HALLOWEEN WITH JOHN CARPENTER & OTHER THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE FOG
John Carpenter may be the only director having worked in the horror genre who could rip off concepts and ideas and make them look uniquely his own. One could argue Carpenter's career mirrors that of Quentin Tarantino in that it's generously dotted with works that homage what others have done before him; only Carpenter has done it with far more polish and professionalism.
Like most of the genres old hands, his work has lost much of its luster with only an occasional shiny diamond amongst the coal. Personally, I consider John Carpenter one of horrors greatest filmmakers. His decline is no different than any other revered director that specialized in other genres whether within or without the realm of horror and fantasy. His inspirations are debatable, but it's doubtful many of horrors current crop of hipsters behind the camera will ever attain the depth of Carpenter's resume, or any of horror's old hats for that matter.
His SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME! was a 1978 TV movie starring Lauren Hutton that mimicked Hitchcock as well as Bob Clark's seminal and downbeat BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974); the latter film bearing a connection with Carpenter.
There's no arguing the Master of Horror will always be best remembered for HALLOWEEN (Carpenter with Tony Moran as Michael Meyers above). Also from 1978, Carpenter's forever duplicated stalk and slasher borrowed much from Clark's equally classic, if less discussed outing. HALLOWEEN's classic status is assured, yet the background regarding BLACK CHRISTMAS, the film itself, and its then proposed sequel, which eventually morphed into HALLOWEEN, cannot be denied.
Carpenter's THE FOG (1979), an incredibly moody little ghost story has finally gotten the respect it has long deserved. Still, whether intentional, or not, Carpenter's tale of a ghost ship and maggot ridden pirate corpses borrows elements from both Amando De Ossorio's RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD (1972) and THE GHOST GALLEON (1973). The former in its 100 Bicentennial celebration wherein the monsters come back for revenge, and the latter in its fog enshrouded ghost ship.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1977) is a horror tinged version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) that depicts a group of varied individuals locked up inside a police station threatened by a murderous, bloodthirsty gang trying to get to them from the outside. Elements of this film would later turn up in Carpenter's mostly maligned GHOSTS OF MARS from 2001. The directors career is also dotted with remakes, some of which are striking in their imagery and ability to instill fear in the viewer.
Such is the case with THE THING from 1982; a film that expands on its origins less from the 1951 THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD than from the original John W. Campbell Jr. story. This tale about an alien frozen in the Arctic that escapes and uses human hosts to survive by absorbing them and moving onto other lifeforms still contains incredible effects work and taut direction from Carpenter.
His other remake, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995), is a mostly pedestrian effort that seems to show its director merely collecting a paycheck. Then again, very little of consequence emerged in horror from the late 80s to the mid 1990s.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) is still an incredible piece of action cinema with a streamlined comic book plot. Carpenter essentially remade the film in 1996 as ESCAPE FROM LA, bolstering the bigger budgeted movie with tons of action set pieces and cult film icons. Wedged in between were films about killer cars (CHRISTINE), a kung fu fantasy feature (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA), an alien invasion movie (THEY LIVE) and a devil picture (PRINCE OF DARKNESS) that has increased in value over the years.
His MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (1992) disappeared at the box office and VAMPIRES (1998) was essentially an Earth bound version of 2001's GHOSTS OF MARS but with bloodsuckers.
Carpenter has professed his love of westerns and according to him, he considers a hefty chunk of his resume to be westerns in disguise. His most recent directed work, THE WARD (2010), a traditional ghost story set within a mental institution, has been heralded by many to be a return to form for one of horror's Big Guns.
While Craven made his name on visceral violence, Romero on zombies and their flesh eating social subtext, Carpenter made his on tension and a profound knack for goosebumpery. Like all of the genres major players, their best days are behind them. No matter what they do from here on out, those classic early works will always be there to see time and time again. Remakes be damned.
THE STAKES ARE HIGH
Jim Mickle's MULBERRY STREET (2006) had an interesting 'B' movie plot, but a lousy execution. It was part of the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest and delivered far more Horr-ible than Horror.
Upon stumbling upon his STAKE LAND (2010) via a blind buy, the results are like night and day. They don't even appear to be the work of the same man. The plots are similar, but the 2010 picture, about a zombie-like plague that turns Earth's population into ravenous vampire monsters, is the DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) of the new millennium.
Hopefully, the wonderfully gloomy atmosphere and didacticism of civilizations destruction disguised as a vampire apocalypse isn't a fluke on Mickle's part. His film also makes vampires creepy again.
Is Kelly McGillis (seen above with Mickle) becoming a late-blooming scream queen? She has a soul searing role here as a nun on the run who ultimately struggles with her faith. Incidentally, she also has a role in Ti West's THE INNKEEPERS (2011), another filmmaker also a part of this article. Horror heroine, the lovely Danielle Harris (at left) is also featured here.
No glittery gayisms and romanticisms seen in the teeny-bopper interpretations of bloodsuckers in recent years, these are no-nonsense, rip your head off vamps with zombie-istic tendencies. It remains to be seen if Mickle can capitalize on the momentum gained by this stunning horror film that was among the best I saw in 2011.
I BLESS THE RAINS AND THE ZOMBIES DOWN IN AFRICA
Howard and Jonathan Ford's THE DEAD (2010) seemed to come out of nowhere; much like the shuffling dead seen almost non-stop over the course of this sweltering, Africa lensed motion picture. The plot is simplicity in its depiction of two men of different races, nationalities, but desiring the same goal--to be reunited with their loved ones. It's not a perfect film, but it's brimming with tense moments and overflowing with a lava-like level of zombie attacks.
The various assaults and locales recall Italian gut-slurpers like Fulci's classic ZOMBIE (1979) and Mattei's classless HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980). It mirrors the apocalyptic bravado of Mickle's STAKE LAND, but trumps it slightly by shooting on the devastating African continent. The frequently stunning photography somehow takes away some of the horror, yet lends the film a gruesomely majestic feel at the same time. It remains to be seen if the Ford's are game to give gore another go-round.
SHARKS CAN BE SCARY AGAIN AND THAT'S NO CROC
With the 'Found Footage' and BLAIR WITCH styled horror thrillers being all the rage (right alongside remakes, the current bane of horror), Australian filmmaker, Andrew Traucki joins his other 'Down Under' compatriots as a force to be reckoned with.
Surfacing with the Killer Kroc flick BLACK WATER in 2007, Traucki has shown himself to be an ardent fan of 'Nature Amuck' movies. So far his two completed features are of the aquatic menace variety. BLACK WATER, which takes after the similar US film, OPEN WATER (2006), eschews that movies sharks for crocodiles, but retains the 'based on true events' moniker.
BLACK WATER's premise was simple--a vacation goes horribly awry leaving a family stranded within the Australian swampland and being stalked by a hungry crocodile. It's slowly paced, but Traucki punctuates his movie with a few stellar moments of shock. He also proves distinctive by utilizing a unique method for his films. As opposed to the prolificity of CGI, Traucki opts instead to composite real crocodiles for the attack scenes.
He used this same technique for his next feature, the even better THE REEF (2010). This film (even more similar to OPEN WATER), about a group of vacationers being hunted by a great white shark after their boat capsizes, did something few shark movies have done since JAWS--induce a feeling of fear. OPEN WATER did it, but that film was of the BLAIR WITCH school of horror.
THE REEF feels more like a real movie jettisoning the 'you are there' approach taken by so many horror pictures in recent memory. This films ad campaign is one of the best I've seen to come along in a good many years.
Sadly, this picture had its premiere on DVD; the theatrical front for killer shark movies having been systematically decimated by the double team foul fishy smell emanating from DEEP BLUE SEA (1997) and countless SyFy Shitters of the Week.
The box office failure of the imbecilic SHARK NIGHT 3D (2011) and the limited release of the semi horror DARK TIDE (2011) starring Halle Berry did nothing to re-ignite the dangers indigenous to oceanic locales; the likes of which haven't been incurred on a large scale since JAWS way back in 1975.
At least in Traucki's case, he invoked genuine menace and a paranoid sense of isolation with his two underwater horrors which lacked the bigger, flashier budgets of the American made fare.
Currently, Traucki is attached to the curious THE ABCs OF DEATH, an unusual movie bringing together some two dozen genre filmmakers and their visions. Here's hoping Traucki continues to scare in an equally ingenious vein as he has done in his first two features.
LUCKY WITH THE LADIES TEN YEARS RUNNING
For a decade now, Lucky McKee has been associated with the horror genre. He's done relatively few films, as they've been spread out between 2002 and 2010. He attracted a good deal of attention with MAY (2002), his grim psychological terror tale of Frankensteinian proportions starring Angela Bettis. In that film, Bettis was this societally disconnected girl whose "best friend" is a peculiar looking doll. After losing relationships with a man then a lesbian woman, May continues full speed ahead into insanity; not that she was too far away from the brink as it was.
McKee then helmed what many say is the best, or one of the best of cable's hit series, MASTERS OF HORROR with his episode, 'Sick Girl'; yet another tale of lonely, detached females with the inclusion of an exotic, yet dangerous insect. He next delved into Argento territory with the SUSPIRIA sounding THE WOODS in 2006. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it.
McKee next adapted the Jack Ketchum novel, 'Red' for the silver screen. This one wasn't so much a horror picture as it was a grueling dramatic thriller via the violence laden conventions of the revenge film. Any horror fan worth their salt on the wound will know who Jack Ketchum is. The rampant perversity and recalcitrance of Ketchum's ball busting endurance tests were a natural fit for McKee's demoralized and homocidal central characters. For RED, this was something of a departure for both Ketchum and McKee, yet the violence was still shocking in the extreme.
The plot of RED concerns an old man who is harassed by a group of kids with nothing better to do with their day than terrorize an old man fishing with his dog. These cruel bastards kill the man's dog with his own shotgun for no reason whatsoever.
From here, the film trots out the required tropes of vengeance cinema and builds appropriately robust heroes and villains along the way. As disturbing as it all is, the movie ends on an upbeat note.
It's worth noting McKee seems attracted to characters (predominantly women) who are outcasts, quirky and or homicidal; sometimes a combination of the three. His films mirror the eccentricities that propagate within Ketchum's twisted worlds.
This was really brought to bear in McKee's most recent endeavor, THE WOMAN (2011). Here was a film that was as grossly offensive as it was mesmerizingly engrossing. Its depiction of McKee's most bizarre and intrinsically savage characterizations yet are spearheaded by Pollyanna Mcintosh (see photo at right).
This was a sequel to an inferior movie entitled OFFSPRING (2009). It, too, was based on a Ketchum novel. Pollyanna Mcintosh lead the cannibalistic pack in that film but goes it solo here. THE WOMAN is superior in every way to OFFSPRING, yet this sequel is also a terribly divisive amongst horror circles. It's one of those movies you either admire or despise. It's also one of a trend that shows an unbridled devotion to 70s ultra violent cinema, only here, the material is approached with more intelligence than the average picture of this sort. Me, personally, I look forward to what McKee has planned next.
THE BOTTOMLESS BARREL: REDNECK ROB VS. UWE'S BOLL SHIT
This rocker with the initials RZ sings what passes for mainstream metal these days. He also directs what he feels are potential masterpieces being passed off as mainstream horror. He's so cognizant of his place in horror's universe that his movies bear the distinction of having his name plastered just above the main title a la John Carpenter. You'd think justification for one's accomplishments would come with experience and a varied resume.
So far, Mr. Zombie has amassed a small number of movies that are virtually interchangeable from the one before it. The (lowest) common denominators between them are carnivalesque characters acted by familiar genre faces who utter the most infantile dialog ever devised. If you can imagine Tarantino as a 15 year old hillbilly, you have some idea of the sort of dialog Robbie Z writes for his cast to spout with the utmost conviction (Chicken fucking anyone?). It's like everyone in his movies live in an alternate reality where human beings do not behave like rational human beings.
He's done two mediocre TEXAS CHAINSAW homages and two HALLOWEEN films which could easily be related to his maiden and sophomore (sophomoric?) efforts. Zombie's interpretation of Carpenter's genre defining classic is about as pleasant an experience as drinking a gallon of curdled milk. And it's only getting worse as Zombie puts the finishing touches on what is no doubt yet another waste of celluloid, this time titled (in oppressively creepy voice) LORDS OF SALEM. Wait, correction, that's ROB ZOMBIE'S LORDS OF SALEM. Excuse me. Zombie obviously loves violent movies of the 70s, but he should really put the pen down and let somebody from this planet (and with a mature grasp of the English language) write his scripts for him. A change of scenery would do him good, too.
For the last twenty years few directors have garnered such an impressive array of shitty movies as Uwe Boll, the not so wunderkind from Germany.
To compensate for Boll's cinematic shortcomings, I will include some juicy photos of Kristanna Loken and Natassia Malthe, two beautiful women who donned the skin tight leather outfits of the increasingly insipid BLOODRAYNE series.
His story is an amazing one and could easily qualify for a novel sized read. The sheer audacity this man has in his quest to half-ass direct one motion picture after the other is a staggering accomplishment in itself. And one of the more amazing aspects of this modern day Ed Wood (while Wood is beloved for his badness, Boll is infinitely hated by cult film fans) is that he has a small contingent of fans who admit to liking his movies.
Not only that, but the man continues to get financing to craft his crapola that are the equivalent of used toilet paper. And not the expensive kind. I'm talking finger roll here. And yes, that's the man pictured above giving you the finger. He makes continuously craptacular movies gambling with others money whom blindingly fork it over to him, yet he can't grasp he should lay the camera down and smash it to bits in the hopes of never picking one up again.
Thankfully, studios ultimately became a bit more hesitant to willingly hand over a budget to this guy considering his movies consistently tank at the box office. Bear in mind that tanking is an understatement. Boll's movies burn through the bottom of the barrel like so much Alien blood yet he still possesses some arcane ability to wrangle big name Hollywood talent (past and present); this despite each film descending further and further into the abyss where celluloid excrement goes to die.
Boll, having somewhat tired of his ruthless video game to screen fetish (tired by a narrow margin), resorted to blatant offensiveness to attract a crowd with POSTAL, a 2007 comedy that makes Troma look like Mel Brooks by comparison. He achieved a modicum of success with this cinematic shit pot by stirring up a lot of folks via mainstream media news reports because of some imagery mocking 9/11 and comedic material involving Osama Bin Laden and George Bush.
Every movie on his Boll call has been a disaster and none on quite the level of IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE (2007), a 60 million bomb of an epic scale. The movie couldn't even be bothered to break the 5 million mark in American theaters. It also failed to kill off the career of the charismatic Jason Statham, a British actor whose own career is of equal amazement. I can't think of another actor who can be in multiple movies a month and relatively few of them make any money; and yet he still gets good roles.
Meanwhile, Boll continues to churn out rotten saurkraut; still resorting to cheap shocks (like his no doubt horrific AUSHWITZ from 2011) when nobody is paying attention to his juvenile video game movies. Obviously, a market exists for this man's manure; particularly BLOODRAYNE considering Boll has been behind three of them thus far. The mind boggles and the head hurts.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO GREG MCLEAN?! The man exploded onto the horror scene with a down and dirty endurance horror by the name of WOLF CREEK in 2005. It was a movie of the 'Based On True Events' school of horror and told in a suitably savage, bleak style.
McLean wisely spends a good deal of time with his three Australian campers just prior to their fateful meeting with the films nasty villain portrayed by John Jarratt. The director pulls no punches in its terror and torture sequences leading up to a shocking, if ambiguous ending.
Despite being a financial success, audiences were divided here because it took too long to get to the "action". Hollywood has programmed the paying customers that you must cut to the chase and get to the action as quickly as possible instead of building to it. To hell with things like exposition. Unless you have an established star for folks to ogle, most audience members can't be bothered with actors they are not familiar with. McLean was brave enough to fashion the film his way and managed to get a nationwide release and a tidy profit resulted.
His follow up, ROGUE (2007), is a beyond exceptional entry in the 'Nature Amuck' genre that has been abused and damaged so severely by the SyFy Channel, that these types of movies seem totally out of place being seen in a theatrical format.
Every time it's tried, the films fail to make a decent profit versus budget. The high profile, yet low brow trash of PIRANHA (2010) is a good example of this. McLean's ROGUE deserved a theatrical chance.
Just take a look at its poster artwork; a terrifying design that recalls the iconic JAWS poster imagery. Yet it was highly likely his tale of crocodile horror would sink to the murky bottom of the swamp like the others before and after it.
Regardless, McLean devises a well rounded blotter of diverse characters, bombastic cinematography and intense attacks by the title critter. Gore is kept to a minimum. It took ROGUE a long time before it hit American shores, unfortunately.
No doubt its release was hampered by another killer crocodile movie, the vastly inferior PRIMEVAL (2007). That film was based on a true story, but it failed to ignite at the box office. Movies about man-eating alligators and crocodiles generate poor monetary returns and ROGUE was dealt a death blow in its native Australia. It's one of those times where a film was unfairly overlooked and maligned from a piss poor audience reception. It's much better than its theatrical performance would reflect.
McLean has been MIA these last few years, but here's hoping this fiercely talented director gets back in the game sooner rather than later.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO TI WEST?! Actually, Ti West may not actually belong here. I haven't seen his 2005 picture, THE ROOST, but HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009) was infinitely impressive, packed with tension and possessing a flair that echoed the horror of the 1980s. The title is pretty much self-explanatory about a woman who applies for a babysitting job to make some quick cash. She ends up with far more than she could have ever bargained for. What came next from Mr. West almost seems to be from a different director entirely.
CABIN FEVER 2 (2009) is easily one of the worst horror films I've ever seen. Apparently Ti West is embarrassed by his involvement with this picture and such ignominy felt by his involvement is understandable considering how wretched the whole thing is. The film isn't without some striking moments, but for the most part, it's forgettable junk that only spirals downward the closer we get to the ending. In his defense, this was a severely troubled production being shelved for a time before being released; and it shows.
After that fiasco, West embarked on another suspense building spooker, this one entitled THE INNKEEPERS (2011). This story of two co-workers who are bound and determined to make some sort of spiritual connection with the Inn's former tenants... who happen to be very much dead. The movie attempts to ape the slow build formula of West's HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, but fails at generating much in the way of horror till the finale. It's not a bad film, just an anemic attempt at emulating Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980) and any number of British horror from decades prior.
His upcoming V/H/S promises to be something truly terrifying and among the already flooded 'Found Footage' market; the popularity of which doesn't seem to have slowed down much if at all. West also appears among the lengthy list of filmmakers attached to the ambitious THE ABCs OF DEATH.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO NEIL MARSHALL?! British born director Neil Marshall got a deluge of positive notices from his monster movie, DOG SOLDIERS, a 2005 film that bears all the hallmarks of a SyFy Channel original. Not surprisingly, the US channel well known for its awful CGI monster fests adopted this British tale of lycanthropic terror for American consumption. While this story of gun toting soldiers fending off a family of werewolves from within a flimsily fortified cabin in the woods offered a few scares and lots of blood, it was Marshall's next that really put him on the map.
A group of women go on a cave excursion within an unmapped cave and become trapped below ground with no known means of escape. The women quickly realize they're not alone. The darkness surrounding them yields fanged, albino like, flesh-eating humanoids. With their numbers dwindling, the women must find both a way to survive and a way out before they all become food for these blind beasts from below. THE DESCENT (2007) was a welcome breath of fresh air for the horror genre which had (and continues to be) inundated with lackadaisacal remakes and hollow throwbacks to better films of yesteryear. The scares were plentiful and successfully pulled off. A Marshall produced sequel followed in 2009. I have no idea what happened with Marshall's next picture.
Instead of capitalizing on his horror growth spurt from his two previous movies, Marshall regressed with a terribly ill advised post apocalyptic watzit entitled DOOMSDAY (2008) starring Kate Beckinsale lookalike, Rhona Mitra (pictured above). Surely made with the best of intentions, Marshall received generally scornful notices from fans and critics alike who were blown away by THE DESCENT.
To put it mildly, I found DOOMSDAY to be an abomination. It has all the trimmings for grand cult appeal amassing everything from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) to THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981) to ALIENS (1986) and even Lenzi's NIGHTMARE CITY (1980); yet it totally flushes such an opportunity due in no small part to some severely erratic, headache inducing editing.
Marshall was pretty much off the radar after this misguided Armageddon fiasco, but found a modest degree of redemption with the gory sword and sandal set CENTURION (2010).
Years in the making, this historical epic obviously meant a lot to director Marshall considering the level of realism and shooting tactics incorporated for its reportedly grueling schedule in the Scottish Highlands. A far cry from the absurdities of DOOMSDAY, CENTURION came in the wake of 300 (2007), which opened the Olympian gates for a peplum resurgence that hadn't been seen since the 1950s and 60s.
For whatever reason, no major studio would touch CENTURION. Magnet Releasing ended up distributing Marshall's movie with a 'barely there' release till the inevitable video debut. I do have to wonder, though, had DOOMSDAY performed better, would the vastly superior CENTURION have gotten the respectable stateside release it deserved and from a company more willing to gamble on a wider berth.
Whatever Marshall's next happens to be (he's attached as director to the horror film THE LAST VOYAGE OF DEMETER), he's shown himself to be a devoted filmmaker and lover of the medium who seems to honestly care about the product he is creating. The best of luck to him and to the others listed here.
To be continued in HEROINES OF HORROR, a fifth chapter dealing with horror and trash cinemas female helmsmen.
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