Tag: Horror

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

Released in 1987, The Hidden makes no apologies for being what it is: a gritty genre flick out for a joy ride, replete with action set pieces and over-the-top violence (nine out of ten fans will use the word “flamethrower” when asked to offer a brief description of the picture’s content). We aren’t ten minutes in when the first big chase starts, complete with a car hurtling into a sheet of plate glass and the two men who are carrying it across the street. The high octane action of The Hidden is also anchored by that time-honored movie stand-by: a pair of mismatched buddy cops, reluctant partners who bond en route to saving the day. So what makes it special – more memorable than the dozens of other films in the same vein that loaded up video store selves in the 1980s, shiny guns and bright orange explosions splashed across cardboard sleeves on rows of VHS tapes? Part of the appeal of The Hidden is that it embodies these familiar genre tropes with great energy and humor, clipping along at a good brisk pace and topping everything off with a nifty sci-fi twist. Michael Nouri plays Tom Beck, an L.A. cop and family man investigating a string of crime sprees in the city. A young Kyle MacLachlan, fresh from his descent into the suburban hell of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and a few years away from his defining role as Special Agent Dale Cooper on Lynch’s TV oddity Twin Peaks, also stars as one of our heroes. Like Cooper, MacLachlan’s character here carries an FBI badge, but in this case it’s only a cover – his Agent Gallagher is actually a benign alien who’s hunting down the murderous body-switching extraterrestrial creature that killed his family. Beck and Gallagher’s uneasy partnership is the heart of the film and punctuated by great bits of winking humor (When Beck’s wife asks Gallagher where he’s from, he simply points upwards. “What’s that?” she asks, “North?”), but the body-switching villain that gives the film its title is well worth examining as well.

September 22, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA. 92min. 2002. Silver Sphere Corporation. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Larry Pennell. Music: Brian Tyler; Cinematography: Adam Janeiro; Produced by: Don Coscarelli & Jason Savage ; Based on a Story by: Joe Lansdale; Written by: Don Coscarelli; Directed by: Don Coscarelli.

Upon hearing a brief description of Bubba Ho-tep, one might assume that it was an intensely campy, irreverent B-movie that was pretty thin on characterization. The plot, can, after all, be summed up to some extent with the phrase, “Elvis versus a mummy.” It’s easy to imagine some caricatured version of the King of Rock n’ Roll taking on the monster. By now Elvis as an icon is as much a part of our collective subconscious—and as likely to be a Halloween costume—as any creature from the old Universal horror films. Elvis impersonators, Elvis on velvet, Elvis’ face repeated again and again like an Andy Warhol silkscreen; the idea of Elvis has become a vaguely tacky pop culture touchstone. Yet thankfully, Bubba Ho-tep is a more complex, and far more interesting, film than that phrase “Elvis versus a mummy” can convey. Writer-director Don Coscarelli, working from a short story by the idiosyncratic Joe R. Lansdale, succeeds in humanizing his Elvis and developing him far beyond a few rhinestones and a curled lip. As played by Bruce Campbell (himself a horror movie icon owing to his indispensable presence in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy), this Elvis becomes a hero to root for, not an object of ridicule.

August 18, 2006 / / Film Notes

THE BIRDS

Donald Spoto, in The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, traces the director’s long bird fixation, culminating in 1960’s Psycho (“You eat like a bird,” Norman tells future prey Marion Crane as they sit in a room full of taxidermized owls): that film marked the Master of Suspense’s first venture into outright horror, and his greatest popular success. Add to that two previous Daphne du Maurier adaptations–Jamaica Inn and his first American film (and only Best Picture Oscar) Rebecca–and it is hardly surprising that he would base his next project on du Maurier’s nightmarish short story “The Birds.” What is remarkable is that out of these familiar elements, Hitchcock would come up with the most experimental film of his career, both artistically and technically.

July 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA, 1963, 119 min. Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Plushette, Veronica Cartwright; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Original Music: Bernard Herrmann; Written by: Daphne Du Maurier; Screenplay by: Evan Hunter; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock.

One of the most striking reoccurring figures in the films of Alfred Hitchcock is that of the overbearing mother who seeks to control her grown son. Overbearing mothers appear as supporting characters in both Notorious and North by Northwest, while Psycho takes the characterization to a shocking extreme. Another Hitchcock horror film, The Birds, also features a conflict between mother and son that should not be overlooked. There is a good reason why discussion of mother Lydia Brenner’s possessiveness regarding her son Mitch dominates as much of the film’s dialogue as the titular birds do. A close examination of the mother-son relationship in The Birds reveals Lydia’s fear of abandonment as a central source of conflict in the film; one that lends even the mysterious behavior of the birds a greater meaning.

July 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

U.S.A., 1960. 109 min. Shamley Productions. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Cinematography: John L. Russell; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Written by: Robert Bloch and Joseph Stefano; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

The steamy shower, the shadow behind the shower curtain, the raised, knife-wielding hand, that shrieking soundtrack and a screaming Janet Leigh have not only become legend in film, but also legend in parody. The scene has become so recognizable in modern times that when it is parodied I can sense young people nodding their heads in recognition even when they have no idea about its origins.

July 21, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA, 1987. 85 min. De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/ Renaissance Pictures. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie DePaiva, Ted Raimi, Denise Bixler; Music: Joseph LoDuca; Cinematography: Peter Deming; Edited by: Kaye Davis; Produced by: Robert Tapert & Bruce Campbell; Written by: Sam Raimi & Scott Spiegel; Directed by: Sam Raimi

The Evil Dead was a film that beat the odds. It was helmed by a nineteen year-old working on his first feature, starred a bunch of unknown and largely untested kids, and financed mainly by Michigan dentists who believed in the young director and his friends when they pitched their movie. It was years after principal photography ended that The Evil Dead was finally completed and given theatrical distribution. It took still more time for this flick about five kids getting possessed by demons and most disgustingly destroyed while staying at an isolated cabin in the woods to gain popularity (and notoriety) on the video rental market. Word-of-mouth finally spread about this weird piece of work – a torrent of blood and gore made up of wild camera angles, arch surrealism, and oftentimes unintended humor.

July 21, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kris Tronerud

“(The Zombies) are alienated creatures who live on the fringes of society… the revenge of those defeated in life.”
– Lucio Fulci

As the crunching sound of slow, shambling footsteps and ominous musical cues are heard, he (or she) lurches onto the screen, slow, rotting, dangerous and… dead. It’s that favourite cinematic baddie of eighties film, the only movie monster that’s easier to get away from than the Mummy: the Zombie! Briefly popular in the 30’s in such films as White Zombie and Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie, the zombie has made a roaring (shuffling?) comeback in such recent hommages and remakes as 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead and zombie pioneer George Romero’s long awaited sequel Land of the Dead; and while the general filmgoing public probably thinks of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead as the start of the World-wide Zombie film craze of the 80’s, that scurrilous honor actually belongs to another film, the still-notorious Zombie, directed by the late, lamented Lucio Fulci.