100 Days of Horror welcomes you to ... SATANFEST 2013

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"Y'all know me, know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish! Not like going down to the pond and chasing bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow ya whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', and down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that'll bring back the tourists, that'll put all your businesses on a payin' basis. But it's not gonna be pleasant! I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, chief. I'll find him for three, but I'll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you've gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don't want no volunteers, I don't want no mates, there's too many captains on this island. Ten thousand dollars for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing."

Friday, November 12, 2010

100 Days of Horror Presents: Oscar Roundup 2010, Vol. 1 - "The Social Network!"


Greetings Ghouls and Goblins! See, I haven't abandoned this site! Nor have I abandoned my pitiful attempts at alliteration (damn! there was another one!).

True, there are still a few movies left on the list that I'd like to discuss, I am also in the process of figuring out what else to do with this blog site. Because I definitely enjoyed the 100 Days of Horror challenge and I've always loved talking and writing about movies, so I figured why not use the time between the other planned challenges to talk about whatever the hell I want to talk about ... so far as it's related to the celluloid arts!

So I will start that trend today with a film I've had the opportunity to view several times over the past week. This is one of those rare movies that comes along and reminds me that filmmaking just looks like so much fun, even when you're fucking with people's lives. Go see it now while it's still in theaters. Of course, we're talking about David Fincher's incredible new film, "The Social Network." Thanks as usual for reading, and if anyone has a recommendation as ro a great film or two from 2010, please send it along!

The Social Network (2010): Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Armie Hammer, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara and Brenda Song.

The Skinny: In 2003, a drunk and rejected Mark Zuckerberg sat down at his computer, hacked the pages of Harvard's sororities and created a Website that compared random girls and allowed the user to select the hotter one. Next thing you know, ol' Zuckerberg's a gazillionaire as "FaceMash" turns into "Facebook," and he sheds every "real" friend in his life along the path to success.

What's Good: David Fincher has hit the frigging nail on the frigging head yet once again. One of the things I find so fascinating about his films is their timeliness - the way they have of subtly seizing the Zeitgeist in both filmdom and in society: "Seven" and "The Game" broke open doors for psychological horror, the yardstick by which all other so-called "sophisticated" horror movies like "Saw" will be measured; "Fight Club" couldn't have come at a better time for the director and for Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, and for the burgeoning Mixed Martial Arts phenomenon; and "Panic Room" and "Zodiac" both grasped onto the pervasive paranoia extant in post-9/11 America. And once again, Fincher has created a mastermind of a film that couldn't be more of the moment - a film about "Facebook."
I know - at first, the idea of making a movie about a Website is as dumb as making one based on a video game ("Bloodrayne" or "House of the Dead," anyone?), but the emotional core is easy to find in this complex film that explores personal communication in the Information Age. Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin create a character who devises a social networking phenomenon, yet seemingly has zero social skills himself. Under Fincher's direction, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg becomes the uber-geek, perpetually scorned and forever apart because of his inability to connect emotionally, like some stunted Aspergers genius taking out his frustrations through program development instead of gunning down zombies in a video game.
The gem at the center of this movie's crown is the increasingly impressive Jesse Eisenberg as Zucherberg. In his hands, the character takes on a glimmer that is both harmless and sinister all at once. He delivers the dialogue at a lightning-quick pace, but with every word clear and emotive - and never once do we lose sight of the hurting and damaged manchild at the core of this complex personality. It is an absolutely amazing performance, with Eisenberg pulling off a show that is almost machinelike in its execution, somehow cold and emotionless yet with a depth unmatched by actors twice his age of 27. If he is ignored come Oscar time, then people are watching the wrong damn films, because he at least deserves the nod for Best Actor, if not the award itself.
Award nods should also be handed out to screenwriter Sorkin for brilliantly adapting the 2009 non-fiction book "The Accidental Billionaires," and to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their mind-warping score. Wrapping the story of the tender first days of the Facebook empire in two simultaneous court cases involving Zuckerberg, Sorkin creates a non-linear storyline that wraps itself up in a neat little bow complete with an emotionally stunning conclusion. And for the score, Reznor and longtime collaborator Ross craft a creeping, almost relentless piece of orchestration that will haunt you long after you hear it, like the best of Nine Inch Nails inevitably does. It perfectly underscores the urgent pace at which the first third of the film unfolds, creating leitmotifs that recur throughout the rest of the film and expertly recall the characters' emotional states. Even when the music is supposed to be obnoxious in-your-face club garbage, it's still worth listening to.
Also worthy of recognition come this spring is Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker. Oozing the smarmy charm of a rick nerd masked with a party animal exterior, Timberlake personifies the gold rush of the early days of the Internet. When he mentions how he brought down the record industry, and is reminded that the industry won its case against him, Parker smiles and says, "Care to buy a Tower Records right now?" Timberlake is awesome here - in fact, he's never been better.

What's Bad: Nothing. This movie falls into that rare category where I wouldn't change one single aspect of the production. It's near-flawless, and I say "near" because there may be something in there that's wrong or missing or superfluous, but I have no idea what that could be. It's a masterpiece.

The Predictions: I say: Oscar noms for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Eisenberg), Best Supporting Actor (Timberlake), Best Sound Editing. Wins: Best Director (this would be Fincher's second, after "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (Sorkin), Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

100 Days of Horror-Recapping the Fall - "The Exorcist!"


As promised, I am counting down the last five or six films that I missed over my busy schedule.

Not having to rush, rush, rush makes it much more fun for me, and has given me some ideas on how I will conduct future "100 Days" challenges.

So stay tuned for more news on those future events! And in the meantime, get someplace warm and safe, turn on all the lights, lock the doors, grab an baseball bat, a bible and a gun and prepare for the horror that is 1973's "The Exorcist." Goddamn, this movie still scares me stupid!

The Exorcist (1972): Directed by WIlliam Friedkin. Starring Ellyn Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller.

The Skinny: While on location for a movie shoot in Washington, D.C., the young daughter of the lead actress starts to exhibit bizarre, almost supernatural behavior. Meanwhile, an old priest on an archeological expedition in the Middle East unearths signs that an ancient demon is returning to fight it out with its old nemesis once again.

What's Good: Perhaps the first - and highest quality - film to usher in the era of "Sophisticated Horror," "The Exorcist" showed us that no one is safe; that an act as simple as playing with a ouija board could lead to a confrontation with forces beyond our beliefs. In fact, belief and faith (and lack of them) drive the entire film to its roaring, supernatural conclusion. The film explores (much less successfully than the novel by William Peter Blatty) the nature of faith throughout: the MacNeal family ascribes to no particular faith (are, in fact, quite secular); the young Jesuit priest (the brilliant Jason Miller, nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1973), also struggles with his own faith, based largely on the poor health and eventual death of his mother; and Max Von Sydow's Father Merrin is a man of deep faith who has turned away from the church to scuttle about the ruins of ancient Iraq after a previous exorcism left him physically and emotionally shattered. When these disparate elements combine to save the life - and soul - of an adorable 12-year-old girl (an amazing Linda Blair, in perhaps her only decent role in nearly 40 years), all of their beliefs are tested once more, and their collective faith put to the ultimate test. In fact, it takes the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of Miller's tortured Father Karras to finally free Reagan MacNeal from this demon's grip (no, it isn't the devil). The re-touched version, referred to as "The Version You've Never Seen" is definitely the superior version to watch. Technology allowed a famously deleted "spider walk" scene to be seamlessly restored, and Friedkin added other subtle, almost subliminal elements that amp up the supernatural horror to 50. The film scares because if its clinical - and quite accurate - representation of possession and its various stages. It could happen to you or me. It wasn't a monster or anything we could see. And man that's damn terrifying, especially when you don't believe in a higher power in the first place.

What's Bad: Nothing, unless you're one of those people who're opposed to the occasional foray into gore and sacrilegious scenes - sometimes in the same breath, like when Reagan plunges a silver crucifix into her vagina while screaming "Let Jesus fuck you!" Yeah, then maybe skip this one.

Why We Like It: This is the first movie I remember watching that scared me to mother fucking death. I mean terrified beyond belief. I had to curl up at the foot of my grandmother's bed and watch it from beneath a pile of blankets - and that was the toned-down televised version! As n adult finally willing to revisit the movie (perhaps my tender sensibilities had finally been numbed down by all those slasher films), i found it to be a deeply psychological exploration of the nature of belief and faith, and I found myself paying much more attention to the nuanced performances and the clever effects than I was to the bad words. However, child or adult, the final exorcism scene is dark, bleak and unnerving. When I was a kid, it seemed to last forever, even though it was the scene I was most looking forward to. As an adult, however, I find myself dreading the final showdown, because it is one of the few movies that gives me the absolute fucking heebie-jeebies. I don't think I need to explain why. So instead of the mortal terror that Blair instills in me, I focus instead on Miller's incredible facial expressions and his agonized delivery of lines such as, "You're not my mother!" His characterization is what brings me back to this film again and again. And that's no slight to the always amazing Von Sydow, who is just one of the finest of his or any generation. He can wrench more emotion out of just five words than most actors can get from an entire page. This was Oscar nominated in 10 categories and won two, for best sound and best adapted screenplay. It lost Best Picture to "The Sting," let's be honest ... who's renting/downloading "The Sting" these days? Who's retouching "The Sting" and rereleasing it to theaters for it to net another $100 million? Fucking no one, that's who. And don't get me started on the "Goodfellas"/"Dances With Wolves" fiasco, either!

Memorable Stuff: Any of the early scenes between Miller and Blair are fantastic, the dialogue edgy and scary and quite quotable. And one aspect of he film that bothers me insanely is the graphic way it shows medical scans that are utterly ancient when compared to today's technology. They subject to to insanely loud CAT scans, spinal taps and arterial shunts and wholly fucking shit I can't watch that. But for me, the scariest and most memorable part is when during the exorcism scene she breaks free of her restraints and knocks the priests to the floor. The shot of her on her knees, hands in the air like claws, her head back and howling an unearthly sound, silhouetted against a light as the image of the Babylonian demon Pazuzu appears behind her ... Jesus, it just gave me a chill writing about it. Someone turn on the goddamn light in here, already!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

100 Days of Horror - Recapping the Fall - "The Mummy!"


UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS WILL APPEAR ON YOUR SCREEN!

Yes, the goddamn fact of it all is that I totally skipped out on the last few entries in this blog, despite the fact that I actually did watch the movies on the list. I just couldn't find the time to wind this thing up in the proper manner.

It sucks, but hey what can you do? Not read it, I suppose, just like 50 million other people ain't reading it.

Or you could indulge me and give me a chance to catch up and talk about the movies I've missed in the past few days. Because I was actually very excited to talk about these few films, since they're some of my favorites.

So if it please the court - now that I have the time, and despite the fact that the Spooky Season is officially over - I will blather on for the next few days about the movies I love ... starting with the 1932 classic, "The Mummy!"

Thanks again for your indulgence. I hope you can still play along at home.

The Mummy (1932): Directed by Karl Freund. Starring Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners and Edward Van Sloan.

The Skinny: When a group of archeologists disturb the tomb on an ancient, cursed king, they unwittingly unleash the damned Imhotep from his sarcophagi to seek his revenge ... and a replacement for his equally doomed bride.

What's Good: This movie is almost an experiment in existential film making. The way the shots are composed, the hypnotic nature of the performances (particularly Boris Karloff at perhaps his most spookiest) and the oddly paced dialogue all seem to be lulling us into a state that prepares us for the horror of possession and the coupling of the reanimated dead. For that's exactly what happens in this film (and its somewhat worthy remake with Brandon Frazier) - a resurrected, cursed priest returns to find his bride embodied in the lovely frame of Zita Johann. His task is to reembody the spirit of his departed Ankhsenamun into the body of Helen Grosvenor, reunited at last (and it feels so good!). Audiences may swallow that stuff now like cotton candy at the state fair, but back then - when it was taboo to even show unmarried men and women getting together - the sexual union of the dead was enough to make audiences faint. Is that why Freud, formerly the cinematographer on "Dracula" who was hired for "The Mummy" just days before shooting began - chose to create a fever dream that teases with his German Expressionism background? Who cares, it's effective and it works like a charm.

What's Bad: Again, as with "Dracula," the overall lack of a score is troublesome to my ringing ears and can sometimes detract from scenes where a little night music would suit us well. Other than that, it is an imortal classic and one that deserves to be in every collection.

Why We Like It: All the above, of course. It isn't your typical horror film and I love it for that alone. It seeks to terrify you on a deeply psychological level, like most of the classics did - simply because they were so limited in what they could actually do or say. They had to find other ways to imply the horror, or just give you a tantalizing glimpse of the true horror that lurks beyond the door, or the forest or, sometimes, the strings of sanity itself. And "The Mummy" might just succeed on all those levels above all others in its category. It is a mighty powerful film.

Memorable Stuff: There is an opening scene where a junior archeologist sees the risen Imhotep slip out of his tomb and shuffle away. We see only the mummy's stiff movements as he stirs, and then the tendrils of his wrappings as he disappears through the door. But we get to watch the archeologist break down into total maniacal hysteria, with a laugh that will haunt y0ur dreams for years to come and remind you of what horror truly is. Also, the scene where Ardeth Bey (Karloff) beckcons Helen to look into a pool and recall her past life as Ankhsenamun is absolutely disturbing, hypnotic and horrific all at once. Johann should have been nominated for an Oscar for that scene alone.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Ninety-Eight - "The Blair Witch 2!"


YES! THE FINAL THREE DAYS ARE HERE!

Can you smell that? (Sorry, i just had lunch). No no, it's the thrill of excitement in the air as we come down to our Final Three movies in the 100 Days challenge!

Let's skip the bullshit and get to doing what we came here to do! Love you guys!

Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows (2000): Directed by Joe Berlinger. Starring Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director, Erica Leerhson, Tristine Skyler and Steven Barker Turner.

The Skinny: A group of young adults hoping to "experience" the "Blair Witch Project" get far more than they bargained for, as a blackout in the deep woods leads them to murder and witchcraft.

What's Good: The first "Blair Witch" was groundbreaking in its innovation, and really scared the living shit out of people. People were convinced that it was real - that the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, was truly the place where a witch was once prosecuted and banished to the woods, and that a group of filmmakers hundreds of years later got caught up in the haunting. Enter "The Blair Witch 2." It's a good idea - kids trying to recreate the chills of their favorite movie - and it has some true moments that are both terrifying and disconcerting. It also has a great cast that actually gives their all - including Jeffrey Donovan, now of "Burn Notice" fame. The story becomes a sort of "folie a deux" except it's more like FOUR instead of two. The problem, however ...

What's Bad: ... is director Joe Berlinger, a talented DOCUMENTARY filmmaker responsible for the film "Paradise Lost" about a group of goth kids accused and convicted of murder. So he must have seemed a likely choice for a film about weirdos that's supposed to mirror "reality." What a mistake. The man was forced to go back and ADD SCENES literally weeks before the premier; the results of those reshoots equate to the opening scenes in the mental hospital and a few other silly jolting scares throughout. I can't say whether or not it was an improvement, but it's done and we'll say no more. And by that same token, is this a movie ruined by studio meddling? Were the original producers sitting over his shoulder, telling him it wasn't scary any enough? Who knows. Well, Berlinger knows, I guess, but he ain't talkin'. Anyway, the shitty direction robs this movie of what it could have been - a worthy sequel to a top notch film. Instead, it's a bit of a muddled mess, with a few scary scenes and a lot of head scratching moments that have you wondering if you've spent too much money on this fucker.

Why We Like It: I love it. Yes, it's shitty. Yes it's boring in spots. Yes it's a confusing mess right up until the end. I still love it. I owned the soundtrack and I saw it twice in the theaters, without utter expectation for something that would be superior to the original. I was expecting bad - there was no way they could top "The Blair Witch" or even come close to it. And in that frame of mind, it was an enjoyable experience. Now, that doesn't exactly mean I am recommending it to you all - it surely isn't for every taste. You have to have an eye for subtlety and a mind geared towards sociological things, because it's really an experience in and of itself. Because you KNOW - YOU KNOW - that plenty of people did this exact thing, invading the tiny town of Burkittsville (population 171 in the 2000 census), and flooding the woods of Seneca State Park to try and get caught up in the hype. If I were a young dumbass when I saw that movie the first time, I would have likely done the same thing. There is something oddly visceral to this film, something that resembles a college booze party that gets out of control. You get to watch people argue, try and hook up and get wasted. And I enjoy it on that level. Plus, Marilyn Manson's great "Disposable Teens" comes screaming out of the screen at you during the credits - and at the time I was obsessed with Manson, so it was kind of synergistic. It felt right. And it was.

Memorable Stuff: The introduction is great because of the camerawork and the musical selection, and this is actually one of those movies where they actually use the songs on the soundtrack IN the film, so if you know them both well you can pick them out (and yes I enjoy doing that), so I enjoy several of those moments. But my favorite scene in the film is when the kids are in the woods partying their asses off and wake up to a blackout, their film equipment destroyed.

100 Days of Horror Day Ninety-Seven - "Halloween 3!"


"YOU WON'T BELIEVE YOUR EYES!"

Ghoulish greetings my mindless minions! And welcome to the final few days of the 100 Days of Horror challenge! It's been a long, strange trip to say the least and looking at these last few days, it's hard to believe that I have been able to accomplish this task.

True, I missed a few in the last couple days - between my Halloween party setup and recovery, I went four days without a post - but in all, I have diligently posted on an almost daily basis. In fact, I only missed one day in the entire month of August, and that ain't not too bad!

Anyhoo, we're here in the last days and the list grows thin. So thin, we've included the only "third in a series" film on the list, but it's still a pretty good time. So sit back, relapse and check out "Halloween 3: Season of the Witch!" Thanks to you all for following along! I LOVE YOU ALL!

Halloween 3 (1982): Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. Starring Tom Atkins, Stacy Nelkin and Dan O'Herlihy.

The Skinny: An ancient sect of witches hopes to play the greatest Halloween trick of all time on the unsuspecting children of America by using a blend of magic and technology to pull off the greatest mass human sacrifice ever.

What's Good: If you pick this movie up hoping to see another chapter in the Michael Myers saga, you're in for a surprise. Because this movie has absolutely nothing to do with the premise of the first two films in the franchise that went on for six more films AND a remake. And a sequel to the remake. And that's it. Anyway, the premise here is interesting if poorly executed - the consensus among may reviewers is that, were it not associated with the "Halloween" franchise, it would just be another crappy 80's horror film. Yes, there are some murky spots, but there's also an intriguing idea behind the mess; the idea that a thousand-year-old coven of Irish witches are looking to return to the days when "the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children" with a mass sacrifice. And how do they pull off the slaughter of thousands (if not millions)? With an arcane blend of technology and magic (using pieces of Stonehenge, which they've somehow removed and smuggled into North America) to create a microchip that is attached to Halloween masks. When the kids wear the masks and watch a particular commercial ("Happy, Happy Halloween! Silver Shamrock!") to be broadcast on Halloween as part of a prize giveaway ... hoo boy, does some crazy shit happen!

What's Bad: Well, sadly there is plenty bad. Other than 80s staple actor Tom Atkins and classic Irish actor Dan O'Herilhy, there are no names attached to the film - meaning, the acting is horrible. And as per usual, the movie is shot largely at night, without the benefit of proper lighting, so it's actually difficult to see everything. Not as bad as, say, "Phantasm," but still pretty bad. And there are holes in the script that you could float a battleship through if you think too deeply about it. So don't.

Why We Like It: It's a so-so film, to say the least. But veteran O'Herlihy makes the movie into something a bit above pure trash. His speech towards the end about the roots of Halloween as Samhain and its blood rituals is absolutely chilling. So forget the plot holes, forget the shitty lighting, and just focus on the fun this ridiculous romp can generate if you don't take it too seriously (it helps to understand that original "Halloween" director John Carpenter hoped to make an anthology series out of the title, with each film focusing on a different aspect of the holiday, but never got that idea off the ground).

Memorable Stuff: There are two scenes that stand out for me - and one of them gave me nightmares for weeks. When a family tours the factory where the masks are made, they also get a demonstration of how the magic works. They are put into a test room and their children are given the masks. When teh Silver Shamrock commercial starts to play, the children collapse and snakes and insects start to pour out of the masks as they appear to rot and collapse. And second, O'Herilhy's speech about Halloween's origins and the sacrifices performed by the ancient Celtic clans is well written and impeccably delivered by the classically trained O'Herilhy. Fun stuff if you can sit through it!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Ninety-Six - "The Wolf Man!"


Well, I have been at this blog for almost 100 days now (since late July, actually), and this occasion marks the first time that I have missed more than one day of the challenge. The fact is, this is the busiest time of year for me, and it is difficult to find an hour to sit down and work this sucker out. In fact, I haven't even had time to watch a few of these films, which really sucks since I packed October with all the best movies in my collection. But I am determined to finish this thing out. There's only a few days left and I think I can manage it if I just work at it.

Yeah. And monkeys might fly out of my butt.

Anyway, let's get excited (if you can, that is) over today's wonderful movie - one which I have already watched a few times this month already. Check out Universal's 1941 classic "The Wolfman," and thanks as usual for your time (and your patience).

The Wolf Man (1941): Directed by George Waggner. Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Patrick Knowles, Ralph Bellamy, Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi and Maria Ouspenskaya.

The Skinny: Even a man who is pure in hear and says his prayers by night can become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.

What's Good: Maybe the last great movie to come out of Universal's golden age of monster movies, "The Wolf Man" was Lon Chaney, Jr.'s shining moment, shortly before his career dissolved into an alcoholic haze. Although he didn't create the iconic wolf man makeup as his father had for many years (the inimitable Jack Pierce came up with the idea of using a lap dissolve and yak hair), he still managed to make the character his own and gives us access to the torment Larry Talbot feels over his estrangement from his family, and the terrible curse he brings down upon his ancestral town. Add in a solid performance by Claude Rains (does he ever let us down? I think not), and incredibly comic turns from Ralph Bellamy and Patric Knowles and you get a perfect classic chiller for the Halloween season. Hell, for any season.

What's Bad: Nothing. Well, it's a little short, but that's it.

Why We Like It: It's a classic, undeniably. Watching Chaney transform from man to wolf man still works, even after the high-tech effects from films like "The Howling," and the CGI of "Underworld." It was painstakingly accomplished by a 10-hour session whereby Chaney would have makeup applied, sit in a chair, get the shot and repeat, over and over again. The film also uses just about every hard hitting actor in the Universal stable, including the wonderful Maria Ouspenskaya (no I did not have to look that name up - I can spell it from memory) as the gypsy woman who seems to know what is up. Her scenes at Lugosi's grave, muttering a poem about the afterlife, give the film a chilling moment, echoed in the final scenes as she recites the same lines over Talbot's body, dead by his own father's hand. Great, great, great stuff.

Memorable Stuff: Although the above described scenes are great, my favorite scene is when Chaney goes to a fair and is asked to show his hunting prowess with a rifle by shooting targets. After making a few deadeye shots, suddenly a tin wolf pops up. Suddenly shakey and sweating profusely, Talbot misses the shot on purpose, unable to deal with the idea that he himself may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms ... and that shit is in full frigging bloom.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Ninety - "Hellraiser!"


"SEE IT! HEAR IT! AND ACTUALLY FEEL IT!"

Salacious Salutations, my morbid minions! Welcome back to the show that never ends, brought to you by your friends at Starbucks and Snickers!

Keeping the commentary brief today because my mind is spiriling out of control in a million different directions. It's best to focus my tiny little mind on the movie ahead, because it's one that should be on every fan's list. I certainly hope you can all join me tonight as we watch 1987's horribly dated classic, "Hellraiser!" Thanks as usual for playing along!

Hellraiser (1987): Directed by Clive Barker. Starring Andrew Robinson, Claire Higgins, Ashley Laurence and Doug Bradley.

The Skinny: A mysterious box that acts as a doorway to another dimension finds itself in the hands of a man driven to discover it secrets. When he finally solves the puzzle, however, he gets more than he bargained for as the denizens of this dimension are bent on reshaping the flesh.

What's Good: For a sluggish mess of an independent film, "Hellraiser" has a lot going for it - foremost of all, the iconic performance by Doug Bradley as lead Cenobite, Pinhead (unnamed in the original script). In fact, it's clear that the few Hollywood dollars the movie's producers managed to come up with went right into effects, including the makeup effects for all the Cenobites. And thank god for that, because they are all pretty damn cool. But nothing trumps Pinhead, with his hooks and his chains and his killer lines delivered in a manner that is the polar opposite of Freddy Kreuger and his wise-cracking puns.

What's Bad: This is Clive Barker's first attempt behind the camera, and it shows. The film is shot almost entirely on location in an actual house, limiting the angles and forcing many shots from one perspective only. Also the story - while in intruiging idea - takes a backseat to the characterizations in some places, which is a real disservice to the plot. It took the second film to really amp up the story and to bring the Cenobites to the forefront (especially after Claire Higgings said she didn't want to reprise her role as Julia, and Barker was forced to change the story's focus). The movie ia a mess, but it's an interesting, often beautiful mess.

Why We Like It: Why? Gave me nightmares, that's why! Actually I was a lot older by this point and was into horror movies in general, and slasher films specifically. However, even at this early point I was growing tired of Freddy's antics and Jason Vorhees had long since ceased to be a threat. So when this seemingly sophisticated movie came along, with its demons dedicated to order, bringers of pleasure and pain ("demons to some - angels to others"), I was immediately hooked. Bradley is a great find, bringing what he described as a mourning for lost humanity to the character. And there is a smiling strangeness to Pinhead, as if he has just the slightest memory of being human at one point. He's the best.

Memorable Stuff: Aside from every second Pinhead is onscreen? Hm. I'd have to say the scene where Brother Frank is resurrected after his brother's blood drops onto the floor where he was killed by the Cenobites. Accomplished on a shoestring budget and shot utilizing time-lape and reverse photography techniques, it stands as a testament to what you can do even if you don't have a $30 million budget at your disposal and is a great use of practical special effects. Arms shoot up from the floor, a brain reconstitutes from nothing and finally a screaming semi-corpes rises up from the ground. Disgusting. And fun.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Eighty-Nine - "Frankenstein!"


"WARNING! The action takes place IN THE AUDIENCE! MONSTERS and CREATURES OF THE NIGHT sit down RIGHT NEXT TO YOU! You may feel their EERIE EMBRACE!"

Trying to get to this thing early today, seeing as how I've nothing better to do. Unfortunately, I am here at work and not at home, where I could enjoy this movie by myself, in my underwear, with a bowl of salsa and a bag of chips in my lap. I'll just pause to let that image sink in .... and we're done.

I hope everyone can get comfy later in the undergarments of your choice, and consume salty snacks until you retain water as you enjoy an undeniable classic - James Whale's "Frankenstein!"

Frankenstein (1931): Directed by James Whale. Starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clark, Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan.

The Skinny: Scientist Henry Frankenstein believes he's found the secrets to life and death - and to test those theories, he will build a man to his design.

What's Good: This is one of the best movies ever to emerge from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Even though many people were familiar with Mary Shelly's original Victorian-era story, the first definitive film version takes a few liberties with her ideas - particularly by removing it from its period settings and essentially making it a more modern tale. Regardless of the changes, the core of the story - a man who dared to play God - remains. And the character of Henry Frankenstein (Victor in the book) is brought to stunning life by the late, great Colin Clive in all his hysterical glory. No one could fill this man's shoes, in my opinion. He is the personification of the Mad Scientist archetype that has been often imitated and never duplicated. His quavering, clipped voice, his icy stare, his aloof, sometimes fey nature - what a performance. He almost - but not quite - steals the show from Boris Karloff as the Monster, who even with no speaking lines manages to convey the emotion and pathos within this abhorrent creation. With just a whimper and an off-handed gesture, Karloff gives the mute creature true life, and with a growl and a clawed hand, he can terrify you to the bone. Take in the shot where we first see the Monster up close as he emerges from the shadows of creation and steps into the light of reason. Whale then juxtaposes a few up-close shots that show off Jack Pierce's iconic makeup. Karloff removed his denture plate to give his cheeks that extra sunken-in look, and it pays off - he is simply monstrous. The film was utterly controversial at the time of its release - the lines about Henry being god and the scene where the monster tosses a little girl into a lake were heavily censored back in the day. But now, every malicious scene is perfectly restored and gives the film a timeless resonance that demonstrates just how much (and how little) we've accomplished as a society since those Halcyon days.

What's Bad: Although "The Bride of Frankenstein" is considered a superior film by many (myself included), the original can't be beat. Watch it on a Saturday afternoon in late October, close to sundown, and you'll understand why. I guess my only complain could be the lack of a score, but that was problematic for many productions at the time. All else is gold.

Why We Like It: I love every single frame of this movie. It stirs something in me that is undefinable - a mythic longing that I can't seem to put my finger on. The iconic images - Death towering over their shoulders as they dig bodies, the burning windmill on the hillside - are so powerful they stay with you after just one viewing. I dare any modern film to top this movie's standards. How many great horror movies have been made in the past 30 years? How many of them have so moving an image that you can't shake it for days after? Not many, I think. And I should know - I've seen a bunch of them. The acting, the sets, the makeup, the rich black and white cinematography by the great Arthur Edelson - it's so goddamn good, it's spooky.

Memorable Stuff: Lots of people point to the creation scene as the movie's finest moments - and with good reason. The state-of-the-art effects, designed by Kenneth Strickfaden, give the scene a neo-noir Art Deco kind of vibe that is difficult to replicate. And Henry's ecstatic breakdown when the creature stirs a finger ("In the name of God! Now I know what it's like to BE God!") is just fucking fantastic. But for me, the final confrontation between Man and his monstrous creation in the burning windmill seals the deal for me. As I said before, the image is powerful.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Eighty-Eight - "The Thing!"


"WARNING! UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS AND UNIMAGINABLE NIGHTMARES AWAIT YOU! CAN YOUR SOUL STAND IT! WATCH AND SEE!"

Ghoulish greetings on his Terrible Tuesday here at the 100 Days challenge! We're entering the final run here, and the next few days are packed with top-notch frights!

So let us get right into the thick of this sucker, with yet another one of John Carpenter's scarefests - in fact, maybe his scariest yet! Sit back, shut your trap and be terrified by "The Thing!" Thanks as usual for playing along! I love you all!

The Thing (1982): Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Charles Hallahan, Donald Moffat and Richard Dysart.

The Skinny: Based on the 1951 film "The Thing from Another Planet," this film by John Carpenter follows a group of researchers in the Antarctic as they battle with a strange presence that can assume any likeness and is bent on destruction.

What's Good: When I was younger (so much younger than today), I saw this film and had to turn it off, it was that frigging scary. It's enough that the claustrophobic setting - an Antarctic research station - is disconcerting, but you add to it the superior effects by Rob Bottin and Stan Winston, in all their horrific best, and you get a movie that a ten-year-old boy probably shouldn't watch alone. John Carpenter keeps the tension high throughout this apocalyptic thriller that has you guessing (by the very nature of the beast) as to what's coming next. And as the crew are picked off one by one, and the list of potential carriers narrows, it's up to Kurt Russell and Keith David to carry much of the film's weighty final third - something the two stars do with ease.

What's Bad: Nothing, really. Seriously. This fucker rocks. The only complaint I could possibly make is that the effects - while dated now - are absolutely the very best the times had to offer. And by that note, that means that they are both graphic and disgusting - heads split open and sprout spidery legs, a dog is partially transformed before being torched, and a man's chest bursts open and bites off another man's hands. Yeah, don't have a big sloppy dinner before you watch this one.

Why We Like It: For all the reasons above and more! When he's good, Carpenter is great and this is probably his finest film. Although "Halloween" was a reasonably scary thriller, it was also an independent film and suffers as such. This was his first big budgetfeature, however, and it's clear that he pumped every spare dollar into the effects. Winston and Bottin crafted some of the goriest effects still out there and Carpenter shows us every disgusting bloody inch. At times it's almost hard to take, but if you can get past the gore, there is a great "Ten Little Indians" sort of vibe here that keeps you guessing - right up to the downbeat ending that would likely be impossible to get Hollywood to agree to if this film were made today.

Memorable Stuff: All of the above special effects transformations are just top drawer. But perhaps the most chilling scene is when the crew returns to the site of the Norwegian crew that is killed prior to the film's events. There, they find a massive crater that is likely the creature's origin. And as they spread out their arms to try and get an idea of the size, it gives us - and them - the first real indication of what we're actually dealing with here. It's a great shot and a shock moment that sets the tone for the rest of this undeniably scary film.

Monday, October 18, 2010

100 days of Horror Day Eighty-Seven - The Omen!"


Yes, I know it's technically tomorrow but I had a lot to do today and I still wanted to get this out there because this is one of my favorite movies and I have to run my mouth about it.

So shut up, sit back and prop open your eyelids with toothpicks against the late hour and enjoy - if you're able - the 70s classic, "The Omen!"

The Omen (1972): Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Stevens and Leo McKern.

The Skinny: When a US Ambassador swaps his stillborn child for an orphaned child, he gets a hell of a lot more than he bargained for - he gets the Antichrist.

What's Good: There's something about horror movies from the 70s that just never ceases to amaze me. They're so moody and dark. Brooding and sullen, like an angry teen. And it was the Golden Age of the Devil as far as cinema was concerned. With "The Exorcist" breaking box office records for horror, suddenly Old Nick was at the top of the list for go-to scares, and "The Omen" is no exception. Take that and add to it the unconscious fear that every parent has - will by child turn out bad? - and you get the perfect recipe for a horror film. And this one actually is horrific - a woman gleefully hangs herself in front of dozens of children, monkeys do insane and attack the car when the family visits the zoo, and in the final ultimate horror, a man decides to kill the only son he ever knew because he believes it to do the right thing. Unlike Abraham of the Old Testament, however, god fails to intercede and stop the sacrifice - it takes a hail of police bullets to stay Gregory Peck's hand in one of his finest onscreen moments.

What's Bad: As is typical with director Richard Donner's movies, "The Omen" is a bit overlong, and there is little to keep your attention in the film's final moments - nothing trumps the scene where David Warner is decapitated by a huge sheet of glass, and that scene kicks off the final sequence of events. Other than that, no complaints - the acting, the score and the script are all fantastic.

Why We Like It: Like many horror films from my childhood, this movie scared me shitless. I had a habit of watching movies I should probably not have watched until I was much older and this is one of them. In fact it had me convinced that I bore the Mark of Satan somewhere on my body and even asked my mother to take a look once. Remarkably she did. Maybe she had similar fears.

Memorable Stuff: Yes, the movie's ending is perhaps the best scene in the film, but about halfway through there is a pivotal scene that is also quite terrifying. Peck and Warner return to the cemetery where his son's real mother - who allegedly died in childbirth - is buried. When they dig ip the grave, however, they make a shocking discovery - the bones of a jackal. Suddenly, a pack of savage dogs descends on the cemetery and attacks the duo. For whatever reason, I was always terrified of being attacked by dogs when I was a youngin', and so this scene gave me nightmares for a month. And it's still mighty scary even today.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Eighty-Six - "Creepshow!"


Yet another late-day entry into the most horrific blog you've never dared to read! But not too late for you get today's feature on NetFlix (if you have an xBox 360 like we do that is), so quit yer bitchin'!

Yes, I will again skip my cutesy intros and hop right into the meat and taters of this thang (what's taters, Precious? WHAT'S TATERS?!). I've already watched this sucker while convalescing from an early morning vomit session (no, I wasn't drunk - that's next Saturday). So sit back and dig on the 80s classic, "Creepshow!"

Creepshow (1982): Directed by George Romero. Starring Leslie Nielson, Ed Harris, Stephen King, E.G. Marshall, Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau.

The Skinny: Based on a series of horror comics from the 1950s and penned by Stephen King, "Creepshow" is a series of five short films that replicate the look of the original comics.

What's Good: This film was a bold experiment, and one that should have continued. George Romero takes the frames from the original comics and frames his scenes the same way. He also uses multicolored light schemes that perfectly recreate the backgrounds the horror comics rely on. Add to the mix some cheesy acting from some of the decade's best and you get a pretty good romp that is essentially not so much scary as it is just fun.

What's Bad: The film is a little overlong, if you ask me. The second (and deeply inferior) film in the series takes it down to just three episodes, which makes it a more manageable meal. Other than that, this is a good time.

Why We Like it: It's cheesy, it's 80s, it's my master Stephen King and my zombie god Romero, so it's doubleplusgood. I have warm fuzzy memories of this as a kid, and I even had the comic adaptation of it - gifted to me by a relative on Easter. Yeah, we're that kind of family.

Memorable Stuff: Each of the stories has something to love. They're a great mix of cheesy sci-fi and horror, with some downright disturbing images, if not particularly horrific. But of the five stories, two stand out as my favorite. The first in the movie, "Father's Day," is particularly graphic and deals with a rotting, worm-ridden corpse crawling from its grave to take its revenge. And the second is "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill," starring the man himself, Stephen King, as the character of the title. As per usual with King in the 80s, his eyes bug out of his skull, likely because he was wasted. But he's also at his personal campy best.

Friday, October 15, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Eighty-Four - "Dracula!"


Yes our plucky hero is getting to it early today folks, and with only about four and a half hours sleep. Right around 11 last night, I got the Halloween fever bad, bad, bad. I simply HAD to decorate NOW! So I did, in a feverish rush, for about two hours. Then I fell right the hell out. It was a total manic episode of brief duration, but boy did I get a lot done in that short time!

And of course I can't sleep in the morning, with my family bustling around and whatnot, so I figured I'd get up, why not? And then, blog of course. Give my peoples some fresh shite for their morning coffee and/or constitutional. Because we here at the 100 Days challenge blog will keep you regular. Better than Metamusil.

So anyway, let us get right to the point ... set your phasers to "stunned" and prepare for one of filmdom's classic performances, as the late great Bela Lugosi sinks his teeth into teh role that made him a star! Kick back with a big glass of O Positive (common as muck) and dig on "Dracula!" And thanks again for playing along.

Dracula (1931): Directed by Tod Browning. Starring Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, Edward van Sloan, Helen Chandler and David Manners.

The Skinny: We all know by now the tale of the doomed count, but this is the film that defined the character for decades to come. Bela Lugosi stars as Dracula, hell-bent on his conquest of the world - starting with fair London.

What's Good: There isn't much I can say in the way of praise of this film that won't sound like fanboy bullshit, but I'll give it a try. This is one of those movies that created an icon of seemingly endless appeal. Not only did it establish Dracula as a formidable villain, it started the American (and maybe the world's) obsession with vampires. Bela Lugosi is, quite simply, amazing. He kills a scene with just a glare and a smile, and he delivers lines with a Hungarian accent so rich it sounds like he's purring sometimes. This is also one of those films that Martin Landau said (as Lugosi) in Tim Burton's "Ed Wood," referred to as "Mythic:" the lonely castle in the mountains; the genteel count with his strange brides; the giant bat flapping its wings at the window. These are timeless images, here rendered in rich black and white by cinematographer Karl Freund. And the rest of the cast - including Universal horror staples Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing and Dwight Frye in another timeless performance as the insane Renfield - are also pitch perfect, one of those rare ensembles that blends so well together you'd swear something spooky was going on.

What's Bad: Unfortunately, because of limitations in the way a film could be scored in the early 30s, the original theatrical versions of "Dracula" had no score whatsoever. So that leaves achingly long stretches of silence that can play havoc on the ears (well, if you have tinnitus like I do). However, a friend gifted me a DVD with not only the Spanish and regular English version of the film, but it presents version with a new score composed by Philip Glass and performed by The Kronos Quartet. It's an amazing addition to an already amazing film, and Glass grasps the themes in the story and lets the music reflect those emotions. It's a great version and one every fan should try to see.

Why We Like It: This movie was always a mystery to me as a kid, because while I read about it in countless horror books and magazines, I had yet to actually see the damn thing in its entirety. It was never on television and I couldn't find a VHS copy to rent, so I had to rely on vague and random sightings on the late-late-late show. It was actually sometime in the late 90s that I wound up buying a copy in VHS - along with several other Universal Monster Movies - and of course, I fell immediately in love and would watch it over and over again. Even in the "off season," so to speak. And indeed it is those "mythic" qualities that make it such a compelling view. So if you're like me, living in the dark without having ever seen this immortal classic, go get it right now and give it a shot. I'll wait. Go on.

Memorable Stuff: Of course, Frye as the raving madman Renfield is a shining example of the iconic performances this film solicited from its performers. But the most memorable scene for me is when Dracula meets with Van Helsing and they have a duel of wit and intellect, so to speak. But when all else fails, Drac slaps the mojo on his enemy and sure enough, Van Helsing is indeed within his thrall ... for just a moment. This is one of the scenes that is vastly improved by the prsence of the score in the special DVD version, but even without the music, the scene is powerful and shows off the amazing double jointed fingers of Lugosi in their classic, claw-like gesture. CHILLING! I LOVE YOU BELA!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

100 Days of horror Day Eighty-Three - "Poltergeist 2!"


Yes, I know it's late. Please don't bitch. This is kind of my Friday night, seeing as how I have off tomorrow but have to work ALL DAY Saturday and a few stops on Sunday, too.

So don't give me no shit. In fact let's get right into the meat of this sucker, because I am watching this movie as I type this blog and it's frigging creeping me out.

So settle in on this dark, stormy October night (well here in Pennsyl-tucky anyway) and get totally creeped out with "Poltergeist 2!" Thanks for reading, fiends and mutants!

Poltergeist 2: The Other Side (1986): Directed by Brian Gibson. Starring Craig T. Nelson, Jobeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Julian Beck and Will Sampson.

The Skinny: Picking up where the first film left off, the Freeling family is just getting things back to normal when a strange old man starts showing up at the house looking for Carol Anne. It turns out that there is more to the story than a housing development build atop an old cemetery.

What's Good: Sadly, the late Brian Gibson failed to capture the magic and passion of the first film in this franchise that spawned three movies and a television series. However, there are some seriously spooky moments, again executed by some of the best special effects available at the time. However, the movie is worth sitting through some very trite and boring parts just to get at the performance of Julian Beck as the minister Kane. Kane is a minister from the late 1800s who promises his followers that god is about to play the Judgement Trump. he lures them into an underground cave and seals them in. When the day comes and goes and no one is raptured out, Kane refuses to let them leave and they die there. And where is that cave? YOU GUESSED IT YOU CLEVER PERSON YOU! UNDER THE FREELING'S HOUSE!

What's Bad: I think the script is the first problem. That, and director Gibson lights everything like it's a TV sitcom, so there is none of the rich shadows and neo-noir lighting of the first film. And even though the actors pretty much give their all, they're dealing with a silly concept and sometimes even sillier dialogue. And now suddenly, the mother has some kind of psychic ability, as does her mother (my god, then that must mean ... CAROL ANNE?!) - add in a poorly developed subplot where an American Indian shaman is supposed to have a history with Kane and a dopey score filled with goofy triumphant trumpets and you get silly, silly silliness. But ...

Why We Like It: Goddamn it, Julian Beck is absolutely terrifying. If you've seen this film, you already know what I am talking about - the guy walking around looking like a living cadaver, singing vaguely Mormon-sounding hymns with words like "God is in his holy temple/earthly thoughts be silent now." Turns out, Beck was dying of stomach cancer the whole time, finally passing before the production. But his scenes are just absolutely fascinating and creepifying. He will haunt your ass for years to come.

Memorable Stuff: The best scene, hands down, is when Kane shows up at the Freeling's new home. The moment he shows up, the rain starts out of a clear blue sky. And as he stands at the door, telling the Freelings that they're gonna die, "ALL OF YOU! YOU ARE GONNA DIEEEE!" Holy Jesus is that scary? Yes sir, it is. It's a fine denouement for Beck and a great character that makes many people's list of the scariest characters in the genre. And worth sitting through this trite production.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Eighty-Two - "Rosemary's Baby!"


I am having a difficult time getting my shite together today, for whatever reason. It could be because I am exhausted since I was up until 4 a.m. doing laundry, and then got back up at 7:30 to go to work. Or it could be ... nah, that's gotta be the reason. Best not explore further.

In fact, it's best to get on with today's selection as quickly as possible before I pass out from exhaustion. And that would be a shame, because this is one of the best.

So stay wide awake and play along at home as we dive into Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby!" And thanks again for reading!

Rosemary's Baby (1968): Directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavettes, Ruth Gordon, Sydney Blackmer, Maurice Evans and Ralph Bellamy.

The Skinny: When Rosemary and her husband Guy move into an exclusive apartment in New York City to start their family, they find their neighbors are part of a coven of devil worshipers determined to find a proper host for their deity - that turns out to be Rosemary's unborn child.

What's Good: After a string of semi-successful films, director Roman Polanski wrote and directed this adaptation of Ira Levine's novel of demonic possession, and thus found himself thrust into the spotlight. Working with a script that faithfully reproduces Levine's book, Polanski crafts a horrific film that doesn't rely on violence, gore and special effects to scare the shit out of you. Instead, it seizes on the paranoia Mia Farrow's titular character experiences as she becomes convinced there is something amiss in the Dakota. Farrow is pitch perfect as the mousy Rosemary Woodhouse, lost in so-called domestic bliss with her actor husband, and struggling to deal with her new creepy, elderly neighbors (an incredible Ruth Gordon in an Oscar-winning turn as the nosy Minnie Castavet). In fact, the entire cast is great as the plot to not kidnap but physically transform Rosemary's unborn baby comes slowly into play, culminating in a chilling birth party where worshipers from around the world have come to praise their embodied god. And Rosemary's decision to care for the demonic child brings the horror home, for what is a mother to do with her evil child? The only thing you can do - love them, unconditionally.

What's Bad: I can't find a single thing to say in a negative light about this film. It's a classic.

Why We Like It: I read Levine's novel in the 80s, many years before I actually saw the film and thought it was great. Then I saw the film and I fell completely in love - so much in love that I often just throw the DVD at random times just to enjoy it. Polanski is truly a talent, as he's proven time and time again with "Chinatown," "The Ninth Gate," and others, but this is Farrow's film - there are very few scenes where Rosemary isn't the focus of attention, leaving Farrow to carry the entire picture with her large watery eyes. And she does. And the rest of the cast members are also incredible, from Cassavettes on down. Plus, the Academy Award-nominated script crackles with great dialogue and convincing facts that all play into the underlying theme of Rosemary's paranoia.

Memorable Stuff: The whole film is great, but its final moments are just insane. After the baby is born in a rush of drug-induced panic, Rosemary is told that it was a stillbirth. When she follows the sound of a baby crying to a party next door, however, she finds her devilish infant very much alive and well, and being worshiped by the coven. As her world spirals out of control, and neighbor Roman tells her about their intricate plans, he raises his hands and cries out, "GOD IS DEAD! SATAN LIVES!" Shit ... I got chills just thinking about it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Eighty-One - "The Hills Have Eyes!"


Late start today folks, sorry. Oh! Those Tuesdays!

Anyway, I think for the first time in a long time, I am not exactly what you call "looking forward" to this film. Not that it isn't good, but this is one of those films that isn't for the casual viewer.

You have been warned ... rave on, readers and thanks for playing along!

The Hills Have Eyes (1977): Directed by Wes Craven. Starring Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace-Stone and Michael Berrymore.

The Skinny: When an extended family traveling across country breaks down in the desert, the encounter a group of horribly mutated cannibals bent on making them their next meal.

What's Good: Yet another Wes Craven entry in the 100 Days challenge, this film is not for the faint of heart. Dwelling on post-nuclear fears, Craven crafted a cautionary tale based on the true events of the Sawney Bean clan, a group of inbred forest dwellers who captured and ate passerby. And in bringing these savage characters to life, Craven didn't hold back one iota. Torture, zoosadism, cannibalism, kidnapping, rape and murder are all on the menu. And while the tension is high throughout the film, there are also so many cringe-inducing moments that it's hard to sit through the whole affair. Craven goes beyond scaring us and sets about scarring our delicate psyches. It's a little too much, so much in fact it earned an "X" rating when it was first reviewed by the MPAA.

What's Bad: As I said, torture, zoosadism, cannibalism, kidnapping, rape and murder.

Why We Like It: I don't exactly know. I do love the pointy-eared Michael Berrymore as a character actor but this film is just so in your face. I think to truly enjoy films like this, you not only have to have a strong dislike of people in general (which I like to say I do), you have to have more than a little hatred in your heart for them, too. I am terrified that there are people out there who cheer when one of the characters is effectively gang raped in a camper, or a dog is disembowelled and a woman forced to eat its remains. This type of film is a test of how much one can endure, and I think I failed miserably.

Memorable Stuff: See above. If that type of stuff is the kind of shit you want to remember.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Eighty - "The Howling/The Howling 2!"


"LIVE in person: THE MUMMY and KING KONG (famous Hollywood gorilla)! We can't advertise what THE MUMMY does to beautiful slave girls when the lights go out ... BUT WOW! SOMETHING YOU NEVER DREAMT YOU'D SEE ANYWHERE!"

Yes, it's 2:30 a.m. on a Monday morning and as usual I cannot sleep. So I figured blog, why not?

For those few of you still playing along at home, there is a last minute addition to the lineup: as I was looking through the list of remaining movies, I noticed I didn't see "The Howling 2" on there, and I was shocked. I own this movie and it's one of my all time bad movie favorites. I probably removed it because it was a sequel and I was trying to avoid those for the most part, but I just had to add it somehow and this seemed like the logical time.

Next year's version of this blog will be much improved, with different information and a different format. Also, we will be launching "100 Days of Futureshock" on Jan. 1. During this challenge, we will watch 100 science fiction films - many of them for the first time - and we will bring you the best and worst of those films. Yes, we will pan the proverbial shit to bring you folks the gold. More details on all that later ... let's get through this one for the time being!

Today, we watch what I recall as the first film I ever remember seeing in the theaters at the tender age of eight. Two people got naked and had sex next to a fire as they transformed into werewolves and I had nightmares for a month. Thanks Uncle Herb and Aunt Phyllis! You started my love of being terrified out of my wits by taking me to see "The Howling!" And thanks to you all for reading!

"The Howling" (1981): Directed by Joe Dante. Starring Dee Wallace Stone, Patrick MacNee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Elisabeth Brooks and Robert Picardo.

The Skinny: When a journalist on the hunt for an elusive serial killer has a traumatic face to face with her quarry, she is sent to a mountain retreat for some New Age R&R. It turns out her mentor's ideas about controlling the beast within are quite literal, however, when the retreat is revealed as being populated by werewolves.

What's Good: For a time in the 80s, Joe Dante was the go-to guy for that subtle blend of humor and horror. And while for the most part there is a running gag of in-jokes throughout the whole film, for the most part this one deals in horror. Derided by popular critics when it first appeared, "The Howling" stands up still today as a challenging and top-notch scarefest. First off, the werewolf transformations by Rick Baker protege Rob Bottin are fantastic, particularly when Robert Picardo's Eddie Quist shows Dee Wallace Stone how it's done. Air-filled bladders beneath the top layer of later pulsate and quiver with eerie reality, and masked in the shadow of a dark office, the grinning Quist looks like your worst nightmares come true. And while the movie departs from the original novel by making the main character a tele-journalist, that also adds a whole new layer as she allows herself to transform in front of the camera during a live broadcast.

What's Bad: There are a few ridiculous moments in the film, like when two characters transform into wolves and have at it in front of a bonfire - the resulting shadows are obviously animation and aren't very scary at all. And some of the lines leave something to be desired (despite a sharp script penned by John Sayles). But for the most part, this is a worthy entry into both the horror genre and in werewolf movies in general.

Why We Like It: I think I was eight or nine when my aunt and uncle took me to see this flick, of course unaware that it was a.) so horrific, and b.) it has a bizarre (and graphic) sex scene. Maybe the "R" rating should have tipped them off. Oh well. Anyway, needless to say the movie scared me utterly out of my wits. I am talking nightmares for weeks. Those transformations were so frigging realistic to my prepubescent mind, I was convinced werewolves were stalking my ass down every street. And the howl itself - that soulless, disparate wail that echoed through the hills ... it still haunts me to this very day.

Memorable Stuff: The scene where Stone shows the world (or at least the greater Los Angeles area - this is before the advent of the 24-hour news broadcast) her transformation into a lycanthrope is pretty terrifying. Stone gives it her all, complete with tears and a wail that seems inhuman. But the best scene acting-wise is when Quist confronts Dennis Dugan in a doctor's office. It is after Quist's face has been damaged by acid and his burned flesh hangs off in strips and you can see his skull beneath in places. And when he starts to transform (after tossing Dugan the rifle and patting his chest, "C'mon, shoot me, do it!"), it is absolutely the scariest thing out there.

The Howling 2 - Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985): Directed by Philippe Mora. Starring Christopher Lee, Jeb Brown, Annie McEnroe, Sybil Danning, Jud Omen and Marsha Hunt.

The Skinny: Picking up (roughly) where the first film ended, the brother of slain telejournalist Karen White journeys off to find the people responsible. teaming up with a mystic, he finds himself at the mercy of demonic forces that have existed for millennia.

What's Good: This film lies at the almost polar opposite of the original film. It's poorly written, poorly acted, poorly directed and has some shitty special effects. Oh wait, maybe I should move on to ...

What's Bad: Even Christopher Lee, with all the powers of Mordor at his command, couldn't save this movie. They took Rob Bottin's amazing special effects and ruined them with some of the cheesiest werewolves you have ever seen. And the acting? Dear god, don't get me started. Is what Sybil Danning does actually considered acting? Because in this fucker, all she does is roll around on a bed with half-transformed werewolves. That, and there is a scene at the end where they repeatedly play a clip of her ripping her bodice open again and again and again.

Why We Like It: Two words: Werewolf. Orgy.

Memorable Stuff: See above. Also, there is a scene early in the film where a new wave punk band plays a great song that I have never been able to find. Called "Howling," it's actually a good take on the early 80s new wave scene and has proto-industrial elements. Badass.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Seventy-Nine - "The Blair Witch Project!"


"WOW! SOMETHING YOU NEVER DREAMT YOU'D SEE ANYWHERE! WARNING! Girls should NOT come alone! You will have nightmares for a week! But the management will stop the show anytime it becomes TOO SCARY!"

Good Mourning, my minions! 'Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world! (And very tired bloggers start quoting Shakespeare.) Actually it's just south of the witching hour, but Your Humble Narrator is up and at it! Got piss drunk Friday night on pumpkin beer and pumpkin spice-flavored whipped creme made with 18.75 percent grain spirits. Let a brotha tell ya - that shit's nots to be fucked with. Nots to be fucked with. Then I got up at six a.m. wide awake and feeling like a sex crime victim who'd been gargling gasoline all night long. I proceeded to guzzle pot after pot of coffee in an effort to ward off exhaustion and it just barely worked. I spent the rest of the day decorating, watching Halloween specials on DVD and enjoying yummy cookies and sipping Apple cider!

And now I cannot sleep, so I am writing tomorrow's blog now and will post it later, because I am bored and I love to talk about this film. So you folks sit back at a more reasonable hour and check out this modern classic - "The Blair Witch Project!" Rave on readers and thanks for playing!

The Blair Witch Project (1999): Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. Starring Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams.

The Skinny: When a group of film students researching a local legend disappear into the woods surrounding the Black Hills in Maryland, they are never heard from again. Years later, however, their film footage is found and their last five horrifying days are now revealed.

What's Good: Like the best mystery and suspense masters in the industry - like "The X-Files'" Chris Carter and Alfred Hitchcock - directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez know what to reveal and what to conceal. And rightfully so, they conceal just about everything here. We never know exactly what is stalking our three heroes or how it is that they got lost in those woods. And like my son has said repeatedly - this movie is scary because it could happen to me. And that's true; while there isn't exactly acres and acres of unexplored land in America, it is quite easy to get your ass lost in the woods, even with cell phones and GPS. And because there is no snarling latex beastie or no CGI-generated ghost - because there is nothing but the panicked screaming of Heather Donahue as she charges blindly through the woods - it's easy to believe that something is happening to these poor people that is beyond reality. The film in anchored by the incredibly real performances by the three lead - and really only - actors, who at no time seem like anything more than unprofessional student filmmakers shooting a documentary. While this lack of seeming "talent" might turn some people off and otherwise damage the film, here it works to perfection. And you can complain about Donahue's screaming or make fun of it all you can - when she cuts loose, it is raw and real and absolutely chilling.

What's Bad: The shaky camerawork gets tiresome after a while - in fact, one friend said she had to leave the theatre because it was giving her motion sickness. Also, it was shot on video and 16mm black and white, so there are more stock changes than an Oliver Stone film, and sometimes those juxtapositions work and sometimes they don't, but that's sort of the purpose here - this is supposed to be "found footage" assembled on the fly to show what happened in their final hours. And also, it's clear that there was no money to pour into this thing - the directors were borrowing from their friends, maxing out credit cards and taking out second mortgages to finish this sucker. So if you're unconcerned with things like a big budget and special effects and just want to see what a few dedicated artists can do with two cameras and some sound equipment, then you're in luck.

Why We Like It: Because even as an adult with finely developed reasoning skills, I found myself terrified by this film. And like I said, it's because there is no great toothy monster or undead specter chasing these kids - we don't KNOW what is chasing them. There is a scene where they are awoken in the middle of the night to the sound of children laughing and then their tent starts shaking violently. As they dash out into the cold half undressed and running for their lives, Heather turns to the left and screams "OH MY GOD! WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!" Something in her voice is real and honest - there is true fear and, yes, horror in her tone, like she really DID see something inexplicable in those woods. And who's to say she didn't - I wouldn't put it past Myrick and Sanchez, who used bizarre tactics when making the movie. In fact, the filmmakers deprived the actors of food, kept them awake for long hours, and kept them in the dark about where they were headed the next day in an effort to make this picture seem as real as possible. And I would have to say they succeeded in spades.

Memorable Stuff: The above scene where Heather sees whatever it is she sees terrifies me to no end. And there is also her tearful, snot-nosed confession to the camera before their final night that has been made fun of on endless occasions but still hits on a powerful level when you see it in context. But I have to say, the final five minutes are the most terrifying five minutes ever set to celluloid. And the final penultimate image - Mike standing alone in the corner of the basement of an abandoned house as Heather screams and screams - gave me fucking nightmares. Nightmares, people. I'm scared just sitting here thinking about it.

100 Days of Horror Day Seventy-Eight - "Hellraiser II!"


"Exposing dread secrets of LIFE, DEATH and ETERNITY which others fear to touch! Do You Dare Face THE SUPERNATURAL? Do you dare peer beyond the mystic veil into the Valley of the Shadow, the Valley of Dry Bones? "

Yawn, scratch, stretch ... yes, late start today. Tired and - let's admit it - slightly hung over. I ain't a big drinker, but when I does it, I does it right. And lord, did I do it right last night.

So I think I shall skip the expository comments today and leap right in some commentary on today's movie, one filled with truly terrifying imagery - Clive Barker's "Hellraiser 2!" Read on, ravers, and thank you for playing.

Hellraiser 2 (1987): Directed by Tony Randel. Starring Doug Bradley, Ashley Lawrence, Claire Higgins and William Hope.

The Skinny: The second part to the ongoing "Hellraiser" series follows Kirsty Cotton as she tries to pick up the pieces of her life after her harrowing journey into hell in the first film. Rather than moving on, however, she finds herself at the mercy of a mad doctor who knows all about Hell and its denizens - and is looking to join their ranks.

What's Good: Usually I tried to avoid sequels on this list, since there are so many horror movies out there. But this is one of my favorites and I just had to blather on about it. These films, taken from the mind of literary madman Clive Barker, revolve around these interdimensional travelers who call themselves "explorers from the furthest regions of experience - demons to some, angels to others." Theirs is the realm of the flesh where human beings are the canvas upon the "Cenobites" render their art of pain and pleasure. It's a bizarre thought, and one Barker explores time and time again in his works - the notion of pain and pleasure as one inseparable sensation. And this film actually explores the concept on a deeper level than the first one. The Cenobites - led by the mysterious and enigmatic Doug Bradley as "Pinhead" - are also the victims themselves, former humans who went looking for Hell only to wind up joining its ranks. But their memories are wiped away along with their humanity, and now they seek out those who are as they once were - those who solve the LeMarchand Box puzzles that summon the Cenobites like a beacon. They are horrifying characters who dwell on the threshold of pain and they scared the shit out of me as a kid. And while they were almost secondary to the action in the first film, here they are brought to the fore. And while Bradley's lead character is still a fan favorite, in "Hellraiser 2" w are introduced to The Doctor - played to creepy perfection by Shakespearean actor Kenneth Cranham. His tools are many and varied and he has some creepy-ass lines to boot.

What's Bad: This is a graphic film, particularly if it's the director's cut - there are skinless people, a man suffering from delusional parasitosis cuts himself to ribbons with a razor, and the nightmare images inside Hell are bizarre and non-stop. Other than that, if you're looking for something different, the first two films in the series are great selections. The many sequels that follow, however, suck out loud and give ever-diminishing returns.

Why We Like It: While I am not a staunch Barker fan, I certainly did love these films and the story that started it all, "The Hellbound Heart." But this one really sealed the deal for me, with its expansion of the Cenobites as main characters with personalities (in their own way). And the score by Christopher Young is exceptional - and the main theme deserves to be on any Halloween mix worth its salt. This one and the character Pinhead hold a special place in my heart.

Memorable Stuff: Anytime the Cenobites get to talk is great - the writers pack Pinhead with dark one-liners that trump any of Fred Kreuger's lines. But the scene that is my favorite is when Julia lures Dr. Channard into the chamber that creates Cenobites. Piano wires cut into his flesh, a tube is shoved down his throat and a sickening looking fluid is pumped in. He later emerges from the same chamber, a series of tendrils flowing from the palm of his hand exposing a number of bizarre instruments and objects (like a flower or a beckoning finger). And with a grimace tinged with humor, he gives us the best line in the movie: "And to think - I hesitated."

Friday, October 8, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Seventy-Seven - "The Bride of Frankenstein!"


"Unlike anything you have ever seen before. the theatre is turned into a GRAVEYARD, the SEATS BECOME COFFINS, creatures sit next to you, and put their cold, clammy hands AROUND YOUR THROAT and WHISPER THINGS in YOUR EAR!"

Salacious salutations! How is everyone this sparkling clear October morn?

Days like this truly remind me why I love this season the best - and, or course, why I love Halloween! As I drove to work this morning listening to a mix of Halloween music I am putting together for the party, I found myself swept up in the beauty of the morning. And also, I found myself wanting the holiday to be here already! But as my wife likes to point out, "When it's here, it's already gone." I guess the moral there is enjoy it while you can. Or she could just be being morbid - which suits me just fine!

Today's selection is, hands down, one of my all-time favorite movies of all time. It is in my Top Five if not my Top Three, and over 70 years later it is a creepy classic and a testament to one of Hollywood's finest ages. Sit back, relax and be transported by James Whale's immortal "Bride of Frankenstein!" And thanks as usual for reading!

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Directed by James Whale. Starring Colin Clive, Ernest Theisiger, Else Lanchester, Dwight Frye and Boris Karloff.

The Skinny: "The Bride" picks up where the original "Frankenstein" left off, as he monster emerges from his fiery grave to wreak havoc. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger appears at his creator's doorstep to make a horrific suggestion - create a mate for the savage beast!

What's Good: In my opinion, this movie is perfection. When I think of horror films, I think of the images this - and the original "Frankenstein" - evoke and have deeply imprinted on my mind. The burning windmill, the monster on the parapet, the silhouette of the graves against the dark sky - these are the things I love most of all. Not to mention the iconic performances of Dwight Frye as Fritz, Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein and of course, Boris Karloff's inimitable turn as the Monster. While others have given fine interpretations of the creature, Karloff cuts to the heart of the creature's pain. In his conversations with the blind man, where they discuss what is good and what is bad, you can see it in Karloff's eyes as he tries to sort it all out. It is a staggering, emotional performance that brings sympathy to the fiend, especially in his final moments as he urges his creator to "Go! You live!" before he brings the walls down on himself and the smarmy Dr. Pretorius - played to absolute perfection by Ernest Theisiger. The moody lighting, the set, the props - I could go on and on. If there was ever perfection in horror cinema, this comes precariously close.

What's Bad: Nothing.

Why We Like It: All of the above and more. I find myself looking most forward to Dr. Pretorius' appearance, however, as Theisiger is absolutely riveting. He delivers the lines in a fey lisp, an evil smile played across his face as he revels in the chaos he hopes to bring by breeding the monster with a female creation of his own. This movie has its horrifying moments, often in the most subtle of places - like, when the bride first lays eyes on her betrothed, and Else Lanchester lets loose with a throaty scream that borders on breathless. It is nothing but a pure classic.

Memorable Stuff: The creation scene, when the Bride is finally unveiled with her iconic hairdo and her pursed lips - it's the film's shining moment and Lanchester is riveting even in a minimalist role that last about a total of maybe 10 minutes. Beyond that, I thoroughly enjoy Theisiger and Clive's performances, even though the latter's alcoholism had rendered him a pariah in Hollywood. I'm pleased they didn't recast him, because no one has been able to match Clive's pathos and depth

Thursday, October 7, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Seventy-Six - "Bram Stoker's Dracula!"


WARNING! THE ACTION IS RAW! NO ONE WILL BE SEATED DURING THE FINAL TEN MINUTES!

Welcome, ghouls and boils! It's time yet again for the Hour of Power - er, I mean the 100 Days of Horror!

And with that, I am tapped out of energy! Read on about one ofmy all-time favorite bloodsucker films and I hope you all enjoy "Bram Stoker's Dracula" on your own at home! And thanks again for reading!

"Bram Stoker's Dracula (1993): Directed by Frances Ford Coppola. Starring Gary Oldman. Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Cary Elwes, Sadie Frost, Billy Campbell and Richard E. Grant.

The Skinny: Yet another adaptation of Stoker's novel about the bloodthirsty undead prince, this version by Academy Award-winning director Frances Ford Coppola purports to be the version most faithful to the original novel.

What's Good: In the long line of actors who have donned Drac's cape and fangs, none have launched themselves so deeply into the role (since perhaps Bela Lugosi's iconic performance in 1932) as Gary Oldman has. Whether he's the ancient prince roaming the halls of his crumbling castle, or as the young gentleman wandering the streets of London, or as a demonic half man/half beast who's getting busy with Winona Ryder, Oldman nails both the attraction and the revulsion behind the character. The most memorable scenes are of Oldman and Keanu Reeves (as Jonathan Harker) in the castle - there we hear the painstaking accuracy of the Slovakian accent Oldman reproduces with ease. We see the savage pride Dracula still carries with him hundreds of years after becoming undead. And we see the depths of the count's depravity as he brings a baby to his fiendish brides to eat instead of them eating Keanu. Director Coppola changes some elements of the original story but keep 95 percent of the characters the same, something that most of the other adaptations failed to do. He also eroticizes the violence and bloodletting to a standard most horror movies fail to achieve. When Dracula finally condemns Lucy (Sadie Frost) to undeath, blood gushes in from the sides, covering the bed and filling the room. It seems excessive, but when you consider that her life (or un-life) is now ruled by the blood, it makes philosophical sense if it doesn't make visual sense.

What's Bad: Many people have decried Keanu and his horrible accent - myself included. True, this is a few years before he hit superstardom with "Speed" and "The Matrix" trilogy, so his chops weren't exactly up to speed. But he brings his charm and energy (if not his trade prowess) to the role. His proper British accent, however, is horrid. Also, the film takes the idea that Mina is the reborn likeness of Drac's long dead princess - a convention borrowed from an early-70s version starring Jack Palance as the Count. Also, Coppola turns Dracula into a sort of antichrist character, at war with the church and the god who refuses to give his dead princess absolution because she was a suicide. It is his will to avenge her name that seemingly turns him into a vampire, and the scene includes a symbolic drinking of blood from a coptic cross that Vlad has driven his sword into. In the novel, Dracula was just an evil man and a sorcerer who discovered the secrets to turn him into a vampire. Don't get me wrong - I am nitpicking here, I really do love this picture. Other than a few pacing problems and an overlong length, however, this is a great modern take on the eternal tale.

Why We Like It: Because it's fantastic. It looks great, it sounds great, the cast is great ... and as I said, Oldman is just too much. Some call it over the top, but I disagree - Oldman is just having fun with the role. In the scene where he tells Harker that he never drinks wine, Oldman seems to barely be able to contain his joy as spouting such an iconic line. He makes the movie.

Memorable Stuff: Mina's seduction and conversion scene is the crux of the film's final third and stands out with powerful imagery and some of the best lines in the film ("I who served the cross, I who commanded armies hundreds of years before you were born!"). And as previously mentioned, the scenes between the Count and Harker in the castle are also fun to watch. And let's not forget Tom Waits as the cackling madman Renfield - Waits takes the character immortalized by Dwight Frye and turns him into a bug-munching maniac with chicken hair and strange contraptions on his fingers to prevent him from clawing. And again, while his accent leaves something to be desired, his performance is one for the books.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

100 Days of Horror Day Seventy-Five - "Interview with the Vampire!"


YOU WON'T BELIEVE YOUR EYES! WATCH AS LIVING MONSTERS EMERGE FROM THE SCREAM TO CARRY AWAY HELPLESS VICTIMS! GIRLS! DO NOT COME ALONE TO THIS MOTION PICTURE!

Good Mourning to you, my faithful servants! I trust you had a horrible night's sleep! Waking up on the wrong side of the crypt today, are we?!

Thank you and welcome again to the 100 Days blog! Since I've been linked to my newspaper's blog site, my readership has tripled. Now, don't let that staggering statistic fool you - by tripled, I mean I went from 16 readers to like 50 readers. But this pleases my blackened, empty heart to no end! Because I need lives ... I need lives for the master! THE MASTER WILL COME! AND HE HAS PROMISED TO MAKE ME IMMORTAL!

Speaking of immortal ... I'm actually kind of pleased to present today's selection, an underrated adaptation of Anne Rice's prolific "Vampire" series - 1994's "Interview with the Vampire!"

Thanks as usual for reading and playing along! And please don't hesitate to spread the bad word about us - repost this link on your MyBooks and your Facey-Pages, twit it on your Tweet, write it in the sky ... whatever it takes! Now, go ... go and do my bidding, my minions! GO! AND WE SHALL CREATE A RACE OF ATOMIC SUPERMEN THAT WILL CONQUER THE WORLD! Heh heh heh ...

Now, on to pillage!

Interview with the Vampire (1994): Directed by Neil Jordan. Starring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Stephen Rea and Antonia Banderas.

The Skinny: A rought adaptation of Anne Rice's first novel in the Vampire series finds our brooding Louis trying to find a companion in teh modern world and choosing a writer. As the vampire's story unfolds, we learn about the eternal damned and their place in the undercurrents of our society, as well as Louis' long and colorful history.

What's Good: When Anne Rice heard that Tom Cruise - at the height of his career, mind you - was going to play her beloved Lestat, it's rumored she was quite upset. But once she saw the film, she was so convinced by his performance that she immediately penned him a letter in apology for ever doubting him. And so should everybody else, because he is fantastic. A sign of a good actor is the abandonment of self-preservation, and Cruise hits that mark almost immediately. Watch the saliva drip from his mouth as he argues with Brad Pitt's Louis over "dinner." Look into his eyes when the bloodlust hits him. This man is in total control of his craft. Never mind the sofa jumping and the Scientology - this stuff is what helped make Cruise a superstar. And Pitt is also great as the brooding Louis, showing us the horror the character feels inside over his new undead nature. These are both finely crafted performances, and the haters need to back up off them. Add to the mix a stellar (and very young) Kirsten Dunst and you get a fine film that isn't "The Exorcist," but is still a fun, moody, fanged time.

What's Bad: While I do love director Neil Jordan - who wowed us with his previous film, "The Crying Game" - even his most staunch fans must agree that he sometimes has a bit of a pacing problem, And that is what kills the momentum of this movie more than once. We meet our vamps, we move immediately into their life, there is some exposition, we meet Claudia, then some more exposition, and then we get to meet a whole new set of characters more than halfway through the film. By that point, most audiences have ceased paying attention to detail and are just looking for the spectacle, which in this film comes much too late (which is a shame, because if you failed to notice Antonio Banderas as the weepy Vampire Armand, then you missed out on some seriously sexy shit). Also, if you're looking for genuine scares, this isn't the place - this film is more about the existential horror felt by Pitt's Louis than it is about making us jump out of our seats. It explores the asexual nature of the vamps and their polished, Victorian-influenced lifestyle, but isn't concerned with instilling dread in us over these creatures' existence. No, in fact we WANT to be these vamps - after all, what American doesn't want to die young and stay pretty?

Why We Like It: I had never read the books before this film hit the theaters but I ran right out and bought them all afterwards. I even have a signed hardback copy of "Memnoch the Devil" somewhere. I like vampire films, I love Pitt, Cruise, Rea and Banderas, and Dunst made a fan out of me almost immediately with her precocious performance. Yes it does slow down a bit, but Jordan gives us so much to look at - lensed so beautifully even the shadows of the graveyard dazzle the eyes - that he can almost be forgiven for the pacing issues. This was the first film in a long time that gave vamps that sexy edge - perhaps the first good one since Lugosi's "Dracula." Now, that's not to say that this film is of the same caliber as the immortal "Dracula," but it made the vamps more than just bloodsucking lurkers waiting to batten upon us. They are seen to be as fragile and as driven by their basest instincts as us regular folk, and that makes them both believable and beautiful.

Memorable Stuff: This film is actually quite quotable - that is, if you're given to long, broody sessions with red wine and clove cigarettes, dressed in black velvet and rehearsing lines from "JTHM" in between readings of Poe's "Lenore," which I am. But other than the lines, the scene I remember best is when Louis and Armand meet. Banderas looks at Pitt like he's going to leap over that desk and have at his tender ass, and Pitt accordingly looks like a deer in the headlights. And when Armand asks if Louis has killed his creator (the only crime among vampires), and Louis tries to deflect, Banderas' response - in his clipped Spanish accent and inflection - never fails to reduce me to tears of laughter: "No, no - it's alREADY begun!" His voice borders on another great Latino actor, Ricardo Montalban, when he delivers that line and it makes the movie for me.