Halloween Horror Fest on Wheels

Well that’s it, it’s November – and my month of watching spooky movies for Halloween Horror Fest 2020 is at an end. Yet don’t be distraught, dear reader – here are the mini reviews of the movies I’ve watched, but not written up till now. Starting with something truly shocking…

Poltergeist (1982)

Shockingly bad, that is. I remember seeing this film in my teens, it scared the crap out of me. I was looking forward to revisiting Poltergeist, widely regarded as a classic horror film – but it was absolutely terrible.

The story centres on a pleasant, well-off family living in a new Californian housing development. It’s all lovely and cutesy-pie until the youngest child starts communicating with ghosts through the TV screen. Then it’s unbelievable jeopardy time, as the little girl is kidnapped by the spirits and taken away to ghost land.

Poltergeist starts well, with some interesting supernatural phenomena in the first 20 minutes. But it quickly abandons any subtlety in favour of big, dumb Hollywood spectacle: and the sheer ridiculousness of it renders the film not scary at all. In fact, I was bored 45 minutes in. A couple of jumpy moments, but very silly and very disappointing.

Compare Poltergeist to The Exorcist, and the latter film – though employing some shock tactics – is far more believable: it seems more real. The Exorcist is still a damn scary movie, and Poltergeist just isn’t.

All very strange, you may think, knowing that Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper, who made the genuinely terrifying Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Unfortunately, someone Spielberged all over this film, leaving a twee load of nonsense and small town USA schmaltz. Old Stevie was involved as writer, producer, possibly even director and tea lady – and his influence shows.

You’d be better off watching the old BBC gem Ghost Watch, that’s far better.

4/10

The Howling (1981)

Another early 80’s horror – and although this one is also somewhat dated, The Howling is actually a pretty cool film.

Karen White (Dee Wallace) is a news reporter, who has a too-close for comfort encounter with a serial killer she’s investigating. To aid her recovery from the trauma, Karen’s therapist Dr Waggner (Patrick Macnee) recommends she recuperates at the The Colony, a remote health resort. Little does Karen realise that the other residents are hiding a secret…

Directed by Joe Dante, The Howling is a very entertaining film. Despite the werewolf transformation scenes now looking a little dated, the overall design and atmosphere are excellent. It also has some humour, a bit of raunch, and plenty of tension to keep everything rolling along quickly.

Released the same year as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is sadly nowhere near as good as the John Landis classic. American Werewolf is still more terrifying by far. But The Howling is a great popcorn horror for a Halloween evening.

8.5/10

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

More lycanthropic fun next, with this uber cult horror movie that does exactly what it says on the blood stained tin. Seriously, do I need to summarise the plot for this one?

Here goes: a gang of rowdy bikers – The Devil’s Advocates, no less – have a run in with a Satanic cult, which results in one of them becoming a werewolf. Much bloody carnage ensues. And that’s it.

Cheap and cheesy, this grindhouse exploitation flick is one of my recently discovered favourites. Like a horror version of Easy Rider, it’s certainly a product of it’s time – don’t watch this if high production values and modern Hollywood set pieces are your thing. Tom Cruise fans, walk away now.

The soundtrack is absolutely brilliant however, and the satanic ritual looks pretty grim. If you can forgive the atrocious wolfman make-up, you’ll find a lot to love here. Werewolves on Wheels is a low quality B-movie genre mash up that’s a work of art for any freaks like me.

9/10

And there you go, horror fans – another batch of movies with bite for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest! I’ll be back next October, so long as this pandemic doesn’t blossom into a full-on zombie apocalypse. See you then!

The Curse of Hallowe’en Horror Fest

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

I first saw this film when I was about ten years old.  Or rather, I saw the first ten minutes.  When the initial attack occurs on the moors, my Mum switched it off.  And I’m not surprised.  Just those first few minutes were enough to make me shit my shoes off.  It would be many years later before I would actually watch the movie all the way through.

An American Werewolf in London begins with two backpacking young Americans finding their way to a mysterious village somewhere in Yorkshire.  They are attacked on the moors by a werewolf – one is killed and one survives, thus carrying on the werewolf’s curse.  Recovering in a London hospital, the survivor, David (David Naughton) is cared for by nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter).  His nightmares soon erupt into vicious attacks as he transforms, under the full moon, into a werewolf. american_werewolf_in_london_poster_04

This film is an absolute classic of the genre.  There are genuine jump-out-of-your-seat shocks, moments of bloody gore and a tragic love story that combine into a thrilling experience.  The special effects make-up (by Rick Baker) is still out standing today, particularly the transformation scene.

Often described as a “horror comedy”, there is a humorous tone in moments throughout the film which helps create the light and dark shades.  Director John Landis, however, has stated that An American Werewolf… is not a comedy, it just uses the lighter shades to create impact for the more horrible scenes.  Landis blends the moods superbly.  There are also numerous nods to the werewolf movies of the past; both verbally (The Wolfman and Curse of the Werewolf both get a nod) and in the structure of the film.

I’ve seen this film many, many times since Mum first switched channels after ten minutes. I’ve even seen it on the big screen, for a special late night showing a couple of years ago. The film’s ability to shock is now lost on me somewhat – I know when every scare is due to happen.  But I still enjoy watching this film and absorb every incredibly clever touch that Landis utilises.  It’s made a massive impression on me – I still remember the first time I was way down deep on the London underground, and gained an appreciation of the loneliness and isolation in one particular scene.

An American Werewolf In London: if you’ve not seen it, see it now.  But not in a dodgy theatre in Piccadilly Circus, obviously.

10/10