It All Happens In The Dark

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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Witch’s Night Out

The Eternal (1998)

Michael Almereyda is a fiercely intelligent and gifted filmmaker – he filters meditations on the idea of the self and stories of addiction through a horror lens until they refract and distill into elements not usually found in genre movies. And he makes it all look easy. His two notable “horror films” are Nadja and The Eternal – and they are kindred spirits indeed – almost necessary companion pieces. While they are classified as horror and contain all the right components to fit into that niche – at heart they are more about the horrors of annihilation, self destruction and finding peace with the past. Yes, Nadja features the daughter of Dracula cutting a dark path through present day New York and The Eternal has a two thousand year old druid witch attempting to take over the body of a young heiress. But you have to look closer than that to fully appreciate them. You have to work for it.

Nora (Alison Elliott) and Jim (Jared Harris) are a married couple living in New York with their young son, Jim Jr. (Jeffrey Goldschrafe). They quite fond of the booze – well, Nora and Jim are. Nora has been experiencing intense migraines and blackouts – blackouts which are more like all consuming visions that strikes suddenly and leaves her dazed. When she is besieged by one when returning home to her apartment with Jim after some heavy drinking, she passes out and falls down some stairs, hitting her head in the process. Her doctor (Jason Miller, in his last role) tells her that she must stop drinking – not cut down, not ween herself, but quit all together – it is a necessity. He also feels the the trip the Nora and Jim and Jim Jr. are about to take to Ireland is unwise. Nora was born there and she is returning to visit her Uncle and Grandmother – her grandmother is very sick and old and Jim Jr. has never met her. Nora assures her doctor that while they are there she will give up drinking – it will be a chance to start over, to rid themselves of all their bad habits. The doctor is skeptical and supplies the film with its best line: “You’re going to Ireland to dry out?”

Driving through the Irish countryside, the three have some trouble finding the family estate and stop off in a pub for directions. The bartender tells them that they are just half an hour from their destination and should find it easily – and Nora orders two pints of Guinness, explaining that she is starving and it is like mother’s milk to her. Jim explains to junior that Guinness is not strictly alcohol because it can be classified as food. Nora says they’ll have just a few sips and be back on their way. However, that is not how it happens and the next scene is the three still in the pub, sometime later, with Nora drinking and examining a jukebox, and Jim at the bar smoking, where Jim Jr. has fallen asleep. Joe (Paul Ferriter) comes into the bar and recognizing Nora approaches her. Joe and Nora have quite a history it seems, and it is not a history Nora is eager or interested in getting into at the moment. She tells Joe that she’s back in town for a few months to visit her relatives and will be staying at her uncle’s house. Joe warns Nora that the place is poison – he’s the bog man, he talks to the gardener – her uncle has gone around the loop. Nora introduces Jim to Joe and the two have a pissing contest which escalates into a scuffle, and Nora and Jim and son flee.

On the road again, Nora has another one of her spells while she is driving and sees what appear to be large birds flying at the car – it almost seems as if they are diving directly at the windshield. She swerves and the car crashes. All are uninjured, but the vehicle is useless now. Luckily, it is then that Alice (Rachel O’Rourke) a young Irish girl, comes upon them, having been dispatched by Nora’s Uncle to retrieve them. She leads the way to the house.

When they arrive, Alice offers to show them to their rooms, but warming themselves by the fire in the study proves to be a more appealing idea. Alice says that Nora’s Uncle is mediating but that she has been told to offer them a drink. Nora likes the sound of that and also likes the look of her Uncle’s bar which has twelve year old single malt Jameson. Jim says they will refrain from the whiskey, and Nora begrudgingly goes along with him.

Uncle Bill (a game Christopher Walken) appears and welcomes them. Nora mentions the accident that they got into and Jim suggests calling someone to have the car towed. Uncle Bill says that cannot be done as Nora’s Grandmother broke the phone. They go into the kitchen and gather around a table as Alice feeds them and Nora asks about her Grandmother and how she broke the phone. Uncle Bill tells Nora that these days he has to sedate her to prevent her from ripping the house apart – she is still strong, but her mind is gone. “She can’t tell chalk from cheese.” He also tells them that he has adopted Alice, that her parents were “lost” like Nora’s.

Nora can tell from Jim’s behavior that he has been drinking and she excuses herself and takes him into the hallway where she frisks him for his flask. He says that he couldn’t resist having some of the Jameson.

Uncle Bill appears and suggests that now would be a good time for Nora to see her Grandmother. Alice shows the two Jims to their rooms while Uncle Bill leads Nora into the basement. She finds it hard going – she becomes dizzy, loses her balance, gets a bloody nose – and also finds it strange that her uncle keeps her Grandmother down there – it is so cold. With Uncle Bill’s help, he and Nora arrive at their destination and Bill says that Nora’s Grandmother is upstairs asleep in her room. What – who – he has brought her to see is someone – something else entirely. A witch. A Druid witch. Who was buried in the bog. Two thousand years ago. Not embalmed, but in a pretty good state of preservation nonetheless. Uncle Bill says he found her in one of Nora’s Grandmother’s trunks – and he’s been keeping himself occupied by learning her identity. Niamh was her name and Uncle Bill explains she was neither good, nor evil – just a creature of force – simply, uncontrollably herself. Uncle Bill goes on, supplying us with some history: Accounts of Naimh span almost two hundred years, during which time she never seemed to age. But she fell in love and that did her in. She neglected her spells, the object of her desire just wasn’t that into her, her powers were fading. She seduced the man however and became pregnant – she had the child and her lover ran off. She went mad, tracked down the scoundrel and brutally slayed him – and then did herself in. Her grieving fellow Druids prepared her corpse for its journey into the after life and buried her in the bog.



Nora doesn’t quite know what to think. As Uncle Bill talks, the corpse of the Druid witch increasingly begins to resemble Nora. At one point it looks exactly like her and opens its eyes and looks at her. Nora has had her fill of crazy for the night and decides to get the hell out of the basement.

Jim Jr. has gotten into bed, and Jim Sr. bids him goodnight – at which point he spots Alice walking down a hallway with a tray – she unlocks a door and goes into a room. It is the room of Nora’s grandmother (Lois Smith). Granny senses things and asks Alice who is “here.” Alice tells her it is Nora, that Uncle Bill has her downstairs in the basement with “the other.” Grandma flies into action, taking the keys from and Jim hearing the commotion runs into the room to find Alice sprawled on the bed. He goes to her to see if she is OK. Grandma springs up behind him, smashes a teapot over his head and escapes.

Nora is wandering around upstairs now and finds Jim, who she tells about the Druid witch in the basement. But it is played so casually, no one really ever discusses how extremely odd this is. In fact when she tells Jim about it she mentions it almost as an afterthought – first she says that things never change, that they’re keeping guns in the basement, that Uncle Bill doesn’t look like he’s aged, and then – oh yeah, guess what? Druid witch. The Grandmother having attacked Jim and now running around loose doesn’t seem to really concern anyone that much either. Obviously the family is extremely odd and eccentric, but most of the clan’s behavior could be classified as certifiable. Is Nora so accustomed her her family’s odd behavior that she has resigned herself to their craziness to such an extent that she just accepts these things without dwelling on them?

In the basement the Druid witch awakens and does bear Nora’s face now – and to make it even creepier, Uncle Bill is bedazzled by her and tries to kiss her. Well, Druid witch doesn’t appreciate these advances (especially with their tinge of incest) and being really cranky after having just woken from a two thousand year nap, slices his throat. Now that she’s up she figures she might as well see what is going on in the world these days and heads upstairs.

For a while this film feels as if it going to become an English drawing room farce. Naimh is found in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs and we see the Grandmother rushing away, having pushed her. Jim mistakes Naimh for Nora. Naimh catches herself on fire and goes rushing outside. Someone claiming to be the gardener enters out of nowhere and when Jim says that there is no garden he is met with this retort: Just because there is no garden doesn’t mean I’m not the gardener!

The scene when Karl Geary’s character enters into the film is done in an especially distracting way. It makes the film feel almost as if it has skipped and we missed some major developments and are now seeing the aftermath. This section of the film could have been done in a way that felt more organic and fit better into the film – the scenes here feel extremely choppy and stilted, as if they were poorly edited. A lot occurs – sudden arrivals, sudden deaths – and it all seems to be over before any of it has even happened.

Alice gives us some answers now. Naimh can’t be killed, she is a shape shifter caught halfway between being alive and dead – the spell has been cast and the body she is now in is only a temporary vessel – her spirt has already made a partial transfer – to Nora.

I found it interesting that the more Naimh gained control over Nora the more she began to behave like Nora – notice how when the men track her down after she has absconded with Jim Jr. they are able to get her to lower her guard by offering her alcohol. I do wish this idea had been developed a bit more.

I like this film, but it sure is a strange bird. It has amazing photography – very memorable and striking images, quite moody and menacing. It also offers a unique take on the doppelganger, body swapping storyline. And it boasts a beyond stellar performance from the greatly under appreciated Alison Elliott. She makes this movie. Christopher Walken too, is a joy, turning in a fabulous little slice of his patented weirdness. The opening scenes of the film with Nora and Jim riding a rollercoaster as Cat Power lulls us is extremely potent. Sure, there are a lot of unanswered questions and I’m almost tempted to advise you to just let the images tell the story – but there is so much going on here that you’d be doing yourself a disservice. I almost wonder if this isn’t a black, black comedy. Certainly the case could be made. But no matter how you choose to view it, you cannot deny that it is passionately unconventional movie making. B

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Just keeping telling yourself: “It’s only a bundt cake, it’s only a bundt cake.”

 

Phantoms (1998)

Dr. Jennifer Pailey (Joanna Going) has just retrieved her sister, Lisa (Rose McGowan) from Los Angeles (where Lisa was living with their alcoholic mother) and is returning to her home in Snowfield, Colorado, where Lisa will stay with her. When they arrive, they find everyone in town is either dead or has vanished. And it looks as if the deaths happened very suddenly – as in pots are still simmering on stoves suddenly. And the corpses look all weird and purple-veined. The phones are dead and now Jenny’s jeep won’t start. The two spotted an empty car running when they drove into town but they find it too has gone kaput. Has a disease laid waste to Snowfield? In the police station they find the body of an officer and it appears as if he shot at something – which means it probably isn’t a disease. But there is no blood.

Going into the town bakery the sisters discover what appear to be clear sings of foul play…



Good things the police show up in the form of cowboy hat wearing Sheriff Ben Affleck and Deputy Liev Schreiber. Ben Affleck plays one of those cops who shot a kid by accident and now is all hung up about it and sees the kids everywhere and Liev Schreiber plays one of those cops who sees a melted looking dead female body on a bed and thinks I gotta get me some of that.



McGowan plays the bad girl who is really a nice girl and gets this clunker of a line: “Well, it’s the devil, don’t you think? Come up from hell tonight. I think he wants to dance with us.”

The creature/entity behind the disappearance desires the presence of Dr. Timothy Flyte (Peter O’Toole) a paliobiologist who used to teach at Oxford but now writes for a Weekly World New types rag and published articles about “The Anicent Enemy.”

This is all based on a novel by Dean Koontz – I read the novel before I saw the film and while I like both, they also both have the same essential problem. Koontz (who also wrote the script) came up with such an interesting story, but he also effectively wrote himself into a corner – how do you explain everything that is going on? In the end any rational attempt at an explanation is probably going to be disappointing. So it turns out “The Ancient Enemey” is pretty much a black goo version of the Blob with a larger brain which allows it to have the concept of itself as a Godlike thing. So we get monster show tentacles, a giant face sucking prehistoric moth (especially well done) tons of shape shifting, a sentient dog, flatworm learning, “chaos in the flesh” and a soldier being swept away by something unseen in the sewer.

This movie didn’t get much positive press when it came out – it isn’t a reinvention of the wheel, but it is capable and hurdles along at a breakneck pace which it especially benefits from.

 

Joe Chappelle helmed this film and here he actually seems to understand the conventions of the genre and does decent work much unlike his previous offerings – the absolutely dreadful Alan Smithee “directed” Hellraiser: Bloodline and the franchise derailing Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Though all the shooting in slow motion is quite tacky – is this an action movie or a sci-fi horror?

The film takes major inspiration from Carpenter’s The Thing and I found the “only in me can you achieve immortality” an interesting conceit. The effects are well done and still hold up today. And don’t tell me the ending doesn’t simultaneously recall both The Howling and Twilight Zone: The Movie. B-

Blood Thinner

 

 Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

OK. Let me tell you what I speak of when I speak of the Friday the 13th films. I speak of films one through eight – the exact films in my nifty little From Crystal Lake to Manhattan box set. I know I should but I don’t consider Jason Goes to Hell or Jason X or Freddy vs. Jason or the 2007 remake cannon. So when I say “I love me some Friday the 13th” these are the films I mean – one through eight. And then not even all the time. I know, I know. What kind of fan am I? Well, I’m a good one, let me assure you, because I’ve watched A New Beginning more than twice, and no one should ever have to watch it more than once – or really even once. So yes, that is the worst Friday film. Which may make one wonder – what is the next worst? Well, rveryone seems to hate Jason Goes to Manhattan – I don’t. It is definitely one of the lesser of the series, but I think it is better than say – New Blood – better made I should say. But I like the fact that New Blood actually takes place in “Crystal Lake” and is a more traditional Friday film. I like the characters in New Blood better – except for our main character, Tina. I really don’t like her. She is the most annoying Friday the 13th final girl EVER. In my ideal world, Rennie from Manhattan would be the protagonist in this one as well. Actually in my ideal world this film would be A LOT different. But we’ll get to that later. Oh, trust me when I say this one has the worst ending of any of the Friday films – I’m talking WORST here – even more horrible than the no-show Jason of A New Beginning.

I sort of like the whole Carrie meets Jason angle even though not a lot is done with it. I like the whole “we’re not fucking around this time” music that plays over the opening credits – well, I like it for the first few minutes until it starts to feel so repetitive that you could swear someone was hammering a nail into your head.

We open on Camp Crystal Lake on Friday October 13th. A little blond girl (Tina) is outside a lake house, listening to her parents fight inside. Tina’s father is drunk, he decides to slap her mother around, Tina gets upset and runs down to the pier, hops into a little boat and put-puts out to the middle of the lake. Her father pursues her, stands on the pier, tries to reason with her, begs her to come back. Tina hates her father though at that moment and wants him to go away, but instead of wishing him to the cornfield, she makes the pier do a herky jerky dance which eventually causes it to collapse and kill her father. Tina gets a really angry look on her face as she makes this happen, but as soon as the pier starts bumping and grinding she seems to change her mind, looking really sad and shouting, “No, Daddy, no!” Like, she totally just killed him, I don’t know who she thinks she is fooling.

Now, we cut to present day and Tina is all grown up and played by Lar Park Lincoln. Yawn. Tina and her mother (Susan Blue) – who has the most 80s hair I have ever seen – are driving to Crystal Lake. Tina doesn’t think it is a good idea – could it be because she has heard about the mad zombie killer who wears a hockey mask and hacks up anyone who comes into his woods? No, of course not, silly, Tina just doesn’t like her psychologist, Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser). Her mother is all – oh, give it a try, he really wants to help you, I’d hate to see you go back to the hospital, you husband killer.

The mother obviously doesn’t care about Tina at all and is just hoping Dr. Crews will show her his bedside manner.

Some fresh air, some therapy, some outdoors – it could do them all good, right?

Of course there are some randy kids staying at the cabin next door. Tina makes sure to spill her suitcase as she is unloading it from the trunk right in front of yummy cute guy, Nick (Kevin Spirtas) who is washing his jeep in cutoffs. Well, when he comes over to help her, she isn’t very nice to him. All because he touched her underwear? Let me tell you, that would personally make me not so unhappy.

Dr. Crews is all rarin’ to go and wants to get started right away. He explains they’ve done all they can for Tina at the hospital and she hasn’t made enough progress. Maybe because she hates Dr. Crews? He isn’t really a bad doctor actually. When Tina asks him “Why am I seeing things?” his reply is – “I don’t know, Tina, why do you think you’re seeing things?”

Dr. Crews wants Tina to concentrate and think about her feelings and focus them on a matchbook he lays out on a table. Maybe she can get it to move? Tina says she doesn’t know how “it” happens. Sometimes “it” happens and sometimes “it” doesn’t. Oh, silly, Tina, it happens when your emotions are at their peak – when you’re mad you can make things move. Even I know that. Doesn’t it sound familiar? Crews-y explains her psychokinetic abilities are a projection of the suppressed guilt feelings that she has about her father’s death. (This film was originally planned as a Freddy Vs. Jason vehicle, but that fell through and so instead we get the poor man’s Carrie Vs. Jason.)

Tina gets upset and runs outside and to the end of the dock, gazing at the lake. Is it really necessary to have a flashback fourteen minutes into the film showing the events that opened the movie only moments ago? I guess it is.

Tina senses something in the lake and thinks it is dear old dead daddy – but it is Jason, duh. Remember in the previous film Tommy Jarvis wrapped him up in chains and anchored him to the bottom of the lake with a big rock? Well, he did. And now Tina awakens him using her powers. So she gets a zombie serial killer. What did she expect? A zombie father? I don’t understand this chick at all. She had trouble making the damn matchbook do anything until Dr. Crews got her good and pissed off, should she really be attempting to raise the dead now? Oh, Tina.

Tina sees Jason pop up to the surface of the lake and passes out. Some heroine.

I do have to say I did love the makeup job they did on Jason in this one. He really looks like something that has been stagnating at the bottom of a lake – he’s all decompose-y and you can see sections of his ribs, his entire spine, and even portions of his jaw are exposed. It is the realism in these films that get me, folks.

Well, when Tina comes to Dr. Crews doesn’t believe her story about seeing a man coming out of the lake. He’s all – guilt about your dead father this, guilt about your dead father that.

Nick knocks on the door and returns a shirt to Tina that she neglected to take when she spilled her suitcase – he even washed it for her. She’s a lot nicer to him this time. He says he also wanted to invite Tina to a party. It is a party for his cousin, but guess what – the cousin ain’t comin’. The cousin’s girlfriend rented the cabin next door for the cousin’s birthday party, but the couple broke down on their way and deciding to hike through the woods were taken out by Jason. Way to go, Tina.

This one also has the infamous sleeping bag death. Just so you know.

The whole movie is basically Tina running – running out of one house, running out of another house, running out of a room when someone is mean to her, running through the woods… if you take a drink every time Tina runs from something you could potentially enjoy this movie.

Tina’s mother discovers that Dr. Crews is trying to keep Tina’s stress levels high so he can induce huge psychokinetic reactions, gather evidence of the phenomena, write about it, become famous… in other words, he cares zilch about actually helping her.

One of the segments that I always remembered from these films was the scene where Maddy (Diana Barrows) is killed by Jason. I don’t know why that one stuck out so much in my memory, but it always did. I love the little makeover she gives herself. Why exactly does she think her dream date David would be in the woods and why does she go into them looking for him? I think she’s just shy to show off her new look to everyone.

Oh, yeah, another thing – this one has almost no gore, kids.

I wonder if Jason ever gets tired of it all. Always stalking, always killing, always the same old, same old. The kids just keep showing up, and he just keeps slaughtering them. It must get very mundane. Does he ever feel that he is under appreciated, does he get burnt out? Also – does he eat?

Tina can make a potted plant fly at Jason but she can’t blow up his head using the power of her mind? Forget, Rennie, what this movie really needs is the Amy Irving character from The Fury.

Have I mentioned how much I dislike Lar Park Lincoln in this? I can’t remember if I let it slip or not. I wish we’d had a gay Friday the 13th – why can’t we? We have the gay Nightmare on Elm Street. This one could deal with Nick coming to terms with his sexuality, somehow maybe that could awaken Jason, who serves as his repressed desires… OK, whatever, but it would be more interesting than this. Lar Park Lincoln could even still be in it – she could be the first victim. Jason is wearing chains around his neck throughout the entire film – symbolism!

I really enjoyed the ‘Oh, no, you DIDN’T bitch’ look on Jason’s face when he pulls Tina down into the basement and tears the electrical cord from around his neck after she has tried to strangle him with it.

So the ending… yeah… Tina’s dead father comes popping up out of the lake and wraps a chain around Jason’s neck and drags him back to the bottom. The end. Why isn’t he all rotten and zombieville? He looks like he just went for a dip.

OK, so it isn’t as bad as A New Beginning. I liked the kids next door, especially Nick and Maddy and blond bitchess Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan). At this point it does all feel like it is getting just a little too routine – but they did try and mix it up with the Tina the telekinetic angle – which yieled little payoff. This was the first of the films that really toyed with the formula. (I’m not counting Jason Lives – because even though it is a total satire it didn’t really change the WOODS. KILLER. template.) Next up: New York, space, hell and yes, finally, that showdown with Freddy. C-

A ratta-tatta-tatta-tatta-tooey! A ratta-tatta-tatta-tatta-tooey!

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

This one is bad y’all. It is definitely the weakest and most vile of the Friday the 13th films. How bad is it? Jason isn’t even in it. I kid you not. Yeah, yeah, he wasn’t in the first one either. But this is basically a Scooby Doo episode stretched out to ninety minutes without the Scooby Doo characters, and a heaping helping of sex and violence. The killer is all too human – Roy, The Paramedic (Dick Wieand). He wraps his head in some latex and dons a hockey mask so that his crime spree will be blamed on Mr. Voorhees. Is it just me? Is that a bore?

The story centers on Tommy Jarvis who is all grown up now and played by John Shepherd. He’s still traumatized by the events of the previous film and is sent to live at a halfway house. What became of his sister? We’ll never know!

See? The lines on his mask are BLUE.

Disgusting old Ethel Hubbard (Carol Locatell) lives nearby with her equally sickening son and she doesn’t appreciate the “looney bin” being so near her property. The next time some nutter comes onto her land she’s fixin’ to blow their brains out. She gets such wonderful lines as “You big dildo, eat your fucking slop!”

So, Roy the paramedic has a son – but no one knows he is Roy’s son – his name is Joey (Dominick Brascia) and he lives at the halfway house, too. He’s an overweight boy that no one likes much, and one day he annoys the hell out of another resident, Vic (Mark Venturini) who is chopping wood. So Vic hauls off and axes Joey to death. Well, this stirs up Roy’s sense of justice – I mean, he was never there for his poor son, so what better way to make up for that than to go on a killing spree? Never mind the fact that Vic is hauled off, and Roy never bothers to go after him.

All dressed up and no role to play.

I am a fan of these films – I look past their shortcomings and embrace them for the gooky messes that they are. This one I cannot embrace. It isn’t as unwatchable as I remember, but it is lifeless and stolid. At least I’m grateful that Jason himself wasn’t part of this debacle. The next film in the series is one of the best, thankfully, because we needed something decent to keep the series from flatlining after this one – just skip A New Beginning and go on to Jason Lives – you won’t miss anything, I promise. D

The boys and girls of summer.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

You know the story. It is almost as old as the urban legend the kids tell around the campfire in the beginning of the film: teens partying, teens cause accidental death of stranger, teens played by flawless looking television stars, teens decide instead of going to the authorities (which would RUIN their lives forever) to dump the body and swear to never speak of it again. One year later a killer pops up and begins picking them off one by one.

Based on a young adult novel by Lois Duncan (who doesn’t even get a mention in the opening credits) this was the second horror film written by Kevin Williamson, who the year before had a surprise hit on his hands with Scream. So I was expecting something a little more mature and meaty than I got – aside from a few pop culture puns there isn’t any of the tomfoolery or genuine suspense that Williamson brought us with his previous genre dissecting script. This is a phoned in, by the numbers, no muss, no fuss affair elevated by some good performances.

Jennifer Love Hewitt is a wan final girl, so thank God for Sarah Michelle Gellar who really livens things up – she gets the best lines of the film and has a killer chase scene – watching her performance here made me really ache for those days back in the 90s when her career was flying high, because I sorely miss her presence from filmdom. (Yes, I’m letting her ho hum, going-through-the-motions performance in The Grudge slide.)

Here is a selection of some of the things on my mind as I watched this again:

Why do they let Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) the stupidest of their group check the pulse of the person they just ran over?

What is Julie studying at college?

Where is Julie’s father?

I like the little exclamation point that the writer of the titular phrase included on his note to Julie.

Julie’s mother asks her if she is one drugs, and she isn’t – but maybe she should be – she is so mopey she started to drag me down.

Barry runs out of the gym because it appears that someone is stealing his car and the guy behind the desk just does what – goes back to reading his paper? And no one hears all the hubbub – the massive crash bang boom – of a car driving into and through a building on what was a quiet night?

When the group gathers in Barry’s hospital room and again discusses what they’ve done and what they should now do, why do they leave the door wide open and raise their voices? Do they all secretly really want everyone to know?

The person behind this has already put Barry in the hospital, so the two girls decide to go off on their own? This is what Julie says to Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) about visiting the place where the person they think they killed used to live: “What have we got to lose?” Um, your lives maybe?

How is the killer able to get the body out of the trunk of Julie’s car so quickly without leaving behind even one stray crab or any sign anything was ever there?

Julie is such a bitch. I wish Neve Campbell had played the role instead.

Why is everyone in Helen’s family so mean to her?

It is strange watching Sarah Michelle Gellar getting her ass kicked by some Joe Schmo in a slicker, while on Buffy we’ve seen she is capable of besting Gods and defeating The First Evil Ever.

The killer gives Helen a surprise hair cut while she sleeps – which she gets a cute bob out of and ends up looking better than she did before the slasher’s scissor session.

As far as killer fisherman films go this one is a cut above, but it still misses the mark. C+

The eyes have it.

Black Christmas (2006)

Can we talk? The reason the original 1974 Black Christmas was so scary was not only because it gave us characters we cared about and an almost unbearable slow simmer of tension, but because we had no idea who the killer was, what his motives were, or why he was doing what he was doing. It just happened, much the same as Michael Myers in the original Halloween just happened. In this totally unnecessary remake we now know everything – Billy used to live in the house before it was turned into a sorority, Billy has yellow skin, his mean old mom told him that Santa wasn’t coming because the Russians shot down his sleigh, his mean old mom locked him in the attic, he had a sister named Agnes… blah, blah. Needless, lame back story. Also lame is someone being stabbed with a candy cane that has been sucked (yes, sucked) into a pointed weapon and the big climax featuring a killer falling onto a Christmas tree and being impaled.

At Billy’s home away from home in the criminally insane psych ward he is allowed to have a rocking chair, and decorate his room with Christmas lights. How quaint. How progressive. How therapeutic, I’m sure, since most of his madness and trauma are a direct result of Christmas related yuletide misgivings. Billy’s escape from the asylum and the flashbacks to his Christmases past are played mostly for laughs and boy are they dull. They drag the rest of the film down… not that there is much going on elsewhere.

I did like the girls of the sorority even if they didn’t hold a candle to those in the original. I especially enjoyed our Barb replacement who informs us “Christmas is just Darwin” and then tells us about all of the festive rituals and their Pagan backgrounds.

The phone calls in the original film were supremely creepy – probably the best obscene calls ever put on film – in contrast those that the girls in this film receive are not unsettling in the least.

One Christmas Billy is locked in the attic after witnessing his mother and her lover murder his father and a few December twenty fifths later, when Billy’s mother’s lover passes out in the middle of sex, Mommie Dearest goes up into the attic and spends some icky quality time with her son. Nine months on little baby Agnes is born. Billy totally snaps one Christmas some more years later, kills his mother, and proceeds to make Christmas cookies out of her, by pressing an angel shaped cookie cutter into the skin on her back.

Eyes, eyes, eyes! In the original there was an absolutely chilling scene in which we see a single eye through a crack in a door – so taking that to its logical conclusion (note my sarcasm) we now get eye imagery overload. There are numerous shots of Billy looking through holes in the walls and the floor, eyes are ripped out of their sockets and munched on or used as decorations on the crazy serial killer Christmas tree (with a severed head serving as a topper of course) there is an eyeless doll, Billy tears out one of his sister’s eyes… on and on it goes.

We also are treated to a sex tape subplot – because, hey, sex tapes make it all seem so current and cutting edge. The line “She’s my family now” is repeated about nine thousand times. Oh, yes and death by icicle.

I do love Christmas horror, I only wish there was more of it that didn’t suck. “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” is used to good effect here – a tune I’ve always thought was majorly creepy and fitting for a horror soundtrack. The film does cultivate some good Christmas atmosphere with all the trimmings, including a tacky plastic Santa Clause – and I appreciated the raging snow storm which cuts the girls off from civilization.





Also, it is nice to see Andrea Martin as the housemother – she isn’t anywhere near as entertaining as Mrs. Mac, but a member of the original cast makes it all feel somewhat less senseless. This film does pay homage to its namesake, but in such an ignoramus way. For example, the glass unicorn makes an appearance here, given to Mary Elizabeth Winstead by a creepy sorority sister because, as the girl says to Mary Elizabeth’s character, “I know you like the bible and stuff.”

The version I originally saw was the UK theatrical cut, which has some different death scenes and a better ending. It isn’t a greater film by much, but it is the version to see if you do watch this remake. C

If you go into the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.

Pumpkinhead (1988)

This movie scared the fuck out of me when I was a kid and I have not watched it since. Now, all these years later, finally tackling it again, I can tell you that the opening scenes are effective enough to give me that same old tightening of the chest, that same old feeling of dread.

This is one effective little flick. It is the directorial debut of special effects guru Stan Winston – who did stellar work on The Thing, The Terminator films, Aliens, Edward Scissorhands and Jurassic Park. The film opens with a young boy in his home in the woods with his mother and father at night – a man comes to the door, pounding and begging for help but Ed’s father says he cannot let the man in. Ed watches from his bedroom window as some sort of creature drags the man away, killing him.

Present day, the young boy had grown into Lance Henriksen. (Yay, I love him.) The man’s name is Ed Harley and he has a young son named Billy (Matthew Hurley). Ed runs a ramshackle little general store along the highway – and on this morning a group of teenagers on their way to a friend’s cabin stop by. While the rest of the group buys supplies, Joel (John D’Aquino) and his brother Steve (Joel Hoffman) get on their dirt bikes and start tearing up the scenery. Billy’s dog provoked by all the noise, runs after the dirt bikes and Billy follows him. Steve just avoids hitting Billy, but Joel isn’t so lucky and runs him over. Joel has been drinking, and isn’t about to stick around and face the consequences. Ed has run home to fetch some feed he forgot to bring to the store, while this all went down and Steve tells his friends to go to the cabin and call for help, while he stays behind to wait for Ed. When Chris (Jeff East) and Tracey (Cynthia Bain) arrive at the cabin, Joel prevents them from using the phone by ripping the cord out of the wall. Joel was in an accident a few months ago and a girl was hurt and now he is on probation and has no interest in informing the police of his latest collison. He locks Chris and Tracey in a closet.

When Billy dies, Ed seeks out Haggis, an ancient mountain witch, but she tells him it is outside of her powers to raise the dead. Ed tells her about the thing he saw as a child, he says he heard she was responsible for it, that she could call this thing forth in a man’s name that had been wronged and the man would be avenged. She warns him that what he is asking for has a powerful price. She tells him to go to an old graveyard deep in the woods -the thing he is looking for is in there. He needs to dig it up and bring it back to her. He finds the graveyard which seems to resemble an old pumpkin patch more than a cemetery, and unearths the creature.

Haggis tells Ed that for each of man’s evils a special demon exists – the one he has brought her is vengeance. She uses blood from Ed and Billy to resurrect it, and boy is it ugly. Pumpkinhead is born.

And he doesn’t waste any time tracking down the kids at the cabin, and before long only Joel and Tracey and Chris are left alive. Fleeing from the creature, they try to find someone who will help them, but no one will let them into their homes, and one man defending his property tells them that they are “marked.” Ed seems to have some kind of psychic link with the creature, and when it kills he sees the deaths through Pumpkinhead’s eyes. He just can’t stomach it and returns to Haggis, asking her to call it off. She tells him it will pass, to let it finish – there is nothing she can do, it is has to run its course.

I liked this a lot. A viewing now isn’t as traumatic as it was when I was younger, but it still packs a punch. The creature effects are topnotch (and I loved the sounds they used when Pumpkinhead appears – like a cross between a rattlesnack and a symphony of screaming insects). The script is tight, and the characters aren’t written as total stereotypes – you actually care about them, and when Joel makes his eleventh hour return to humanity, it rings true. I especially enjoyed Pumpkinhead’s strange relationship with religion – one of the girls at the cabin he claims – Maggie (Kerry Remsen) wears a cross and before Pumpkinhead kills her, he uses his talons to cut the symbol into her forehead. Later when he comes across a crucifix in an old church, he hold it up and studies it before smashing the hell out of it. Ed Harley’s journey here is truly harrowing – the death of his son, his quest for revenge, the beginnings of his transformation into something resembling the creature itself, his discovery that he cannot end it without ending his own life – there is a lot going on here besides just a monster in the woods going after some kids.

This still holds up very well today. It was a lot better than I was expecting it to be, and definitely something I’d watch again. B

A Fisherman Never Forgets

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)

So, here we have the sequel to a pretty harmless, been-there-done-that slasher produced in the post-Scream horror frenzy. The original I Know What You Did Last Summer was actually written by Kevin Williamson himself, who helped rejuvenated the genre in the 90s with a transfusion of fresh, all-in-good-fun blood thanks to his stellar Scream script. So what went wrong with his follow up? I Know What You Did Last Summer displayed none of the humor, style or skill of his previous writing – in fact, I Know What You Did Last Summer seemed to be almost the anti-Scream, the epitome of everything that movie made fun of – a spiritless, uninspired drag. Still a sequel came along because the film had made some cash and this time the writing duties were handed over to Trey Callaway – whose only previous credit at the time was as a writer of two episodes of Timon and Pumbaa and a new director also stepped in, Danny Cannon, who was responsible for Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd. I doubt expectations were very high. It was horribly reviewed and I never bothered watching it considering how bad the word of mouth was and how underwhelming the original had been.

I reread some reviews before watching this today, and I was ready for one of the worst films ever committed to celluloid. I was surprised by how awful it wasn’t. Don’t get ahead of me here, now – it isn’t a good film, by any means – everything that happens we’ve seen in countless other horror films, the characters do a lot of dumb things, and it is all pretty laughable. However, it may go down easier than the original – everything it streamlined and clips along at a favorable pace.

It has been two years since the gang from the original film struck Ben Willis with a car, attempted to dispose of his body and made a pact to never speak of it. It has been a year since the summer following that, in which a killer in fisherman’s duds showed up and started offing citizens of the seaside town of Southport with a hook. Now Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is off at college and still experiencing distressing after effects – she has nightmares about the fisherman slasher – though she and Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) seemingly defeated him at the end of the original film, his body was never discovered – she often wakes up screaming (in the middle of class, no less) – she keeps a knife in her nightstand, and she is very close to failing out of school. She is trying to maintain a relationship with Ray, who still lives in Southport where he works as a fisherman, but Julie finds it difficult to return home after all that has happened and he doesn’t really understand her post-traumatic-stress. He went through it all too, why is he so happy go-lucky? Oh, to be a man of the sea, ignorant and care-free.

It is now the fourth of July weekend, the anniversary of it all, and Julie cannot bring herself to go back to Southport with Ray, as planned. Instead she stays at school and mopes around the apartment she shares with Karla (Brandy) – who doesn’t really seem to think too much of it when Julie almost stabs her to death after she goes into Julie’s closet to borrow a dress. Karla and Julie win a radio contest by answering an on air question and before you know it they are off to the Bahamas, with Karla’s boyfriend, Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer) and dreamy-eyed coed, Will (Matthew Settle) who is nursing a major crush on Julie. Of course, the day they arrive is the last day of the season, the place is nearly deserted, there are no more ferries off the island for days and there is a hurricane a-comin’.

As soon as Julie finally perks up and starts singing ‘I Will Survive’ her good mood is ruined by that grumpy old fisherman and his shenanigans. He changes the words on the karaoke machine – and she doesn’t know the lyrics! He puts a ziptie on the handles of a tanning booth so Julie gets locked inside! He graffitis a grave so that it has Julie’s name on it! He steals Julie’s toothbrush! (OK, he actually doesn’t do that – but someone does!) And he puts his hook to use, killing the poor, unsuspecting staff (including the underused Jeffrey Combs as the hotel manager) of the resort where the group is staying. Bodies are discovered, Love Hewitt’s cleavage has a starring role, everyone runs around in the rain a lot and Ray saves the day.

Just so you know: the capital of Brazil is Brasília. Pass it on. C

Darkness Falls

The Possession of David O’Reilly (2010)

A young couple, Alex (Nicholas Shaw) and Kate (Zoe Richards) arrive home one evening with some takeout and a movie rental. Alex, still enjoying a new toy, checks his laptop – he’s got motion detector cameras stationed around the apartment for recording intruders and he’s just signed up to a website which will store the recordings for him – the camera films when it is triggered and then uploads what it has recorded. They two fall asleep on the sofa watching the rental and Alex wakes up when he hears Kate talking in her sleep. She is saying “don’t open it.”

Just then the door buzzer goes off. It is after midnight, but they decide to answer it. They find David (Giles Alderson) – a mutual friend, and someone that Alex has known quite a while – since college. David says that he has nowhere else to go – he just found out that his girlfriend, Sarah, who he lives with, has been seeing someone else. Kate goes to bed to give Alex and David a chance to talk. Alex tells David that he is more than welcome to stay with them, and the two stay up, discussing things over drink. David tells Alex that he found photographs of Sarah – undressed, and it seems clear from how upset he is that he isn’t the one who photographed her. He has in fact, been racking his brain, trying to figure out who the other guy is – he says that he and Sarah don’t know that many people and he feels certain that the guy is someone he does knows.

Alex goes to bed and David sits up in the living room, looking at the photos of Sarah and generally wallowing. When he goes into the bathroom he hears some noises. He gets pretty nervous and says, “No, not here. Not here please.” As he looks out the bathroom window into the night, he sees some kind of shambling monster.

The next day, David doesn’t say anything about this, and as Alex and Kate are occupied playing a video game David drifts in and out of sleep. That night, Kate wakes up with a start to find David standing in their bedroom in the dark – he appears to be sleepwalking. Kate says that they shouldn’t wake him, but instead try and guide him back to bed. But when David suddenly starts spazzing out, Alex wakes him. The two men go into the kitchen and Kate finds a journal that David has dropped in the bedroom.

David opens up to Alex – he tells him about things he started noticing out of the corners of his eyes, things he heard moving around in his apartment at night – things that he is convinced are after him. Kate looks through David’s journal and finds some troubling details – David’s increasingly paranoid scribblings and disturbing drawings of inhuman looking creatures. Then the lights go out. David panics, Kate goes into the kitchen, Alex thinks he sees something in the shadows – the three go into the front hallway, where there is light and Kate wants to know what is going on, Alex tries to calm David, and David warns them that they are all in danger.

The film then follows the group as they wait out the darkness, and face the prospect of another night, possibly under siege. Did Alex see something in the kitchen? Should they believe David? If so, what do they do – how do they protect themselves against whatever they are up against?

The way this movie is filmed is rather perplexing – most of it is done with a typical, straight forward approach – focusing on the characters, framing them in a shot, etc. But during the scenes that take place at night and feature the majority of the action, the filming is done as if one of the characters is shooting the scenes themselves – think Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project. However, none of the character have a camera. Also, the perspective will change with no real purpose, so that first we’ll be seeing David and Kate in the frame and looking on as if we’re Alex and then Kate will disappear from the action and we’ll be seeing Alex and David through her “eyes.” It is quite jarring initially – not because of the shaky camera technique which is commonplace now – but the fact that I had to stop and try to figure out if I had missed a scene in which one of the characters picked up a camera and began documenting the events. I’m curious as to why this technique was chosen to be used – and why at the times it is – I suppose it is meant to convey the sense of calamity that is afoot during these portions of the film.

The effects, I must say are indeed impressive considering the low budget I am guessing the filmmakers were working with.

There are a some interesting ideas that are never brought to fruition – most of the clues to what is going on are so casually inserted into the film that they’re far too easy to miss, and the interesting questions the film does raise directly it never develops. And there is too much which is never dealt with at all – what was David putting along the doors to ward off the creatures? How did he come across this particular method of keeping them at bay? If they can only be seen in the darkness, yet can still be present in the light – can they only attack in the dark or can they also strike if you’re in the light? What were the messages being spelled out to David with the letters in the newspaper meant to have us believe? What was the deal with Anna? Just what were the creatures? What is their agenda? How did David become able to see them? Why does the film even bother playing up the home security camera angle in the beginning when so little is done with them and with no payoff whatesoever?

Now, I don’t like movies that give us easy answers, and explain everything – I enjoy unresolved, open-ended, use your head puzzlers. But this movie feels too much like one of those questions on a test in which the answer is: “Not enough information given.” C

People are SUPPOSED to scream in a funhouse.

The Funhouse (1981)

I remember watching this originally with my father when I was very young and two images remained with me from that initial viewing – that of a character who sports a Frankenstein mask to hide his ugly and a specimen jar with a very deformed critter inside. I didn’t actually revisit this film until just a few years ago, but when I was in middle school, I read the book. Yes, there’s a book. My mother, who had a soft spot for all things Dean Koontz, at one point possessed nearly everything he had ever written. One of his novels is called The Funhouse. The movie is not based on the book however – the book came about as a novelization of the film’s script (which was written by Larry Block) and was originally published under the pseudonym Owen West. Koontz added a ton of back story and put his own spin on the characters and as a result the film and the novel only superficially resemble each other. It is interesting to compare and contrast the two, but the film really doesn’t support the story which Koontz chose to tell. The novel also isn’t one of Koontz’s strongest efforts and while it boasts more pathos and introspection than the film, I find it too pat and preachy for my tastes.

The film opens with a P.O.V. sequence that is a total Halloween ripoff homage. Someone is sneaking around inside a house, and they enter a bedroom which boasts lots of creepy masks and torture device-y decor. The black gloved sneaky sneak takes a knife down from the wall and selects a clown mask. which they put on, so that now we get the full Halloween-through-the-eyesholes-effect. And because one imitation deserves another, the sequence now turns into a clumsy recreation of the Psycho shower scene. The knife wielding clown creeps into a bathroom – creep, creep, creep – where a young girl is loofahing herself, oblivious to the encroaching danger with a red nose. Suddenly the shower curtain is pulled violently aside – the maniac strikes – the girls screams! And then her shock turns to anger and she shrieks “Joey!” Joey? She unmasks the attacker – and why, it is just a little boy! But wait a minute – so too was Michael Myers when he murdered Judith. Oh, but look, the knife is a big fake with a retractable blade. It was all just a joke! What a lark!





We find that the girl in the shower is Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) and Joey (Shawn Carson) is her younger brother. What a trickster! What a perv! Amy is so upset with this little prank that she tells Joey she is not going to take him to the carnival on Saturday. And not only that – she is going to get even with him, oh, boy is she ever. So EVEN that he will NEVER forget it. NEVER!

Joey is a real Tommy Jarvis – his room would receive the Fangoria seal of approval with its monster posters, masks and other horror odds and ends.

Amy gets dressed and goes downstairs to wait in the living room for her date to pick her up. Her parents tell her that they don’t want her going to the carnival – it is the same one that went through Fairfield last year when the bodies of two girls were found across the street. Amy says she is going to the movies. (You know, even they aren’t safe – see: He Knows You’re Alone, Scream 2, Anguish, Demons.) Amy’s mother wonders why Amy is even wasting her time with someone who works in a FILLING STATION and can’t even pick her up at a decent hour. Joey who is eavesdropping knows that Amy is a big damn liar and is so going to the carnival.

Buzz (Cooper Huckabee) arrives and Amy says goodnight to her parents. Once in his car, she asks how he would feel about going to the movies instead of the carnival. She mentions that is it the same one that went through Fairfield and they had ALL THAT TROUBLE. Buzz is all Yay! Maybe we’ll get some action! So he’s into dead girls, is he? Amy tells him that she kind of sort of kind of promised her father that she wouldn’t go. Buzz tells her that her father just wants to “bum” her. Amy can’t believe he would say that! He doesn’t even know her father! And for that matter, he works in a filling station!

This date is off to a promising start, I’d say. They pick up the rest of the group – Liz (Largo Woodruff) and Richie (Miles Chapin) and on the way to the forbidden fair they smoke up – thought Amy declines. Liz tells her to loosen up. She means “Open your legs girl! Have some fun! Have some sex!” Can you guess who is going to live and who is going to die yet?

Joey meanwhile is sneaking out of the house by way of a conveniently located trellis.

The gang arrives at the carnival of doom and boy is it hoppin’! Buzz attempts to bond with Amy – he apologizes for what he said about her father. See, he isn’t such a bad guy, even if he does work at a filling station. Liz is worried the two aren’t hitting it off and says so to Richie who tells her everything is fine, Buzz is A-OK. Liz says that when Richie is stoned he thinks Charles Manson is a terrific guy.  The Laurie Strode  of 2009 would agree and has the poster on her bedroom wall to prove it.

Amy and Buzz decide to start over and I really can’t say I see the point since he’ll probably be dead soon, but to each their own. The group partakes of the amusements – the ferris wheel and the carousel and the bumper cars and then the girls duck into the bathroom for some Girl Talk. No, not the truth or dare board game with the zit stickers – does anyone remember that? This kind of Girl Talk:

Liz: He is a hunk, he is an absolute pistol! If you play your cards right you may not have to spend the rest of your life a virgin!

A creepy and obviously insane bag lady come into the bathroom and offers the two a good natured “God is watching you! He hears everything!” before entering one of the stalls. Which gives Liz one of the best lines of the film: “I hate people who preach! Especially in bathrooms!”

Amen, sister soul.

Liz returns to what she was saying and tells Amy that she doesn’t understand what she is saving IT for. “Who says I’m saving it?” is Amy’s reply. From her stall the creepy, insane bag lady contributes a “God is watching you.”

Joey is strolling along the highway when a man in a truck pulls up next to him and asks – You want to come for a ride? Well, gee, when you put it that way. But before Joey can say anything the HILARIOUS truck driver produces a shot gun which he points and Joey and fires. It is either a gag gun or lacking ammunition because it just emits a click. The man bursts into laughter. Um… funny! Yeah, you’re a real cut up. I am actually curious about this man – is it a joke gun? Does he just drive around with his fake firearm and randomly do this to people? Maybe he should consider getting himself a job at the funhouse.

The gang has moved on from the rides and they visit Madame Zena – a boozy fortune teller who reads Amy’s palm and tells her that a tall, dark stranger will enter and change her life. You ain’t just whistlin’ dixie, lady.

Now they decide to getting their peeing tom on by peeking through a hole in the back of the nudey tent. Liz wants to see but Richie tells her to wait her turn – and, OK – now she gets the best line: “I’ll find my own hole.” Did carnivals really have tents like this in the 80s?

Richie gets the bright idea that they should all spend the night in the funhouse. Someone or other that Richie knows did it two years ago somewhere or other. I am telling you people, it is decisions like this that can change your life forever. Like, seriously.

Liz calls home and says she’ll be staying the night with Amy and Amy calls her parents and and tells them she’ll be staying with Liz.

Joey has since arrived at the carnival and tracked down Amy and he watches as she and her friends go into the funhouse – but when their cars come back out – they aren’t on them! These kids are lucky that a mentally deficient ogre whose visions is impaired by a Frankenstein mask is in charge of this ride or they’d never get away with it. Maybe it is just me, but I feel like an important of aspect of this job would be to notice if a group of people seemingly vanished while inside. But what do I know about the life of a carny? Just what I learned from the Jodie Foster/Gary Busey movie which came out the year before this – which is to say, not much bub, not much at all.

All the lights in carnival-land are going out, the rides have fallen silent and the midway is emptying – but Joey is still keeping watch on the funhouse.

The kids fool around inside for a bit, but when they hear voices coming from below they find they are right above what appears to be the Frankenstein mask dude’s living quarters – and they have quite a view through the cracks in the floorboards. Madame Zena is with Frankie and the two are attempting to strike a bargain – she swigs some booze and tells him she doesn’t come cheap. Old Frankie opens up a cash box and offers her a bill from it – she says MORE! – he offers her more and still she demands – MORE! When he offers her a hundred dollar bill she’s ready to get down to the nitty gritty.

Poor Frankie – he doesn’t know what to do. Zena asks him if he want to take off the mask and then yells, “What are you doing? Lay down already!” Boy, impatient much? Before anything really happens, he’s spent and she’s thinking, Hey, this is the easiest hundred I ever made. But not so fast! Frankie wants the money back but Zena believes firmly in the principle of a bargain being a bargain. Frankie doesn’t give up that easily though and when Zena starts berating him and threatens a curse – Frankie doesn’t say relax – he strangles her. Didn’t see that in your crystal ball, did you, dearie?

The group, having witnessed this, wisely decides to change their plans and get the hell out of there. They stumble through the darkness with the flame from Richie’s lighter guiding the way.  They come upon a door – but it opens into Frankenstein’s lair where he has hastily covered Zena’s body but is nowhere to be seen. The group goes back into the funhouse and locate an exit, but it won’t budge and when they find their way to the front doors, those are locked as well. Are we having fun yet?

They hear voices from below again and go back to look down into the room – Frankie has returned with Conard, the barker, and we soon find out, his father. Conrad is upset because Frankie killed “one of the family” – he doesn’t care what “dirty business” his son gets up to with the locals, but he doesn’t want him messing with one of their own. Conrad tries to cook up a solution to the fix they’re in and when Frankie gives Conrad the hundred dollar bill that he had paid Zelda, his father is aghast at the amount he forked over. Conrad goes to put the bill in cash box and discovers that the rest of the money is gone. Conrad and Frankie get into it then, you better believe, during which Frankie loses his mask and we see his face – and what a looker! He bears a strong resemblance to a specimen the kids saw in a glass jar in the freak show tent. He seemed such a sensitive and naive monster in his Frankenstein disguise – but now the beast is unleashed. And his name is Gunther.

It is then that Richie’s lighter falls out of his shirt pocket and drops down into the room below. Conrad picks it up and estimates the situation – he says, “Hey you up there, come on down now. I want to talk to you, come on, ain’t nothing to be afraid of, I just want to have a few words with you. I just want to give you your lighter back. Oh, ain’t no reason to be afraid of him – he’s harmless.”

Buzz has a feeling that Richie took the money and accuses him to which Richie’s response is So what if I did? Liz suggests giving the money back but it is too late for that.

Joey is traipsing around the empty fairgrounds and when he creeps too near the funhouse, Gunther grabs him. Joey manages to escape but as he is running away he runs right into one of the carnies.

Buzz is a smart guy (even though he works at a filling station) and he says that they’ll be a hell of a lot safer if they stay together. I doubt this will last long, but at least he didn’t suggest they all split up and look for a way out.

Conrad and Gunther are having a heart to heart – Conrad mentions “bad business” in Dallas and two girl scouts in Memphis – I’m guessing they didn’t win free passes to the fair either – I’m thinking Gunther pet them too hard. Conrad is trying to convince his son to do “this one last bad thing” for him.

Back inside the funhouse Richie is telling everyone about a time when he was in the closet – no, silly, when he was younger his brother locked him in one – when suddenly a skeleton springs up from out of the floor and a noose drops from above, tightens around Richie’s neck and takes him up, up and away.

The carnie that Joey collided with was able to get his parent’s phone number from him and having called they arrive to claim their son. He has a fever and is rather despondent, and his grumpy old mother is not the least bit sympathetic to his plight. As Joey is about to get in the car with his parents he looks over at the funhouse and remembers Amy’s threat from earlier in the evening. Through a large exhaust fan Amy can see her parents and attempts to call to them for help but her screams are drowned out by the roar of the machine. Who will survive? And what will become of the prizes they won?

Now, it is time for me to say that I consider the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre an absolutely essential horror film – just look how influential it is, even after all these years. Who hasn’t seen it and in some way been effected? It is my opinion the purest, most perfect horror film there has ever been. Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman wrote a great article about it in which he says TCSM makes “you feel like you are really experiencing what it is like to be murdered.” It is a harrowing, relentless masterpiece that is at the same time a truly artistic and beautiful piece of filmmaking. Sadly, Tobe Hooper has never made a film that even comes close to equalling it. But really, then again, who has? When you start on such a high note, where else do you go but down? Don’t get me wrong – he has made some fine films (and his share of awful ones) and in the past few years he seems to have gotten his spunk back. However, when I watch The Funhouse I have a hard time reconciling my mind to the fact that the same man who made TCSM is responsible for this. The director of TCSM was a visionary, a provocateur, a virtuoso of the highest caliber. The director of The Funhouse is a huckster, a hack with a workman’s eye who gives us rubber threats and canned terror. I realize it is quite unfair to always judge someone by holding them up to a previous success and I am not attempting to completely devalue The Funhouse – for what it is, it isn’t utterly awful.

The characters of Leatherface and Gunther are actually remarkably similar. Both mumble and whine instead of speaking in any easily understandable way and appear to only address a patriarch – in Leatherface’s case his oldest brother, in Gunther’s his actual father. And both have relationships with these men that are physically and verbally abusive. Both are also stunted in a kind of violent childhood and wears masks – Leatherface’s homemade garb is chilling and iconic while Gunther’s appears as if it was found in a discount bin at a drugstore the week after Halloween.

I’m never quite sure how seriously to take this film – some scenes are so flamboyantly over the top that I have to wonder if they were intended to be intentionally comedic – or are they real attempts at horror? The climax could have been something great but I find it dull and it feels like it drags on forever. I know I’m probably being too hard on this film – I feel like I should have liked it more, that it should have been fun, that it probably has some kind of dopey nostalgic charm that I’m failing to appreciate.

One thing I will say in its favor – it certainly lives up to its title. It is rickety, the seams show, it is full of “booyah!” scares and you never for a minute believe any of it. C+