The Sequel I Tried to Like: THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT 2

The Houses October Built 2. 2017. Directed by Bobby Roe. Screenplay by Roe & Zack Andrews.
Starring Brandy Schaefer, Zack Andrews, Mikey Roe, Bobby Roe, & Jeff Larson.
Foreboding Films.
Not Rated. 100 minutes.
Horror

★★
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 12.14.39 PMLet’s get this straight, I’ve been a huge fan of The Houses October Built since it came out. After seeing it, loving it, I looked for the original documentary that came out a few years before by the same director, the same people. There’s a palpable fear about the first film, one that gets under the skin and works at you, rarely letting up. It also had the benefit of a group of actors who were clearly close friends, reflected in the final product as well-developed, genuine characters.
But, oh, this sequel. After it was announced, I was excited. Not every movie needs a sequel these days, but it felt like there could be more to the story, if the filmmakers were so inclined to show us. The Houses October Built 2 promised plenty, ultimately delivering on little to none of what I’d hoped.
Where I was expecting another gruelling experience, rooted in the unknown yet all too human, I got only a retread in familiar territory. Not great ones, either. What’s more, the tension is near non-existent. The original was a tense experience, one haunted house attraction after another. Even when frights were expected, they were creepy, at times truly frightening. By the time the big reveal comes, it’s too late in the game. What’s worse is the ending feels like a massive bluff, in a bad way. Not that the audience is disrespected, it’s just cheap, it takes away what little power was built in the climax. If the first film wasn’t so damn effective this experience wouldn’t have been as disappointing.
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The Good

Always love when a sequel gives us a taste of happened directly after the events of its predecessor. As in literally; we begin following The Houses October Built‘s finale, after Blue Skeleton has taken the group, Brandy’s pulled out of her grave and left on a desolate road. Then, it’s interesting how Brandy is framed as the wholly central character here, as opposed to just one out of a group. She and her friends, though mostly her, become internet celebrities after it was all livestreamed.
Spectacular premise. Brandy as Coffin Girl, known all over America in the state-to-state haunt circles, promises the possibility of different themes than the first. Along with that is the evolution of the haunt, the various forms of the haunted house attraction getting scarier, or more involved, some including virtual reality elements. These new bits and pieces make for the sequel’s best, most effective elements.
The Blue Skeleton POV shots following the group are chilling, perhaps the more nerve-racking sections in the film. We’ve seen this before, but now the mood changes from one of a sinister playfulness to entirely sinister altogether, malevolent. Considering the overall lack of tension, these interludes are the ones that hook the viewer efficiently, keeping us on edge and in suspense of what might happen next down the road.
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The Bad & The Ugly

Quickly during the opening sequence, the atmosphere of the first film goes out the window. Whereas we spent The Houses October Built entirely in that found footage perspective of the group, this sequel goes for traditionally shot scenes, going so far as to include drone shots that feel totally out of place, like they had a drone and decided just to use it for the sake of using it. The earliest drone shot isn’t their camera, it’s an opening shot similar to the one that opened the newest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, meant as an establishing shot. Here, it’s disorienting, and immediately there’s a sense the first film’s fantastic atmosphere will not carry over.
The found footage sections are all manipulated, too. They’re edited with music, little intros to some of the haunts. Not a total stickler for the unwritten rules of the sub-genre, sometimes people nitpick too much. However, at a certain point if the filmmakers don’t at least try adhering to them whatsoever, there’s a disruption in how we related to this type of film, and it also makes you wonder why bother doing it as found footage.
The worst sin is a dearth of tension. The Houses October Built felt harrowing in particular moments, from the actual haunts themselves to the strange cast of characters the group encounter while spiralling down a rabbit hole looking for Blue Skeleton’s extreme, travelling haunt. There are no quiet, creeping moments of terror, none of the ominous characters we saw in the first like sort of gatekeepers on the road to some horrific place. This never comes to fruition in the sequel, we’re treated to a skull mask turning up in one of the haunts as Brandy spies it and gets unnerved; this doesn’t come until about 70 minutes in.
We’re left bored until over an hour in. Despite any of the creepiness which follows, the build-up doesn’t match the pay off. The last 25 minutes work well, sadly the preceding hour and fifteen don’t provide the tension necessary to make Hellbent, their final attraction destination, as unsettling as it could’ve been. Worst of all, there’s a moment in the end where we’re led to believe a shocking, nasty, tragic act has occurred, only to be twisted around and shown this was an illusion of sorts. It’s a scene that makes the viewer feel cheated. More than that, it would’ve been perfect to end the film there and then. Instead the filmmakers undo the impact of this shattering climax, spoiling the plot with an utterly abysmal finish.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 1.47.58 PMIt’s hard to judge sequels separately as entirely different entities outside of a franchise. Friday the 13thA Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween; some of the films in these series’ don’t particularly link well with the others, whether intentional or just because of poor writing, and so it allows us to look at particular entries as a sort of standalone film even under the name of a franchise.
The Houses October Built 2 is very much meant as the second blow of a one-two punch, the sequel works as a direct, sequential follow-up to the first. You can’t take this one as its own film, they should both work in conjunction. On the one hand, the plot continues perfectly, losing no continuity. On the other, we get none of the same atmosphere, none of the same mood, as if we’ve stepped out of this story’s universe and into another.
I’ll always love The Houses October Built, it’s undeniably one of the better found footage horror flicks out there; definitely at the top of the heap in this decade. Because of that love, I can’t help but be disappointed, it’s hard to contain. I always try going into a film without being predisposed to expectation, no matter how much I look forward to the experience. Sequels are always tough, in that light. I gave this a chance. Even without comparison to the other, this one feels like a missed opportunity. Maybe we’ll get a third film to redeem this little series. Until then I’ll stick with the first.

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RINGS: The Sequel I Never Knew I Wanted

Rings. 2017. Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez. Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, & David Loucka.
Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan, Chuck Willis, Patrick Walker, Zach Roerig, & Laura Wiggins.
Macari-Edelstein/Parkes+MacDonald Image Nation/Vertigo Entertainment.
Rated PG-13. 102 minutes.
Horror.

★★★1/2
posterDisclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. If you want to go in fresh, and I suggest you do, then DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW! For thou will be spoiled.

To start, I’ve always loved both the original Ringu from Hideo Nakata and also Gore Verbinski’s remake The Ring. They’re equally disturbing and eerie, in their own rights. I was a lot less impressed with Nakata doing the sequel to the remake, The Ring Two, which I’d hoped would’ve been better. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed bits. Overall I love the mythology of the original story, how the remake handled it in his own way, and of course the first film from Nakata with its truly ghostly feeling. They’re each the type of horror that works its way under your skin until it’s inside you. Remember that first hideous, dead face in the closet in Verbinski’s film? I don’t even have to watch it again to picture it in my mind.
So, once Rings was announced, I actually – honestly – did not give a shit. Total honesty. A few days ago while I had the day to myself, I wandered into Cineplex and bought a ticket. Again, full disclosure: I wanted to see Split (which I will soon). Seeing as how there wasn’t a showtime soon enough for me, Rings got my money.
Although there are a few things I didn’t like – namely the last couple minutes with its reveal, and some issues I had concerning the time frame of certain events – there were a ton of other things I enjoyed, a hell of a lot. Never expected it, either. And maybe that helped. No matter what it was, part of the credit is certainly F. Javier Gutiérrez’s directing. Plus I was impressed by the writing team of Akiva Goldsman, Jacob Estes, and David Loucka, who managed to deliver a screenplay that, while faulty in spots, felt imaginative, Gothic, and paid tribute to the original story in a fresh way.
rings1At first I felt like the opening was cheesy, as it’s the same plane scene we saw in promos recently. Then, as I sat in the theatre, it felt much more dreadful. Really pulse pounding, stressful stuff. Worked great on the big screen. This is an example of the writers bringing Samara (Bonnie Morgan) onto (and in through) the screen in intriguing ways. Later, perhaps my favourite appearance of Samara through a television screen happens as Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) hides in a bathroom – the victim tears a TV from the wall to try stopping the inevitable, and then Samara emerges as the screen lies flat on the floor, pushing her way out into the world (see: picture below). The opener and this scene alone gave us enough new, exciting appearances by the girl at the heart of the story that I feel Estes, Goldsman, and Loucka deserve a pat on the back. They could’ve focused totally on the story itself, the mythology, and left Samara’s television high jinks by the wayside, unoriginal, stale. They chose to try covering it all.
Brings me to another part of Rings I loved: the mythology opens up. The story takes us into a whole new era, literally. We bridge the gap between VHS and MPEG-4; the first interesting plot point. Johnny Galecki plays a professor named Gabriel. He ends up buying a VCR from a sale, and it winds up containing a stuck tape – you know which one! From there, this leads him into an existential search for answers after discovering, as Naomi Watts and others before him, that to survive you must make a copy of the tape, and the cycle continues. He begins a sort of secretive research project involving people watching the tape, then another person hours later watching the copy (a ‘tail’ as Gabriel calls it). Amazing setup for another chapter in The Ring‘s mythology.
rings2That’s not all, though. A man named Burke (Vincent D’Onofrio) turns up later, and the town he lives in played a significant part in the life of Samara. It also holds the key to where she came from, before poor Brian Cox and his wife had their lives – and horses – destroyed by the little girl. This is where the Gothic feel of the story comes into play. This calls us back to that feeling Verbinski tapped into with The Ring, where the country-type settings return and the Gothic sense of secrets brimming under the surface of the town come alive once more. I won’t go on and spoil the twist they have in store, because I didn’t actually expect it, though maybe I should have according to some other, more snooty reviewers. Apart from the twist, there’s such a palpably eerie feeling that hovers like a fog over the last third of the film when Julia makes it to the little town where they discovered Samara’s bones are supposedly buried. This Gothic portion is another beautifully circular piece of the puzzle, as everything in the mythology of Samara seems to circle back in on itself.
I’ve also got to commend Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz. Not that I have anything to compare this performance with, never having seen her act before, but she does good work here. Personally I love Naomi Watts, but Lutz does a far better job giving her character Julia depth, as opposed to a relatively flat performance from Watts in her role as Rachael (over two films no less). This girl Julia gets sucked into the world of the tape and Samara in whirlwind, in a much different situation than Rachael. Lutz’s is the best performance by far, a mixture of apprehension, fear, curiosity. This isn’t one of those run and scream roles, much more than that. And this young actress is someone I hope to see again soon.
RINGSDefinitely not for everyone, Rings will probably only appeal, or mostly, to die hard fans of the first remake. It honestly may not even appeal to Ringu fans, though you never can tell. Despite any of that I feel that Gutiérrez (who did a fantastic film just under a decade ago called Before the Fall) did interesting things as director, and he crafted the compelling new story into a moody, Gothic piece.
Sure, if you watched only the initial half of the film you might feel there isn’t much for this sequel to stand on. There are a couple intriguing things going for it. The real fun doesn’t start until a little ways in, when the mythology not only creeps into the contemporary world of technology but also goes back to the original and expands further. And even though I actually did not like the last few minutes when we’re revealed something that could’ve been suspected earlier, I do dig the very contemporary take on social media that’s offered in those final moments (you’ll understand more if you’ve actually seen the film).
So I’d recommend any non-jaded horror fans who are willing to stop being so judgemental constantly and ready to have fun, plus fans of The Ring and particularly its Gothic-ness, check out Rings. Have some fun. I know I did. I’m not ready for another sequel or anything, I’m just glad Gutiérrez injected life into a sequel I never asked for or knew I wanted.

Barrett & Wingard Deal Another Terrifying Blow with BLAIR WITCH

Blair Witch. 2016. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay by Simon Barrett.
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, & Valorie Curry.
Lionsgate/Room 101/Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
posterThis movie was a loaded gun for me when it hit. First, since I first saw The Blair Witch Project I’ve loved it completely. In all honesty, the marketing got to me when it was released, and for those who experienced it in the early days of internet there’s this buzz that still gets you going every time the movie plays. You get taken back to those trailers, the opening scenes, all the faux-reality, but the terrifying faux-reality that gripped horror lovers.
Second, I dig Adam Wingard and his frequent collaborator writer Simon Barrett. They haven’t reinvented the wheel, yet every project they take on is unique. They have such an excellent rapport as a director-writer team, which translates well into each film. A Horrible Way to DieYou’re NextThe Guest; each of these, for me, was a thrilling experience, albeit in their respective ways.
When it came out finally that The Woods, their latest collaboration, is in actuality Blair Witch… well, needless to say, I got excited. Taking on a sequel to one of the most groundbreaking horror films ever made, after the first fairly miserable sequel Book of Shadows failed to impress, is a monumental task. Not everyone is going to love Blair Witch. People seem to fall into a couple categories: either they think it strays too far from the original (to which I smirk questionably), or they think it’s too similar (there goes that smirk again).
Me, I find Wingard and Barrett’s film admirable, in a lot of ways. It gets more intense than its predecessor, that alone is saying something; hard to beat, but this sequel gives many of the best scenes from the original a run for their money. More than that Barrett’s screenplay, as opposed to the improvised and looser style of The Blair Witch Project, does wonders for the tension and gives the actors good stuff with which to work, ultimately allowing for better performances. Not every last person is going to love this. I do, and I hope others were as thrilled as me when they sat through its terror.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-8-29-18-pmOne of the immediate aspects I noticed, and enjoyed a ton, is the great sound design, helping to put it above the intensity of the first film in specific moments. There’s a feeling of being lost in the woods alongside these people because of the sound; a hovering, pulsing sound wraps the audience up, as it surrounds the characters. This, in conjunction with the camerawork – chaotic and frenzied in the more mortifying moments – makes for good scares. The original movie does well with its bare sense of reality, having the actors sent out into the woods relatively on their own and manipulated into being scared. Blair Witch succeeds in its mission to creep people out partly due to the sound and the visuals together, plus the fact Wingard did things similar to The Blair Witch Project‘s directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.
Mainly, Wingard used an air horn in the background of scenes in order to attain the right amount of jump from actors. And some will say, “That’s what an actor is for, they should just act!” – I say nonsense. Sure, don’t go William Friedkin and fire a gun next to somebody to scare them. I feel like the air horn is fine, it did elicit appropriate reactions. There are honest places actors sometimes aren’t going to get simply because they need to be genuinely scared to get there, not pretend scared, and Wingard gets the actors under his care to that place, manipulating horror from them in an unexpected way. Moreover, the actors just haul you to the darkness of that woods and far too many times, in the best kind of sense, you’ll feel as lost as they do, disoriented, frightened, paranoid; the whole gamut of terrifying emotion.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-29-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-30-23-pmThe acting is great, aside from any of the jump scares or the pure bits of scary madness. And it’s strange, because I’ve seen people complain that the acting is no good, or that it takes away from the tension. Totally disagree. Each of the actors gives it their all, as well as the fact a couple of them give absolutely awesome performances.
Wes Robinson & The Following‘s Valorie Curry as Lane and Talia, the would-be guides into the Black Hills woods, don’t only play interesting characters Barrett penned in addition to the others, they’re two of the best in the cast. Robinson particularly gets to the core of the paranoia driving so much of the story’s suspense. Once things progress to a certain point, both Robinson and Curry take us into a horrific space that gets eerier by the minute.
James Allen McCune (whose stint on Shameless was incredible) plays the brother of Heather Donahue, the catalyst of the adventure, and he does a nice job straddling between non-belief and belief until the situation becomes painfully clear near the end. I also can’t forget to mention Corbin Reid as Ashley. She plays a role that could’ve easily been lost in a bunch of blood and moaning and crying; while there’s a little of that, Reid brings an uneasy feeling to the gut when we see her character descend into the forest’s terror. Everybody involved brings their A-game, even the couple more minor characters. With a bigger cast this time, in contrast to the original’s trio, Blair Witch utilises every one of them to the fullest extent.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-36-52-pmI don’t want to spoil any of the best moments, although I have to mention one, hopefully without giving away too much. Just before the final half hour takes us into a frightening place, a scene involving the wooden Blair Witch figurines takes their presence to a whole new level. I can’t say much more – other than the actors’ reactions combined with the editing, and again the sound design, make for the moment that both shocked and pounded me into a state of horror.
Blair Witch is about on par with its original. Maybe a lot of others don’t think so, but damn it, I do. And I can’t deny that. I went into this expecting that there was a possibility I wouldn’t be thrilled. Regardless if Barrett and Wingard made this, two artists I admire and love to see working in any capacity (the latter’s stint with Cinemax and Outcast did wonders for the TV horror lover’s soul), I didn’t count out disappointment.
Yet no part of me was really disappointed. Barrett and Wingard did interesting things with the legacy of such a beloved piece of horror cinema. They refused to move too far from the film Myrick and Sánchez. Likewise, they branched out a bit, too; they didn’t retread too many paths. I loved the ending because it goes out on a similar note to the first, and in doing so almost shows us how the first actually ended. Dig it. As well, there’s an interesting conception of time in the screenplay; that’s all I’ll say. This does wonders in terms of writing to make the movie different, yet similar in a weird vein to the original film. If you want a good spoiler-filled look at this idea, check Screen Crush’s interview with Wingard here.
So even if there’s no general consensus, or even if that consensus is that this sequel doesn’t hold up, I dig this one. Barrett and Wingard confirm once again they’re worthy of helping to carry genre film forward, year after year. And who knows, maybe this will help a franchise get going, which I’d love to see. This didn’t wow at the box office, but it did make a profit for a relatively low budget film in today’s Hollywood system. I know that I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one more film surrounding the legend of the Blair Witch, no matter who takes it on. This movie proves you can update or reboot films years later without being totally derivative and without straying too wildly from what made the original so popular.

There’s Twice the Psychosis WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK

When A Stranger Calls Back. 1993. Directed & Written by Fred Walton.
Starring Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen, Gene Lythgow, Karen Elizabeth Austin, Babs Chula, John Destry, Duncan Fraser, Jenn Griffin, Gary Jones, Terence Kelly, & Kevin McNulty.
Krost-Chapin Productions/MCA Television Entertainment/Pacific Motion Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
poster1979’s When A Stranger Calls is a favourite of mine. There are far too many people who either don’t know it, or they don’t appreciate it enough. Tony Beckley’s performance as Curt Duncan, the titular stranger, is the stuff of pure nightmare. And somehow, 14 years later, Fred Walton’s sequel When A Stranger Calls Back nearly hits all the same eerie notes with a different story and some of the same characters.
Walton gets a bit wilder in this sequel, although just about every bit of it works. Charles Durning and Carol Kane return again as John Clifford and Jill Johnson respectively, each hardened and experienced due to their experiences with Duncan in the first film. In the position of Kane’s Jill this time around is Jill Schoelen as Julia Jenz, a woman whose life becomes a horrorshow at the hands of a demented, relentless stalker.
The sequel goes for a more outlandish stalker. His psychosis is much stranger than that of Curt Duncan’s urge to kill. Some might find the stalker’s gimmick cheesy. Me, I find it terrifying.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-25-amMimicking the original, Walton starts off with a suspenseful opening sequence with Julia babysitting. However, he sets it apart from the first film by not opting for an outwardly foreboding, unnerving phone call. So much so that Walton’s actually taken the phone out of the picture by literally having it cut dead. This allows the sequel to tread its own ground rather than march straight through the original material all over again. It’s the same, yet isn’t, and the familiarity solely helps as a jumping off point for the tension. At one point Walton cuts back to shots of the doorknob, ratcheting that tension to a maximum. The viewer waiting on seat’s edge to see it turn, or move even in the tiniest way. This moment never comes. Sidestepping the payoff leaves Walton with unresolved tension, poised for a wicked crash once the perverse and threatening action of the titular stranger breaks loose.
When it gets genuinely disturbing is the second stalking. Like Duncan, this stranger comes back again after the first time. But what this guy does as opposed to Duncan is play a far more psychologically threatening game with Julia than Duncan did with Jill; not to say she didn’t suffer, but boy, this stalker is a doozy. Here, the stranger plays sick games to ingratiate himself with Julia, to put himself in her life, somehow in a twisted frame of mind. When you find out what he’s doing later in the film, it is a trip.


Having both Kane and Durning back brings with them credibility, as well as a degree of continuity instead of a sequel that feels like a cash in, put together to get a quick payday for everyone involved, maybe boost the sales of the original. This way, their characters make the story more interesting; there’s more depth, more at stake. Of course it works out well because Jill’s experience in When A Stranger Calls is sort of how we also saw Sydney Prescott in the Scream series eventually become a victim counsellor over the phone – she provides a unique perspective that plays into Julia’s predicament with her own stalker. While the stalker feels weirder in a spooky way, this sequel is less psychological horror – even though there’s plenty of that – and more a dark, emotional thriller full of mystery.
Still, Walton does play well with the psycho-horror of this screenplay. He makes Julia’s apartment into an ominous, paranoid location where each shadow means potential danger. With lingering shots and choice edits, the apartment is like a haunting character in and of itself, which lurks around the viewer, and of course Julia. Walton and cinematographer David Geddes (Legends of TomorrowHalloween: Resurrection) give the film a great look, especially considering this sequel is a TV movie after all.
There are quite a few spectacularly creepy moments and scenes. At one point, the stalker stands over Julia as she lies in a hospital bed – he slaps her over and over, and it’s so horrific because you can clearly see the psychotic behaviour brimming along the edges, past ready to break out fully. SPOILERS! SPOILERS AHEAD! When we get a look at the stranger in his element – a ventriloquist painted black, a dummy on his knee with no facial features – there’s a shocking element to this revelation. Suddenly you understand, all of it. Honestly, this scene starts out funny. Then gradually it becomes unbearable. Totally unsettling shit. Particularly once people start leaving, weirded out by this ventriloquist act, and the owner of the club all but kicks the hell out of the stranger, there’s a sad, pitiful aspect to this man. Sort of emotionally crushing because he’s obviously got issues. Although there’s no connection, no empathy for him – we’ve seen what he does. The final showdown between him, Jill, and Julia is crazy. Very fitting and just as intense. A legitimately frightening finish, at times as frightening as Curt Duncan from the original.
screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-2-29-57-amI’ll always love the original most, and I do feel that it is rightfully the better film. That being said, When A Stranger Calls Back is one of the more underrated sequels to a classic horror that, for whatever reason, never gets its due. That’s probably in part because this went out as a TV movie. Not sure why it ended up that way, because it has the makings of a genuine film and Walton follows his own footsteps lightly, treading carefully in most of the right places.
My only complaint is that I wish we were given a bit more insight into the stalker. We do get plenty later once everything kicks up a notch. But there easily could’ve been more. Perhaps that’s part of it being a TV movie. If we got a full fledged theatrical release movie from Walton on this sequel, there may have been changes in that department. We’ll never know.
Despite any small complaints, this Halloween you need to see When A Stranger Calls Back. This one gets a bit more disquieting simply for how it gets a bit more out of control with a stalking stranger even more unhinged than Curt Duncan; if you can believe it.

An Uneven Sequel, My Guilty Pleasure – EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC

Exorcist II: The Heretic. 1977. Directed by John Boorman. Screenplay by William Goodhart.
Starring Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones, & Ned Beatty.
Warner Bros.
Rated R. 118 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
posterI’m not going to try and tell you that John Boorman’s sequel to the original William Friedkin masterpiece is a great movie. It isn’t, and I know that. But still, despite the fact it isn’t what it ought to, there’s enough for me personally to appreciate.
Exorcist II: The Heretic suffered due to constant rewrites, number one. Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg (who in all fairness did good work with the director on Excalibur and The Emerald Forest) seemed to have rewritten continuously, consistently on and off set, just hammering the original work by playwright William Goodhart into an unrecognisable form. Even Linda Blair herself said the original script was good, but clearly got lost in the process.
I love the central ideas and themes in this film. From what it looks like at the core, Goodhart merely wanted to approach demonic possession through a standpoint of centring around the human psyche, effectively merging theology and science into one. However, Boorman and Pallenberg filled the script with too much exposition, which bogs down the pace and wastes the fine acting of Blair, and the man, the legend Richard Burton.
Disowned even by the director himself, this is an unfairly treated sequel. Again, it’s not good. I don’t agree it’s trash, either. It could never hope to match Friedkin’s original, that is no debate. Sitting in the shadow of that first film it often doesn’t get the proper attention it deserves. Look past the blemishes; they are legion. I won’t pretend to be blind and not see them. I also won’t bash this sequel simply because its predecessor is a masterpiece and everything isn’t executed as well as hoped.
screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-10-41-28-pmWhat encompasses my feeling about Boorman’s movie is how Martin Scorsese put it, in terms of theological perspective. He said that when you look at that central concept – poignantly observed by Father Merrin (Max von Sydow): “Does great goodness draw evil upon itself?” – then it’s possible to likewise view Regan MacNeil (Blair) as a saint. God is putting her through the tortures of the damned, testing her. And yes, the heavy-handed writing in the final script harps on that point much too blatantly. I can’t knock it too hard because the idea is still within reach. That’s the ultimate problem with Boorman and Pallenberg rewriting everything, there’s no telling how well things might have sounded if Goodhart’s words remained as he wrote them in the beginning; I can’t help feeling a playwright such as himself would try trimming things a bit. Although I do believe Scorsese has a great point. This movie has interesting themes, particularly in the vein of viewing Regan’s possession as saintly tribulation.
Most of all I dig how thematically this sequel goes for a merge of science and religion. The synchroniser, essentially a biofeedback unit, allows Father Lamont (Burton) an opportunity of validation – seeing a verifiable instance of possession, by way of scientific equipment. Of course the dialogue, once more, goes too hard on the expository side, but just the themes alone are worth entertaining. Lamont is plagued by guilt after having botched an exorcism. He starts wondering if there even is a God, demons, any of it, believing himself to have been duped, or at least allowing himself to fall into a bad way. The plot taking him into Regan’s possession, the fact Pazuzu essentially has latched onto her psyche, it’s a path towards redemption in some way for Lamont. Boorman mangles the execution of the journey there. If not this could easily be a worthy successor to the original.
screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-10-44-08-pmOne big part of why I do enjoy the film is because von Sydow graciously returned to play Father Merrin. Through Father Lamont, we’re able to take a look back at how Merrin first came in contact with the demon Pazuzu whilst visiting Africa. There’s so much awesome stuff in these parts, even once Lamont himself goes to Africa. First, when we see Merrin witness the boy Kokumo (later played in grownup form by James Earl Jones) taken by the demon, announcing “I am Pazuzu” with locusts swarming all over his face, the fabled confrontation alluded to in the original comes to life. Mostly what that does for me is make me want to watch the original because you gain this further sense, even in their brief initial scene, of the struggle of Merrin to cast this demon out. Later in the film when Lamont travels to Africa, just the locations (obviously set work) are a lot of fun. Boorman wanted to do everything on location in Africa, although that was too much cash to splurge for the production. I feel that this little portion actually works, and for not shooting anywhere near Africa (a combination of Arizona desert and soundstage set) Boorman at least managed to give these scenes an eerie look to compliment the story.
Ennio Morricone’s score and the cinematography of William A. Fraker are major elements of Exorcist II: The Heretic which feed its atmosphere. Morricone is always a treat, in any film his work appears. Here, he combines tribal sounds with those of a Christian mass, moving between wailing, chattering African rhythms to dreadful Roman hymnals, voices flickering in and out alongside sharp brass in staccato patterns. There’s too many pieces to mention, an epic score if there ever were one in a horror; sadly, the rest of the movie can’t live up to its awesomeness. At least Fraker – whose work includes Rosemary’s BabyBullittLooking For Mr. Goodbar, among others – captures a lot of good looking shots. The excellent feel of those African scenes is mostly due to his prowess behind the camera. He and Boorman conjure up interesting things during the synchroniser scenes when we see Regan’s two selves, the demon grabbing at the heart, so on. If it weren’t for Fraker and Morricone doing their best on the technical side of things, I probably wouldn’t enjoy this half as much as I do.
screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-10-44-58-pmI love this movie. Simultaneously being capable of recognising it’s many, many flaws. I know why people hate it, I certainly get that. But there’s a lot to love beneath the shitty rewritten script. Boorman is a favourite of mine as a filmmaker, although he’s got a few big rotten duds in his catalogue. Simply, I admire his willingness to do what he wants, to do things his own way. That doesn’t always translate well. Yet bless him for trying and having a vision.
Exorcist II: The Heretic is one of those movies you can laugh at a bit, and if you really want to, look inside some of what Boorman tries to get at. Ignore his botched work in certain scenes, go deeper to examine those themes of where religion and science might (or can) intersect. More than that there are hard looks at faith, guilt, and how people deal with the traumas of their own respective experiences.
This won’t satisfy you if looking for a sequel that’ll carry Friedkin’s legacy of the original on with dignity. It’s not a worthy follow-up in most cases. I still think it’s a 3&1/2 out of 5 star bit of horror. Because of the uneven directing and writing from Boorman (as well as Pallenberg on the script), the viewer is left to do most of the work in finding the diamonds in the rough. Believe me, though: it gets rough.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: Dark Comedy and the Repression of Leatherface

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. 1986. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Screenplay by L.M. Kit Carson.
Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Ken Evert, James N. Harrell, Lou Perryman, & Chris Douridas.
Cannon Films/Golan-Globus Productions.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Comedy/Horror

★★★1/2
POSTER Horror sequels are often unduly shit on. Many, in my mind, are actually worth their weight in blood. Some are most certainly worse than the originals, or they simply don’t bring enough to merit considering it as even a worthwhile sequel. But a lot are great, such as the often torn down Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Psycho IIExorcist II: The Heretic, and I’m sure there are a few more.
One of those oft maligned sequels is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, from the director of the original, Mr. Tobe Hooper. Maybe part of why this sequel strays a little past where the original marked its territory is due to the fact Hooper only directs, and the writing duties are left up to L.M. Kit Carson (he did a great screenplay for Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas). Not saying this movie is poorly written. In fact, it successfully welds together the terrifying steel of Leatherface’s chainsaw with a good dose of backwoods Texas humour. One of the best aspects is the characters. Even Leatherface and his horrific appeal aren’t lost within all the black comedy, but rather we get doses of foolishness which lures us in, then the saw and the family do their work. Certainly not close to as nerve shattering as the original film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 at least tries to do something different instead of emulating the same style, over and over; a technique studios nowadays use too often, trying to capitalize on the money made from particularly successful movies. In straight up opposition, Hooper switches things up and leaves it all on the table. What else would you expect from a Cannon Films production?
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On the air during her radio show, Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock (Caroline Williams) and L.G. McPeters (Lou Perry) overhear what may just be a brutal murder, when two young college age dude-bros encounter – unbeknownst to the DJ – Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and some of his clan.
In town is Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper). He’s investigating yet another possible chainsaw killing. His brother’s kids were killed by the dangerous chainsaw family a decade before. For ten years, he’s searched for those killers. When Stretch finds Lefty at his hotel and brings him the tape that possibly contains evidence of the latest murder, he doesn’t seem too excited. But after awhile, Lefty wises up.
Only it may be a little too late. One of the other Sawyers, Chop-Top (Bill Moseley), goes to visit Stretch at the radio station. And he’s bringing along a nice dose of steel with him.
Can Lefty and Stretch hold their ground? Or will they become yet another set of victims to the killer Sawyer clan?
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As I said, this movie is all about the characters. Whereas the original Hooper classic focused on the terror, putting innocent young people in the way of murderous psychopaths, the sequel keeps on with the killing, only it shifts towards giving us more of the demented maniacs in plain view. The original kept things in the dark, sorts of closing the family off from society. In this sequel, Hooper and Carson let the Sawyer family loose into the world, as if they couldn’t possibly be stopped. Therefore, we get to see more of Leatherface and learn different things of his character; for one, he’s a horny bastard, or at the very least sexually frustrated to the maximum. Plus, now he does this weirdly creepy and simultaneously funny shake while wielding his chainsaw; it kills me every time, a crack-up, but still there’s something scary about his enthusiasm. Then we’ve got Chop-Top, played magnificently and to cult status by the ever impressive Bill Moseley. He is always a creepy guy, no matter what character he plays (aside from stuff like Dead Air), but definitely amps up his eerie qualities to play this guy; he seamlessly becomes a part of the Sawyer world, adding eccentricity and further questions about exactly how completely maniacal this family is truly.
Aside from the family, though, we’re treated to both Lefty and Stretch. Hell, even L.G. is a decent character thrown in there. Well the stars of this show, aside from Moseley, absolutely are Caroline Williams and Dennis Hopper. Williams is not only a gorgeous lady, she oozes charisma, and having her play the on-air radio personality here was awesome casting. She really makes the character feel like a DJ, she talks like one and acts like one, so there’s an authenticity to her character, instead of that occupation feeling like a vain attempt at making her interesting. Add in Hopper, channeling both a renegade lawman and also some of his Blue Velvet craziness, and this whole thing is a ton of fun. Hopper’s character is a little campy, a little wild, but always interesting. He makes for a good showdown with the family, Leatherface in particular.
Note: the first scene between Leatherface and Stretch is one of my favourites, in any horror film. Because it’s dark and funny at once, then there’s this extremely disturbing sexual angle to it. Most of all, it brings some of the issues surrounding Leatherface to the forefront. He’s essentially a mentally challenged man caught in a murderous rampage, so he doesn’t know how to talk to girls, or impress them, except with his big, hard, long saw. Genius scene, incredibly well-written.
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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 contains a hearty dose of nasty blood and violence. One scene is just Chop-Top bashing a head in, over and over, cut back and forth with Stretch trying to get away from Leatherface. Just the sheer amount of blood spurting out onto the floor is enough to make some of the weaker, casual horror watchers uneasy. There’s something else about this though, as it calls to mind the first film where Grandpa tried to use the hammer; here, Chop-Top knows how to use that hammer, and he uses it well. Later, we revisit the Grandpa scene in direct parallel; not as good as Chop, though. Even early on in the film where two of the dude-bros in their car run across Leatherface, we see a nasty, beautifully executed practical effect – a head gets sawed through, a cut going down into the skull and the face. Very nice makeup effects. Not sure how much he did himself, but makeup legend Tom Savini is credited on this picture, so if he supervised this work there’s no wonder much of it looks gruesome, and perfectly horrific. You could never have a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie with bad effects, or if you do then it’s sure to not live up to its predecessors. For all its faults, this sequel to the original at least matches its vicious brutality at certain times.
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With a lot to live up to, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a 3&1/2 star horror. Never will it come close to its original. But Tobe Hooper crafts a nice, campy horror romp out of L.M. Kit Carson’s darkly comic, brutal screenplay. On the shoulders of Hopper, Moseley, and Williams, the characters come alive, and they’re able to carry much of the plot themselves. Maybe comedy isn’t exactly suited perfectly to Hooper’s creepy backwoods Texas world. But again, if anything you’ve got to applaud Hooper for not trying to carbon copy what he did previously in the original. If he simply slapped together another rehash, we’d all be complaining about that. Instead, be glad for his dare to be different, no matter the costs. This is still a lot of fun, has a fair share of blood and guts, as well as the fact Leatherface is weirder and wilder than ever. Make sure you toss this on next time you’re looking for a horror with comedy that’s not an outright comedy-horror flick. This can satisfy the need for kills and the need for some laughs in the right sort of way.

Halloween: Resurrection – Rosenthal Does Nothing for the Series

Halloween: Resurrection. 2002. Directed by Rick Rosenthal. Screenplay by Larry Brand & Sean Hood.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Brad Loree, Busta Rhymes, Bianca Kajlich, Sean Patrick Thomas, Daisy McCrackin, Katee Sackhoff, Luke Kirby, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Ryan Merriman, and Tyra Banks. Dimension Films/Nightfall Productions/Trancas International Films. Rated 18A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★
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So at this point, the Halloween franchise has all but ran its course. Honestly, I do enjoy the previous film a bit. More than that I’m a fan of the entire series. Even the less than great entries can still be a lot of fun, as opposed to some of the later Friday the 13th entries which I find virtually unwatchable at times. But most of Halloween: Resurrection is just bad. Not everything is horrible, not at all. However, the lion’s share here goes to bad horror, forced comedy and not enough of the classic horror which makes Michael Myers so scary.
The effects in many scenes are well done, they’re also pretty gruesome and frightening. The acting is almost laughable in terms of the main cast – they’re almost upstaged by the rambling mental patient who rattles off serial killer trivia, from John Wayne Gacy to Ted Bundy, and so on. And too many times you’ll find yourself wondering how low the series will sink, starting with the opening sequence involving Laurie Strode and Michael in their final confrontation. Director Rick Rosenthal did an amazing job with the first sequel, Halloween II, but 21 years later he came back with a fistful of shit and did no justice to any of the other good movies throughout the franchise.
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Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) decapitated Michael Myers at the end of the last film. Turns out, Michael actually managed to switch his clothes with a paramedic. He made his way out and hid for three years, while Laurie rotted in a mental asylum. Although, she spent that time preparing for a showdown that had to be coming eventually. When it does finally, Michael ends up once and for all killing his long lost sister: what he always set out to do.
But evil never rests. Michael Myers goes back to the only place he ever knew outside of the walls of a psychiatric ward: home, Haddonfield. Only an internet show is being broadcast from the old Myers place. Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes) and Nora Winston (Tyra Banks) at DangerTainment have set the whole thing up, selecting six young people to spend a night in the “birthplace of evil in its purest form“. Things don’t go so well, once it’s clear Michael has more definitely come home.
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Usually, if anything, I’m able to find a few good kills in any of these films. This one is no exception. Even while almost everything else happening is total junk, there are some interesting and very brutish kills. For instance, what slasher horror is complete without a nice impaling? Well, some of them are, I suppose. But the bad slashers, such as this one, really need those sorts of kills. If not, everything gets stale. Here, we have a character impaled by Myers, which ups the gory ante. Earlier, someone gets stabbed viciously in the head. Later on, the strength of Myers is once more evident in all its savage glory, as Michael ends up crushing a guy’s head into bloody chunks. An homage to the original Halloween sees a victim pinned to a door, hung by kitchen knives, almost similar to one of the deaths in John Carpenter’s masterpiece. But best of all, I do dig how people watch on while the others die, live streaming into the house. And to think – this was 13 years ago now. Today, the bloodthirsty internet audience might actually love this sort of thing. So, despite all the shortcomings of this mostly unnecessary sequel in the franchise, I can find a few little things to enjoy here and there. But not too much.
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One thing several of the Halloween films have in common, and make them more enjoyable than their lesser counterparts, is there have been good, solid performances. I can’t say that, at all, about Halloween: Resurrection. While I have a love for Busta Rhymes and his music career, the sentiment does not extend to his acting abilities. All the same, he’s probably the most fun of all the actors because at least Busta seems into it. Otherwise, it’s a cast filled with pretty-to-look-at people who can’t exactly act up to the level they need to in order to make this sinking ship float. With American Pie alumni Thomas Ian Nicholas, the geek goddess Katee Sackhoff, a terribly miscast Tyra Banks and Ryan Merriman whose most well-known credit to date is either The Ring Two or Pretty Little Liars, the entire cast couldn’t save this abomination. Perhaps if better actors wanted to be in this sequel, it might be different. As it stands, the acting doesn’t do anything to push the film to higher heights. I don’t mean to disparage these actors, I’m sure they’ve all done decently in other work, but this movie falls apart quicker than it should due to the lack of much talent, or at least effort, in the respective performances.
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I can give this sequel a 2 star rating without feeling too bad about it. Definitely does not deserve any more. With a good deal of brutality and decent make-up effects, some of the slasher elements of Halloween: Resurrection are up to speed with certain other entries in the franchise. Though, this is where the goodness ends. Including too much laughable acting, a terrible and unjust opening sequence involving Laurie Strode, and overall a story that does nothing for the franchise other than try to milk more money out of hardcore fans (who’ll see anything with the name Halloween on it if involving Michael Myers), this really is an abysmal sequel. Not saying there aren’t others, but this is absolutely one of the worst in the entire series. You don’t need to see it for any other reason than to be a completist. I even own it on a collection including the last three movies of the franchise, on Blu ray no less. But only because I’m a collector, and because I love Myers; regardless of how the Hollywood machine decides to pimp him out.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch – Better Than Remembered

Halloween III: Season of the Witch. 1982. Directed & Written by Tommy Lee Wallace.
Starring Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Michael Currie, Ralph Strait, Jadeen Barbor, Brad Schacter, Garn Stephens, Nancy Kyes, Jonathan Terry, Al Berry, Wendy Wessberg, Essex Smith, Maidie Norman, John MacBride, and Loyd Catlett.
Dino De Laurentiis Company/Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★1/2
halloween-iii-season-of-the-witch-dvd-cover-13 The Halloween franchise is one of my favourites in horror. Not a big fan of the last couple. But seriously, from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece Halloween right up to Halloween V, I’m right in there with the biggest of fans. Each of them aren’t equally as amazing. They’ve each got their merits, though. I’ll say this: the first two are slasher horror masterpieces.
In the middle of all the regular Michael Myers pictures, there stands Halloween III: Season of the Witch. What ought to have been marketed as a spin-off from the franchise rather than actually being the permanent third installment has been banished to the world of cult classic verging on generally maligned. There are several camps of people who talk about this Halloween film – some say it’s terrible and has no merit, others (like me) think it’s real good and should’ve done better had the producers marketed it correctly, and then crazier people than I who say it’s the best of the series (sorry that honour belongs to the very first; no matter how much I enjoy some of the others).
What I know for sure is this is a good horror movie. It doesn’t deserve to be torn up, it also doesn’t need to be over praised. If you go into it knowing this is NOT a Michael Myers slasher, then there’s a chance you’ll come at it correctly and find the horror and quasi-science fiction elements enjoyable. Watch a trailer, any trailer for this film and you can understand it’s different from the others. But it isn’t bad different, it’s simply not a typical Halloween entry. Much as I love Michael, this movie has a creep factor wholly of its own and I firmly believe – without any hype – the only reason this movie isn’t more widely loved is solely due to how its been marketed. Take the Halloween title off this, keep Season of the Witch and maybe make a few more tenuous ties to Myers (like showing the original film on a television), you’ve got yourself a solid 1980s horror classic.
h3iiiSmall shop owner Harry Grimbridge ((Al Berry) is attacked by unknown men in the night. He flees and eventually ends up in the hospital. There, he’s later killed by one of these same men. Although, Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is witness to the man’s last words, and shows up just after his murder. Following the killer outside, he sees the man pour gas all over himself and strike a match, blowing his car sky high. This sets him off on a quest to figure out what happened – alongside him is Harry’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin).
What they end up uncovering is a vast and horrific plot by businessman Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy); one involving Halloween, threatening every boy and girl looking to put on a mask so they can head out for candy.

The whole opening 20-minute sequence is extremely creepy and a whole lot of fun: from when Harry Grimbridge is attacked by the suit & glove wearing assailants to the moment Dr. Challis watches one of them light himself on fire and the car explodes. Can’t think of a better way this movie could’ve started out. The writing here from director-writer Tommy Lee Wallace is solid and makes the film’s energy pump hard immediately.
HalloweenIII-MasksBartender: “What’s the matter – don’t you have any Halloween spirit?
Dr. Challis: “No

An obvious viewing of this film holds themes involving big versus small business, consumerism, corporations feeding off the figurative soul of children via Halloween, and more. I’m not the first to try and draw any of that out, nor will I be the last.
I love the character of Harry Grimbridge to start. Right off the bat you’ve got this small business owner, running a hold-out shop against the big supermalls and chain stores, still getting much of his business from kids just out of school – and he’s being hunted down by the robot-like, suit & glove wearing henchmen, the identical looking murderers; they are legion. A little later there’s a homeless man Dr. Challis comes across. He gets his head pulled off by two of them because he’s out rallying against the man. The homeless man happens to tell Challis about how Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) won’t employ the good ole local boys, but rather imports his workers from elsewhere. Can this get any clearer really? It’s not quite on the nose, definitely in the vicinity. No matter, I think it works great because there’s metaphor yet it’s blatant and still that’s perfect. Makes for a bit of unsettling horror.
cochranThe effects aren’t all spot on, though, they are certainly effective. I love when one of the clone-like henchmen pulls Grimbridge’s skull apart by the eye sockets and nose. Incredibly vicious, both during and afterwards! When a woman dies at the motel, I thought the initial parts of the makeup effects looked great, but the the longer Wallace lingers on her the worse it looks. Still, there are other worthwhile effects. Particularly once the science fiction type elements find their way into the screenplay, the practical makeup effects are ghastly at times; in the appropriate sense. The orange juice-looking liquid used at one point is sickly and makes for an uneasy feeling in the guts. Great, great stuff.
A subtle scene involves a drill – we never get to see the brutish stuff, we’re left by Wallace to imagine it instead. Which I often find even more tough. Nice choice by him on this one. Could’ve easily been a gory kill and here it’s something that will probably make you cringe in different way.
Favourite effects scene has to be when the first young boy has his head destroyed by the pumpkin mask. The way the mask looks to start, breaking down and decaying like it’s burning up inside and out, then all the insects, the snake slithering through the boy’s dead mouth… it’s raw and disturbing. Some intense shots here, especially considering the whole family of three dies in the made-up living room set. It’s a shocker of a scene, super effective.
10.23-halloween3Halloween-3-04Taken on its own, as a sort of standalone spin-off, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. There are plenty of chilling moments, different in subject matter yet similar in tone to the rest of the franchise. As well as the fact you’ll see several wild kills, a few of those even further contain fun practical effects. It isn’t as great as Halloween or Halloween II, but it is damn good stuff. A little different spin on the franchise, and why not? The whole series wears out past the fifth entry, even earlier for some other viewers, so what’s the harm in one movie taking another path? I see no reason why this should be a widely panned film. It’s not perfect, but there is great horror and a dose of science fiction even. Check this one out if you’ve avoided it until now. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised; or horrified, possibly.

Batman Returns with Burton’s Gothic Style

Batman Returns. 1992. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Daniel Waters from a story by Waters & Sam Hamm.
Starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, Andrew Bryniarski, Pat Hingle, Vincent Schiavelli, Steve Witting, and Jan Hooks.
Warner Bros./PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
PG-13. 126 minutes.
Action/Adventure

★★★★★
102114_BatmanReturns_PosterA huge fan of Batman now for about twenty five years, I only recently reviewed Tim Burton’s 1989 film; a favourite of mine. While there’s definitely even more of a cartoon-ish vibe with Batman Returns I almost can’t decide which one is my favourite. So many want to say Batman is better, however, this one combines even more of what I loved about the first one: the darkness and the campy nature of the comic books and graphic novels. With this film there’s not only a deepening of the visuals in terms of those aspects, Burton’s sequel to his own film also goes a little deeper into character than the first.
The character of the Joker is fundamentally supposed to be a bit of a mystery, so even the fact we saw Jack Nicholson as Napier before his transformation was more than you might anticipate. With Selina Kyle and Oswald Cobblepot in this film, there’s a lot of chances for Burton to dive into their characters alongside more and more Bruce Wayne. More than this, I find the look and feel of the movie makes things so much creepier than the first. There are plenty who would say creepy is not something Batman ought to be as a film, yet I say different. There’s lots of adventure, plenty of thrill and superhero fun, but Batman and many of the characters – especially those included here – are most certainly at least a bit scary. They aren’t as outright megalomaniac-like, except for the Joker and even he has an inordinate amount of darkness in him as a character. Batman Returns brings the cartoon comic nature of Batman and the villains to the world of film, and at the very same time excels by including so much of the darkness and violence you’ll likely not see in another comic book ever again (except for maybe the violence I anticipate will have found its way into Deadpool; hopefully at least).
Either way, I don’t feel this sequel gets enough credit, nor does Burton in general for making such wonderful adaptations of Batman. This is possibly my favourite of them all, though, I still can’t make a definitive decision whether or not I’m more a fan of this or the previous movie. Too much great stuff in them both, yet I’m always leaning towards this one for whatever reason. We’ll see if maybe I get to the bottom of it.
Batman_Returns_-_BatarangTo start, I love the look of the movie, from costumes to the makeup and special effects, to the scenes themselves. The cinematography in this film is courtesy of Stefan Czapsky, whose work includes Vampire’s Kiss, Director of Photography on Errol Morris’ incredibly documentary The Thin Blue Line, as well as D.P on the odd and wonderful Edward ScissorhandsA Brief History of TimeEd Wood (another Burton film I dig a ton), Matilda, and more. Czapsky also worked as gaffer and assistant camera on a bunch of awesome movies like Larry Cohen’s God Told Me ToQHe Knows You’re Alone, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, and At Close Range among others.
He really does some good work here as D.P. Lots of interesting shots he captures, which really express the Tim Burton style. I imagine after working on Edward Scissorhands a couple years before with Burton they had a feel for one another, their style and methods, so much of that I feel comes out in this film. Throughout the movie, mostly due to the fact the setting happens around/on Christmas, Burton and Czapsky conjure up this incredibly dark carnival sort of atmosphere, and the tone stays pitch dark from start to finish.
Honestly, my pick for top shot of the film is right at the beginning where we get to watch little baby Oswald wash down the river in his basket, down into the sewers where he’ll remain for 33 years; it’s a great sequence following behind the basket, watching it float on through the water. So creepy and immediately makes us aware how grim this film aims to be from the outset.
Moreover, I think Burton and Czapsky draw out so much animal imagery throughout the movie. From penguins to cats to bats, there are a bunch of different moments where the animals show up in interesting ways. Great stuff, even if it may seem heavy handed. I thought Burton did good work in those terms, too.
5-things-you-might-not-know-about-tim-burton-batman-returns-20th-anniversaryThere’s something in this movie I love even more than the first: score. Fact is, even though I do love the sequence in the museum from Batman set to the Prince song “Partyman”, there’s a little too much of it all the same. Here, in Batman Returns, I think Danny Elfman has more of a chance to branch out, as opposed to the first. Studio involvement made the first a mix, with Prince and Elfman ending up both thrown around in the movie. This time around, though there were apparently troubles in the relationship between Burton & Elfman, I think the score is absolutely fantastic! Each character has their own theme, an aesthetic all to their own, and much of that comes from Elfman’s pieces. Like the bits with the cats and Selina, as they lick and bite her (et cetera), there’s neat idiosyncrasies happening in the score with violin strings scraping and screeching, and more. Elfman has a style all of his own, which really compliments much of Burton and his own aesthetic.
batman-returns-selinas-resurrectiondda12d1eebf83736f78a5b8e0a216f15One particular favourite scene of mine is when Selina (Pfeiffer) returns home after being thrown from the window by Shreck (Walken), and somehow surviving. There’s a creepiness and black humour to the whole sequence, alternating back and forth. The way Selina stumbles home, bleeding a little, her entire skin tone has changed to an almost milky white, it’s super weird in all the right ways.
This is another aspect I love even above the 1989 film. In this story, there’s even more violence and a further edge. While Nicholson’s Joker had some highly disturbing aspects to his character (think: Alicia the living & disfigured art installation), I can’t help but think of so many moments in this sequel pushing those boundaries.
Such as the nose biting scene. Of course there’s a darkly comedic feel to that scene, as well as what follows. But the actual visuals are nasty as hell. Penguin (DeVito) has enough black crap trickling out of his mouth as it is, then when he bites the poor unsuspecting Josh (Steve Witting) it is so vibrant, the gushing red from the nose all over the victim’s face, running down Penguin’s chin; such vivid violence while also it stays, at the same time, almost like a cartoon. It’s that fine line Burton manages to tread in so many of his films I find interesting when it comes to his take on Batman.
Burton-Batman-still-4I know most people will say I’m reaching way too far on this aspect, but here goes..
Batman Returns brings out an incredible aspect of the story between Batman and the Penguin (at least in his current form out of this screenplay). These are each two orphaned children, though, for very different reasons. It shows the difference some times between a hero and villain, that edge where one person falls over while the other person somehow manages to cling on tight. Penguin is the type who fell completely over, letting the darkness take him fully; Batman, while in the dark and very much gripped by it, has managed to hold onto the edge and not let go, refusing to even. While so many people focus on the parallel between Batman and Joker, a recurring plot and thematic device constantly used over and over in the films as well as the literature, I think this screenplay and the way Burton brings things to life really show a strong duality between Bruce Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot.
There’s a ton of further duality happening between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Most powerfully is the big costume party, or masquerade; you’ll obviously notice they’re the only ones not masked. Clearly you can tell these are two people more comfortable in their superhero personas, in their own costumes, than in their own skin – out in the open at a masquerade? More like their real face and their actual skin is their costume. Selina is truly Catwoman, deep down, as is Bruce actually Batman underneath it all. While I find the parallels between Bruce and Oswald most interesting, and furthest explored, it’s worth noting this excellent parallel between Bruce and Selina, as well. These are the little nuances of the script which take this above simply being a Batman vs. two villains film, as some see it. An appropriate sequel to the first, there’s even more character explored here than before with Nicholson’s knockout performance as the Joker. Not to mention the fact both DeVito and Pfeiffer are perfect in their roles. No one else could have done these roles justice like the two of these actors. Each are creepy and unnerving in their own right, offering plenty of fun and madness to counteract the more calm, calculated performance out of Michael Keaton.
br3There’s more of the weird, loner-style Bruce Wayne here out of Keaton. Even more than the 1989 film. Not to say either performance is better, simply I like how more of Bruce comes out in this screenplay. He’s a little more lonely, a little darker in a sense. Further than that, Bruce has also lost Vicki Vale since the first film and he’s got a broken heart. Already a man with a broken heart, Keaton brings out the vulnerability of Wayne. I’ve got to reiterate, for those who also love the Nolan trilogy like myself, Bale is awesome as Batman for me, I enjoyed him; however, Keaton and the screenplay for the two Burton films really emphasize the sadness of Bruce Wayne, the loneliness inside him, even more than anything in the Nolan films. Wayne is a weird guy, there has always been this quality to him even from the original comics. This is something Keaton brings out plenty, especially with a second chance here in Batman Returns.
Overall, while I gave Batman the same 5-star rating, I’ve got to admit over the years Batman Returns has evolved as my favourite of the lot. Still a huge fan of Nolan’s works as well, there’s simply something inescapably interesting and dark about Tim Burton and his two Batman films which draws me back, over and over. As much as I can watch the Nolan films, even back to back, time and time again, there are moments in Burton’s films which are engrained on my soul. Maybe it’s because they’re the ones I originally grew up with, but I think there’s more to it. Again I say it’s the cross of the perfect elements for Batman: the darkness and the grim side of him/the villains in Gotham, plus there’s the campy and fun nature of the comics and some of the original 1960s series preserved, which amounts to a potent combination.
Batman Returns is a vibrant and Gothic story of Batman/Bruce Wayne, including several villainous entities out of Gotham City, and Tim Burton brings it to life in the most wonderful way imaginable. Check this out if you’ve not seen it, especially if you love Burton and I think the same can be said if you do love the Batman comics in particular. This is great stuff and once more I say truly underrated.

Saw VI: Less Plot, More Guts

Saw VI. 2009. Directed by Kevin Greutert. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Mark Rolston, Betsy Russell, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge, Athena Karkanis, Samantha Lemole, Tanedra Howard, Marty Moreau, Shawn Ahmed, Janelle Hutchison, Gerry Mendicino, Caroline Cave, and George Newbern.
Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★
saw_vi_ver6_xlgIn this Saw outing, Kevin Greutert takes up the reigns of the series. He’s primarily been an editor, having worked on every entry in the Saw series up until now (those duties were taken over by Andrew Coutts). With another screenplay from writing team Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, Greutert attempts to somehow extend the legacy of Jigsaw a.k.a John Kramer into another film.
Luckily, this one cuts back down to a 90 minute runtime, something other entries might have benefited from as well. Problem is, no matter how lean and quick things get there seems to be a progressive drop into full on gore for gore’s sake, which began a couple sequels ago. Even worse, the screenplay does not match up to what they’re attempting to do. There are good things here in Saw VI, but not enough of the original atmosphere and tone of the series remains for me to feel like this movie belongs anywhere near the top few.
With a couple interesting traps and a fun, plausible step in the story of Jigsaw, there’s enough to watch through once. But unlike the first and third entries of the Saw series, I can’t see myself putting this on again (this was my 2nd viewing and twice was too much). Going for too many characters, too many switches between subplots, I feel like this sixth entry of the franchise doesn’t do much except try to come up with more elaborate traps in which to toss more fodder characters for murder’s sake. Maybe enough for some? Not for my liking. There are gore films I enjoy, but this one doesn’t even go for scary, not really so much CREEPY either; it aims only for disgust and shock horror, nothing else.
SimoneArmSaw6Saw VI shows us what happens after the previous film, when Agent Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) makes it out of the house of horrors where Agent Strahm was crushed to death. Now the noose is slowly slipping around his neck, as the other law enforcement agents around him close in on the Jigsaw Apprentice; to Hoffman’s surprise, Agent Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis) is still alive after suffering terrible injuries in Saw IV. We get further flashbacks of Hoffman with Jigsaw a.k.a John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his wife Jill (Betsy Russell), as well as Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) who was the other apprentice to Kramer.
At the same time, a health insurance executive named William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) finds himself in the clutches of a new Jigsaw game – having been the one to effectively sentence Kramer to death, not providing him coverage for an experimental treatment to help his cancer. Facing most of the people he knows and loves, the few they are, locked into a whole crop of terrifying traps, he must face the gauntlet or watch them all, as well as himself, die.
saw_6_imageImmediately something I did enjoy was the first trap involving this film’s main character, the seedy insurance agent. Reason being is that, while gruesome, the graphic nature of that entire scene opted not to be too extreme – the most we get is a splash of blood, really. And that’s fine. Because sometimes, less is more. Particularly when the series has strayed wildly into the area of so-called “torture porn” (fucking hate that dumb label though). Giving us a creepy trap which works effectively without needing to go for complete blood and gore is something rare at the tail end of the Saw series, so I’ve got to give them props for that in terms of writing and production design, all around stellar job on this sequence.
Furthermore, while I do think stretching a series out is not always a great idea, there’s something genuine which strikes me about the plot and story of Saw VI, as a logical progression in the overall tale of Jigsaw. Bringing in the whole insurance angle is not far fetched. And though you can certainly still ask why bother to extend the series, I don’t think there’s much use in trying to tear down the logic behind the story. Not saying everything in the plot is plausible, not whatsoever, merely that I think the story of the insurance agent coming into play is sensible, as Jigsaw would’ve no doubt found their practices enough to warrant ending up in a trap. Which, of course, they do.
saw-6-saw-vi-04-11-2009-23-10-2009-19-gTo be honest, an aspect of this screenplay I could’ve done without is so much of John Kramer’s (Tobin Bell) wife. I know she’s part of the story, I know it needs to be sorted out, yet so much of it feels like it’s mashed in, tacked on for good measure. Again, the whole insurance agent plot is something I find pretty good, but all the stuff with John and Jill (Betsy Russell), even the stuff with Agent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), it all feels INCREDIBLY TIRED. Mostly, I feel like they should’ve just kept the main focus on Jigsaw instead of involving so many other characters around him. Once more, I know the writers can’t simply ignore characters and start leaving them out, but at the same time this already trim 90 minutes could’ve probably been trimmed a couple minutes more for scraps.
There are some incredibly tense bits, for instance the STEAM TRAP involving William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) and his attorney Debbie (Caroline Cave), which I found pretty wild. It had me on edge watching Debbie trying to make it through that rough cage maze with the steam. Nasty. But then that tension gets ruined with too much switching back and forth between the traps and those characters involved, as well as showing bits with Jigsaw, Jill, Agent Hoffman, even Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) is back for more action with new scenes for the first time since Saw II. There’s simply too many different things happening. Nobody can tell me I have a bad attention span or anything like that – check out the movies I love, and the sheer number of films I’ve seen over my 30 years on earth. There’s just TOO MUCH HAPPENING, not in a good way. Far too many characters for this 90 minute film to tackle; they’re just not needed, I don’t think. There’s no reason each and every last character here was essential to the film, not in any way. It’s a mess, in terms of how the screenplay flows, and throughout the film this throws the pace off to a point where it’s hard to recover. While I’m sure the back and forth between plots is meant to be intriguing, and also intense, when in reality it only serves to make this a jumbled sequel in the franchise rather than something well crafted and properly intense.
Hoffmanscars1Definitely one of the worst in this series, Saw VI is at best a 2 star film. There’s too much being thrown about in the screenplay by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, both of whom I do enjoy I have to say, for this movie to find a pace where it fits correctly. Instead, this movie sort of bounces all over the place from one scene to the next – very intense at times, others it’s sluggish and drags itself about with heavy handedness but under the guise of being full of mystery.
If you’re looking for a better entry in the series, I always suggest the first film and the third as my top choices. The second is decent, but those are honestly solid horror movies. Interesting, tense, and horrific stuff. This is just an excuse to try and make more money. Sadly, another franchise which has spiralled into the darkness in the worst sense.