HIDDEN HORROR – Dario Argento’s Phenomena

phenomena_poster_03Now for horror fans when it comes to Argento movies it is either love or hate, i for one im in the love category but then again i have a weakness for Italian horror cinema, and out of Argento’s “Golden Years” Phenomena is one that is generally overlooked by fans who pine over Argento’s “Suspiria” and “Deep Red”, which is a shame because not only does Phenomena showcase some damn good Argento tropes but also features both a very young Jennifer Connelly and Donald fucking Pleasence!

From IMDB: A young girl, with an amazing ability to communicate with insects, is transferred to an exclusive Swiss boarding school, where her unusual capability might help solve a string of murders.

Phenomena is a italian horror film filled with talent both in front of the camera and behind it. Jennifer Connolly though young (her Labyrinth days) does a bang up job as a misunderstood young woman with a gift and Donald Pleasence has a presence on screen as the humble Entomologist helping the detectives find the murdering. Also Dario Argento brings his A-Game here with great camera shots (as usual with Argento) fantastic music with switches back from a score by Claudio Simonetti and various rock bands, a moody and very windy atmosphere and some genuine shocks and uncomfortable moments with the kills and one scene involving a pit filled with maggots!

So if you have a compulsion to watch some Argento but want to give Suspiria and Deep Red a rest please give Phenomena a shot, its one of Argento’s unsung best – James J. Coker

Advertisements

UNDERRATED SEQUEL FOR HALLOWEEN – Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

By the end of the eighties, people believed the American slasher was dead.

Originality and fright-factor had been gutted from the subgenre thanks to countless sequels and their antagonists, who had evolved into cartoon-like anti-heroes. Horror fans tended to root for these caricatures, who were no longer garnering screams, but harvesting cheers.

That is until 1996, when Scream rebooted the slasher genre, in a brilliant deconstruction of the slice-and-dice subject matter. But was Ghostface really that terrifying in a film that almost parodied the slasher?

Rewind one year to the release of a truly terrifying slasher that spent five years in development hell. Through countless rewrites, a multitude of on-board directors and one big legal battle, the follow up to 1989’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers finally saw the light of day.

The Curse of Michael Myers was intended to answer many questions about Myers’ past and counter the ambiguous ending of its predecessor.

It’s also the most panned Halloween film (with Michael Myers) of them all, by fans and critics alike. Not to mention the best sequel in the Halloween franchise.

After the traumatic events of the original Halloween, Tommy Doyle (a young Paul Rudd in his film debut) has spent his entire life as an introvert, researching Myers on his sweet-ass Commodore 64 while waiting for him to return home to Haddonfield.

When Tommy tunes in to a radio show on Devil’s Night, that just so happens to be broadcasting a Michael Myers special, he listens in on a call made by Jamie Lloyd, who tells the shock-jock that her uncle Michael is back and he is coming to get her.

After Tommy’s investigation into the strange call he finds Jamie’s baby, who she had stashed away before meeting her demise, and Tommy takes the infant on as his charge.

The next day, Tommy and Dr. Sam Loomis reunite for the first time in over fifteen years, and they begin to anticipate the Shape’s return.

Meanwhile, Laurie’s adoptive father’s brother John Strode (Bradford English), of Strode Real Estate, has recently moved his family into the old Myers’ house after years of being on the market and being unsuccessful to sell (one wonders why).

Without giving too much of the plot away, let’s just say there’s a new child contingent on taking on the mantle of the Boogeyman, after a much thought out plan and some information on why Michael is the way he is. But everybody who has viewed Halloween H20: 20 Years Later or Halloween: Resurrection knows how that turns out.

Not only is Curse one of the most forgotten films of the franchise, but it’s also the third film that H20 forgot about by not including the story arc of Jamie Lloyd in each film’s recapitulation (including Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers).

Sadly, Curse is also Donald Pleasence’s last turn as Dr. Loomis, as the brilliant actor had passed away months before the film’s release, causing filmmakers to alter the ending (a “Producer’s Cut” of Curse has been circulating around the Internet for many years before getting a much approved – by Halloween enthusiasts – “liberation” in the latest box set release).

The film has much going for it including a joke about Michael Myers in space (before Jason Voorhees and the Leprechaun did it), a rock n roll twist on the original score (as if Randy Rhodes laid some licks over top of John Carpenter’s original score), and a throwback to the ridiculous amount of white bed sheets people owned in 1980’s slasher flicks (and happened to wash them all on the same day).

The greatest thing about the death of the slasher film was the booming psychological thrillers that captivated audiences throughout the nineties (The Silence of the Lambs was the first horror film to win an Oscar). But keep in mind that there were still a few worthwhile horror films out there that buoyed the slasher subgenre throughout the grunge era, and most have yet to be seen by the laymen (that is, non-horror fiends) or have been brushed off since first viewing. So take a piece of that Halloween nostalgia everybody feels this time of year, and revisit Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. You may come out with a totally different perspective, or just be entertained as much as the first viewing – like me.

~ Mad Matthew McPhee

HIDDEN HORROR – Wake In Fright

If there was ever a horror film that the Criterion Collection needed to inject with crack, it would have to be Ted Kotcheff’s lost Australian film “Wake in Fright.” At first glance, and upon reading its title, one would assume it’s a psychological thriller or an Australian slasher flick set in the outback. Well, you wouldn’t be 100% correct, but you’re not too far off either. This forgotten gem from the ‘70s takes much of its influence from Southern Europe’s New Wavers who emerged from the ashes 10 years prior, and centers its creepy edge more so on the horrors of unfamiliarity and environmental fatigue. “Wake in Fright” is a very animalistic and, not to mention, artistically crafted production that thrives on complete uniqueness for its time. The first thing you’ll come to realize once the film begins is that it displays some of the most breathtaking cinematography in movie history. The second thing you’ll realize is that the film’s soundtrack is not only quirkily awesome, but obviously inspired the end credits theme for “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” I mean, it just had to, it’s a dead ringer.

Somber, lonely, and a somewhat menacing portrait of a man outside his own element- which is a great change of pace from the average Australian horror flick- that finally uses the continent’s harsh and eerie surroundings as a main focus, rather than a mere bonus. A school teacher named John Grant (Gary Bond), or at least a man forced to be a school teacher until he pays off his government debts, takes a train out of town during the school’s vacation time. After a small hotel deposit, a very uncomfortable encounter with an intoxicated law enforcer, and a half dozen beers later, he attempts to gamble his debts away in an underground betting ring. Awkwardly though, John leaves a day later with $1 to his name and many years of teaching ahead of him… if he can even get back without transportation fare that is. From this point on the film then lands him in one horrifyingly uncomfortable situation after another as he has no choice but to accept offers from a handful of seemingly generous people who provide him with shelter, alcohol and life threatening experiences. The most extreme of the latter being a late night Kangaroo hunt, which features real hunting footage of kangaroos being shot and killed for over 10 minutes straight. The climax of this segment is enough to make any animal activist shit themselves. As an extra plus, you’ll also get to experience more than half of this film with a great performance by Donald Pleasence in probably the least Loomis you’ll ever see him.

“Wake in Fright” is an introverts worst nightmare. For anyone who already hates being forced to interact with strange people and has not the energy for adapting to new environments on a whim, this film finds a way to do a number on you. The picture does a fantastic job at coming off as raw and disturbing without showing a single trope of the modern horror movie genre. There are no vampires here. No virus killing everyone off. Not even a crazy man with a big “knoife”. This is a horror film that lets the actualities of life reflect upon you from beyond the LCD screen. Let’s all take a moment to thank Martin Scorsese for personally exposing this film to the modern public when he nominated a preserved print to be screened at a recent Cannes Film Festival. That bloated trade show of a “art showcase” has been useful for something after all.

– Sterling “The Spork Guy” Anno

31 HIDDEN HORRORS FOR HALLOWEEN – OCT.30th – UNDERRATED SEQUELS – Halloween 2 (1981)

28 (2)We all know that John Carpenter’s “Halloween” is a classic horror film. When it comes to the sequels however most people dismiss them saying, “oh the sequels suck.”  Yes some of the sequels do in fact suck but I’m here to say that “Halloween 2 “does not suck. In fact I will even go as far to to say I actually like it better then the first…GASP!…yes I know.

It’s the same night as the first “Halloween.” Michael Myers is around the neighborhood after being gunned by Dr. Loomis six times. Now he’s in a hospital where the girl Laurie Strode was taken. And there’s a reason why Michael is after her…

Now what makes this sequel worthy of your time is that not only does the storyline take place seconds after the first film but the creepiness factor and atmosphere is just as good as the first film. However whereas the first film has few victims and no blood this one has a ton of victims and there’s a fair amount of blood. What the means is not only are you getting the creepy atmosphere and creepy lighting of the first film you’re also getting more death scenes and more graphic ones no less. Also Michael Myers is more sinister and menacing in this one. And of course Donald Pleasence plays Dr. Loomis very serious and even a bit nutty too.

If you’re tired of watching the first Halloween for the one millionth time pop in “Halloween 2” and be surprised.

-James J. Coker