Monday, June 28, 2010

Alone In the Dark (1982) review


Dwight Schultz (Dr. Dan Potter), Jack Palance (Colonel Frank Hawkes), Martin Landau (Byron "Preacher" Sutcliff), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Leo Bain), Erland van Lidth (Ronald "Fatty" Elster), Phillip Clark (John Skaggs/"The Bleeder"), Lin Shaye

Directed by Jack Sholder

There are no...crazy people, doctor, we're all just...on vacation.

The Short Version: Unjustly underrated slasher thriller from 1982 has one of the best horror movie casts ever assembled in this smart, wickedly well written picture about nutty people. One of the best horror films/siege pictures of the 1980's plain and simple.

Dr. Dan Potter and his family move into a new home after he takes a position at the Haven Asylum for the Criminally Insane, an intriguing facility in that it is run entirely on electricity for maximum protection. Replacing Doctor Harry Merton, Potter learns that several of the more dangerous inmates were particularly close to the former physician. Believing Potter to have murdered Merton, four of the crazies plot to kill Dr. Potter. A power outage results in the asylums security system being shut down and allowing all the psycho's to leave freely. Led by Colonel Hawkes, the four crazies including "Preacher", "Fatty" and "The Bleeder" escape into the night and lay siege to Potter's home trapping them inside.

One of the best slasher movies ever, period. And what a killer cast! Jack Sholder (THE HIDDEN) creates some nifty characters with just enough depth to keep them interesting, and not just the obvious roles. He also manages to pull off numerous scenes of suspense and terror with his cast of crazies. This is all the more remarkable in that none of them wear a mask of any kind (there is one brief moment involving a hockey mask a year before Jason would don one for FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D). The notion of multiple killers with different personalities is also unique for a slasher at this time. The real coupe is the terror triumvirate that is Palance, Landau and Pleasence.

Both Palance and Landau had appeared a couple of years prior in the cheese encrusted camp classic, WITHOUT WARNING. Both pretty much play similar characters from that movie, but their acting (especially Landau who horribly hams it up in the other film) is much better here. Of the fearsome four, Hawkes actually builds some sympathy for himself in addition to being a scary son of a bitch. He obviously had great admiration and affection for his former therapist and firmly believes his replacement did in fact murder Dr. Merton. Of the others, Hawkes is also the most unpredictable. You're never really sure just what is going on behind that sinister visage of his.

Aside from the chaotic finale, both "Preacher" and the character of "Fatty", the child molester, features in the movies most harrowing scene and possibly the most famous sequence of the film. It involves a babysitter, having a sexual encounter with her boyfriend, unaware that the killers are in the house. Checking out a noise in a closet, the boyfriend is pulled under the bed. Too scared to move, a large knife begins thrusting upwards through the mattress threatening to pierce her flesh. Sholder squeezes maximum effect from this brief sequence.

Another strong scene involves Potter's youngest daughter and her encounter with "Fatty". He strikes up a conversation with the little girl and tries to get her to go upstairs with him. We, the audience, are left to wonder just when and if, the maniac will harm her.

Landau is super as the maniacal "preacher", a former holy man who enjoyed setting fire to churches while people were still inside of them. One of his best bits involves he and the others stalking a bicycle riding postman proclaiming, "The hat...I want...the hat!" After offing the mailman (in broad daylight no less), Byron gets the postman's hat and proceeds to knock on Potter's door looking for him claiming to have a telegram for him. For the "Bleeder", you never see his face until the end and the makers of VALENTINE (2001) must have seen this movie as that film featured a slasher whose nose bled during the killers murder spree.

Pleasence is amazing and memorable as the off-kilter Doctor Bain. He smokes marijuana and seems quite at home in the asylum referring to the inmates as voyagers on a journey of discovery. Bain also allows some of the less harmless inmates to have more freedom. Lin Shaye has a humorous role as a "receptionist" who greets Potter upon his arrival. He quickly surmises that she is not quite right upstairs. Schultz is also very good as the family man, Dan Potter. He tries to explain to Hawkes on several occasions that he did not kill his predecessor and that he has taken a job at another facility. Ironically enough, Schultz would later play a mad character on the popular TV show THE A TEAM.

There are an additional handful of memorable scenes in this picture. The opening scene in the diner (featuring some make up effects by Tom Savini) starts things off on the right note and numerous bits inside the asylum have an air of gallows humor about them. Once the blackout occurs, mass looting overtakes the town and the quartet of maniacs fit right in amongst the hysteria. They grab as many sharp implements as they can from a hardware store and embark on their mission to stalk and kill Potter and his family. At that point, the siege aspect of the film takes over.

The script is exceptional and the level of characterization on hand is extraordinary for this type of movie. The notion of insanity is a constant and relevant plot device throughout the entire picture. Whether it's actions by cast members both crazy and otherwise, or witty lines spoken by the characters, Jack Sholder's movie shows us just what kind of mad world we inhabit. The script also explores what scares us and how nightmares can effect our actions and emotions.

The last scene hammers this home beautifully when Hawkes enters a punk club filled with rowdy and seemingly psychotic patrons. After a woman pushes herself on him, he pulls a gun and this apparently unstable young lady begins laughing and caressing the firearm while it rests on her chin. Hawkes grins from ear to ear upon the realization he's found a new home. This goes back to a statement he made about his "trip" earlier at the asylum during his conversation with Potter, "I enjoy the social life. There are no crazy people, doctor, we're all just on vacation." With so many strong points, it's amazing that this production didn't perform well, while other, far more braindead and uninteresting pictures soared over it.

For those accustomed to typical slasher movie conventions, ALONE IN THE DARK (1982) may not be your cup of tea. There's a moderate amount of gore (a nasty throat ripping by way of a small garden rake; throat slashing; meat cleaver in the back...), but nothing close to a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie, or similar picture. What it does have, are some strikingly lunatic performances, some choice suspense and scares and a strong script. For a lot of people, that is more than enough. This 80's horror entry is an unappreciated hidden gem and highly recommended.

This review is representative of the Image special edition DVD

Jason X (2002) review

JASON X (2002)

Lexa Doig (Rowan), Lisa Ryder (Kay-Em 14), Chuck Campbell (Tsunaron), Jonathan Potts (Professor Lowe), Peter Mensah (Sgt. Brodski), Kane Hodder (Jason), David Cronenberg (Dr. Wimmer)

Directed by James Isaac

The Short Version: Hugely entertaining, but overwhelmingly bizarre tenth entry in the infamous slasher series gets Jason lost in space. Easily the most intriguing, interesting and well intentioned sequel of the whole franchise. The makers obviously had loads of fun making this one even if fans were divided on it. Outside of a few genuinely bad dialog exchanges, I loved every minute of it.

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity and violence***

The regenerative capabilities of Jason Voorhees are being studied at a research facility near Crystal Lake. He is about to be transported to another location for further study when the raging killer manages to escape his bonds and kill nearly everyone in the building. Rowan, a female scientist who warned against keeping the maniac alive, locks Jason inside a cryogenic tube and freezes him. However, she likewise becomes frozen in a freak accident. Flash forward to the year 2455, Earth's civilization has been wiped out by a holocaust. A group of young archaeologists from neighboring Earth 2 embark on an expedition to search for surviving remnants of Earth's past. They find both Jason and Rowan frozen in cryo chambers and haul them aboard the main vessel. Soon after, Jason manages to escape and begins slaughtering everyone aboard the spacecraft while the dwindling survivors try and combat the unstoppable killing machine.

Let me start off by saying that JASON X (2002) is my absolute favorite of the FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels. Ever since first reading about the production in 2000 and its subsequent 2 year life on a shelf after some managerial changes at New Line, I expected nothing but the worst. Was I ever surprised upon seeing it theatrically the first of three times that it was the most fun I'd had watching one of those movies. One very simple word describes the whole affair--Fun. Outer space was the final frontier (haha) left to explore for this series and it was a massive gamble on the part of the filmmakers. Either a love it, or hate it entry, I can safely say that I enjoyed it immensely.

Virtually every science fiction-fantasy-action-horror movie cliche is jammed into this movie. One of the most obvious is the nod to the 1951 classic, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. In that movie, something is found in the ice and taken back to a research outpost for study where the unknown being thaws and goes on a rampage. The same thing happens here, only the audience is fully aware of what 'It' is. ALIENS (1986) also gets a nod with a group of heavily armed mercenaries aboard the Grendel that are dispatched to take down the now revived 20th century serial killer only to be dispatched themselves.

The inclusion of futuristic hardware is a nice touch that adds to the overall 'B' movie factor inherent in these movies. Possibly following the lead of the disastrous HELLRAISER 4 (1996), which put Pinhead in space, the idea of Jason Voorhees in an ALIENesque environment is far more fantastical. There's also a female cyborg (in love with her creator) who does battle with Jason, the use of nanotechnology that can repair damaged cells and reattach limbs and the birth of 'Uber Jason'. Near the end, Jason is literally blown to bits and damage done to the ship has the madman being reassembled by the nano bugs using anything handy. The result is a TERMINATOR like Jason who is seemingly invulnerable to everything.

The makers of the movie are self aware of what kind of film they were making and did the best they possibly could to ensure the maximum amount of entertainment value and self referential humor. With an apparent increase in budget, there's a lot more opportunity to show off some spectacular set pieces. Many of the visuals are nice to look at, while some others are below average. One of the best moments in the movie is a sequence where the survivors attempt to buy some time by creating a hologram from Jason's past. Successfully mimicking the Camp Crystal Lake surroundings, Jason suddenly finds himself back on his home turf. Two pretty young girls then run up to him asking if he'd like to partake in some pot and pre marital sex. The next time we see Jason, he's bashing the two girls against a tree whilst zipped up inside their sleeping bags.

Another scene in the movie that is both bizarre and humorous is the duel between Jason and Kay-Em, the android. Some elements of Hong Kong style fighting briefly rears its head here. The second time they fight, right after Jason has become a cyborg, Kay-Em isn't so lucky. Cliffhanger moments come fast and thick once Jason finishes off a large group of gun toting military personnel. Every attempt at escape, or rescue is thwarted by a mishap of some sort.

For its sheer brazen attempt at trying something new, JASON X deserves something resembling accolades for creativity. Still, there's no denying the cheeseball ramifications that survive the finished production. The dialog is frequently ridiculous peppered with stale one liners (some of them are funny, though) and the musical score by a returning Harry Manfredini is anything but notable. Sounding like a cheap, direct to video composition, the score is the worst of the entire series. It's totally unsuitable and considering the level of action on hand, the soundtrack never rises to the occasion. Jason's familiar and iconic theme does emerge a couple times throughout.

Kane Hodder's last hurrah as the masked psycho killer is one of his best since he first donned the hockey mask for FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7: THE NEW BLOOD (1988). Since then, he became an instant fan fave with his virulent, husky and overly brutal portrayal of Jason. Although a silent performance, his was unlike any that had been seen up to that time. By using specific body movements and motion, Hodder "brought Jason to life". Prior to his time in this series, Hodder was seen in a lot of action movies as thugs such as AVENGING FORCE (1986) and AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION (1987). Currently, he's still heavily involved in horror cinema.

With an enormous amount of kills, lots of action and plentiful visual effects, this sci fi slasher is a goofy, gory good time. Uber Jason is simply stunning and an intimidating creation on the part of the writers. This new impervious Jason gets a lot of screen time during the last half and the makers come up with some ingenious ideas to keep things moving to the satisfying finale. I had lots of fun with it and enjoyed a few boxes of popcorn while being entertained by its silly, overly outlandish charms.

This review is representative of the New Line DVD

Deathdream (1974) review


Richard Backus (Andy Brooks), John Morley (Charles Brooks), Lynn Carlin (Christine Brooks), Jane Daly (Joanne), Anya Ormsby (Cathy Brooks), Henderson Forsythe (Dr. Allman)

Directed by Bob Clark

The Short Version: Terrifying and vividly engrossing Vietnam era zombie horror picture from celebrated director, the late Bob Clark. It's an unusual and wonderfully skin crawling horror experience punctuated by thought provoking social commentary akin to the best of George Romero.

Charles and Christine Brooks receive a telegram one evening that their son Andy has been killed in Vietnam. Christine, refusing to believe that her son is dead, wishes for his safe return. Later that night, Andy comes home much to everyone's astonishment. But something is not quite right with Andy. Bodies begin turning up drained of blood and Andy seems to be a different person from when he left.

Bob Clark's second venture into horror territory is a notch above his previous zombie picture. It's another zombie movie, but one with a bit more to chew on cinematically speaking. Most of the crew and actors from that CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS return here as well. It was saddled with several titles over the years such as DEAD OF NIGHT (the one on this print), DEATHDREAM, THE NIGHT WALK and THE NIGHT ANDY CAME HOME.

Alan Ormsby's script is infused with social commentary on the situation in Vietnam. Much is made of various families wondering if, or when their loved ones will return home. One of the most notable parallels with Vietnam is that many of the survivors were changed individuals once they made it back to the USA; cold and detached from society, many underwent therapy in an attempt to "return" to normalcy. Once Andy comes home, he is a totally different person. It's as if an alien has taken over his body.

But something more sinister is going on here. Bodies begin turning up, including a dead truck driver found the following morning after Andy's surprise appearance. Christine is so enamored by her sons arrival, she is oblivious to the bewildering and horrifying things that are going on around her. Only Andy's father, Charles, realizes something is wrong with his son. This is made especially evident in a scene where Andy maliciously kills the family dog in front of the neighborhood kids(!)

As the film progresses, Andy becomes more and more detached from his family save for his mother and even at this point, she knows what has happened but because of the strong bond to her son, she refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong. He also begins wearing gloves and sunglasses by the point he meets up with his old girlfriend, Joanne. After their first meeting since his homecoming, she feels a coldness from him and is noticeably frightened of him. This comes to a head during the violent conclusion when they and another couple go to the drive-in where the exploitation aspects of the film take over. The final scene is both saddening and disturbing in an EC comics sort of way.

Bob Clark truly delivered one of the best horror movies of the 1970's. Reminiscent of Romero's work, the social commentary is subtly balanced with the horror trappings. The symbolism of the Vietnam war offers thought provoking parallels. So much is left to the imagination, although there are a few brief bursts of shocking violence such as the death of a small dog, a man ran over by a car and a nasty reveal during the finale. Still, one script addition is pretty obvious. DEATHDREAM is essentially an even darker reworking of W. W. Jacobs short story, 'The Monkey's Paw'. With slight variance, that tale, just like Clark's movie, preaches the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for."

Again, as in CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, the make-up is very good as are the few gore shots. This was Savini's first solo outing and he shows signs of where he'll be in a few years. Savini, himself, a photographer in Vietnam, channels much of what he saw in that war and utilized those shocking images in his vast special effects filmography. The score is from the same composer who did the one for Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS and this one is just as bone-chillingly nerve wracking as that films disturbing soundtrack.

I remember seeing this movie the first time on local channel 48. It never stood out to me then, but later on, I rented it under the DEATHDREAM title and really enjoyed the film a lot. The DVD from Blue Underground is a lovingly compiled package loaded down with features including featurettes, two info-loaded commentaries, the original script and a voluminous gallery section among other things. Released under a handful of titles, DEATHDREAM never made much of a dent, but is remembered by a small, but strong contingent of cult fans. Never boring, it's a slow creeper that benefits from some choice performances and several sincerely spooky moments that will likely raise more than a few goosebumps.

This review is representative of the Blue Underground special edition DVD
Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.