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

The Incredible Halloween Horror Fest

Cujo (1983)

I’ve not read all of Stephen King’s books, but I’ve read a handful and enjoyed them all.  A great deal of his books translate into equally great movies.  Some, like Maximum Overdrive, do not (though I thought it was kinda fun, anyway).

In Cujo, a nice old dog gets bitten by a bat and becomes rabid.  He attacks a couple of people and traps bored suburban housewife Dee Wallace and her young son in their broken down car.  The pair are terrorised by Cujo whilst they wait for rescue, or some way to attempt an escape.

Admittedly, I’ve not read Cujo, so don’t have any background on the tale itself.  The film takes a fair old while to get moving, so much so that I was beginning to wish I’d watched the classic Zoltan – Hound of Dracula instead.  This movie was looking to become one of those unfortunate King stories that become mediocre movies.

Things start to rev up when Cujo starts maiming people, though it’s a long wait.  Yet when Wallace and her boy are trapped in their car, the tension mounts considerably.  Their fear and desperation are vivid, ensuring the slow burn is worth persevering with.

I’m sure the book would be a much more satisfying experience – King is so good at delving into the mind and motivations of his small town characters, that the detail always becomes riveting.  I didn’t find the movie as engrossing as others, but the final act of the film – with Wallace becoming more and more terrified – takes Cujo out of the “dud” category and into the “not bad at all”.

7/10

The Halloween Horror Fest Zone

The Dead Zone (1983)

More Stephen King for our latest helping of Halloween Horror Fest movie madness.  The Dead Zone, directed by David Cronenberg, is based on the King novel of the same name.

In this film, we meet Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), a down to earth school teacher who falls into a five year coma following a horrendous car accident.  When he comes to in hospital, Johnny finds that he has gained psychic powers.

Johnny’s new-found abilities lead him to intervene in some potential disasters, and help the police in their search for a serial killer. 

But an encounter with dodgy politician Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen) leaves Johnny with a vision of Stillson becoming the US President and causing mass destruction.  Smith has no choice but to ensure that this never happens…

Walken is superb in the lead role, always believable despite the fantastic premise.  The audience can’t fail to empathise with the character- Johnny has lost everything following his accident – and Walken’s performance is spot on.  Johnny Smith isn’t a hero, he’s just a normal guy who has found himself thrust into bizarre circumstances.

Sheen is chilling as the unhinged senatorial candidate.  Brooke Adams, as Johnny’s lost love Sarah, is very moving and Tom Skerrit is note perfect as the beleaguered Sheriff.

Cronenberg gets the best out of his cast and manages to distil the novel into an authentic and highly entertaining thriller.  The Dead Zone is not the scariest Halloween movie, but it is immensely watchable.

King’s original novel is also highly recommended.  For a book nearly 40 years old, it’s unnervingly relevant in showing how a political outsider manages to gain mass appeal.  Almost like the writer had psychic powers…

8/10 

Halloween Horror Fest’s Lot

Salem’s Lot (1979)

Next up for Halloween Horror Fest 2018, an absolute horror classic!  Based on the book by horror master Stephen King, directed by the great Tobe Hooper, Salem’s Lot really is a fantastic piece of spine chilling story telling.

Originally a TV mini series, Salem’s Lot manages to cram in a great deal of the detail from King’s exceptional novel.  Although it’s been released as an edited version, it was the full 3 hour plus version that I indulged in. 

Ben Mears (David Soul), a slightly successful writer, returns to his home town of Salem’s Lot.  There he intends to write his next work, inspired by the local haunted house.  That particular building has recently been bought by newcomers to Salem’s Lot, antique dealing duo Mr Barlow and Mr Straker (James Mason).

Before long, the town is plagued by disappearances and then deaths, as the populace become victims of a tide of – vampirism!   Can Ben and his cohorts destroy the menace before it’s too late?

Salem’s Lot is a definite favourite of mine.  I first saw a short segment when I was a kid, only to have my mum switch the TV off in shock when confronted by a particularly startling moment!  I don’t think I slept for several nights afterwards. Years later I managed to make it all the way through, though Salem’s Lot still has an almost uncanny power to chill.

Seeing the entire movie, I was also inspired to read King’s novel – it became the first volume of his that I’d read.  It’s still my favourite.

Both James Mason and David Soul are excellent in their roles.  Mason you know will be top class; watching Soul the viewer realise how good an actor he really is.  Both are ably supported by a talented cast who create some of the huge tapestry of small town life that’s integral to both book and film.

Tobe Hooper weaves all this together with incredible skill, resulting in a film which although made for TV, still has plenty of chills.  Hooper can’t rely on gore or any shocks that would have been allowed in the cinema.  He’s forced to use other tricks to create an air of suspense – or outright horror – and Salem’s Lot is all the better for it.

All these years later, Salem’s Lot is still spectacularly entertaining – and very, very frightening.  I still don’t sleep with the curtains open.  Do you?

10/10

The Nightmare Before Halloween Horror Fest

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

This year, we’ve tried to include our 7 year old daughter in Halloween Horror Fest as much as we can.  Obviously, we’re not going to show her The Exorcist, but The Nightmare Before Christmas was a perfect choice.

It’s a fantastic animated movie, full of creepy and imaginative characters, from the mind of that good old Halloween advocate, Tim Burton. 

Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, where he presides over the preparations for celebrating the spooky holiday.  Although this year, he’s bored of Halloween – and a chance trip to Christmas Town gives him a spark of inspiration.  Enthused by the joy of Christmas, Jack decides to take over that holiday, and deliver Christmas cheer to the world.

It doesn’t take much to guess that this will all go a teeny bit wrong…

We all loved The Nightmare Before Christmas, with it’s enjoyable mix of classic stop motion animation and quirky songs.  The film is amazing to watch, the detail is spellbinding and the story easy to follow for everyone.  In particular, I was very impressed with the diversity of background characters – nerd heaven.

Excellent family entertainment, especially if your family is Halloween crazy like ours!

9/10

Dreamcatcher (2003)

A group of four friends are off to spend their annual weekend away in a cabin in the woods.  This year, however, events take a horrific turn.  At first caught in a blizzard, they find that there is a disease outbreak of some kind, with the military involved and everyone being evacuated.

Except we learn that the outbreak is actually caused by extra terrestrials, with a diabolical plan to take over the world.  Can these evil aliens be stopped before it’s too late? 

This is really well made film, with good performances and a meandering plot that keeps the viewer guessing.  However in the end, I found it a bit too much of a Frankenstein patchwork of an idea.

Based on a Stephen King book, I can’t judge how accurate a version this is as I’ve not read the source material.  But the movie comes across as a somewhat garbled mix of King’s own It, plus The Thing, Alien, X-files and a ton of other stuff.  Factor in the most gross-out, toilet based gore I’ve ever seen and we’re left with a strange film that never adds up to the sum of it’s parts.

Too many ideas (and influences) bolted together to be truly satisfying, Dreamcatcher is entertaining but not essential.

7/10