together by Peter Cushing’s antiques and curiosity shop, Temptations Ltd – which bookends all the events.

In the first segment, David Warner (again) buys an old mirror that brings an uninvited, murderous guest to his home.  The second, and best story, features Donald Pleasence and daughter in a weird tale of witchcraft.

The third instalment is more comedic, as a medium is involved in exorcising a demon from a business man’s life.

Finally, Ian Ogilvy and Lesley-Anne Down are confronted with a time travelling satanist in what is a far fetched, but very tense tale.

It’s all great campy 70’s horror fun, and I have a lot of love for this film.  There are several great British actors, all doing a fine job – and plenty of atmospheric chills. From Beyond the Grave is slightly dated but immensely entertaining.

7/10

Bride of Halloween Horror Fest (Revisited)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

It was an absolute pleasure to re-watch this total classic of a monster movie.  Bride of Frankenstein features not one, but two iconic Universal creatures; in a multi faceted story directed by James Whale.

As the original movie had been such a success, this sequel shines with a commitment to match it and create something even better – which it does.

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has survived the events of the first film, and vows never to return to his ghastly experiments.  The creature (a fantastic Boris Karloff) has also survived, and begins to explore his surroundings and grow in experience.  Of course, these adventures inevitably lead to mayhem.

An old tutor of Frankenstein, Dr Pretorius – played with a camp menace by Ernest Thesiger – has a proposition for Henry.  Together, they can combine their skill to create a new monster, a mate for the first.  Events transpire to force Frankenstein to enter into this hell bound, yet inevitable partnership. 

Universal obviously invested heavily in this second Frankenstein movie, the sets are more grand and the special effects really surprisingly good for the time.  Whale is on fine form and the whole film is a real spectacle – I remember being thrilled to see this revered movie for the first time.

Performance wise, Clive is melodramatic in the extreme and his acting appears somewhat dated.  The rest of the cast are magnificent though, Thesiger is delightfully wicked and Elsa Lanchester is unforgettable as the monster’s bride.

The best though is the legendary Karloff, here given much more to do (even being allowed to develop speech, a little like the novel).  His ability to convey emotion and make the audience empathise with a giant, re-animated corpse is astounding.

All in all, Bride of Frankenstein is a classic of the genre.

10/10

Silence of the Halloween Horror Fest

We’re well into November now, but I still have a few Halloween horror reviews left to cover.  Bonfire night?  Who cares?!  What fireworks?!

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jodie Foster plays FBI agent Clarice Starling in this fantastic film, on the trail of serial killer “Buffalo Bill”.  To find the killer she enlists the help of incarcerated psychopath Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter (a superb Anthony Hopkins in a career defining role).  Utilising Lecter’s knowledge to enhance the psychological profile of the killer, the young agent finds herself embroiled in his mind games, as the race to catch Buffalo Bill gains further urgency. lambs

If you’ve never seen this film, see it.  If you have, watch it again.  It won multiple Oscars and is absolutely captivating (no pun intended) on every viewing.  Brilliant performances; scenes that look and feel real; and a chilling story make The Silence of the Lambs unmissable.

True, there are no monsters or supernatural occurrences in this movie.  Yet the sense of unease and tension created in The Silence of the Lambs mark it as a real horror film with chills beyond compare.

10/10

Ghostbusters (1984)

Another film that needs no introduction, though of a vastly different style; Ghostbusters is an 80’s classic.  Featuring a team of scientists who, after finding themselves thrown out of their university, form a new business hunting ghosts, this film has laughs and thrills aplenty.  Taking New York by storm with their paranormal investigations, the Ghostbusters wind up facing a threat that is really out of this world! GB

The three main Ghostbusters – Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis – are all excellent; with Murray in particular looking like he’s having tons of fun.  Ernie Hudson as the fourth member does a good job, but is somewhat underused.  Sigourney Weaver puts in a good performance as the musician caught up in a pan-dimensional event she doesn’t understand.  And keep your eyes on Rick Moranis, who is constantly hilarious.

Highly recommended as some fun Halloween viewing, Ghostbusters mixes a few spooky moments with some very funny scenes.  Add in a great theme tune and some memorable quotes, and you really can’t go wrong.

Who ya gonna call?

9/10

That’s it for another year, thanks for reading Halloween Horror Fest!