In Defence Of & In Love With SCREAM 4

Scream 4. 2011. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
Starring Neve Campbell, Alison Brie, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Marielle Jaffe, Marley Shelton, Erik Knudsen, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Anthony Anderson, Mary McDonnell, & Adam Brody.
Dimension Films/Corvus Corax Productions/Outerbanks Entertainment
Rated R. 111 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
poster-scream-4When a franchise stretches out over a few decades, often times fans – horror fans in particular – can get fickle over what they want to see. And I don’t blame them. If you’re a huge fan of a series then it’s understandable to be guarded over the original film(s), to feel like even the original director-writer team might not be capable of matching what they did so long ago.
All those ideas go out the window with Scream 4. Sure, it’s 15 years later, and the generation of young people involved has changed significantly. There’s new technology, new rules to the slasher horror game. At the core, this both pays tribute to the original in huge ways, as well as forges its own path as a worthy sequel.
Craven and Williamson don’t get every little thing right. But they worked hard to give this the same creepiness and excitement as the first Scream, providing brand new characters in the landscape of Woodsboro and never forgetting the tried true originals of the franchise. Old meets new in the best, most genuine kind of way.
Scream-4-movie-imageThere’s always a stellar opening, even in the previous, lesser instalment. Craven and Williamson do not slouch here, either. One girl complains of no character development before characters die in Saw, when in fact we watch the young women in this opener die without any development whatsoever, similar to Drew Barrymore’s character in the original Scream. Williamson’s self-referential, tongue-in-cheek writing once more, as we cut to two other women watching Stab 6. They talk about the conventions and tropes of horror, so on, and then we again cut to two more girls watching Stab 7, further questioning the genre’s trappings. You almost, for a second, believe it’ll keep going, and going, one girl stabbed after the next. Great way for Craven and Williamson to poke fun at themselves, too.
One thing I dug about the last film was that composer Marco Beltrami used new pieces in the score, alongside some familiar ones, as well. The new compositions are fresh and interesting, they make the score feel new, yet at the same time we get those old sounds. With a new sequel 11 years since the previous entry in the series, Beltrami picked up where he left off while offering depth to his Scream repertoire.
Some gnarly kills worth seeing. One of the opening girls has her throat slit, and it is downright savage. When Perkins (Anderson) is stabbed in the head some find it funny, because of the “Fuck Bruce Willis” line. And yeah, it’s funny. Nasty all the same.
SPOILER ALERT: Charlie’s death is a disturbing one, very brutal. And when Jill does her best Tyler Durden I always find it pretty sickening, though fascinating; she thrashes the life out of herself, as the dying bodies of friends and family lay bleeding around her.
scream-4-2Part of what makes the screenplay work so well is the contempt of remakes, or at least the many awful remakes out there. In a fourth film, that’s sort of confident. This is not a remake, obviously, of the original, just a continuation of the story concerning Sidney Prescott (Campbell). But still, much of what they satirise in terms of remakes – mainly through snappy dialogue from Charlie (Culkin), Kirby (Panettiere), Robbie (Knudsen) – could be aimed at sequels, and definitely at sequels a little ways down the line.
Regardless, Williamson forges on with what made the first two films really impressive, that self-deprecating, self-referential style. It’s not all satire, though. We go back to the original by way of some Ghostface killing. Such as when Kirby watches Charlie from behind a glass door as he’s tied to a chair, just as Drew Barrymore’s character watched her boyfriend in Scream. Poor Kirby’s even subjected to another scary movie game. In other films this could feel cheese-filled to the brim. In the hands of Craven and Williamson, the scene comes off genuinely tense and, ultimately, horrific.
The biggest thing I love, story-wise, is that the Maureen Prescott’s been buried; pardon the pun. There’s no stretch, as in Scream 3 at times, to try attaching her character to the motive of the killers. Rather this story puts Sidney in the spotlight, even her family, cousin Jill (Roberts) and aunt Kate (McDonnell) get dragged into the terror. Whereas Sidney’s always been the main character, technically in that spotlight, the focus of the series in terms of why the murders were happening was Maureen. This entry in the series shifts focus wholly onto Sidney, which is, for her, unfortunately tragic.
scream-4-3Effectively, Williamson’s screenplay gets back to the interesting motives of the first two films. The motives have evolved, as have the killers. Here, the killers speak to the modern murder explanation of how the lust for fame can drive unstable people to untold, utterly insane lengths. Media begets the sick mind, in that a quest for fame can become out of control when celebrity is literally but a stab away. More relevant as of my writing in 2017 than even when it came out in 2011.
Scream 4 is a whole lot of fun, and holds its share of gruesomeness. Sidney has become like her mother in a way, as once Maureen loomed over Sidney and Woodsboro, but now her daughter looms over everyone. The terror she experienced at the hands of the various Ghostface killers encompassed a further generation of her family, creating all new dynamics, and in turn a new set of killers.
The callbacks to Scream are done so well, switching up situations and characters, self-parodying and being critical of sequels and remakes even when Craven himself has produced remakes. It’s just an example of why the first movie worked, why the second was also a powerhouse. Testament to the wonderful teamwork of Craven and Williamson. The willingness of this slasher franchise to be simultaneously satirical and also deadly serious from one moment to the next is a big part of why the movies have succeeded. A huge part of why I’ll always love them, and why Craven was a master.

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Why SCREAM 2 is Better Than People Are Willing to Admit

Scream 2. 1997. Directed by Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.
Starring Neve Campbell, Jada Pinkett Smith, Omar Epps, Heather Graham, Elise Neal, Liev Schreiber, Courtney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Joshua Jackson, Timothy Olyphant, Jamie Kennedy, Jerry O’Connell, Duane Martin, Laurie Metcalf, Lewis Arquette, Rebecca Gayheart, Portia de Rossia, & David Arquette.
Dimension Films/Konrad Pictures/Craven-Maddalena Films.
Rated R. 120 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★posterscream2Disclaimer: It’s been 20 years. If you haven’t seen this yet, expect to be spoiled.

Make no mistake, I loved Scream. When it first came out my friend and I watched it together, we were maybe 12, and it truly scared us. Wes Craven is one of the masters of the horror genre. While the first film in the series took a – pardon me for this – stab at horror movies in a post-modern, metafictional style, screenwriter Kevin Williamson comes back with Craven for the sequel, Scream 2, and they not only stab again at the heart of horror cliches, as well as sequels, they genuinely up the seriousness of the story while still staying fresh and self-deprecating at the right moments.
There’s a lot people take for granted when it comes to this series overall, but especially this sequel. Everyone expected something particular, which is always a gamble when it comes to a huge movie many fans loved. But this sequel offered many things that horror fans who don’t give it the proper credit don’t often notice, at least not the first time around. Sure, the whole thing with the new Ghostface picking off victims using the names of victims from the original massacre, that’s something, and Jamie Kennedy’s Randy Meeks has more Rules to Survive a Horror MovieSequel to offer his friends and the audience.
But the true strength of this film comes in the writing of Williamson, and its execution at the hands of Mr. Craven. Running the gamut from horror parody (Stab with Tori Spelling and Luke Wilson) to the inclusion of high art and stage tragedy (Aeschylus’ Agamemnon from the Oresteia), it’s like a great piece of literary fiction and Scream 2 is better than many are willing to admit. I don’t pretend to know why, and I also know not everything is for everyone. I do know a few reasons why it’s worth reconsidering and popping on for another watch.
scream2-1Starting in the first film, Craven takes aim at many things, including his beloved genre of choice. Mainly though, he focuses his assault on the media. Gale Weathers (Cox) is a ruthless reporter, the epitome of ‘willing to do anything to get the story’ even if that includes dragging victims through the mud. By the same token, she’s also, now and then, shown as a double-edged sword, someone who, like in the case of Cotton Weary (Schreiber), also wants to get to the bottom of the truth, eventually. What’s interesting is that this sequel – and continuing in the third film – marks a transition for Gale, where she’s still clinging to her old ways but also finding out there’s another side, that reporters just need to work a little harder and they can be respected, instead of being the latest fodder generating instrument for headlines. Moreover, she’s too busy chasing the next story in this sequel to see a killer right in front of her.
Gale’s nastiest moment comes when she confronts Sidney (Campell) with Cotton in tow; an effectively awful scene concerning exploited victims, all at the hands of Ms. Weathers in her search for the next big thing to keep her fame from fading. Strange how she’s basically the precursor for people like Piers Morgan, Nancy Grace, and other media ‘personalities’ today clinging to any kind of controversy or whatever it takes to stay in the spotlight.
The opening sequence is really the nail in the coffin of media exploitation. Audiences are desensitised, something I’m sure Craven was very aware of, long before Scream 2. When Jada Pinkett Smith’s character perishes during this opener, we see the wreckage of desensitisation. People are so jaded that she literally has to die on stage for the crowd to see, to understand it’s real and not a gimmick. Further than that there’s the idea of media exploiting true crimes to turn into films, franchises, merchandise, et cetera. Everyone is so caught up in the Stab gimmick – all the Ghostface masks, rubber knives, all those toys and replicas – they probably imagined this woman getting stabbed in front of them was a marketing campaign, the next step in the film studio evolving to the times. And what’s funny is that this was released 20 years ago as of my writing, yet it’d be even more genuinely believable in this day and age than then, you could see this happening in 2017. Craven rubs in the reality when JPS hits the stage, lingering on her dead face, the blood, her cold eyes, before cutting to the title. A jarring image.
scream2-2The age old question rears its head once more in Craven’s sequel: do horror movies and violent images breed killers and/or homicidal thought? As we find out with Mickey (Olyphant), life really does imitate art like he points out, and he even plans on using it as a defence. This is spectacular for a couple reasons.
Number one, Mickey is one of the Ghostface murderers in this film and he goes against the killers of the first film, Billy Loomis and Stu Macher; they were big horror movie lovers, but were motivated primarily by revenge for Sidney’s mom sleeping with Billy’s father before their family fell apart. Mickey is wholeheartedly invested in movies as motive, the media has warped his mind and he’s going to use it to try getting off with murder.
Number two, life imitating art factors into the big finale. We start the film with a death on a movie theatre stage, we end the film with a final confrontation on a theatrical stage. Not just that, the play Sidney is a part of is Agamemnon, which is a tale of family and revenge; this directly parallels Scream 2‘s story that ultimately deals with family and revenge. When the other killer is unmasked it links to family, the first film. Then the deaths, completing the tragedy of a Greek play, add another effect to the whole. Sidney’s performance itself, her character, is a great inclusion. Plus, the audience witnesses a head trip of a rehearsal as she loses herself in the masks onstage, believing Ghostface lurks around each costume. Not only does Williamson use the Greek tragedy in parallel with his plot, the sequence at the rehearsal comes off as impressively theatrical, a nice visual and thematic few moments. All this together makes clear that the screenplay is well crafted, not just another sequel to a slasher waiting to be forgotten.
scream2-3As was the case in the original film, Williamson writes a nice whodunnit scenario, as Craven spins the words into near constant tension. Nobody here is safe from suspicion, and seeing Scream 2 for the first time is real fun because it’s a great guessing game for a while. More than that there are a couple perfect slasher horror scenes, a unique score like we got the first time around, and the returning actors – Campbell, Cox, Arquette, Kennedy – do a fine job carrying the material, sinking further into their characters this time around.
One last mention is that I love how they didn’t throw Cotton Weary to the side. He wasn’t forgotten, and the inclusion of his character, following up on his false imprisonment for the killing of Sidney’s mother, is not just good for the whodunnit mystery, it does wonders for the whole concentrated universe of the Scream series. I actually wish Weary lasted longer in the next movie, but alas, we at least get a bit more Schreiber!
Either way, this is a great sequel, one of the better and more underappreciated sequels to a slasher over the past 20 years, that’s for damn sure. I know this did well at the box office, but over time I feel like many horror fans fell out of love with it, if they ever actually loved it in the first place. All I know is that Craven directs this film at a masterful level, the suspense is unbearable and he keeps you on edge, while the story Williamson weaves adds to what made the first film so perfectly creepy and effective (in terms of its aim at media and the sensationalised way people view true crime), as well as provides serious weight to the story overall in his use of Agamemnon.
You’ll do far worse than this Craven flick if you want to throw in a sequel. Take a stormy, eerie night when the wind outside is blowing, turn off the lights, and let Scream 2 get in your head.

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.

BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 is the Epitome of Wasted Potential

Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. 2000. Directed by Joe Berlinger. Screenplay by Berlinger & Dick Beebe.
Starring Jeffrey Donovan, Tristine Skyler, Erica Leerhsen, Kim Director, Lanny Flaherty, Lauren Husley, & Raynor Scheine.
Artisan Entertainment/Haxan Films.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Adventure/Fantasy/Horror

★★
posterYou’d almost expect Joe Berlinger to have done more with the concept for this sequel to Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s groundbreaking horror, The Blair Witch Project. By this point in 2000 he already did two of the HBO Paradise Lost documentaries, another great (and equally as tragic) doc called Brother’s Keeper. With the screenplay from him and co-writer Dick Beebe, I imagined Berlinger could spin his documentary style into an interesting sequel for the story Myrick and Sánchez began.
That’s not the case, unfortunately. I’m sure that even this movie has its fans, a cult following. But whereas other cult films feel justified in their love, often due to the project released at the wrong moment in time, Book of Shadows stinks not only of a cash grab, it’s also one majorly wasted opportunity.
Parts of what I feel Berlinger aimed at work. So much of it doesn’t, and falls into cheese; not even the good kind. You can watch this as a biting, murderous, supernatural satire re: diehard fans of the first film. Not well written. Although definitely, at least partly what Beebe and Berlinger tried to get across. It didn’t come too quickly after the original, that isn’t the reason this did poorly. Plain and simple, this falls well short of being a good movie. The dialogue is brutal, to the point of cringing in many a scene, then it gets far too expository to take seriously. If only the screenplay were tighter, the acting better, and most of all: if only it were found footage. That’s one of my biggest gripes. Beyond that Berlinger tried doing something that would’ve otherwise been good. Somehow he stumbled, fumbling just about every last drop of potential.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-21-48-amThere are a few genuinely unsettling images, I must admit. An early dream sees one of the women having a dream about drowning her unborn baby in a river, blood bubbling up from the water. It’s jarring because we enter the dream seamless, no indication, and then a nice smash cut out of this nightmarish image to see her lying in a tent. A great scene that always gets me.
These gnarly moments are few and far between.
One scene that particularly pisses me off is when the group first wake up to find all the paper essentially snowing down on them. I never judge people TOO much on the decisions they make because they don’t know they’re in a horror movie. But fuck, man. This one chaps my ass. When they’re rationally trying to figure out what’s gone on, they never once question WHY AND HOW THE HELL IS THE PAPER SNOWING DOWN ON US? It’s clearly dropping out of the sky, and they don’t make one reference to maybe looking in the trees to see if anyone is playing tricks on them, et cetera. I mean, I can forgive a lot of stupid stuff screenplay-wise in horror. I love the genre, though I know sometimes the writing isn’t perfect, even in movies I actually enjoy. This screenplay is chock full of garbage writing; glaring omission, poor and unbelievably character decisions, amongst more mistakes. Too bad because, as I mentioned, the concepts alive in the script die on the vine instead of blooming to make the sequel a worthy successor.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-26-41-amI can’t help but be mad at the writing. And I do know that, against his will, the studio shot some scenes to make this more a straight-forward horror, whatever the hell that means. So part of this isn’t totally Berlinger’s doing, regardless of his co-writing the script. Maybe one day we’ll get a version that shows us what Berlinger originally wanted, which would be nice. Either way, this version ends up with bad writing choices dominating everything.
So much wasted potential. Even down to Erica Leerhsen’s witch character and her worry about The Blair Witch Project reflecting negatively on actual witches, such as her and fellow Wiccans. This, along with the satirical eye towards die hard lovers of the first film insisting on the Blair Witch is real, wound up as fodder.
And that’s the frustrating part. Berlinger could’ve made this into a horror containing social commentary, satirising modern film culture, fanaticism, and other big ideas. Instead of following the first film with a powerhouse, this falls just about entirely flat. The original worked because of its reality angle, the rawness and the gritty qualities of the mainly improvised script. This one should have been capable of improving, and yet with a fully formed script this never comes close to achieving any of the goals it lays out theme-wise.
screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-32-14-amscreen-shot-2016-12-22-at-1-41-22-amMaybe giving this two out of five stars is even too much. But there’s enough to keep me watching Book of Shadows, so I don’t feel too guilty; though a bit of guilt exists, all the same. Don’t get me wrong: this is a bad movie. Especially when you consider The Blair Witch Project and how great it was, in many ways. Berlinger deserves better, I’m sure there is a better cut of the movie somewhere in existence, or at least pieces of which that can be assembled into sequel worthy of what Sánchez and Myrick started.
A handful of scenes, or more so moments, does not a movie make. When I compare this with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s recent Blair Witch, it’s easy to see what works and what doesn’t, at all. This is a huge mess. It’s a good one to throw on when you’re bored, doing something else, or for a night when you want to watch something foolish with a group of friends. And if you’re all fans of the original, it’s even more fun to laugh as you watch.
Nevertheless, you might find a couple things that appeal to you. Or, maybe it’s a total trash bin. I don’t disagree, no matter how you feel. I’m going to rally behind anyone who wants to see a Berlinger-approved cut. Behind the mess a Book of Shadows worth the time and worth carrying the Blair Witch name may exist. If the latest entry in the series spawns a sequel, themes from this failed sequel would be exciting to revisit, if they were better written and more extensively explored. Here’s to hope!

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.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE; Or, A Nightmare of Repressed Sexuality

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. 1985. Directed by Jack Sholder. Screenplay by David Chaskin.
Starring Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell, Sydney Walsh, & Robert Englund.
New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
Fantasy/Horror

★★★★
posterThe original A Nightmare on Elm Street always rocked me, from the first time I saw it to today. Lurking amongst dreams, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) always upset me because the way he haunts leaves people so defenceless. This sequel to the first film is usually deemed unworthy, that it goes against the rules set out in the original. Moreover, some just think it’s a bad movie. Not me. Before even trying to suss out any of the homosexual underlining in the screenplay this flick freaked me out. So what Freddy attacks people later in the film outside of dreams? So what? Did you watch the rest of the movie?
Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) denies his homosexuality to an oblivious extent. Having Freddy possess him, killing anybody that gets too close, is a symbol of this repressed sexuality. Literally, denying his sexuality is killing him. And others.
With a couple of my favourite Freddy scenes, apart from the first film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is at once an allegory about the dangers of being forced to repress your sexuality, and also a fun mix of Freddy’s nightmare world with his newfound ability to literally possess those whose dreams he infects.
pic1pic2Following suit with the first, screenwriter David Chaskin begins the sequel with a nice dream sequence. Having a bus driver run off renegade with a few high school kids still in tow is horrifying enough. The fact Englund plays the driver, without the Krueger makeup at first, makes this scene much scarier. This is also, obviously, the first Krueger-infused nightmare. From there it’s a double-edged sword through Chaskin’s script. We get doses of Freddy along with the layout of Jesse as a character. He’s challenged constantly to be “masculine” – what society sees as masculinity, anyways – and at the same time the writing points out all sorts of homoeroticism in high school, the sort of stuff young men aren’t readily willing to admit. Jesse doesn’t play baseball as well as the other guys. He then gets pantsed by Ron Grady (Robert Rusler), which leads into a wrestling match. So, simultaneously the screenplay has all these instances of perceived masculinity where Jesse doesn’t match Grady specifically, then they’re rolling around, pressing bodies together, and things only get more overtly homoerotic from there. Later, Grady asks Jesse about Lisa Webber (Kim Myers), whether he’s “mounting her nightly,” and it’s suggested that if not there’s a problem. The way Jesse reacts suggests not that he doesn’t wish to divulge information, but that he’s afraid to admit not having sex with her; either because he can’t get there, or maybe doesn’t want to do that. Masculinity is played up amongst the high school males yet there’s this juxtaposed homoerotic undertone to so much of it. Perfectly written by Chaskin. To act outside the supposed norm is to be ostracised and ridiculed. So, Jesse, like a lot of gay men in the ’80s, is locked in the closet.
Everything gets cast in a slightly sexual light. Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) tells the boys to “assume the position” and wears them out with push-ups, lording over them. Then all the boys are forced to get in the shower after gym, something I always found strange about school. This means boys like Jesse are forced to get comfortable naked around peers of the same sex while likely struggling with their sexuality. Not to mention masculinity’s at stake if you don’t quite… measure up. The homosexual undertones of the story come out plenty with Coach Schneider, who frequents a leather bar and may just be a nasty paedophile, which is why he enjoys exerting power of the boys so much. His kill scene involves a creepy bit of S&M.
pic1Many instances of powerful horror imagery. The Schneider sequence after Jesse meets him in the leather bar is especially eerie. School at night is spooky, even when I was young and going to a school dance it always unnerved me. Seeing Jesse start his lap, he and Schneider all alone together, is spooky. Almost drenched in fog. The wide angle makes the gymnasium feel particularly stark. We follow Jesse around the gym until seeing Schneider again, sort of like Jesse runs to him; an act of power for the coach like when he takes pleasure in working the young boys during school.
Throughout the franchise, little girls skipping rope crop up. Over and over. One of the more creepy images to me, as it invokes Krueger’s past. Added to that, little kids in horror work well when used correctly. How we see the skipping girl show up here is amazingly executed. Jesse walks into a room, we see his face and the rope flipping around before actually seeing the girl. She repeats the famous nursery rhyme. Great, haunting scene.
Maybe the greatest of any scene outside the original is when Jesse goes to Grady, in a strange mood after having ran off from Lisa when they decide to make out. Slowly, Freddy starts emerging from inside Jesse; literally. The blades squeeze out of his nails, his arm becomes the infamous red and green shirt, an eye peers from far back inside Jesse’s throat. Then he slices his own chest to let Freddy out. Gruesome, excellent effects, gorgeously disturbing. Another unnerving moment is when Lisa is going to find Freddy’s hideout, she passes two human-faced dogs. They’re like the hounds guarding the entrance to hell, Freddy style. These are the two scenes I find best on the practical effects and terror.
In terms of the embedded homoerotic content, the famous dance scene is one perfect symbol in the dark. This is the only single time we see Jesse being himself. Every other scene he’s either only comfortable when around Lisa, or we find him uncomfortably trying to fit in with the other guys in high school posturing themselves as masculine creatures. Here, by himself, Jesse gyrates, he sings into a microphone and then strokes it like a phallus, he dances on the bed moving his body like a woman might. In these moments there is a hidden sexuality in how he moves, yearning to come out. The scene feels off to many, misplaced, like it belongs in a goofy teen comedy. I beg to differ.
pic2pic3I love this movie! It isn’t perfect, it has flaws. But the big mistake people seem to make concerning its plot is they bash it for not following Craven’s rules from the original. Fair enough. Only if you look closer, there’s reasoning to it. Freddy is only able to actually enter the real world after he finds the path of least resistance. Early on, he haunts Jesse in dreams. Not long later he explodes the bird, he starts seeping into reality. It’s only after he’s killed the true object of Jesse’s affection – Grady – that Freddy is allowed power enough to enter the world in full form. Freddy breaking through Jesse’s skin literally is the allegory, boiled down to metaphor, concerning how dangerous denying one’s sexuality can be ultimately.
This is a 4-star bit of horror. The ’80s were a heyday for the genre. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge gets unfairly lumped into the worst of the decade. My feeling is that, upon retrospect, this sequel needs a revisit, by many. During Halloween season, pop in the original then follow up with this one. They’re very different, and still serve much of the same purpose. After awhile, it isn’t scary to me that Freddy is in dreams. He has to get bigger, scarier. Later in New Nightmare, through metafiction, Freddy becomes more a part of the real world. People loved that one. My guess is most don’t understand, or dig, the homosexual subtext (a.k.a totally out in the open for anyone not blind) and therefore the rest of the film falls flat. If you look at it the right way, Freddy’s Revenge is more Jesse’s Dangerous Repression. If you can see it in that sense, you may get into it differently.

One of Horror’s Most Underappreciated Sequels – AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION

Amityville II: The Possession. 1982. Directed by Damiano Damiani. Screenplay by Tommy Lee Wallace; based on the book by Hans Holzer.
Starring James Olson, Burt Young, Rutanya Alda, Jack Magner, Andrew Pine, Diane Franklin, Moses Gunn, Ted Ross, Erika Katz, Brent Katz, & Leonardo Cimino. Dino De Laurentiis Company/Media Transactions.
Rated R. 104 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
posterNot sure why certain horror sequels aren’t appreciated as much as others. It’s a strange phenomenon that doesn’t always happen to crime or drama movies when sequels come out. Many people love The Godfather Part II above the original, which is fair; I do, too. Other people loved Die Hard so much that Die Hard 2, despite its many shortcomings, thrilled them to no end. Yet horror fans seem much more reluctant about which sequels they approve of, which ones they think are trash. I’m definitely in the minority here, but I love movies such as Exorcist II: The Heretic (in no way better than the original Friedkin – still an awesome, unfairly judged sequel), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (an unheralded sequel that doesn’t beat its predecessor and still manages to do great things in retrospect), and yes, Amityville II: The Possession.
Where those other two horror sequels were good but failed to outdo the originals, I feel Amityville II beats the first on all counts. You heard me.
Why is that? Well, there are a lot of reasons. You can never tell for sure if the sequel is really a sequel; it can almost act like a prequel. Of course it’s a sequel. Just fun that there’s a lot of interesting parallels with this film and the actual story of Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr’s, the man whose vicious crimes against his family inspired The Amityville Horror. Then there’s the sheer terror of the plot, a much darker vision of a family torn apart by supernatural forces than the first could ever have hoped to become. Part of the big reason why this movie does so well is that Tommy Lee Wallace wrote the script. There are those who might not agree with me, however, Wallace hasn’t been given the credit he’s due over the years. He did a handful of things that weren’t so great. But Halloween III: Season of the Witch (he wrote/directed) and It (directed both parts; wrote second part) are classics, to my mind. His work here has gone largely unnoticed except for a small group of fans worldwide. He manages to take the scariness of the series in an appropriately disturbing direction, perhaps why so many refuse to recognise the film’s greatness. Regardless, Wallace creates a much more penetrating nightmare than the original with uncredited screenplay help from Dardano Sacchetti (too many movies to list) and wonderful cinematography from Franco Di Giacomo.
If you haven’t seen this yet: do it now. If you’ve seen it and forget its greatness, it’s time to revisit.
pic1Quickly you’ll find the camera work is more inventive and fluid than the first film, as well as the fact it helps put you in a very different psychological perspective. Almost like we start to see from the point-of-view of the house, or the ghosts and demons lurking within its walls. For instance, early on when the mother is in the basement and has one of the men look in the crawlspace, a tracking shot comes out of the hole in the wall and sneaks behind her. She tells her son moments later: “Somebodytouched me.” Di Giacomo and Wallace utilise this shot to great effect. In another film we’d see the mother walking away from the crawlspace, a ghostly apparition behind her reaching to touch the shoulder, and then cut to NOTHING behind her. Instead, this makes us feel as if we’re seeing what the ghosts (or demons or whatever) are seeing. It’s a visceral shot, placing us in the ghostly perspective. This reoccurs over and over. Not repetitively, but to amplify this effect.
There’s a moment when this ends, and we then witness things normally, as Sonny Montelli (Jack Magner) is possessed. The camera techniques change, though still effective. Moreover, the narrative changes and we’re dragged through a disturbing story that decidedly overshadows the first film.
Whereas The Amityville Horror focused on George Lutz (James Brolin), his normal family, and his later complete mental breakdown at the hands of the house, Sonny’s possession comes from a darker place. The Montelli family are a troubled bunch already. Before we ever see Anthony Montelli (an excellently rough performance from legendary Burt Young) lay a finger on anybody, a bit of dialogue tunes us into his abusiveness. From there on the abusive father figure in him comes out, terribly at times. It gets worse, too. Apparently a couple scenes that had to be cut include one where Anthony forces himself on his wife Dolores (Rutanya Alda), to a graphic extent. What’s left in the film includes dialogue behind closed doors, suggestions from daughter Patricia (Diane Franklin). Once the house starts possessing Sonny, on top of making most of the family look crazy to the violent patriarch, everything gets really evil. Sonny seduces his own sister into incest, and then later murders every last one of them with a rifle; exactly like Butch DeFeo did. The original depicted an otherwise loving family man, a stepfather taking in his wife’s children as if he were their own, becoming a sinister, abusive person. The sequel taps into something more ugly, in the right kind of way for good horror, by way of the already fractured family. A large reason for this being better than the first.
pic3The big changeover scene where the possession fully takes place, crossing us over from the point-of-view tracking shots to a more steadily framed view of the horror – is what I call “the stomach scene”: we watch as the camera zooms in and out on Sonny’s body, mostly his stomach, as he sweats and screams and moans while the demonic spirit enters him. It’s a – pardon this pun – gut wrenching scene. Magner sells it totally, which is amazing considering that his only other film is the Stephen King adaptation Firestarter. But Magner, the camera technique, really takes you into his physical transformation. I also consider part of this sequel body horror. Reason being, Sonny experiences a physical shift, his skin often fattens up, getting lumpy, or getting more emaciated. The process of possession, naturally, wouldn’t be such a breeze as all of a sudden there’s a demon inside you, some ghost inhabiting your flesh. Sonny goes through a terrifyingly nasty transformation before our eyes. This culminates in an amazing scene near the end where we actually see the demon in him for a moment, breaking through the skin to emerge in all its sticky, gruesome glory. There are a number of moments where the body horror element takes hold. Each worth the time to pause on, as even the makeup is bang on.
Some other favourite moments –
When Patricia figures out her brother, or whatever’s inside him, only seduced her for the evil of the act, it’s a heartbreaking moment. Because incest is awful, first of all. Secondly, she admits to Sonny that their time together didn’t make her feel bad; she genuinely feels love for him, no matter if it’s an awfully wrong thing to do. Still, to see her shamefully admit to all that with the priest, the fact she understands Sonny(/the demon) only does it to “hurt God” is crushing.
One of the best tracking shots in the demonic POV is when it goes through the quiet house and sees a crucifix hanging on the wall. The demon makes strange noises, groaning, then tosses a sheet over the crucifix to hide it. A brilliant, brief scene that I always have to replay a couple times. It’s eerie, as well as kind of darkly humorous.
The priest flicking the aspergillum, both he and Patricia seeing it as thick bloody being sprinkled all over the bedroom, is an awesome horror movie moment. Both for the blood flying everywhere and the fact of the double hallucination. Very cool.
pic2For me, Amityville II: The Possession is a classic of the horror genre. Totally underrated, underappreciated. You don’t have to think it’s the greatest, there are still mistakes or things Wallace could have made better. I can’t discount what’s he done with this sequel, though. He outdoes the original, adds a bit of backstory (we get short mentions of a supposed witch expelled from Salem who built the house over an ancient Indian burial ground; an element reused in the original’s 2005 remake). His story of the family is beyond disturbing material, in a way that makes for a compelling supernatural-leaning plot. Finally, the camera work and the way it plays into the psychological terror is perfect; the one aspect of the film I find untouchable.
Maybe you don’t feel the same way. Nothing wrong with that, either. I only urge people to reconsider, watch the film again. This time you might just discover something that you didn’t the first time you saw it. I suggest a double bill of this and the original, compare them. This is the better movie, by a long shot. Dig in. There’s lots of horror here for a dark October night leading up to Halloween.

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.

Uwe Gets Confused & Preachy with Rampage: President Down

Rampage: President Down. 2016. Directed by Uwe Boll. Screenplay by Boll & Brendan Fletcher.
Starring Brendan Fletcher, Ryan McDonell, Steve Baran, Bruce Blain, Scott Patey, Michaela Mann, Anthony Rogers, Ralph Steiger, Victor Formosa, & Timo Weingaertner.
Momentum Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Not Rated. 99 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★1/2
POSTER
The Rampage trilogy has fallen far since the first film. Honestly, it had flaws but the original was exciting, violent, it pulled no punches in a depiction of a mind gone wild. There’s a central story of the failure of the American Dream which somehow gets lost. Not that the first sequel was anything better. Yet at least Capital Punishment still kept focused on Bill, his one man rampage, rather than getting into the search for him and any of the people involved. Above all, the story of Bill Williamson is one that should’ve been kept smaller, more contained, succinct.
Ignoring any of that, Brendan Fletcher and Uwe Boll have forged on, writing more of the story. Their biggest crime is stretching the character of Bill too far. He’s all of a sudden even more of an expert in military tactics, from sniper rifles to landmines, et cetera. The only thing Bill had going for him in the previous two movies is that he was willing, ready to take on anything, and got his hands on an excellent Kevlar suit, plus a bunch of assault rifles and similar weaponry. Out of the blue, Bill is a weapons expert. He’s made three sniper shots on the President, the Vice President, and Secretary of Defence; apparently from such a distance there could only be a handful of people on Earth to have made them. Really? It’s as if right from the start Fletcher and Boll’s script decides they don’t care about the character development to this point, and tossed credibility out the window. Sure, things got dicey before this sequel. You still figured there’s some kind of attention being paid to what makes sense in terms of the already established character. Aside from that, the original aim of Rampage and its central character has been utterly lost.
Boll keeps on breaking my heart. With a couple films he’d sucked me in. Between Capital Punishment and now President Down, he’s back to scraping the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps a good thing this is the last cinematic adventure from him we’ll see, unless he changes his mind about retirement down the line.
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Again, Boll shoots himself in the foot by retracing old steps. He makes the viewer feel stupid by going back over clips from the previous film, as he did IN the previous film with the first one. Just a connected train of bullshit. Maybe if Boll wanted to make things more interesting he’d have cut out those clips, then filled the holes with new, better dialogue. And if that wasn’t the biggest problem, the fact Boll wants to suspend our disbelief towards somehow accepting the fact Bill can expertly sniper with no military training, or any real prior history with actual guns before his titular rampage. This is what I just cannot accept, not in the slightest. The way we’re supposed to believe he’s killed the President, along with two others, is ludicrous. Just too far gone to keep things grounded, in any way. Of course the first sequel went beyond what the original film tried to do, fairly effectively. But this third entry into the trilogy is too much to bear. Fletcher and Boll have stumbled over their own writing. Just like the previous entry, this one does nothing to capitalise on the original film’s success. President Down rehashes, over and over, both through dialogue and also visually scenes which came before it. Some bits seem to be jammed into the story simply for effect, or to try and make Bill a more sympathetic, emotionally driven character. It’s more fun to have him as a psychopath, taking a message beyond its reasonable limits into murder and madness. Like, why the fuck does he have a son? What purpose does that aspect serve? This is not an empathetic character, in any sense, certainly not worthy of sympathy, either. And why is the woman he’s with, with whom he’s made a child, so intent on keeping him around in her life? It makes no sense to me, at all. As if it came from a totally different screenplay.
One part of the screenplay I enjoyed thoroughly is how it shows the reach of people like Williamson. There’s a person helping behind the scenes, and what that does is represent how even cops, businessmen, people we assume are behind America can actually become as disillusioned as a young man like the one with whom they’re dealing. The fact Bill has people out there, not just someone in a high up position who can help him but fans of all kinds amongst the citizens of his city (and beyond), is scary and sobering. Because you can bet if this did happen there’d be tons of clueless dummies out there online cheering for Bill, trying to help, offering what they can. Maybe in part due to the fact they wouldn’t realise the seriousness of what’s going on. But rest assured, there’d be very happy, willing participants on a war like the one Bill is waging against the U.S. Government.
The whole ISIS/refugee angle in the screenplay is sort of spot on. Today, the media latches onto anything ISIS says, when they claim certain terrorist acts and other events of violence were their work. Before any information is found, the media (+ dumb people online) say: “Well, they’ve claimed this and they’re the culprits.” So Boll and Fletcher do a solid bit of writing to add this into the plot. Partly it represents the real state of affairs. On the other hand, it plays into Bill’s rantings and ravings about the government. Once ISIS claims the President’s assassination in President Down, you may as well have President Trump sitting at the helm, closing down mosques and rounding Muslims up to be detained, deported, and who else knows what.
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There’s a lot of lame acting. Not Fletcher; once again, he’s one of the only reasons I made it through to the end. One of the worst culprits is Ryan McDonell, who plays an FBI agent named Vince Jones. He isn’t absolutely terrible, but some of the more important moments are flat because of his bad performance. None of the FBI agents are particularly good, they’ve got their own respective shortcomings. Steve Baran isn’t much better. When the big freak outs happen as the FBI realises Bill is likely steps ahead of them, both McDonell and Baran are equally incompetent. Some of the dialogue betrays them. Most of all they’re just not good in their roles, they can’t sell what’s needed and their parts bog everything down. Part of what made the first film good, as well as the only good little pieces of the sequel, was that Bill had centre stage to himself. There were other characters. They didn’t take up space, cutting the legs out from under the screenplay’s pacing, as the FBI agents do here. If it weren’t for Fletcher, I probably wouldn’t make it through the entire film.
Don’t waste your time. The 1&1/2 out of 5 star rating I’ve given this is mostly because there are a couple decent action sequences. And yes, Fletcher gives a steady performance, as he has in the other two movies. There are so many things wrong with this third film that the just over 1,000 words I’ve written don’t even begin to cover the gamut. I did enjoy a couple scenes. Outside of that, President Down betrays the original movie and does nothing to make Bill Williamson grow, or change. It just takes Bill into a new realm of violence, a new level, which is in itself ridiculous because of how they try doing it. Either way, if you’re a completionist and want to watch it, go ahead. I warn you, though, there’s not much to enjoy. You’ll definitely find a better way to spend 99 minutes.

Rampage: Capital Punishment is a Wasted, Unworthy Sequel

Rampage: Capital Punishment. 2014. Directed by Uwe Boll. Screenplay by Boll & Brendan Fletcher.
Starring Brendan Fletcher, Lochlyn Munro, Mike Dopud, Michaela Mann, Bruce Blain, John Sampson, Nathan Lehfeldt, Uwe Boll, & Matt Frewer.
Boll Kino Beteiligungs GmbH& Co. KG.
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★1/2
POSTER
I don’t like to rag on any filmmakers, no matter if their finished films are garbage. Because as a writer myself, as someone who has acted on stage a good deal throughout his life, I know exactly what it’s like to craft your art and then put it out for people to see. Not saying we need to pussyfoot around, holding in our true feelings. Not at all. I’d rather someone tell me what’s bad about my writing than for them to pretend it’s any good. Constructive criticism is better for that purpose, rather than completely tearing somebody down. Be critical, give your consensus about what you’ve seen (/heard/whatever) and try to help an artist grow. Don’t tear them down.
That’s something Uwe Boll has dealt with in droves throughout his 30+ films in a career spanning two and a half decades. Probably because, honestly, most of his films aren’t good. Yet I can admit when there are exceptions to the rule. For instance, the first Rampage movie was a lot of (dark) fun, and I think Boll both used his own rage at critics and the general changing attitudes about America to create a wild bit of action. I enjoyed Stoic, too. For all its terrifying morbid.
Boll does his first film a disservice with this sequel, Rampage: Capital Punishment. He had an interesting concept, a raw and genuine lead character. He used the action wisely, to pretty great effect. Some of the main character’s rants were a little over-the-top. They were enjoyable, though, and Boll hit a nerve with the character himself, the idea of a lost American Dream, how that idea then warps people into many twisted forms. But the sequel; my god, what a squandered opportunity. Boll doesn’t manage to capture much of what made the first film so unexpectedly enjoyable. It comes off as forced, even with a couple well designed and executed sequences. Most annoyingly, there are a bunch of clips from the original used, ad nauseum, and that’s something I really hate in sequels. Laziness, pure and simple. So what good will Uwe built up with the previous chapter, he all but totally undoes with Capital Punishment.
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The opening 20 minutes are a pain. With new footage of Bill Williamson (Fletcher) playing, we’re treated to a lot of confusingly edited flashbacks. It’s really a travesty of a sequence to start off the movie. Boll does himself no favours here, by getting slack with his writing and instead of things being exciting right off the bat they become sluggish. By the time Bill gets into rampage mode, it’s almost gotten boring. Certainly it’s predictable.
Certain parts of the rants from Bill get more tedious and trite in the sequel, as well. Boll made some nice, poignant (believe it or not) points in the first screenplay. Occasionally overboard, but mostly decent. With this one he can’t resist, going mad over the page. Whereas the original plan by Bill sort of involves an attack on the failed American Dream, the lies government have built upon over the years, so on. In the beginning of this film, he’s almost advocating full scale genocide to reduce global population. I mean, there’s a limit where you have to say, okay this is off the rails. And it is, Boll loses sight now and then of exactly what he was trying to say. A few lines, such as a Karl Marx name drop and a nice tirade against Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln, are actually awesome. Bill’s rants do sometimes touch on the appropriate nerve. More often than not they ramble on into irrelevance.
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One of the things which keeps the first movie so interesting, and one of this sequel’s only saving graces, is that Bill Williamson is played by Brendan Fletcher. The first time I noticed this guy was in a relatively obscure indie called Rollercoaster from 1999. He was fascinating, his character came off incredibly heartbreaking. From then on I knew to keep an eye on him. His acting sells Bill as a character, even when things get a bit contrived. He’s intense, he gives Bill a genuine feel at the most unhinged of times. There are a lot of actors who would’ve sent this movie spiralling downward quickly. At least with Fletcher playing the lead, Boll has someone capable of compelling the audience to stick with the story. If you get bored there’s still a nice performance out of this guy, whose talent is monstrous with the correct words in his mouth. Aside from Fletcher, there’s nobody else worth talking about. Lochlyn Munro plays his character well enough, although it’s nothing to write home about. Boll tries his hand at acting, once more, and well… y’know. Bless him for trying.
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There are fine references to such events as 9/11, Obama’s few blind spots (Guantanamo), a short slice of Marx. Bill Williamson has a good idea about the injustice happening in America, as well as plenty of rage towards the concept of that fabled, dying American Dream once. However, rage and emotional depth does not always make for a good screenplay. Boll’s extended an idea that, I personally find, worked well in the original Rampage. Going into a sequel, even a third film after this, is taking the idea and the character too far. I have no problem with the violence; in fact, a lot of that is why the first one was so refreshing. Boll certainly goes for the jugular with some of the violent acts Williamson rains down upon his city. As an overall piece of cinema, Rampage: Capital Punishment does not work in any other capacity than something mediocre to do for an hour and a half. It has a lot of flaws and does nothing to capitalise on the original’s success.
I’ll soon be watching the third of this trilogy, supposedly Boll’s last film. While I don’t expect much, I wonder if maybe he’s somehow able to capture part of the spirit from the first. If not, the concept is wasted, and that’s a shame. In this day and age, I guy like Bill Williamson is – for film – something spectacular. His misuse isn’t surprising from Boll, just disappointing.

The Godfather: Part II Redefines the American Classic

The Godfather: Part II. 1974. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay by Coppola & Mario Puzo.
Starring Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, Richard Bright, Gastone Moschin, Tom Rosqui, Bruno Kirby, Frank Sivero, Francesca De Sapio, Morgana King, Marianna Hill, Dominic Chianese, Joe Spinell, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Danny Aiello, & Harry Dean Stanton. Coppola Company/Paramount Pictures.
Rated 14A. 202 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTER
The first Godfather film was being received so positively even before it hit theatre that the studio greenlit a sequel quickly. This surely gave Francis Ford Coppola not only the money and freedom to keep doing what he saw fit with the story, but it likely also instilled him with some degree of confidence. Rightfully so. As I’ve said in my other review, the first movie is an American classic, a masterpiece of crime cinema and a giant of artistic, studio filmmaking crossed into one package. This sequel only builds upon all that momentum and all that dark beauty. The screenplay that Coppola and Mario Puzo manage to twist around through two separate time periods – the life of a younger adult Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) after he left Sicily as a boy and came to America, one of the huddled masses that entered through Ellis Island; then there’s the personal and professional troubles of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) having now taken his place as Boss of the Corleone crime family. Again, it’s a powerhouse of cinematic technique and writing. On top there’s the delicious cherry of a crackerjack performance out of Pacino and De Niro, all in the same damn film. How can it get any better?
The answer is, it can’t. Not really. Because there are only so many Godfather: Part IIs that are going to happen. There are other perfect movies out there (I consider this perfect, by the way). This one takes the cake. I have other favourites, but this is a genuine work of art that will last in the collective consciousness of film lovers worldwide, until there’s no such thing as consciousness any longer. Coppola redefined the classic film he’d put out a couple years earlier by making it even better through the sequel. I can’t think of many movies that are so well written and executed on all ends. So many beautiful shots, perfect scenes, the capable eye and blocking of Coppola… it’s hard to figure out what’s most enjoyable.
One thing’s for sure: this is the greatest sequel of all time, one of the greatest films period.
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Let’s talk of oranges again, shall we?
When Michael meets with Johnny Ola (the fantastic Dominic Chianese), the latter actually brings an orange. From Miami, Ola says. An ominous gift in the world of Coppola’s notorious crime family and their shady business. This should be our first inkling that something’s wrong with Ola, or that something is eventually going to go wrong involving him. Later, this is all confirmed when the plot plays out down in Havana. Ola also wears plenty orange, if that’s not enough to convince you of a foreboding death.
Another instance of the infamous orange omens comes in the younger days of Vito. When he drops the talk of making Fanucci an offer, one he can’t refuse, there’s a stand with oranges on it behind him. After Vito gives Fanucci money, the greasy extortionist grabs himself an orange before getting popped with a couple bullets; perhaps the strongest one of the entire series.
Apart from oranges there are so many iconic scenes and shots that it’s hard to talk about even half of them. Certain moments stand out, though. Near the end when Michael tells Fredo – “You broke my heart” – and gives him the kiss of death, I love how it’s all set against this New Year’s Eve party, such a happy, joyous celebration, and then in the midst is this really deadly confrontation between brothers. Subtle, quiet, yet deadly. Consequently the shot later when Fredo is taken out for a boat ride is a serene and beautiful moment, if not a dark one. Most of the amazing parts during The Godfather: Part II are not the action, the guns, they are the more subdued and gentle shots. That being said, one of my absolute favourites is the sequence where Vito takes care of Fanucci; everything from how it looks and sounds and feels, to the manner in which Vito carries out the deed, wrapping his gun, unscrewing the light bulb, and the gruesome shooting of Fanucci. There’s something for everyone, in the sense there’s drama, great looking cinematography, violence. All turned into a masterpiece by the hand of Coppola.
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Once again there’s an immersion in the Italian-American Mafia lifestyle. We have this ridiculously massive celebration for Michael’s little boy and his First Holy Communion. Yet it’s tradition. The Italians are proud of their heritage. Sure, it’s funded by mob money, but they’re celebrating religion, faith, all that. And I think the greatest part about those opening scenes with Michael, the big party, is how they’re all juxtaposed with meeting Senator Pat Geary (G.D. Spradlin) and his disrespect for the Corleone family, as well as Italian-Americans as a whole. Seeing such a beautiful, if not outrageous, celebration of culture and heritage followed by a dose of white American bigotry, it’s almost shocking at first. However, for all the mafioso stuff, the Corleones and many of their associates are atypical gangsters. Particularly compared to lots (/most) of the gangsters that came before these two movies. This is why getting a look at Vito in his early years, to the early days of his own family burgeoning in New York City right near the tail-end of WWI in 1917, is a super important aspect to the screenplay. This movie wouldn’t be near as powerful were it a simple sequel. Instead, Coppola mixes a prequel element into his story, which allows us to see the simple family man Vito was at the start. Before any of the gangster lifestyle and the illegal business.
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Effectively, Coppola and Puzo give us a window into why these men do what they do. In the first film it was more a broad look at these people as more than mafia stereotypes. Here, we explore exactly how these men start out on the path with the Black Hand. Vito’s tale is a microcosm of the Italian-American Mafia experience. In that Vito only became what he was due to the fact he and many others around the neighbourhood were being extorted by Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin in a properly despicable performance you can’t forget). And in the Italian-American community at the time, there wasn’t much reliance on the police, so where could a person turn in a city where they were all but forgotten? Vito simply stepped up and took a position that afforded him respect, power, and above all a means to provide for his family AND his community. You will likely never agree with the mafia life, nor do I. Although it’s easy to understand, especially in the early 20th century when so many Italian-Americans were being mistreated, forgotten, left out (purposely along with other cultures), and all around discriminated against.Pic2Vito is so wonderfully written. De Niro is a large part of why the character works on screen. But it’s undeniable the writing makes him a human being, alive off the page. One worth of empathy and the sympathy of others. Just the power of that scene where he’s being let go, reluctantly, at his job is enough to create the depth of his character. Most importantly, we see how Vito became a loved leader. Never mind fear. Vito has the power of faith in him as a leader, something others see and of which they take notice. His kind heart is evident from the start; his boss tries to give him some food as a token of appreciation after having to let him go, Vito won’t even take it. He has a sense of pride along with the warmth, a willingness to never let anybody have to take care of him. His principled way of living is clear so fast. This is a brilliant component to the performance of De Niro, he at once gives his own performance while calling us back (or forward depending on how you see it) to Marlon Brando and his older Vito Corleone. Certain aspects of Vito’s personality ring loudly through De Niro, ones that we can likewise pick out from the first film and Brando’s performance. Not only the voice. There’s the way Vito works from his heart and from his mind and always on principle, which De Niro shows us at the root, from where it originated.
On the opposite side there’s Michael. He is a completely different type of man, and therein lies the ultimate distinction between Vito and his son – Michael can never be Vito. He never had to haul himself up with absolutely nothing. The generation of men that came over to Ellis Island from the old country in Sicily were faced with building their entire life up. Vito chose the life of the gangster because, in the end, it was really one of the only things available to him. Otherwise, he might have been in service to some greasy, corrupt guy like Fanucci. Instead he decided to turn himself into a man completely on the other end of the spectrum, a tough and powerful and dangerous man, though one with a code of honour and a sense of respect for others around him (so long as the respect is returned). Michael simply falls into the troubled game of the American Mafia, murdering his way to the top, then he questions why danger has come to his door, constantly, threatening both him and his family. Someone like Vito didn’t deserve any of what came to him. He only did it for his family. Michael does all this for his family, but unlike his father none of it is by necessity. It isn’t until The Godfather: Part III does Michael realize the error of his ways and tries to repent. On the one hand, Vito never had to repent because he never did anything that you can truly call underhanded. Illegal business doesn’t mean immoral. On the other, his son Michael has done immoral, terrible things. Just consider what he does to Fredo (John Cazale). Despite all the dumb Corleone brother does and lets happen to the family because of his careless actions, he’s still Michael’s brother. And for him to do that to Fredo speaks to his character. You’d never see Vito do that. He’d maybe send him away, somewhere far nobody would ever find him, something other than death. Michael proves the difference between himself and his father with deafening finality via this act.
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I could say plenty more about this classic. This is one perfect piece of cinema. It’s fine if you don’t agree. On a technical level, I don’t see how you can’t call this a work of art, of mammoth proportions. If ever epic were a label suited for a film, The Godfather: Part II deserves it, every step of the way. Pacino and De Niro go back, forth with their acting talent, as the screenplay moves us from focus on a young Vito Corleone working his way into the business because of necessity, to his son Michael Corleone at that age later having essentially fallen into the grasp of the crime family business and becoming a totally different, more brutal person than Vito ever was, even at his worst. I’m always amazed at the power of this movie each time I see it. Never changes. Coppola is a master. He could make 100 shit films, and I’d still call him that for this film alone, let alone the trilogy as a whole. He deserves the label for making a work of art out of the crime genre, allowing a different perspective on Italian-American mobsters other than what the mainstream media offered up to that point. Not meant to change any perceptions, this sequel expands upon a look at the Corleone family, specifically Michael, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Wolf Creek 2: More Mick, More Savagery

Wolf Creek 2. 2014. Directed by Greg McLean. Screenplay by McLean & Aaron Sterns.
Starring John Jarratt, Ryan Corr, Shannon Ashlyn, Philippe Klaus, Shane Connor, & Ben Gerrard. Duo Art Productions/Emu Creek Pictures.
Unrated. 106 minutes.
Action/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER The first Wolf Creek came as a surprise to me being both fully fictional, as well as at the same time being partly inspired by real life Australian serial killer Ivan Milat. With the original’s ending, the news of a sequel was not surprising. However, I worried going in that director-writer Greg McLean, this time joined in writing duties by Aaron Sterns, might simply rehash all the same elements. It’s easy for horror sequels to fall by the wayside, either not exciting enough to match its original or too much of the same thing, or any number of problems.
Wolf Creek 2 is a fun little sequel. Because whereas it does go through many similar motions as the first film, there’s also enough differences to make it fresh, to make it intriguing, and most of all it keeps the character of Mick Taylor going strong. Definitely slightly more gruesome than the original, too. So even if there are times you might find yourself feeling like McLean is beating a dead horse, wait a few seconds. Either the renewed brutality of killer Mick will hook you, or perhaps the plight of a new victim might do the trick.
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On the Australian highway, deep in the Outback, a young German couple are hitchhiking their way through the barren landscapes. When they get to the Wolf Creek National Park, the couple camp for the night. But later, Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) shows up. He seems friendly, advising the couple they ought to get moving, as there’s no camping in the national park. Quickly one thing becomes another, and eventually Mick’s killing again.
Afterwards, one of them manages to get away. And in the process, a young British man named Paul Hammersmith (Ryan Corr) becomes entangled with the mad Aussie serial killer. When Mick gets Paul back to his isolated camp, he wants to play a game. So he begins asking Paul some trivia; 10 questions, 5 right answers, then Mick will let him go.
Only problem? Every wrong question Paul gets one of his fingers ground off down to the bone.
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Part of Wolf Creek 2 is very much a chase movie, or the first three quarters of the film is an extended chase sequence. What I enjoy most is that we start off immediately with Mick this time, as opposed to the first movie that stays with the eventual victims for a long time; which is great for that one. Here, we’re starting to delve further into Mick. There’s no massive exposition about his life or his character, but just starting off in his perspective, seeing what he’s up to, it pulls us into his world. Then there’s a shift, and we head to the German tourists. Finally, the lead protagonist Paul ends up in the mix after he sort of winds up in the middle of one of the Germans being hunted by Mick. A stroke of bad luck takes us from one set of characters to a new one. I love when screenplays can sort of psych us out that way, making you feel we’re about to spend a good deal of time with certain characters before pulling the rug out from under our feet. Impressively, McLean and Sterns also setup Paul’s character fairly quick, and that cuts down on any interruptions. The pacing stays tight, tense, and the story moves along without getting held up.
A majorly interesting bit in the film, which is the real meat of it and still doesn’t come until the last quarter, is when Mick has Paul back at his camp. The fact it’s Australia v. Britain here is super interesting, even more so when Mick asks questions for his game about when British convicts were first sent over to Australia, et cetera. You can really feel all the animosity Mick has towards the British. That’s clear right away when he constantly calls Paul a “Pommy cunt” and other variations of the word. But as the scene wears on, you can feel his hate of the British come out. When you parallel that with the way he talked to the German couple, it’s so evident he has got a beef. Perhaps, as a criminal and serial killer, he feels especially sensitive, as he would’ve been shipped over there had he been kicking around England at the time.
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John Jarratt will likely forever be remembered most for his portrayal of Mick Taylor. Simply because it’s a real transformation. You see Jarratt in interviews, special features, making-of featurettes, and he is this sort of quiet, subdued type of man. Then he’ll toss in his Mick laugh, and you can see such a contrast between who he is and where he has to take himself to play the role. He is charming at times, even when he’s busy psychotic. Above all, he is intimidating. He is a tough, powerful, evil man as Mick. Often times in slashers it’s either a masked villain, or someone whose identity is kept secret for a portion of the film. Here, and even in the first, he is out in the open, he is hunting, and there’s nowhere to hide from the guy. He commands your fear. One of my favourite moments in this sequel, which is also sort of funny at the same time, is when Paul makes off down the corridors of Mick’s tunnels, and Mick yells out “You Pommy cuuuuunt” and lingers hard on the last word. While it definitely makes me chuckle a little, it is simultaneously terrifying. The anger in him simmers below the surface almost constantly, and in moments like this it breaks out, almost shaking the frame. Without Jarratt, Wolf Creek and its sequel would be nothing. Wolf Creek 2 is as good as its predecessor, simply because Jarratt gives us more of the character, he lets us have more of the character and more of his horror; he is the horror.
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This is a pretty solid horror sequel; a 4-star bit of slasher cinema. There are many macabre bits to Wolf Creek 2 and though some say the first is more vicious, this one to me is far more brutal than the original. We get a deeper look at the camp of Mick Taylor, the tunnels below, the vast playground of terror where he operates. The first was properly chilling. This one ups the chill a few notches. And when the finale plays out, you won’t necessarily find yourself rolling your eyes like so many other sequels where the villain is stretched on and on, thin to the point of falling apart. No, instead you’ll be wondering what exactly Mick will bring in the inevitable Wolf Creek 3. I’m hoping the third, or the upcoming television mini-series, will dive into some prequel aspects to the story, as well as Mick himself. Being based on Ivan Milat fairly heavily, I’d like to think Greg McLean plans on examining some of what led to Mick as a character becoming as evil as he is now. Either way, this is a solid little flick and worth your time. Big bonus if you find Jarratt scarily entertaining as this bound to be classic horror villain.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation – A True Horror Turd

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. 1994. Directed & Written by Kim Henkel.
Starring Renée Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Jacks, Tonie Perensky, Joe Stevens, Lisa Marie Newmyer, John Harrison, Tyler Shea Cone, James Gale, Chris Kilgore, & Vince Brock.
Genre Pictures/Return Productions/Ultra Muchos Productions.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror/Thriller


POSTER As an avid lover of all things Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there’s only so far I can stretch my love for a franchise. Like Halloween it is a series that has its ups, big ones, and real low downs. As is the case with the previous movie, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, I first remember encountering this movie – then known as Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre – as a lurid looking bit of cinema staring down at me from the shelf of my local Allan’s Video. After seeing the original, this may have actually been the next one in the franchise I actually saw. Either way, when I did see it there’s such a distance in quality, and tone, from the original that it’s hard to even imagine these as in the same universe. Yet co-creator with Tobe Hooper of the original classic, Kim Henkel, considers this the true sequel to that impeccable, terrifying horror. With passing reference to the other sequels, The Next Generation picks up on its own grounds.  A strange look at what Leatherface and his clan came to be. I can’t help wondering if Henkel even remembers the original. Because this movie is nothing but a gratuitous, jumbled mess of of slasher horror that takes us a beloved horror villain and turns him into almost a caricature of himself. Along the way there are a couple decent scares, in terms of disturbing subject matter. Overall, this is a hot mess. Emphasis on the mess.
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One thing that really boggles me is the change in Leatherface. Now, I’m not saying that having a character like this whose mind gets lost in a fluid identity wouldn’t be good fodder for a horror character. What I don’t understand is how Leatherface went from the sort of mentally challenged, hulking young man from Hooper’s original, to this mentally challenged crossdresser. Just doesn’t make sense to me. And I know, we’re talking about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre here. Doesn’t have to make complete logical sense. However, there’s a point where things simply get lost. The horror of Leatherface was enough. We could’ve seen him here as an older version of himself, living such a fucked up existence that he got more vicious, more unfeeling, whatever. Instead, Henkel turns Leatherface into a sideshow. He is disturbing, no doubt. Not near as scary. In the first film when he slides that door open and smashes his unsuspecting victim with the big mallet, that image burns itself into your brain. Such an odd, quick shock. Here, the wailing and screaming sounds of Leatherface are creepy, they just don’t have any weight. If this were a completely new character I’d say it might work. Rather than do that Henkel only works off the existing character, taking him to new and inorganic places. Only one of the reasons this movie doesn’t work at all.
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Not only are the characters awful, particularly our lead killer, the dialogue in the movie is atrocious. Along with some of the nonsensical ways people react to the situations at hand. I’m a seasoned movie watcher and horror lover – 4,200+ films deep, many of which are horror and thrillers. So I’m not entirely judgmental about how characters act in movies. Especially horror, as you need to really put yourself in the shoes of these people. How would you act if a massive mentally challenged man with a skin mask on his face and a chainsaw in his hand ran after you? Probably not with much sense. But even early on when McConaughey’s character breaks a neck, the other guy standing around doesn’t seem all that worried. I’d be shitting myself. There are so many instances of behaviour like this throughout. A couple are, I believe, purposeful, as Henkel sort of toys with subversion of the genre. Most of it is likely unintentional. The dialogue is weak, more and more as the time goes on. One character goes on quoting writers endlessly, as if this backwoods maniac killer belonging to a family of killers is a bookworm. He goes from Samuel Johnson to Machiavelli to any number of nonsense references. It’s poor writing and serves no purpose other than to try giving the family members quirks of their own, to make things weirder and more unsettling. Only thing it effectively does is make this sequel come off like a comedy. A bad one. Comedy that’s unintentional is not always a good thing, and here Henkel makes nothing funny in the right way, unfortunately.
When the Illuminati stuff starts coming in I can barely bring myself to keep watching. There’s no reason for any of it and the angle of the Rothman character was an awful decision to include. Takes this sequel to an entirely other level of crap.
I’ve seen the movie a bunch of times over the years. Because I marvel at how incoherently bad the whole thing is, and other than a couple unnerving scenes at most the movie is a trashpile. A burning pit of shame. Also, it’s the first of the series that really goes for any sexuality. While the second movie has a couple very suggestive moments, in particular one scene in the radio station, this one goes for outright nudity. So not only is the violence exploitative, as are a good many of the horror movies out there, this one has to go and join the shitty trend of adding breasts into the mix. For no reason, either. And again, Leatherface’s new transvestitism is another log on the fire for unnecessary sexuality; a ploy to make his character somehow more unsettling, as if that were needed in any shape or form.
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This is most definitely the worst of the franchise. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation brings together two different movies, one that Henkel wanted to make as a separate film and then the other he wanted as a sequel to the original Hooper masterpiece. What results is one of the messiest horror movies out there. Another sad bastion of the 1990s, instead of some of the better work during that decade. There are so many things going on by the end of this movie that the original focus of Leatherface is all but completely lost. Bringing in the character played by McConaughey, adding in new elements to the family, it only makes things feel out of place and disjointed. Perhaps if Henkel made a better effort to make these characters the original family, only twenty years down the line, then the story and its plot may have worked well, or better at the least. The performances here are all fairly brutal. The changes to Leatherface do nothing for the character or the whole Texas Chainsaw universe. From start to finish this is one bad movie, not even the set design is as good as any of the others in the series. I gave it a single star simply because there are a couple creepy scenes that actually weirded me out. Apart from that this is a write of. Watch it only if you’re a completist. If not, then just stay away. You’re not getting anything here that’s worth your time.

Halloween II: Supernatural Michael Myers

Halloween II. 2009. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie.
Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Octavia Spencer, Danielle Harris, Margot Kidder, Sheri Moon Zombie, Chase Wright Vanek, & Caroline Williams. Dimension Films/Spectacle Entertainment Group/Trancas International Films.
Rated R. 105 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
POSTER Rob Zombie is a take-him-or-leave-him-type director. You either love him, or can’t stand him. Much the same as with his music career. But for me, and I’m sure others, Zombie is one director whose entire film career feels like the last bastion of a time before too much CGI, too many remakes (yes; even though he’s done two Halloween flicks). He works like how many directors did during the late 1960s and the 1970s, focusing on performance, practical effects, instead of loading down his horror films with computer generated blood and watering it all down for public consumption. Even if you don’t like his movies, you have to admire the fact he lays it all out there. Particularly, The Devil’s Rejects and The Lords of Salem are my favourites, and are a great representation of how he goes for it, no matter the subject, themes, or style of the movie. He always leaves everything on the table and gives us to us in his typically Zombie-like fashion.
So then there’s Halloween II. Many people I know didn’t even enjoy the first one, the remake to Carpenter’s classic slasher from 1978. Me, I find this sequel to the remake endearing in its own ways. There are some pieces I don’t enjoy. But overall, there’s enough in this Zombie sequel to enjoy apart from the first Halloween II. It doesn’t come as a faithful remake. It’s a furthering of aspects in the Zombie version of Michael Myers. We dive deeper into the mind of the notorious slasher, and the almost supernatural element of Michael, one which came out later in the original series, is on display full force.
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After the events of Halloween, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is left wounded. Both physically, and especially mentally. She’s living with Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Danielle Harris). They do their best to try and understand her, to try and help. But Laurie is damaged beyond belief.
Meanwhile, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is shopping his book around and making lots of money, getting famous. Although, people are wary of him, as they believe he’s profiting off the death of many.
And then there’s Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). He’s not dead, and the men transporting his dead body discover that. Michael, driven by visions of his dead mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), keeps looking for Laurie.
And he will find her. No matter who gets in the way.
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One thing I do truly love about this sequel to the remake is that, like the original series as it went on, it really pushes the boundaries on Michael’s brutality. Later on in the original series, either in the fourth or fifth installment, Myers pushes his thumb through a person’s head. Even in John Carpenter’s original classic, his power is displayed pretty clearly with him picking up a teenager and pinning him to the wall with his knife. But here in the new Halloween II, Zombie almost goes further. In the opening 20 minute sequence there is some savagery. A nasty decapitation. Lots of raw, brutal force from Myers, as he starts to murder his way back into Haddonfield, one corpse at a time.
Many people, it seems, had a problem with the backstory to Michael with Zombie’s remake to start. I understand that. Some fans of the franchise just like Michael as this faceless entity. My argument is that, had Zombie not changed anything and done the same thing, people would likely have ragged on him for copying Carpenter. Instead, Zombie brings a fresh face, literally, to Myers. He gives him humanity, but takes it away. He makes Michael human to make him a monster, an even more vicious killer than the original (even though I love Carpenter’s film most). We even get him wandering around sans-mask, which some of course cried sacrilege over. I dig it because that sets him apart as Zombie’s own character, as opposed to a simply copy of Carpenter.
There is a further brutal nature to Michael when he’s this person that became a unrelenting killer instead of just The Shape. So an extension of this version is that psychology plays a big part in what Michael becomes, who he is as the unstoppable serial killer. The whole white horse deal I found a bit of fun. And I like how Laurie, in her trauma, starts having the same vision of her mother. Very eerie, and supernatural without quite being supernatural. It’s like a fever dream.
Now, I don’t dig that the same kid didn’t play young Michael. It was really off-putting. Not only because they’re definitely different looking (and yes I understand the real actor likely changed a good deal in between the films), but the original actor Daeg Faerch has a very perfect charisma and style for the character. So that’s one of the aspects of this movie that truly disappointed me. The actor here didn’t fit the role and his intensity is starkly different, so the flow of this film with the remake is a bit shaky.
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I’m back and forth on Laurie as a character in this movie. Her trauma is very real, I don’t doubt she would be a woman torn apart after the events she’d experienced. However, the writing on Zombie’s part makes her so whiny and just too unlikeable. The way she treats her best friend, Annie, who went through lots of trauma herself, is difficult to reconcile. Maybe that was the intention. But still, it actually annoys me, Scout Taylor-Compton makes me hate her and I didn’t during the first one. I can appreciate characters who are despicable, et cetera, this only serves as a way to make me feel like fast forwarding. And I’m already in the minority of people who actually dig this flick.
In the acting department, what saves Halloween II is the fact Brad Dourif, Daniel Harris, and Malcolm McDowell give us pretty good performances in their respective roles.
Dourif is always a treat, especially when given the proper material. His Sheriff Brackett is even better than Charles Cyphers in the first two original Halloween films. I love the way Zombie writes characters, and it shines with Brackett. Performed by Dourif it is a dream. The whole Lee Marvin bit is some of my favourite banter from any recent horror. So funny, even funnier that the girls have no idea about Lee Marvin, nor do they get the barn part of the joke. Just a great sequence. Dourif and Harris are great as a father-daughter combo. Harris herself is a Halloween veteran. Here, as a grown woman, she does a nice job in the tragic role she plays. Her energy is what’s enjoyable, even in films that aren’t so great. But the Annie Brackett she plays is equally as fun as Nancy Kyes (billed as Nancy Loomis). Harris doesn’t get a huge part before the fate she runs into, but what we get is solid.
Finally, it’s McDowell as Dr. Loomis that I enjoy most. I will always love Donald Pleasence and his portrayal above anything in any of the films, truly. He was amazing. What I enjoy here is how Zombie writes Loomis as a fame-whore, a guy who just wants another shot at being well-known, at money and glamour. As opposed to the original, Loomis here is an opportunist, who only after it’s too late realizes the error in his ways. So with McDowell acting his ass off and bringing this new vision of the doctor to life, it’s a ton of fun. Some of the dialogue with his assistant is downright hilarious. But it’s the tragedy of this character, the blind ignorance, which really sells it. McDowell was made for this role, too. He has all the right range to play a man who’s got this saccharine sweetness about him in public and, when pushed, a bitter rage that comes out.
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With warts and all, I give Zombie’s second Halloween a 3&1/2-star rating. There is a great dose of horror and terror within. Not all of Zombie’s writing is on par here with the first, or some of his other work. Nevertheless, he gives us a version of the Michael Myers tale that doesn’t try and straight-up adapt the original sequel (apart from a nice dreamy sequence in the beginning). The brutality of Myers is always evident, as is the trauma that his serial killing rampaging has caused. Although the script could’ve been better, I still thought Zombie did some interesting things, as well as brought the savagery required to make this worthy of a watch.

Hostel: Part II – A Deservedly Misandrist Romp

Hostel: Part II. 2007. Directed & Written by Eli Roth.
Starring Lauren German, Roger Bart, Heather Matarazzo, Bijou Phillips, Richard Burgi, Vera Jordanova, Jay Hernandez, Jordan Ladd, Milan Knazko, Edwige Fenech, Stanislav Ianevski, & Patrik Zigo. Lionsgate/Screen Gems/Next Entertainment/Raw Nerve/International Production Company.
Rated 18A. 94 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
POSTER
I’m unabashedly one of Eli Roth’s biggest fans. When Cabin Fever came out, I couldn’t enjoy it enough while all my friends bashed it. But then again, I was always the biggest horror fan of my close friends. Either way, his career was on my watchlist. Then once Hostel came out I considered it the first post-2000 gore horror that was actually worthwhile. And truthfully, not many gory movies since have been as effective; albeit there are definitely a few as good, possibly a bit better. Not many, though.
Roth is a unique guy. He has his own sense of humour. His predilection for Italian splatter films shows, as does his interest in the B-movie feel. However, those aren’t a detriment to his talent. He’s ripe with fun ideas and his ability to shock yet shock with substance is visible even through the thick coat of blood covering his films. Don’t just look at the Hostel movies (forget there’s another one past the first two) and think it’s all about the gore. It’s about the secret impulses below a thin veneer of humanity in society. Maybe at times things are campy. That’s just Roth’s sensibilities that come from, like myself, a lifetime of watching any and all films you can get your hands on. No matter what, Roth brings the visceral grip necessary to keep Hostel: Part II fresh in your memory a while – the reasons for which may vary from person to person, even gender to gender.
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I’ve always loved the score in both Hostel films. There are these creeping string pieces that spell ominous, slowly scaling behind scenes. Great stuff. Reminds me of some classic bits of horror cinema, which adds a nice air to this gore film (and though I say gore film I mean it in the best sort of sense here). The ominousness of Roth sits over everything, as the score makes things more tense and suspenseful at times. It almost lures us in like the poor traveling souls that get roped into being meat for the hunters.
The special effects virtuoso pairing of Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, along with their wonderful team at KNB EFX Group, provide Roth with the appropriate nasty practical effects which make the original and its sequel into top notch horror. If you’re having gore, have it right. Berger and Nicotero have the right stuff, giving all those brutal bits a proper punch. The blood is plenty, and it looks great! You need a chopped off head or some even more disgusting effects? Greg and Howard are your men. And they’re unreal at their jobs.
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One thing I dig, in terms of killing and gore, is that Roth opts to include a woman engaging in the murder this time. The Erzsébet Báthory-style lady, whose predilections involve draining the blood of other women apparently. This shows that Roth is an equal opportunist, giving women just as much fun as the men. In sick, murderous terms. Furthermore, even just the fact this film is a bunch of women on a trip instead of men is pretty excellent. Roth isn’t afraid to try killing off a trio of women, as opposed to the horny young men from the first outing. Another part of this is that Bijou Philips plays a sort of horny character herself, though, this is offset by Jordan Ladd and Heather Matarazzo, as they play more subdued roles, women with heads on their shoulders; for the most part. It’s just nice to have a different group, instead of Roth merely switching the genders. He creates whole new, interesting characters out of these three women. And having one of them meet their demise at the hands of the Báthory substitute? Sweet horrific perfection. Another fun bit – the three women we follow are introduced in an art class, where a male model hangs dong; objectified enough? Perfect response to those who complained about women objectified in the first film. They were, in a sense. But they were more femme fatale than anything. Here it’s just a man being drawn, while also having his dick ogled by a bunch of women. Love it.
Also, Roth’s screenplay is almost better here than the first film. I dig how the original only barely touched on the secret society of human hunters. But the way it’s expanded upon here makes things so much more sinister. One of the greatest scenes out of Hostel: Part II is when all the big businessmen are bidding on victims – it not only shows us the vast, wide reach of the company, it puts us into the sick perspective of seeing many of these men in wholesome type situations, all the while flicking on their smartphones to find the perfect victim to suit their nasty needs. A well-written and executed sequence all around. Going further into the company, especially focused on the two men planning on engaging in a kill, is a real great way for Roth to move on in the sequel. If it were just another story of people going away and getting killed, which plenty of it still is, then things would be dull, and quick. Rather, Roth chooses to switch back and forth between the victims and the soon-to-be killers, providing a look at both sides of the operation.
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I love the look and feel of this film’s aesthetic over the first. Even though the original is a favourite of mine from the last 15 years in horror. Part II has an almost Gothic style. Particularly in the different chambers where people are being murdered. I love the sequence with Mrs. Bathory, as she’s listed in the credits. It is so god damn disturbing, and Roth films it in such low, flickering light that it takes on the feel of a dungeon. Later on, once we move further into the warehouse of kill rooms, it becomes even more Gothic in its darkness. Cinematographer Milan Chadima worked with Roth on Hostel, and again does good work here. The look of this sequel is slightly darker, it seems. More of a blue-ish hue over things casting many scenes in a dismal light, making each moment bleak. And does it ever get bleak. In fact, Chadima works with the girls from the beginning while they’re in the sun, enjoying a vacation. By the time he’s finished with them, the frame is almost always wrapped in shadow. Lots of  close-ups that capture some amazing looks, some pensive stares, as well as a few spectacular wide shots I cannot get over (ex. when they walk into the big murder factory with its rundown and Third World look; amazing shot). Overall, the cinematography is even better here than the first.
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WARNING: spoilers ahead in case you really care.
Eli’s writing may almost be at its best here. In my humble opinion. Because he takes on a whole bunch of things. Of course there’s female nudity again in this one, yet things have changed. Like I mentioned, a woman is part of the secret hunting society, and she kills brutally before bathing in blood. Then there’s the part I love most – one of the men, the one who showed the most bravado leading up to the event, ends up being a total fake. Or at least he ends up losing his courage, whatever. And better yet – the literal castration that happens is the ultimate thumb in the eye to any accusations of fragile masculinity on the part of Roth. He goes for broke on that one. And I love how Roth, likely unknowingly (because I’m being overly nerdy here), parallels – pardon my pun here – two balls. First is the eyeball of a woman burned up in Hostel, here it’s the dick and balls detached from a man. Just the fact that Ladd’s character turns the tables on the man torturing her is enough for me. She’s a bad ass.
The Ruggero Deodato cameo as an Italian cannibal is classic. Such a nice nod, and love how Deodato plays the character. The briefest sort of appearance, yet memorable. How he just smiles, cuts up some dinner then heads back over to his table.
A masterfully horrific 4-star affair. Roth is a modern horror man, whose influences show. Yet unlike Tarantino, whom I love but who borrows too liberally at times (mostly in the past), Roth translates his influences into his own passions. The fact Takashi Miike did a cameo in the first and Deodato does on here is testament to that; he literally throws his heroes in the mix. But the gore, the story, and the violence turned against men brutally for a change makes Hostel: Part II and underappreciated horror sequel in the post-2000 genre landscape. Roth is a modern master of horror, I continue to follow his work and will do so until he finishes his career; a long one, hopefully.

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.

Sinister 2: Even More Sinister the 2nd Time Around

Sinister. 2015. Directed by Ciarán Foy. Screenplay by C. Robert Cargill & Scott Derrickson.
Starring James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan, Lea Coco, Tate Ellington, John Beasley, Lucas Jade Zumann, Jaden Klein, Laila Haley, Caden Marshall Fritz, Olivia Rainey, & Nicholas King. Alliance Films/Automatik Entertainment/Blumhouse Productions/Entertainment One/IM Global/Steady Aim/Tank Caterpillar.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER Sinister came as a surprise to me when it first came out. The film was creepy and visceral at times, even if there were a few elements that let me down (including Bughuul’s face). But overall, Scott Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill did a good job making a modern horror chiller. I knew it would inevitably spawn a sequel. Going in there was hope it might attain a similar level of terror. Honestly, this one is almost as good, if not better. Sinister 2 has a definitely creep-filled quality and there are moments of genuine horror, scenes I found worked on my nerves in an excellent fashion.
Ciarán Foy’s first solo feature film was the marvelously odd and disturbing Citadel. When they announced him as director for this project I had high hopes. He does his best, the atmosphere he crafts along with the help of cinematographer Amy Vincent is filled with dark and terrifying corners. What I’m most impressed by, though, is the script from Cargill and Derrickson, which uses the mystery they attained in the first, continuing on in the hands of Deputy-So-and-So, and adds in more character development than we even got in the original. I’m still not positive whether I enjoy this one or the first more – it’s a hard choice, as I love both James Ransone and Ethan Hawke respectively in their roles. This one managed to make Bughuul’s face look better than the first somehow, as well. The story is one that sinks into your skin and grabs hold. Oh, and the found footage tapes? They’re almost definitely nastier, bound to make some of you squirm.
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Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon), along with her sons Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan), move into a country house. On edge all the time, it soon becomes apparent Courtney is running from her brutish, abusive husband Clint Collins (Lea Coco).
But even worse, the former Deputy So-and-So (James Ransone) has his eye on Courtney’s new house. Turns out, after the death of Ellis Oswalt, the ex-deputy was considered a suspect, but quickly released and cleared. He then went on to start figuring out more of what was happening to Osawlt; he soon discovered Bughuul. From there, he set about trying to save any further families by burning down marked houses.
Only now Bughuul has one of the young Collins boys in his sights. And there’s no telling whether So-and-So will be able to save the family in time.
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The writing is real solid here. Now, I know – there are some plotholes with how the tapes were made, how those little kids could do all the work, and so on. Well to that I say, part of this is clearly supernatural. You know this. So suspend your disbelief a while, try not to pick it all apart. Mainly, I love the writing in terms of the family dynamics happening, as well as the character development all around. First, adding in the whole abusive father subplot with the family is a wonderful addition in the sense that it adds a whole extra dimension to what’s going on re: Bughuul; it plays into his convincing of the children to kill their families, as we’ve got two troubled couples, particularly the youngest who can’t deal with his life in a broken family. Then when you put in James Ransone’s character, adding jealousy to the mix and all those emotions, that makes the stakes even riskier, an extra piece of drama. Secondly, the character development of Courtney and Ex-Deputy-So-and-So are equally interesting. Courtney has this life riddled with complications, as she’s trying to escape the abuse of her husband, of which she and her oldest boy bear the brunt constantly. Seeing the first scene with the family where they go to the grocery store and she calls out her code word, it’s a perfect way to introduce them and their predicament. The former deputy has his own troubles, having seen the stiff, unjust arm of the law against him, a lawman himself, when he helped Ellison Oswalt in the first film. So we get to see part of the fallout here, and having him off the force also allows for a different dimension to the character we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Here, he’s more of a regular guy, but he uses his skills and know-how, as well as knowledge of the case, to do what he can. His own subplot of going around trying to burn down the houses targeted by Bughuul was a good, inventive way to keep things going, instead of him simply trying to involve himself in the next apparitions of the entity elsewhere. These two characters, plus all the family drama, make Sinster 2 very enjoyable.
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Horror is the name of this game. There are plenty of the shadowy, creeping scenes we got from the first, even a couple jumpy bits. Most of all there’s an air of dread, a tension thick from the first few frames until the final ones. Not only do we get the tapes here as found footage, like the first film, there’s also the added factor of one of the kids carrying the old camera around, filming his attempts at murdering his family. So there are a few intriguing sequences near the end, in the last 20 minutes, where the boy aiming to kill his family runs with the camera, as we follow both him and the other characters; the editing is stellar, switching from the ticking Super 8 camera to the frantically framed regular scenes. These different looks come together well. I loved the scene where Deputy-So-and-So gets the family out of their trouble, then they run through the cornfield, and behind them comes the boy with his camera, and the regularly filmed portions mix with the Super 8 to create a truly creepy back-and-forth that is used a bunch in several scenes following, but never too much. That added a nice flair to the style director Foy went after, emulating parts of the first while also giving it his own special touch. Add to that an amazing hand cutting with a small scythe, the nasty little Super 8 tapes Bughuul gets his kiddies to create, and the elements of terror are strong in this one.
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I have to give this the same rating I give the original – 4 stars. There are parts that could’ve done with a bit of extra tweaking, such as some of the moments with the ghost kids. That being said, everything else makes up for it, in a large way. Ciarán Foy has a good eye, plus both James Ransone and Shannyn Sossamon bring credibility to the cast, as do the two Sloans playing brothers; even the asshole dad is good at being an asshole dad. So with the stellar writing, mostly, on the part of Cargill and Derrickson, added to the creepy visuals and the performances, Sinister 2 is a worthy sequel. I’d be interested to see if they could pull of another one, only if a decent story and characters were able to organically find their way into another screenplay. But this one is worth it. Don’t let people sell it short, see the damn thing for yourself. You may just find yourself creeped the hell out in fine form.

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.

Underrated Slasher Horror in Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers

Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers a.k.a Halloween 4. 1988. Directed by Dwight H. Little. Screenplay by Alan B. McElroy from a story by McElroy, Dhani Lipsius, Larry Rattner and Benjamin Ruffer.
Starring Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, George P. Wilbur, Michael Pataki, Beau Starr, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson, Gene Ross, Carmen Filpi and Raymond O’Connor. Trancas International Films. Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
halloween-iv-the-return-of-michael-myers-1988After the good yet unfortunately improperly marketed Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the powers that be brought the series back around to another Michael Myers-centric entry in this solid slasher franchise. While I see a bit of love out there for this one, Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers is often unfairly lumped in with so many poor horror sequels in the various big franchises. It isn’t the best one, though, it is a long ways from being bad or the worst in the series.
For me personally, I love Halloween IV and Halloween V as two well connected entries in this whole run. Yes, there are spots where you might find yourself rolling your eyes. But honestly, especially compared to some of the terrible films in Friday the 13th‘s series and Nightmare on Elm Street, this movie is lots of fun. Plus there are great, genuine scenes of terror and the ending will very likely have you totally amazed regardless of whether or not you liked the rest. Atop everything else, it’s the savagery of the slasher aspect which really impresses me about Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers.
h4revTen years after the events of Halloween, Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) wakes out of his supposed invalid state. Killing his way back to Haddonfield, he searches out his niece Jamie (Danielle Harris); daughter of his sister Laurie Strode.
Under the care of a foster family, specifically her step-sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell), Jamie tries to lead a normal life. But when everyone around them starts dying her own life is in more and more danger. Naturally, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) – with scars of his own having survived through Michael’s violence twice (burned in Halloween II) – rushes back to the town where it all began, fast as he can. The only trouble is Myers has been supposedly killed before, he’s been incarcerated, and every time he manages to come back; each time worse, more vicious than the last.
Can young Jamie and her step-sister Rachel survive his wrath? Is it possible Loomis can stop him? Is it even possible to stop him at all?

Dr. Loomis: “We’re not talking about any ordinary prisoner, Hoffman. We are talking about evil on two legs.”
vlcsnap-2014-10-21-22h53m48s59There are plenty of supernatural implications in this third sequel, some blatant, others a touch more subtle. My favourite part in regards to the supernatural stuff has to do with an even more incredible strength in Michael Myers. Even in the first film, Carpenter showed how utterly brutish Michael was having him lift a teenage dude off the ground easily, pinning him to the wall, killing him. Then in the second Michael lifts another victim up with a single hand. Now in this fourth installment, there’s a strength we’ve not yet seen. Monstrously, Michael – while escaping early on – jams his thumb into the forehead of an EMT in the ambulance, puncturing the skin and bone; it’s impressively nasty and goes to show, so immediately, how strong Myers is or has become.

Dr. Loomis: “You’re talking about him as if he’s a human being. That part of him died years ago.”
LaquOThe dynamic in this film concerning Laurie Strode’s daughter, Jamie, and Michael is pretty interesting stuff, which is a big part of why I’ve always found this movie lots of fun. What I enjoy is how their plot sort of goes to compound how deranged and relentlessly driven to murder Michael is as an evil entity. I mean, it’s not enough he tried to kill his sister, now he wants the niece to die. It’s as if Michael wants to try and wipe his entire family off the face of the earth, anyone sharing the same DNA. And so I feel like Halloween IV is a huge return to form for Myers, a further meaning for the title itself.
Furthermore, there’s another good angle with Michael and Jamie. The poor little girl has to deal with the fact the Haddonfield boogeyman is her uncle. She’s having visions of a young Michael, the masked older Michael, and it’s terrifying to watch a young girl like her go through such an intensely awful ordeal. If it wasn’t all bad enough beforehand, Jamie’s whole existence is thrown into disorder once Uncle Michael starts slashing and killing his way further and further towards her. Being so young at the time it’s amazing how well Danielle Harris acted the part of Jamie, there’s truly no one else who could have done the job she did. So many child performers are either the same, or in the end rather dull. Harris has never been dull it seems. She had the charm of a little sweetheart and at the same time there’s a maturity about the character, something you wouldn’t normally expect from a tiny actor. Real great stuff and helps to add a bit of legitimacy to this sequel.

Dr. Loomis: “What are you hunting, Mr. Sayer?
Jack: “Apocalypse. End of the world, Armageddon. It’s always got a face and a name. I’ve been huntin’ the bastard for 30 years, give or take. Come close a time or two – too damn close! You can’t kill damnation, mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”
halloween4bdcap6_originalThere are lots of great little touches in Halloween IV. Like the fact Jamie ends up wearing the same Halloween costume as little Michael wore when he first killed, back at the beginning of the original film. Then there are so many similar style shots where Michael lurks at the periphery of the frame, there yet somehow not there, hiding behind the vision of everyone seemingly. Even more so than the first sequel to the original, this one has lots more slasher style horror. There are more violent scenes here than the first two films; it’s right on part with the third movie, even if that one is not a true-blooded Halloween film and more like a spin-off. So there are lots of ways in which Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers follows suit with the first two in this franchise, then there are elements which feel part of the story’s universe and still fresh to it, too.
I’m willing to give this sequel a 4 out of 5 star rating. It’s definitely not as good as Halloween or Halloween II, but it’s solid. There is great slasher horror here, as well as excellent suspense and tension in several scenes. Out of the series, I would probably rank my favourites in this order: IIIIV/VIIIVI, & the others get worse. This one is up there tied for third place, I have to give the movie its due. Haven’t seen it yet? Check it out soon. You’ll have a bit of fun returning to the Michael Myers plot missing from the previous installment. The Blu ray is phenomenal, from the sound/score to the visuals all around. A classic for October and nearing Halloween season.