Halloween: Resurrection, and Rob Zombie’s Halloween & Halloween II

HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002) In one of the many WTF moments in the Halloween franchise, Resurrection boasts perhaps the most insanely ridiculous explanation for Michael Myers’ return. After mistaking a paramedic as Michael and cutting off the poor guy’s head at the end of H20, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been locked inside an asylum for three years. As per usual, Laurie’s “Mikey Senses” tingle, and before you can say “retcon,” she succumbs to Michael’s knife in a very disheartening demise for the most famous Final Girl in slasher movie history. With Laurie’s death, a monolithic question arises: What does Michael Myers do now that he’s finally killed his other sister? The answer Resurrection brings forth is to murder more nubile young people with his ginormous butcher’s knife, of course, all of whom are conveniently filming a live webcam event at his childhood house on Lampkin Lane. Oh, boy! Halloween: Resurrection is just plain dumb. The story is soulless and makes no sense, the characters are fifth-generation photocopies of Halloweens past, and Michael is about as scary as a walking salami. Yet, Resurrection is often so bad it’s entertaining in a completely cheap and gimmicky way, like a trashy shot-on-video flick from the ’80s. Also, where else are you ever going to see Busta Rhymes do kung-fu on Michael Myers? It ain’t as bad as Halloween Ends. C

HALLOWEEN (2007) I was not a fan of Rob Zombie’s reimagining of John Carpenter’s masterpiece when it originally came out. I was so in my fanboy, “you-can’t-touch-this” mindset that I essentially shut down and poo-pooed the entire movie simply because it wasn’t the perfect scare show the ’78 vehicle was. After recently watching the abhorrent Halloween Ends, I decided to give Zombie’s film another try – well, actually, this was probably the fourth or fifth time – and my perspective of the 2007 version has changed completely. I now understand what Zombie was doing by focusing on 10-year-old Michael (Daeg Faerch) as a sort of Jeffrey Dahmer-esque animal-killer, and his white trash family. Zombie was making his story all about Michael and less about Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton). Once grown Michael (Taylor Mane) escapes from the institution, the film basically follows the same structural footsteps as Carpenter’s, with Mikey seeking his sister, Laurie, and killing anyone who gets in his way, including Laurie’s parents (Dee Wallace and Pat Skipper) in one of the movie’s more intense sequences. A visceral fast pace and quick cuts gives the experience a fresh take on the overplayed story, successfully creating a Halloween that both feels different but respects the subject matter; a true testament to Zombie’s love for the genre. The movie runs out of steam towards the end (especially in the two-hour director’s cut) and Laurie and her friends feel like hollow replicas of the original, but this is solid stuff worthy of a rewatch. And, it’s better than Halloween Ends. B

HALLOWEEN II (2009) A lot has been said about Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. I don’t agree with most of it, but I can argue that it’s probably the most violent in the entire Halloween series. Is it good? No. Is it entertaining? Not really. There’s a big shift in tone from the 2007 movie. The Michael in Halloween II is almost animalistic, presenting more of a lumbering, Leatherface-esque personality who, in the first 10 minutes, saws off the head of a paramedic with a shard of broken glass in grisly detail. Two years after the events of Zombie’s Halloween, Michael has survived and is roaming the land (unmasked) doing a self-exploration/meditation thing and having angelic visions of his dead mom (Sheri Moon Zombie). Over in Haddonfield, Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) is suffering from severe PTSD and has turned into an annoying punk rock vegan who screams at her psychiatrist (Margot Kidder) when she’s not having epileptic fits and nightmares about murdering best friend, Annie (Danielle Harris). Dr. Loomis (Malcom McDowell) is riding high off the success of his tell-all book about Michael, revealing to the world Michael’s blood relationship with Laurie. An hour later, Michael finally makes it back to his hometown and the bodies start to pile. Much like Laurie, Halloween II is all over the place and can’t seem to find its footing. Zombie is trying for a more thoughtful take on the perspective of what makes a serial killer, as well as the repercussions of post-traumatic stress and its long-term psychological impact on friends and family. At the same time, the exploitative nature of certain scenes – Annie’s death has her totally naked and on the bathroom floor covered in blood – are so explicitly violent that it almost feels like there are two movies happening. It all builds to a hilariously awful climax that’s so OTT and exhausted by its “enlightened” ideas that when Laurie (in the lengthy director’s cut) is shot down by cops you’ll be applauding. But, it’s better than Halloween Ends. C

The Burning Moon, Dracula, The Exorcist III, and Trick

THE BURNING MOON (1992) It’s always disheartening when you sit down to watch a movie that has notoriety and, by the end, you find yourself more bored than shocked – a good example is A Serbian Film. This is also the case with The Burning Moon, an infamous, shot-on-video German splatter flick that’s just a 90-minute geek show of outrageous but very low-budget gore FX. A cretinous teenage drug addict tells his kid sister two violent bedtime stories: “Julia’s Love” depicts a young woman and her family being butchered by an escaped mental patient; “The Purity” has a psychopathic priest who believes rape and murder cleanses the soul and sets his victims free. The makeup ranges from mediocre to piss-poor, done by people who don’t seem to understand human anatomy. Despite the low-grade gore, whenever it’s not on screen the movie is super lame, with too many instances of dull characters performing mundane daily activities, like emptying a dishwasher. The film crescendos during a hallucination depicting hell, a nearly 10-minute sequence in which a lot of fake blood and body parts are thrown around, including a bit where a man is split in half when his legs are pulled apart. What filmmaker Olaf Ittenbach doesn’t understand is if the viewer doesn’t believe anything that’s unfolding in front of them, all the decapitated heads in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans. D

DRACULA (1931) One of the most influential horror films of the early part of the 20th century, this crisp, elegant adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel is still a great example of classic Hollywood horror. Bela Lugosi takes the story to new heights with his portrayal of Count Dracula that is both seductive and sad, giving the movie a layer of mastery that’s still untouched within the genre – Christopher Lee is probably the closest an actor has come to matching Lugosi’s intense charisma. Tod Browning’s exquisite direction and Karl Freund’s beautiful B&W photography creates an atmospheric work of originality that inspired countless gothic horror films in the years to come. The script (by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, from their 1924 play) is simple and to the point – wisely switching out the rather dull Jonathan Harker subplot with Dwight Frye’s more interesting Renfield – and while some scenes seem a bit campy and outdated, the overall effect of the film works splendidly. A

THE EXORCIST III (1990) William Peter Blatty adapted his own novel, Legion, for this third outing in the Exorcist series, and in doing so created an excellent film that more than makes up for the train wreck that is Exorcist II: The Heretic. When Det. Kinderman (George C. Scott) discovers similarities between a string of recent murders and the crimes of the Gemini Killer from 15 years earlier, he begins to wonder if the serial killer (Brad Dourif), executed the same night of Regan MacNeil’s exorcism, is truly dead. Things get complicated when an unidentified patient at a local sanitarium claiming to be the Gemini Killer looks to Kinderman exactly like Father Karras (Jason Miller). Blatty (who also wrote the screenplay) wisely balances the broody tone of the film with moments of dark humor, especially between Kinderman (played by Lee J. Cobb in the 1973 movie) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders). Scott is first-rate, and Dourif equally impressive as Patient X, a role that seems to have been a warm-up to his chilling performance as psychopathic con man, Luther Lee Boggs, in The X-Files. Good dialogue mixed with classic scares make The Exorcist III a worthy sequel. B+

TRICK (2019) An uninspired slasher about a seemingly unstoppable killer nicknamed Trick who returns every Halloween to massacre teenagers, despite the fact the main suspect (Thom Niemann) in the first series of murders was shot down by cops. The local police think it’s the work of a copycat, but seasoned detective Denver (Omar Epps) believes the original killer is still alive and will continue to slaughter people until he’s finally put down for good. A lifeless, by-the-numbers script littered with too many plot conveniences and holes, this is further harmed by awful, over-lit digital photography, cheap makeup effects, and a lotta non-acting by its talented cast, most of whom probably signed on for the paycheck. Tom Atkins is wasted. D

Def by Temptation, Disturbing Behavior, Endangered Species, and The Fly II

DEF BY TEMPTATION (1990) Young minister-in-training, Joel (James Bond III), while visiting his childhood friend, K (Kadeem Hardison), in New York City gets caught up in sinful desire in the form of a demonic seductress known as Temptation (Cynthia Bond). When K realizes Temptation doesn’t cast a reflection, he and a friend (Bill Nun) seek help from a spiritualist in an effort to release Joel from her lustful grip. This feels like a Spike Lee take on the blaxploitation movies of the ’70s, with a solid, if not entirely successful, merging of cheesy horror theatrics and religious symbolism. Bond III (also the director) is somewhat miscast as Joel – the more animated Hardison might have been a better choice for the role – and the film gets a bit too arty at times (the color red is an obvious metaphor for evil). This is still interesting stuff, even if it builds to a predicable, Good vs. Evil ending. B

DISTURBING BEHAVIOR (1998) After the death of his brother, Steve (James Marsden) and his family move to the quiet seaside town of Cradle Bay, where the high school is lorded over by a group of letterman jacket-wearing goodie two-shoes called the Blue Ribbons. Viewed by the burnouts and skaters as just an uncool club for the privileged, Steve, and new friends, Gavin (Nick Stahl) and Rachel (Katie Holmes), realize the Ribbons were former maladjusted misfits who’ve been implanted with microchips, reprogrammed by a Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood), and transformed into outstanding citizens. But, when the robo-teens get sexually aroused, their wires short circuit, turning them into uncontrollable psychopaths. A sort-of cross between The Stepford Wives and the terrific 1981 Australian chiller, Dead Kids, this was a victim of massive pre-release cutting and re-editing by distributor MGM, resulting in a lesser version of what was intended. This is still a good little flick with likable characters and a quick pace by director David Nutter. William Sadler steals the show in a scene-chewing performance as the school’s janitor who speaks in a thick Maine accent. B

ENDANGERED SPECIES (1982) When the mutilated bodies of cows start littering the farms of a small Colorado town, speculation of everything from aliens to a Satanic cult fuel the flames of panicked locals, especially when human bodies start to follow. Ignored by the town’s bigwigs, the sheriff (JoBeth Williams) joins forces with an out-of-town ex-cop (Robert Urich) to find out the truth, and soon discover a renegade branch of government performing germ warfare experiments in an abandoned missile silo just out of town. An interesting cross between a conspiracy thriller and sci-fi/horror film, Endangered Species is often difficult to follow and feels like it would have benefited from being an hour-long X-Files episode. Williams is good in a role that’s a nice change of pace from Poltergeist, while Urich (of TV’s S.W.A.T. and Vegas) doesn’t get a whole lot to do but act like a jerk. A moderately entertaining flick, but I just wish there had been more meat to the screenplay. C+

THE FLY II (1989) This bigger, but less complex, sequel to David Cronenberg’s masterpiece has the son of Seth Brundle, Martin (Eric Stoltz), being raised in an advanced government science lab by the man who funded Brundlefly’s teleportation experiments in the first film (Lee Richardson). When Martin’s dormant fly DNA catches up with his accelerated growth rate, he slowly turns into his father’s son, metamorphosing into a monster and seeking revenge on the scientists who’ve wronged him. This one was unfairly criticized for not measuring up to Cronenberg’s first, which is an unreasonable comparison on almost every level. Director Chris Walas – who also oversaw the first-rate make-up FX – does his best with the material, delivering a solid flick with interesting characters and some gory, icky moments that could give the Brundlefly a run for its money. If simply viewed as an old-fashioned monster movie, The Fly II works surprisingly well. B

Halloween Ends (Badly)

By Frank Pittarese

Here’s what happens: Completely disregarding her emotional and mental state of the previous films — and despite the brutal murder of her daughter —  Laurie Strode is living a happy, pie-making suburban life in Haddonfield, with her Awful Granddaughter, Allyson. Meanwhile, troubled misfit Corey Cunningham encounters Michael Myers, and after some true nonsense happens, is lead down a dark (and muddled) path as Michael’s…apprentice? Amidst CW-style romance, shoddy internal continuity, and happenings that make Riverdale seem plausible, the filmmakers remember that Michael Myers is why we’re here, and quickly shoehorn him into a proactive role in the final act for a showdown with Laurie. Nothing makes sense. The end.

This long review will be FULL OF SPOILERS; there’s no way around it. Scroll on, if you like. Or, for your spoiler-free pleasure: Grade D-

I have conflicted feelings about Halloween (2018) and Halloween Kills, but taken on their own merits — which itself takes an effort — they’re decent, fine-for-a-thrill movies. Halloween Ends, taken on its own merits, is a disaster. Undoing whatever good will they’ve established in the previous two movies, director David Gordon Green and his too-large-to-function writing team have spun a story that plays out like a cinematic head injury. Things don’t track from the previous films, which is bad enough, but the body of this movie itself is, largely, incoherent.

The previous two entries in this cycle firmly established certain things:

-Laurie, irreparably traumatized, was obsessed with the idea of Michael Myers, to the point of living in a homemade, booby-trapped, armed fortress.

-The town of Haddonfield was still mourning the deaths of four (FOUR) people, some forty years prior.

-Michael’s return to Haddonfield was the fault of his evil doctor.

-The more Michael kills, the stronger he gets.

-Michael killed people with a personal connection to Laurie: Chief Brackett, Tommy Doyle, her son-in-law, Ray, and, ultimately, Laurie’s own daughter, Karen. Michael also slaughtered at least thirty people in 2018, including an entire fire brigade and a massive number of average citizens.

Those aren’t things I’ve fan-wanked. Those are things the creators TOLD us and SHOWED us.

So what does Halloween Ends do? It’s says “Fuck that. Fuck ALL of that!” In this one…

-Laurie, despite the death of her own daughter and friends, is happily living a trauma-free life, literally carving out Halloween pumpkins to celebrate the holiday. HALLOWEEN PUMPKINS. On the anniversary of her loved one’s murders. For 40 years, Michael sat in prison and this woman built herself a high-security, weaponized hideout. Now, she knows he’s on the loose and she’s baking pies. This is not a fake-out. There’s no secret armory in the basement. Her daughter died, Mike’s in the wind, and after some lip service about “therapy,” Laurie has, in this reboot series, been rebooted, herself.

-Haddonfield mourned Michael’s handful of victims from 1978, but the thirty from 2018? Firefighters torn to shreds? Eh, it’s been four years. Never mind them. Life is back to normal. Let’s dance.

-Laurie, for some reason, is blamed by the general public and by her own Awful Granddaughter for Michael’s 2018 return, DESPITE EVERYONE KNOWING IT WAS HIS EVIL DOCTOR — including Awful Granddaughter, whom said evil doctor trapped with Michael in the back of a police car. But sure…blame Laurie.

-Michael, despite slaying an entire mob of people with superhuman strength at the end of Halloween Kills, is now weak and feeble. Homeboy is living Pennywise-style in the Haddonfield sewers. But they TOLD us in the previous movie that killing makes him stronger. That’s what we SAW. He should be fine. He should be ROBUST. But the creators are stupid and/or lazy. They need Michael weak to boost Corey Cunningham’s storyline.

Oy…Corey Cunningham…

Corey is a poor soul who, in a 2019 cold-open, accidentally killed the obnoxious kid he was babysitting. Corey encounters Michael Myers in his sewer hideaway (long story), and when Michael tries to strangle Corey, Myers apparently sees into Corey’s mind, witnesses his memories, and lets him go! But Corey is changed. Corey is now (psychically?) “infected” by evil. Seemingly now-channeling Michael, he wanders through town in a scarecrow mask, killing bullies and/or anyone else he encounters. At one point, he even brings Michael a victim, like Slasher Seamless. Later, Corey beats up Michael(!) and steals HIS mask(!!) before running off to kill Laurie(!!!). This is enough for Michael to remember that he’s in this story, and he just shows up out of nowhere to fight Laurie himself.

(BTW, Corey is dating Laurie’s Awful Granddaughter, who is one of the worst characters in the entire franchise. I’d sit through yet another sequel if it meant seeing her get eaten by alligators.)

It’s just…it’s a vomit of randomness. It plods on for two hours with no focus at all; or rather, a misplaced focus. There’s no atmosphere or tension. There’s no POINT except for some psychobabble about evil-as-contagion. It’s like when you get hired for a job and say, “Yeah, I know Excel.” But you don’t know Excel, so you fake it till you can learn it. That’s what the writing on this movie is like. They fake it, but they never learn it.

This could and should have been a straightforward Laurie vs. Michael story. After what happened, it’s only natural that Laurie would want revenge. (The Extended Cut of Halloween Kills literally ends with Laurie storming out of the hospital and saying, “I’m coming, Michael,” but I guess she ran out of gas). Plus, Lindsey Wallace, played by a returning Kyle Richards, is RIGHT THERE, with a personal investment, but she has maybe ten lines, total. Imagine Laurie and Lindsey, two strong women, legit survivors of “The Night HE Came Home,” hunting down the guy that so horrifically impacted their lives… That’s all the story we want. That’s all the story we NEED.

But nope. We’ve got Brady Bunch Laurie, a Mini-Me Michael, some hullaballoo about “evil infections” in a film that feels like it was directed by eight people and written round-robin-style on a drunken road trip. “You write a scene, and YOU write a scene, and YOU write a scene!!” They were so busy circle-jerking that Michael actually only kills three people himself in the whole, two-hour movie. Three. And there’s STILL no sign of Ben Tramer.

The positives are sparse. The cold open makes a fun, gruesome short story. Rohan Campbell’s Corey is very endearing and likable (before they ruin him with that dumb mind-link). The fact that it’s so astonishingly messy almost makes it watchable. My investment in the Halloween franchise is low (Friday the 13th is my jam), and at least this was better than the terrible Halloween: Resurrection, and there are a few decently gory kills. And the “ends” part of Halloween Ends is accurate. It does feel like it’s legitimately over. Oh, they’ll make five more in my lifetime, no doubt, but unless there’s another retcon, we DO get closure.

But for actual closure, in a well-told, logical story, watch H20. It outshines Ends by miles.

Final thoughts: This movie is the end of a 40-year-old narrative, the conclusion to Laurie’s traumatic struggle which David Gordon Green repeatedly underscored in his own first two films. He had a creative obligation to the fans here. It’s not some five-year-old trilogy that he created (in that case, go ahead, dude, do as you please). Tell the story, finish the story, but don’t abandon the story — which is exactly what he did. Narratives have structure. Objectively, editorially, he failed. As a conclusion to a trilogy, as a wrap-up to events HE put forth, he failed. No matter how enjoyable some people are finding this film (and hooray to those who like it; I’m happy for you), Green just plain dropped the ball by being self-indulgent.

Grade (and thanks for reading if you got this far): D

But it’s so, sooooo dancing on the edge of an F.

Frank Pittarese is a long-time comic book editor and Brooklyn native. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Spotlight: V/H/S

V/H/S (2012) The first of the low-fi found footage anthology series offers five unsettling tales of terror from a handful of filmmakers, including Ti West and Adam Wingard. A group of petty criminals are hired to break into a remote house and steal a VHS tape, the contents of which are unknown. In doing so, they uncover a stash of tapes and watch several. Tape 1 (“Amateur Night”) offers the best segment, in which a trio of partying bro-types pick-up a mysterious woman at a bar and bring her back to their hotel room for sex only to discover that she’s an inhuman creature. Tape 2 (“Second Honeymoon”) is a slow burn featuring a couple encountering a strange woman while on a road trip, while Tape 3 (“Tuesday the 17th”) offers up old school slicing and dicing as some horny teens are stalked by a supernatural killer. The goosebump-inducing Tape 4 (“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”) presents a clever webcam tale where a young woman seeks advice from her med school boyfriend while being bombarded by ghostly activity. The fun final segment (“10/31/98”) has a quartet of friends invited to a Halloween party where they stumble upon a Satanic ritual. Although not all of the tales are perfect – West’s second chapter could have benefited from a more satisfying outcome – they are entertaining and never dull. The filmmakers also understand how to use the found footage gimmick to their advantage by creating genuinely chilling moments of dread mixed with real-world scenarios. B+

V/H/S/2 (2013) In a sequel filled with surprises, V/H/S/2 has the distinction of being a rare follow-up that’s actually better than the original. A slimy P.I. looking for a missing college student discovers a collection of VHS tapes in the student’s house and watches them. “Phase I Clinical Trials” presents old school haunted house chills, with a man (director Adam Wingard) seeing ghostly visitors at his home after undergoing an experimental eye transplant. A bicyclist inadvertently rides into a zombie invasion in the gory and funny “A Ride in the Park,” directed by Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale. A documentary crew doing a film on a secretive Indonesian cult step into literal hell in Gareth Evan’s and Timo Tjahjanto’s thrilling “Safe Haven.” A group of teens are terrorized by an alien attack during a sleepover in the terrific wrap-up, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” a small piece of brilliant found footage perfection by Jason Eisener. Tighter-paced and jam-packed with visual details and humor, V/H/S/2 offers the same story structure as V/H/S, but as with the best of sequels it respects the format while offering fresh ideas and highly inventive gags. All of the tales work, but the standout is “Safe Haven,” a gory, intense knockout which deserves its own movie. The best in the series so far. A

V/H/S: VIRAL (2014) A mysterious ice cream truck broadcasting an unknown cell transmission, which causes people to act violently, is the framing story for the third V/H/S outing, an unfortunate downgrade in quality. The stories (shortened to three segments) don’t seem to connect to the wrap-around at all, creating a lack in structural rhythm that the first two V/H/S films had. A white trash magician (Justin Welborn) discovers a demonic cloak that grants him the ability to create real magic, but at a sinister cost. A scientist (Gustavo Salmerón), who creates a doorway to a parallel universe, swaps places with himself and finds out the other side is not exactly the same. A group of annoying skater punks fight for their lives against a swarm of undead cultists in the final video. Lacking scares and any shred of suspense, Viral feels more like a cheap rip-off than an actual sequel, especially coming on the heels of the excellent V/H/S/2. The second tale, “Parallel Monsters,” offers some interesting ideas and is the best directed of the lot (by Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo, Timecrimes), while the last, “Bonestorm,” is lazy and overstays its welcome. The first story, “Dante the Great,” uses several scenes of non-POV framing, putting a serious dent in the whole found footage packaging. Did the director (Gregg Bishop) forget the point of the movie’s title? C

V/H/S/94 (2021) A return to form, V/H/S/94 brings back the scares and humor that were sorely missing from Viral. Believing they’re participating in a drug raid, a S.W.A.T. team instead discovers a large warehouse filled with the corpses of what appears to have been the mass murder site of a cult-like group that worshipped violent videocassettes. “Storm Drain” is a terrific way to open the movie, with news footage of a journalist (Anna Hopkins) whose investigation of a local urban legend called the Rat Man takes her too close to the gruesome truth. The creepy “The Empty Wake” is a video of a young woman (Kyal Legend) hired to host the wake for a man who isn’t as dead as she’s been told. “The Subject” presents more bloody mayhem by director Timo Tjahjanto (“Safe Haven” from V/H/S/2) as a deranged surgeon (Budi Ross) performs diabolical human experiments in order to create the perfect robot/human killing machine. The last story, “Terror,” is the strongest in the movie and best utilizes the found footage style the series is built on: a backwoods terrorist group plan on using their vampire prisoner, whose blood violently explodes in direct sunlight, as a weapon to blow up a government building. As with the best of the V/H/S films, 94 is creepy, funny, gory, and brings a freshness to the found footage arena. B+

Alien Predators, The Fog, and More

ALIEN PREDATORS (1987) Bland American tourists traveling through the Spanish countryside are beset by parasitic alien beings that have taken over the minds of the locals and turned them into killers. It sounds like a rip-off of John McTiernan’s Predator, but this boring, low-tech creature feature was actually released first overseas as The Falling, a more appropriate name considering the title beasties don’t actually appear on-screen until the last five minutes. The three protagonists (Lynn-Holly Johnson, Dennis Christopher, and Martin Hewitt) are dull, there’s too many moments of misplaced humor, and the special FX leave a lot to be desired, although there are a couple of good (but brief) bits when the aliens burst out of their victims’ faces. According to Terror on Tape, this sat on the shelf for several years before being released in the States, direct-to-video, and it’s easy to see why. D+

THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971) A killer uses a paralyzing agent to subdue his victims before carving them up with a steel blade in this slick Italian slasher. The giallo template is in play, with a gloved killer (although this time it’s transparent latex gloves) and a mystery/whodunit plot revolving around the brutal slayings of women in Rome, all of whom might have connections to a blackmail ring. The movie is very well acted – even the English dubbing is good – and directed by Paolo Cavara, with shades of inspiration emanating from Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Unlike many gialli of the time, the killer’s identity is actually unpredictable, creating a nicely-crafted thriller. Ennio Morricone did the musical score. B

THE FOG (1980) Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween was this effective ghost tale that employed many of the director’s strengths, which would come to make him one of the strongest genre filmmakers of the 1980s. On the eve of small coastal town, Antonio Bay’s, centennial, the specters of murdered lepers come back for revenge against the descendants of those who conspired to kill them, including the town’s priest (Hal Holbrook). An excellent cast (Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh), an eerie atmosphere enhanced by Carpenter’s terrific use of anamorphic widescreen framing, and a handful of good scares help make The Fog work extremely well, even when the plot doesn’t always make sense. Barbeau is a wonderful protagonist, but doesn’t get nearly enough to do. That’s a small price to pay for a classic movie. A

THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! (1972) Probably the most famous title in Staten Island filmmaker, Andy (The Ghastly Ones) Milligan’s, colorful repertoire, this period piece was filmed in the lush English countryside, but it’s nothing more than a bargain basement Dark Shadows rip-off. The movie features the temperamental Mooneys, an aristocratic family trying to maneuver around the upcoming marriage of its youngest daughter to a medical student – without revealing the family’s cursed secret of werewolfitis. This is overflowing with problems, the biggest being a lack of any sort of plot, with the flimsy story structure resting entirely on the werewolf secret, even though no one actually turns into a wolf until the last 10 minutes. Shot in 1969, the rats of the title were added years later to try and cash-in on the success of Willard. Bad lighting, dreadful sound, murky photography, and hilariously awful make-up effects rank this as one of the worst werewolf flicks of all time. Unfairly categorized alongside Herschell Gordon Lewis, Milligan had more in common with Ed Wood and his pretenses for creating “serious” films, ultimately Milligan’s curse. D

Angel Heart, Body Snatchers, Hellraiser, and Tales from the Hood

ANGEL HEART (1987) Interesting, but sedate, filming of William Hjortsberg’s book, Falling Angel, about 1950s gumshoe, Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke), who’s hired by the strange Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to track down a former client who disappeared years earlier. Harry’s search brings him to New Orleans, where he discovers the voodoo-practicing daughter (Lisa Bonet) of the missing man, along with a string of brutal, Satanic-like murders. Director Alan Parker gives the film a gritty atmosphere filled with amazing detail and some truly impressive sequences, some of which are so visually arty and cryptic that it often slows down the plot. The real strength of the movie is Rourke, who gives an excellent performance and sucks the viewer into the story even when it’s not always working. B

BODY SNATCHERS (1993) A loose but well-written adaptation of the Jack Finney book, this moves the action to Alabama, where the Malone family takes temporary residency while father, Steve (Terry Kinney), an Environmental Protection Agent, does research for a military base. The stressful move makes things tense between pouty teenager, Marti (Gabrielle Anwar), and her stepmother, Carol (Meg Tilly), a situation made worse when Marti discovers the base is being taken over by alien pod people who plan on using the military’s power to enact a countrywide invasion, and stepmom is on the takeover list. Despite coming in after the release of the first two (and superior) Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this ’90s version is good stuff, with strong direction from Abel Ferrera (Driller Killer), a suspenseful screenplay written by Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon, Dennis (From Beyond) Paoli, and Nicholas (King of New York) St. John, and a first-rate cast, including an underused Forest Whitaker. Anwar makes for a likable Final Girl, but Tilly steals the show in a chilling scene that could give Donald Sutherland a run for his money. B

HELLRAISER (2022) A remake of Clive Barker’s classic was always inevitable, and luckily this modern “reworking” of the 1987 film is mostly handled with care by director David Bruckner (V/H/S, The Night House). Trying to make extra money in order to move out of her brother’s apartment, recovering drug addict, Riley (Odessa A’zion), along with her shady boyfriend, Trevor (Drew Starkey), steals a mysterious crate containing the dreaded Lament Configuration. When Riley’s brother (Brandon Flynn) is targeted by the Cenobites, unearthly creatures who feed off human suffering, Riley must figure out how to get him back before she and her friends become next on the demons’ hit list. Riley and gang are essentially disposable, Gen-Z bimbos, and a subplot involving a millionaire’s obsession (and ultimate sacrifice) with the puzzle box is just a repeat of the Dr. Channard storyline from Hellbound: Hellraiser II. What makes this new Hellraiser interesting is the attention and detail given to the Cenobites, all of whom feel genuine and sinister. My main complaint (if it really is one) is the movie looks too good, too polished for what it is. The Cenobites’ make-up designs, while impressive, are smooth and shiny, creating an attractive, pleasing-to-the-eye array of creepy but pretty creatures – sort of a supermodel variant of Doug Bradley’s iconically wicked Pinhead. A departure from the gruesome (and appropriate) ickiness of the original. Hell should never look this clean. C+

TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995) Underrated anthology focusing on a trio of drug dealers looking to score at a South Central mortuary but end up coming face-to-face with Death in the form of the place’s creepy mortician, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). Simms spins four tells of terror to the dealers, stories that revolve around recently embalmed bodies that lay in observance in his parlor – an idea later ripped off in the inferior Mortuary Collection. The first story deals with police brutality as a young black officer (Anthony Griffith) gets revenge on a group of racist cops for the brutal murder of an African-American politician. The second tale features a young boy (Brandon Hammond) who holds a powerful secret over his mother’s abusive boyfriend (David Allen Grier), dubbed the “Monster.” A racist Southerner (Corbin Bernsen) running for governor is terrorized by an animated doll that harbors the soul of his ancestor’s slave. The final segment has a convicted gangbanger (Lamont Bentley) being transferred to a strange facility where a doctor (Rosalind Cash) performs psychological tests on the man. A good mix of Tales from the Crypt storytelling and socially relevant topics, with an excellent performance by Williams III, slick direction by Rusty Cundieff, and a twist ending that pays off. B+

Deadstream, Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, and More

DEADSTREAM (2022) If The Blair Witch Project and Evil Dead 2 had a baby it might look like Deadstream, a funny, reverent, and highly inventive little scare show. To facilitate his comeback, disgraced internet celebrity, Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter, co-director), decides to lock himself inside a supposedly haunted house for one night, live streaming the entire event on his social media channel. Things don’t go as planned when Shawn accidentally lets loose a vengeful spirit and her army of evil minions that turns the recording into a real horror show. Sardonically poking fun at not just found footage but the influencer/YouTube generation, the movie is able to navigate through its simple premise with sustained confidence from its successful mixing of humor and scares – not to mention some creepy and original paranormal activity. A fun, energy-filled romp with good writing (by Winter and co-director, Vanessa Winter) and some terrific prosthetic make-up FX that help give the movie an authentic love-for-the-genre feel, something sadly missing these days. B+

BLOOD AND LACE (1971) After her prostitute mother is viciously murdered by someone with a hammer, teenager Ellie (Melody Patterson) is sent to live in a youth home run by the sadistic Mrs. Deere (Gloria Graham), a psychopath who, along with her deranged handyman (Len Lesser), tortures and kills those who try to run away. Ellie becomes so embroiled in her new situation that she doesn’t realize a masked man with a hammer is stalking her from a distance. An odd little movie, this is obviously an early template for the modern slasher, complete with the red herring, the final girl, and the character who twists their ankle while being chased by the killer. Not exactly good, Blood and Lace is interesting enough to keep the viewer’s attention, up until its busy climax. The prologue depicts the point-of-view of the killer breaking into a house, taking a weapon from the kitchen drawer, and going upstairs and killing a woman in the bedroom. One wonders if John Carpenter was at all influenced by this for the opening of Halloween. C+

CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985) A group of teens get more than they bargained for on a quiet Halloween night when they bring dead serial killer, Devlon (José Gómez Parcero) back to life as part of a Satanic ritual prank. Things get even worse when the zombified Devlon uses his own black magic to make the nearby cemetery turn into a walking dead jamboree. Characters are dumb and exist solely to get their guts ripped out, but the movie’s cobweb aesthetics and gothic graveyard setting help create a fun little flick despite its shortcomings. The pacing is slow but kicks into high gear around the halfway point when the characters you think are the protagonists are dispatched and a new group of characters show up, turning the tables on the viewer. It all comes to a bloody boiling point at the end when the film explodes with energy, delivering an exciting and satisfying conclusion. B

THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974) Overrated Italian/Spanish reworking of Night of the Living Dead filmed in Derbyshire, England, in which two strangers (Ray Lovelock and Cristina Galbó) get caught in the middle of a nightmare when an experimental herbicide brings the dead back to flesh-craving life. A thick, creepy atmosphere and genuine suspense helps overcome a sluggish pace and an absurd police investigation subplot involving a hardboiled detective (Arthur Kennedy) who believes the mutilated bodies left by the zombies are actually the work of hippie Satanists! Most of the zombie action is saved for the last 20 minutes, and they’re good and gory, with excellent splatter handled by Giannetto De Rossi (Zombie). It’s easy to see where Lucio Fulci could have been inspired by this film for his future zombie epic, The Beyond. B

Dashcam, The Dead Next Door, and More

DASHCAM (2022) Towards the end of Dashcam, the protagonist, Annie (Annie Hardy), asks, “God, why do you hate me?” Anyone who watches this movie longer than a few minutes will immediately know the answer to that question. Annie is such a self-centered, aggressively annoying character one wonders if the writers (Rob Savage, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd) were intentionally trying to repel viewers. A new form of cinematic self-sabotage? Recording her life on a live streaming platform, Annie goes to London to visit her friend (Amar Chadha-Patel), but her vacation turns upside down when she gives a car ride to a strange elderly woman, and all manner of horror is unleashed. There’s a decent idea somewhere in this mess, and director Savage does a good job at employing the best out of the “shot-on-a-phone” gimmick that’s been played to death. Sadly, the POV video is so chaotic and disjointed that it’s difficult to tell what’s happening; the mythology behind the horror is underwritten and confusing, building to a “What Just Happened?” climax. A major disappointment from the makers of Host. D

THE DEAD NEXT DOOR (1989) A crude but well-intended love letter to George Romero by Akron, Ohio filmmaker J.R. Bookwalter, this low budget, gore-filled romp is so energized by its subject matter it’s hard not to find it endearing despite its limitations. A year after the walking dead have taken over, a government-issued Zombie Squad is ordered to wipe out the never-ending zombie invasion. The squad is sent to Akron where, in between blowing zombies to pieces and fighting off a militant religious group that sees the undead as holy, they must find a serum that could hold the key to curing the zombie virus. The Day of the Dead inspirations are obvious – there’s even a Bub-like smart zombie – with a lot of the story focused on the special FX, most of which are good, considering the small production budget. Shot over four years, Dead Next Door is slight but enjoyable splatter-tainment aimed at the hardcore zombie aficionado. Bruce Campbell dubbed the voice for the character named Raimi. Look for, “Romero is king,” graffiti and a character named Dr. Savini. B

MANHATTAN BABY (1982) Perhaps Reigning King of Spaghetti Splatter, Lucio Fulci’s, last semi-classic, Manhattan Baby follows an American archeologist (Christopher Connelly) who accidentally releases a malevolent spirit following the opening of an Egyptian tomb. The entity latches itself onto the archeologist’s young daughter (Brigitta Boccoli), and, once back home in New York City, begins wrecking havoc on the family and those close to them. The story is a mess and makes little sense, but the ceaselessly inventive Fulci makes it (mostly) work with a surreal quality that, like his previous films, places the plot in a heightened, dreamlike state. Surprisingly lacking the director’s trademark gore (there is a juicy bird attack near the end), this makes for a decent companion piece to Fulci’s other love letter to NYC, The New York Ripper. Funny bit: a babysitter is named Jamie Lee. B

SHE FREAK (1967) Disillusioned waitress, Jade (Claire Brennen), looking for a little excitement, gets a job with a traveling carnival, but quickly discovers her revulsion towards the place’s sideshow human oddities. After she seduces and marries the wealthy owner (Bill McKinney) for his money, she begins treating the carnival employees with distain, an act that seals her fate when the sideshow “freaks” retaliate against their abuser. A starchy, tie-dyed remake of Tod Browning’s Freaks, but unlike that 1932 classic, She Freak is lackluster in both story and execution. Brennen is undeniably charismatic and the lowbrow production quality lends the movie a quaint Herschell Gordon Lewis feel. Unfortunately, the whole film rests on its shock ending and never quite gets off the ground, but anybody who’s seen the Browning film will know what’s coming. C

Burning Bright, Cannibal Apocalypse, Documenting the Witch Path, and The Unseen

BURNING BRIGHT (2010) Intense little flick about a teenager (Briana Evigan) and her autistic brother (Charlie Tahan) trapped inside their large house with a hungry bengal tiger during a hurricane. The plot sounds like a silly B-movie from the ’50s, but this is extremely well-made with taut direction (by Carlos Brooks), a quick pace, and some genuinely suspenseful, nail-biting moments thanks to smart, likable characters and Brooks’ eye for detailed sequences. Evigan is excellent, and the special FX are used wisely and effectively. The story takes a little long to get going, but once the tiger is out of the cage the fun begins. B

CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980) Italian-made, filmed-in-Georgia, Romero/Fulci knock-off (co-written by Fulci regular, Dardano Sacchetti) about a Vietnam vet (John Saxon) who, along with two other soldiers, is exposed to a strange virus that slowly turns him into a crazed cannibal. When Saxon and Co. start biting people back home in Atlanta, the city is soon taken over by blood-thirsty ghouls. The movie is trying to be an allegory on Vietnam, but its impact is lessened due to massive plot holes (a S.W.A.T. team would never allow civilians to join a hostage negotiation), and the virus affecting characters differently due to silly plot conveniences. Saxon is good, and the make-up FX fair, but this is really just a wannabe zombie movie, minus the zombies, and the fun. Also known as Cannibals in the Street. C

DOCUMENTING THE WITCH PATH (2017) A sort of Swedish Blair Witch about three student filmmakers who wish to make a documentary about the legendary “Witch Path,” a section of forest that was used for witch trials and executions in the 17th century. Things get complicated when they find out the place has been closed off to the general public by the local township, making the mystery surrounding the place even more of a cause to venture into the woods. This ultra low-budgeter is fairly engaging for most of its short running time, delivering an unsettling mythology and likable characters. It’s too bad a last-minute twist destroys any momentum the film built, leading to an ultimately disappointing ending. C+

THE UNSEEN (1981) In the highly enjoyable last 30 minutes of The Unseen, Barbara Bach’s character, Jennifer, is trapped in the basement of a boarding house with a maladjusted, mute man-child, who endlessly terrorizes her. Unfortunately, the first 60 minutes of the movie are not as enjoyable and rather boring, as Jennifer and her two news journalist colleagues unwisely rent a room at said remote boarding house, which is owned by a foreshadow-y old coot (Sydney Lassick) and his constantly-under-duress sister (Lelia Goldoni). The man-child, Junior (Stephen Furst), is actually a product of their incestuous relationship, and is kept locked in the cellar and treated like an animal. After her coworkers are murdered, Jennifer is “thrown to the wolf,” so to speak, by Lassick, who turns out to be even more deranged than Junior. Furst is quite good as the infantile son, while Bach is competent as the damsel in distress. Too restrained for its own good; this is one film that would have benefited from some additional splatter. C+