The Ultimate Rabbit’s Top Ten Horror Movies for Halloween

Halloween head tilt

So, without further ado, I present to you my list of my top ten movies to watch on Halloween night, and they are presented here in no particular order:

halloween-1978-poster

“John Carpenter’s Halloween”

Despite the many imitators and endless sequels, not to mention the two movies directed by Rob Zombie (which was actually pretty good), there’s no beating the granddaddy of them all. Carpenter’s film is a true horror classic with a music theme I never get sick of listening to. All these years later, the original “Halloween” has lost none of its power to creep you out as it offers audiences a truly terrifying experience.

There are moments which have stayed with me long after I saw “Halloween” for the first time. That moment where Michael Meyers kills the boyfriend and then tilts his head from side to side always gets to me. Plus, the ending leaves you with the unnerving truth of how evil never dies.

 

The Thing movie poster

“John Carpenter’s The Thing”

While his original “Halloween” remains a true classic, Carpenter’s remake of “The Thing” is his masterpiece. The film bombed back in 1982, but it has since gained a huge cult following and is now considered one of the best horror films ever made. The story of a group of scientists doing research in Antarctica, one of the most isolated places on Earth, who get copied almost perfectly by an alien is far more effective today than when it first came out. “The Thing” is a great example of how to keep escalating tension throughout a movie’s entire running time, and Rob Bottin’s incredible work on the makeup and effects still looks disgustingly brilliant to this very day.

 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”

I finally got to see this movie all the way through for the first time a couple of years ago when I rented it from Netflix. What I thought would be a fun and hopelessly dated 1970’s movie turned out to be more horrifying than I ever could have imagined. Even while watching it on my 32″ television, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” proved to be a brutal cinematic experience which has lost none of its power to make you shrink in your seat. With a movie like this, it’s not what you see that gets to you; it’s what you don’t see which messes with your head, and that makes this classic of the most unnerving movie going experiences you will ever endure.

 

Suspiria 4K restoration poster

“Suspiria”

It was released 40 years ago, and it remains Dario Argento’s true masterpiece of horror. There are very few directors who can make a grisly death look like a beautiful work of art. The tale of an American female dancer who comes to a ballet school which turns out to be a witches’ coven doesn’t always make sense, but then again, a lot of Argento’s movies don’t. The movie is still scary as hell and beautifully horrific in a way most horror films can only dream of being today. A friend of mine once told me that if she were ever to be murdered (heaven forbid), she wants it to look like something out of a Dario Argento movie. I see what she means.

 

Alien movie poster

“Alien”

Be it the original version or the director’s cut, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” is still an overwhelmingly terrifying experience to sit through. When I rented this one on videotape years ago and watched it on my parents’ 13-inch television set in their bedroom (they robbed me of using the family room), I found myself hiding my eyes at key moments. The silence really got to me, and I impatiently waited for Jerry Goldsmith’s score to come back on. Keep in mind, I actually saw James Cameron’s “Aliens” before I saw this one, and it still scared the hell out of me!

 

The Exorcist movie poster

“The Exorcist”

I tell you, these horror movies from the 1970’s still have the same power to shock you today as they did when first released. When William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” was re-released in “the version you’ve never seen,” it still had a visceral power to unsettle us regardless of the passage of time. The story of a girl who becomes possessed by an ancient demon benefits greatly from a documentary feel which has that “you are there” feel, and it almost felt like I wasn’t watching a movie, but instead a real-life event which somehow all got caught on camera.

 

Evil Dead II poster

“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn”

All the “Evil Dead” movies are great fun, but if you have to go with just one, then I recommend “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.” On a budget of $3 million dollars, maybe even less than that, director Sam Raimi gave us one of the most endlessly creative and hilarious horror movies you could ever hope to watch. After all this time, it remains as scary as is funny. Plus, you have Bruce “Groovy” Campbell in his most iconic role as Ash, the pussy whipped salesman from S-Mart who keeps getting chased by the demons he was dumb enough to awaken from their slumber. Campbell gives a fantastic performance even if he keeps telling us he’s not much of an actor. This is so far from the truth, but you do have to admire the sense of humor he has about himself, and you haven’t lived until you listen to one of his “Evil Dead” commentary tracks.

 

28 Days Later movie poster

“28 Days Later”

“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle was said to have reinvigorated the zombie genre with this propulsive horror thriller where they are anything but slow. In this film, the zombies, or the infected as they are referred to are not the real enemy, we are. The virus the infected have been stricken with represents our inability to face the darkness inside of ourselves which sooner or later rises to the surface. There is no let up on the tension in this movie, and the thrills come fast and furious.

 

Dawn of the Dead original and remake posters

“Dawn of the Dead” (the original and the remake)

This one is a tie because both versions of this movie stand strongly on their own merits. George Romero’s brilliant sequel to his classic “Night of the Living Dead” is really a satire of the consumerist society we all live in. You know, the one which encourages us to buy all sorts of things which are said to make you happy, and yet all the money and objects you purchase end up making you feel empty inside. This is what Romero is saying with this film, and he does this while providing us with a great deal of blood, gore, beheadings, eviscerations, decapitations, and whatever else he could afford when he made “Dawn of the Dead.” All of you in the Fangoria crowd will be more than satisfied with this one, but you knew that already.

Zack Snyder, who later went on to direct “300,” “Watchmen” and “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” helmed this remake which turned out to be the best of its kind since “John Carpenter’s The Thing.” This one is more of a straight forward horror action film with a surprising amount of emphasis on character development. It also features Canada’s greatest import in the lead role, Sarah Polley. The remake of “Dawn of the Dead” turned out to be a visceral thrill ride, and it allowed us to invest in the characters in ways most horror movies typically avoid.

 

Silence of the Lambs poster

“The Silence of the Lambs”

The specter of Hannibal Lecter, as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, never fails to unnerve me like he did when I first saw this movie on the big screen. Jonathan Demme’s Oscar winning classic remains one of the definitive serial killer films ever made. Hopkins’ performance is like a perverse love letter to HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” whose voice inspired his performance. We also get one of cinema’s greatest heroines with Clarice Starling, brilliantly played by Jodie Foster.

Have a happy Halloween everybody!

‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ is a Mixed Bag, But It’s Never Boring

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 poster

After I finished watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” I was in no hurry to watch part two. The 1974 horror classic still probes to be an intensely unsettling cinematic experience decades after its release, and Tobe Hooper’s film was far more terrifying than I expected it to be. Recovering from the original was no different than when I slowly pulling myself back together after watching Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” or just about any Lars Von Trier film. But with Hooper having recently passed away, the time had come for me to check out “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” a sequel heavily criticized when it opened in 1986, but which has since become a cult classic in the eyes of many.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” takes place over a decade after the original, and an opening narration tells us the police searched for Leatherface and his cannibal family but never found any trace of them. But of course, it doesn’t take long for this sequel to reintroduce us to Leatherface as he gleefully slices away at a pair of obnoxious high school seniors who harass on-air radio DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams). Stretch captures the audio of these kids’ murders and passes it on to Lieutenant Baude “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper), uncle to Sally Hardesty and her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin who were victims of Leatherface’s chainsaw wrath. From there, the two of them become determined to end Leatherface and the Sawyer family’s reign of terror once and for all.

How you enjoy this sequel largely depends on what your expectations are when you go into it. If you think Hooper planned to match the claustrophobic terror and unnerving power of the original, you are in for a serious disappointment. But if you are able to accept this sequel in regards to what Hooper intended to accomplish with it, I think there is a good deal of fun to be had even if feels like there is a lot missing from this follow-up.

With “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” Hooper wanted to focus more on the black comedy he said was inherent in the original. Was there black comedy in the original? Yes, but it took a couple of viewings to realize this was the case. This sequel, however, was made to satirize both horror movies and the excess of the 1980’s. Since this one came out in 1986, the time had come to take aim at the greed which came to define this particular decade. Also, when you take into account how the poster gleefully parodies the one for “The Breakfast Club,” you should know this a film which will not take itself too seriously. Plus, this was released by Cannon Films, so you could count on it being entertaining, and maybe for reasons its director didn’t intend.

Looking back at “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” my feelings about it are decidedly mixed. I did enjoy the frenzied energy Hooper and company brought to the proceedings, and the actors look like they had great fun committing onscreen mayhem. At the same time, it feels like a missed opportunity as the style and substance of this sequel proved to be much too distant from the original. Its links to the 1974 film are very weak to where this feels like a sequel in name only. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns’ character from the original) is only mentioned in the opening narration as having since gone into catatonia. It would have been cool to see her come back in one way or another, perhaps as some badass hardened warrior eager to get revenge. Heck, this sequel came out in the summer of 1986 not long after Sigourney Weaver set a new standard for female action heroes in “Aliens.” Had Burns come back, it could have been the summer of the vengeful female warrior.

One thing which especially bummed me out was the lack of actors returning from the original. In fact, the only actor from the original to appear here was Jim Siedow who reprises his role as Drayton Sawyer. While his creepy face alone is the kind which inspires wicked nightmares, Siedow doesn’t get as much to do this time around. As for Leatherface, he is portrayed by Bill Johnson and not Gunnar Hansen who brought a twisted realism to the iconic horror character. Johnson isn’t bad as he can wield a rusty chainsaw like the best of them, and his sudden appearance from a room filled with vinyl records results in one of this sequel’s scariest moments, but Hansen is sorely missed here as no other actor can possibly match what he brought to the first film.

The rest of the cast, however, does rise to the frenzied challenge Hooper laid out for them. Bill Moseley, who has since appeared in Rob Zombie’s “House of a 1,000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” looks to be having the time of his life as Chop-Top Sawyer as he gleefully tortures Stretch even after a part of his skull gets accidentally sawed off by Leatherface. Speaking of Stretch, Caroline Williams brings a wonderfully spunky energy to the role as she uses her smarts to outwit the Sawyer family in an effort to escape with her life, and her last moment in this sequel is a memorable one to say the least.

But the actor I got the biggest kick out of watching in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” was Dennis Hopper who played former Texas Ranger Baude “Lefty” Enright, a man deeply obsessed with finding the Sawyer family and avenging the suffering they and Leatherface inflicted on his kin. Hopper was in the midst of a major comeback in 1986 as he appeared in “Hoosiers,” “River’s Edge” and, most famously, David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” While those films are better examples of his acting, his performance in this sequel is equally inspired as he clearly knew he was in an over-the-top horror movie and relished the opportunity to go mano-a-mano with Leatherface. Seeing the “Easy Rider” battle Leatherface with a chainsaw is wickedly gleeful fun as a battle with chainsaws is something this sequel just had to have.

So, when all is said and done, I did admire “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” but certainly not it in the same way I admired the original. Hooper’s vision wasn’t lacking here in the slightest, but he instead took things in direction fans were prepared for 30 years ago. It is only with the passing of time we can look at it differently and understand how it attained cult status. I don’t think it’s a bad film, but it does feel strange compared to what came before.

Looking back, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” represented one of several attempts by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of taking a well-received motion picture and turning it into a hopefully long-running franchise. Clearly, they had more luck commercially, if not critically, with “Death Wish,” but at least this sequel fared much better than “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” the film which pretty much put the final nail in the coffin for Cannon Films.

Of course, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise didn’t stop there as the buzz of the saw is still an inviting sound to horror fans all over the world, and filmmakers have continued on with other sequels, a remake, prequels and, yikes, an upcoming origin story. People still want to experience the visceral thrill the 1974 horror classic in one way or another, but when it came to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” perhaps Hooper realized from the start that it was not possible to top the original or match its terrifying power. Instead, he felt it was better to try something a little different, and that’s what he did with this sequel for better and for worse.

* * ½ out of * * * *

Beyond Fest Returns with a Vengeance to Hollywood

Beyond Fest 2017 Poster Art JPG

The most popular genre film festival in the United States, Beyond Fest, is finally back in Hollywood, and movie fans could not be more excited. Starting on September 29th and going through October 10th, Beyond Fest will be reveling in cinematic madness at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood with screenings of classic movies and West Coast premieres of new ones, so you can expect a great 12 days of wonderful mayhem featuring special guests and restored versions of movies which were always meant to be seen on the silver screen. Co-produced by Shudder, the festival aims to raise funds for the non-profit American Cinematheque.

Among the most anticipated events this year will be Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” which will be presented in both its 4K restoration and its 35mm Italian cut. Argento will be making an appearance for this along with Udo Kier and Barbara Magnolfi. Arnold Schwarzenegger will also be on hand for the 30th anniversary of two of his most famous films, “Predator” and “The Running Man.” Two of horror’s greatest directors who passed away this year, George Romero and Tobe Hooper, will be honored with screenings of their most famous movies, “Night of the Living Dead” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

As for those new movies making their premiere at the festival, they include “Brawl in Cell Block 99” directed by S. Craig Zahler and starring Vince Vaughn, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” which is Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to “The Lobster,” and the first couple of episodes of the Amazon Prime series “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” which, of course, stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, the Muscles from Brussels.

Tickets are now available through American Cinematheque and Fandango, and you can keep up with the festival’s latest developments on Facebook, Twitter, and their website.

Here are the movies being shown at Beyond Fest 2017:

BABY DRIVER

Director: Edgar Wright

Country: USA

Runtime: 102 min.

Year: 2017

GUESTS: Edgar Wright & Walter Hill in Person

 

BAD BLACK (free screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Isaac Nawibana

Country: Uganda

Runtime: 60 minutes / Year: 2016

 

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM

Directors: Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski

Country: USA

Runtime: 76 min.

Year: 1993

GUESTS: Andrea Romano plus voice actors TBA in Person

 

BEST F(R)IENDS

World Premiere

Director: Justin MacGregor

Country: USA

Runtime: 95 min.

Year: 2017

GUESTS: Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero and Justin Macgregor in Person

 

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99

West Coast Premiere

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Country: USA

Runtime: 132 min.

Year: 2017

GUESTS: S. Craig Zahler, Vince Vaughn and Udo Kier in Person

 

DOUBLE IMPACT

Director: Sheldon Lettich

Country: USA

Runtime: 110 min.

Year: 1991 / 35mm

GUEST: Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sheldon Lettich in Person

 

THE DRIVER

Director: Walter Hill

Country: USA

Runtime: 90 min.

Year: 1978 / 35mm

GUESTS: Edgar Wright & Walter Hill in Person

 

HELLRAISER

Co-presented with Death Waltz Records + Friday Night Frights

Director: Clive Barker

Country: USA

Runtime: 94 min.

Year: 1987 / 35mm

 

ICHI THE KILLER – Digital Restoration

West Coast Premiere

Director: Takashi Miike

Country: Japan

Runtime: 129 min.

Year: 2001

 

HOWARD THE DUCK – 70mm

Director: Willard Huyck

Country: USA

Runtime: 110 min.

Year: 1986

GUESTS: Lea Thompson in Person

 

JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON – Episodes 1 & 2

Presented by Amazon

World Premiere

Director: Peter Atencio

Country: USA

Runtime: 60 min.

Year: 2016

GUESTS: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Peter Atencio, Dave Callaham, Kat Foster, Moises Arias.

 

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

West Coast Premiere

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Country: UK, Ireland

Runtime: 109 min.

Year: 2017

 

MAYHEM

West Coast Premiere

Director: Joe Lynch

Country: USA

Runtime: 86 min.

Year: 2017

GUESTS: Joe Lynch and cast in person

 

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE – THE BOOTLEGGED EDITION

Theatrical Premiere

Director: Jared Hess

Country: USA

Runtime: 96 min.

Year: 2004

GUESTS: Cast and crew in person

 

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – 4K Restoration

West Coast Premiere

Director: George A. Romero

Country: USA

Runtime: 96 min.

Year: 1968

GUESTS: Mick Garris & Masters of Horror in Person

 

OPERA (aka TERROR AT THE OPERA)

Director: Dario Argento

Country: Italy

Runtime: 100 min.

Year: 1987

GUESTS: Dario Argento in Person

 

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE

Co-presented with Creature Features

Director: Brian De Palma

Country: USA

Runtime: 92 min.

Year: 1974

GUESTS: Paul Williams in Person

 

PREDATOR

Director: John McTiernan

Country: USA

Runtime: 107 min.

Year: 1987 / 35mm

GUESTS: Arnold Schwarzenegger in Person

 

RAWHEAD REX 4K Restoration

Co presented with Cinematic Void and Friday Night Frights

West Coast Premiere

Director: George Pavlou

Country: USA

Runtime: 89 min.

Year: 1986

 

THE ROOM

Director: Tommy Wiseau

Country: USA

Runtime: 99 min.

Year: 2003

GUESTS: Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero and Guests in Person

 

THE RUNNING MAN

Director: Paul Michael Glaser

Country: USA

Runtime: 101 min.

Year: 1987 / 35mm

GUESTS: Arnold Schwarzenegger in Person

 

SUSPIRIA – 4K Restoration

Los Angeles Premiere

Director: Dario Argento

Country: Italy

Runtime: 100 min.

Year: 1977

GUESTS: Dario Argento, Udo Kier, Barbara Magnolfi in Person

 

SUSPIRIA – 35mm Italian Cut

Los Angeles Premiere

Director: Dario Argento

Country: Italy

Runtime: 98 min.

Year: 1977

GUESTS: Dario Argento and Barbara Magnolfi in Person

 

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

Director: Tobe Hooper

Country: USA

Runtime: 83 min.

Year: 1974

35mm

GUESTS: Mick Garris & Masters of Horror in Person

 

SHUDDER THEATRE (at Egyptian Theatre)

78/52 (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Alexandre O. Philippe

Country: USA

Runtime: 91 min.

Year: 2017

 

BEFORE WE VANISH (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Country: Japan

Runtime: 129 min.

Year: 2017

 

BETTER WATCH OUT (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Chris Peckover

Country: Australia, USA

Runtime: 85 min.

Year: 2016

 

COLD HELL (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky

Country: Austria

Runtime: 92 min.

Year: 2017

 

THE GRAPES OF DEATH AKA Les Raisins de La Mort (Free Screening)

Director: Jean Rollin

Country: France

Runtime: 90 min.

Year: 1978

 

HAUNTERS: THE ART OF THE SCARE (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Jon Schnitzer

Country: USA

Runtime: 88 min.

Year: 2017

 

JAILBREAK (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Jimmy Henderson

Country: Cambodia

Runtime: 92 min.

Year: 2017

 

LES AFFAMES (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Robin Aubert

Country: Canada

Runtime: 100 min.

Year: 2017

 

MOHAWK (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Ted Geoghegan

Country: USA

Runtime: 91 min.

Year: 2017

 

MY FRIEND DAHMER (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director: Marc Meyers

Country: USA

Runtime: 107 min.

Year: 2017

 

REVENGE (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director:  Coralie Fargeat

Country:   France

Runtime:  108 min

Year:  2017

 

SEQUENCE BREAK (Free Screening)

West Coast Premiere

Director:  Graham Skipper

Country:   USA

Runtime:  108 min

Year:  2017

GUESTS: Graham Skipper, Cast and Crew in Person

 

THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (Free Screening)

Co-presented by Etheria and Cinematic Void

Director: Amy Holden Jones

Country: USA

Runtime: 77 min.

Year: 1982

GUESTS: Amy Holden Jones in Person

Double Feature with SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II

 

THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II

Co-presented by Etheria and Cinematic Void

Director: Deborah Brock

Country: USA

Runtime: 77 min.

Year: 1987

GUESTS: Deborah Brock in Person

Double Feature with SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster

Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a movie I had heard a lot about over the years, and I have watched numerous documentaries about its making to where it felt like I had seen it even though I had not. It wouldn’t be until the year 2000, just after I graduated from college, when I sat down to watch it on my new 27-inch JVC television set. I just started my subscription with Netflix, and this was one of the first movies I rented from it.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” came out in 1974, so I went into it thinking there was no way it could be as horrifying now as it was when first released. I sat down in front of my TV prepared to eat my dinner, a Cedarline Mediterranean Stuffed Focaccia, while watching this horror classic. One of the first images, however, was of a pair of rotting corpses draped over a gravestone in a cemetery, and I decided it would be better to turn off the TV and finish my dinner before continuing. Once I was done and tossed my plate into the dishwasher, I turned the set back on and continued watching, believing it would be a piece of cake to sit through this lauded horror classic.

It has now been over 40 years since the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was unleashed on the world, but when I watched it on DVD, I had no idea it would prove to be one of the most unnerving and brutal motion pictures I ever sat through. I figured no movie going experience would ever be more intense than “Requiem for a Dream” was when I saw it in Hollywood with a sold-out audience, but then I watched Hooper’s horrifying masterpiece. After it was over, I wondered to myself if I could have possibly endured this film had I first watched it on the silver screen.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” opens with a crawl, narrated by John Larroquette, stating it is based on a true story, but it turns out this was not the case. However, certain plot elements were inspired by serial killer Ed Gein whose acts of violence came to inform many other movies including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” We are introduced to a group of two siblings and three of their friends as they travel out to Texas to visit the grave of their grandparents. As you can imagine, what they discover far surpasses any imagined fears anyone could have endured when they were young.

I knew I was in trouble when this group of kids picked up a hitchhiker (played by Edwin Neal). This guy looked like he hadn’t showered in weeks as his face and hair seemed much slimier than anyone else’s on planet Earth. Seeing him cut himself and one of the kids had my hair standing on end, and this was just the beginning. The horror this movie had to offer was just starting, and the intensity would only increase exponentially from there.

By the time everyone got to the house, I was already sweating. I hadn’t seen the movie, but I already knew what was coming. People don’t just die a horrible death in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” they die a realistic one. When Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) smashes one guy on the head with a hammer, the guy falls down and convulses horribly. Watching this sequence, I felt this is the way a person would react if bashed in the head with the hammer, and it showed me this would not be your average horror movie in the slightest.

What’s especially surprising about this film is it’s not as bloody or gory as you might expect. I figured there would be an ocean of blood on display, but instead it’s what I didn’t see which really messed with my head. We see Leatherface impale the beautiful Pam (Teri McMinn) on a meat hook, but we never see the hook go into her body. The expression you see on Pam’s face ends up feeling all the more unbearably real as a result because you can’t help but wonder how the hook went in and of how long she could hope to last before all her blood drained out.

In some ways, the powerful effect “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” gives off was something of an accident. When making this movie, Hooper was aiming for a PG-rating and even talked with members of the MPAA to find out how he could earn such a rating for a horror film like this one. A lot of the advice het got was to not show any body penetration or the chainsaw slicing into human flesh, and of course, he needed to limit the amount of blood shown. But instead of getting the PG-rating, Hooper saw his film get an X as these guides he was given proved to have the opposite effect. The fact it managed to get an R seems astonishing even by today’s standards. Still, this seems as welcome an accident as the shark not working on the set of “Jaws” was.

This could have been nothing more than a mere horror flick of the exploitation kind, but there really is a lot of artistry on display throughout. The acting all around is never weak, cinematographer Daniel Pearl gives everything a dirty look which will make you want to take a shower quickly after this movie’s conclusion, and the sound design makes you feel like you are in a real-life slaughterhouse. Hooper may have had a simple mission in mind while making this horror classic, but it turned into something far scarier than he ever intended.

Leatherface remains one of the scariest villains any horror movie could ever hope to have, and it’s a real shame this was the only time Gunnar Hansen played this iconic character as he brought a lot of thought and an instinctual energy to the role. Seeing him wander around in that human flesh-made mask of his, I started to fear what Leatherface looked like without the mask.

But while I want to give credit to all the other actors, I have to single out Marilyn Burns who plays Sally Hardesty. While she has an easy time during the movie’s first half, the last half has her screaming endlessly to where you want to see her get a Purple Heart instead of an Academy Award for her work. She screams and screams and screams to where I wondered just how tortured she felt throughout shooting. The closeup of her eyes while she is a guest at the most devilish of family dinners had me staring at the screen in utter horror. Even though I knew exactly how this movie would end, I was still gripped as I became desperate for Sally to escape any and every which way she could.

The movie’s last half is a frenzy to where I wondered how I could have survived this had I first watched it on the silver screen. Watching it on my television set with the volume turned down was hard enough as I wanted Sally’s hellish experience to end sooner rather than later, but her torture dragged on longer to where I refused to believe “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a mere 84 minutes long. When the screen finally went to black, it felt like such a welcome relief as I wondered just how much more I could have sat through had Hooper extended things out to two hours.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has long since earned its place alongside the greatest horror movies ever made, and the fact it hasn’t lost any of its power to unnerve and horrify the bravest of film buffs speaks to a power most filmmakers hope to have in their lifetime. The only other horror movies which equal this one’s power to terrify decades after their release are John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.” Some horror movies play better on the big screen than on television, but this one proves to be every bit as effective on both.

I still have yet to watch any of the sequels as I feel like I am still recovering from this cinematic experience over 10 years later. I did watch the Platinum Dunes remake, but the only thing about it which truly unnerved me was when Leatherface took off Eric Balfour’s face and made it into a mask for himself. As I write this review, the prequel “Leatherface” is about to released in theatres everywhere. Filmmakers can only hope to equal Hooper’s film, but it hasn’t stopped them from trying.

* * * * out of * * * *

Sandy King Revisits John Carpenter’s ‘Body Bags’ at Cinefamily

Body Bags Blu-ray cover

Remember John Carpenter’s “Body Bags?” It was a horror anthology containing three stories: “The Gas Station” which has a female college student working a graveyard shift and getting terrorized by a serial killer, “Hair” about a hair transplant which goes horribly wrong, and “The Eye” where a baseball player loses an eye and gets a new one from a recently executed murderer. Many see it as Showtime’s answer to HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” as it featured Carpenter as a creepy-looking and deranged coroner who introduces the three stories while drinking formaldehyde as if it were a martini, and it looked like the start of a wickedly demented series. Was it meant to become a series, or was it simply intended to be a single movie? These questions were answered by Sandy King, the producer of “Body Bags” and Carpenter’s wife, when she dropped by Cinefamily which showed 1993 horror anthology as part of its Friday Night Frights series.

King told the audience Showtime originally wanted a 3-story movie and that it was supposed to be a one-shot movie for her and Carpenter. As soon as they were done, they would be off and running to their next project. King remarked how anthology movies were very hard to finance as they were typically not successful at the box office, so bringing one to a cable channel like Showtime made more sense. When it was finished, Showtime then decided they wanted to turn it into a series, but King explained why she and Carpenter decided against it.

“We shot it in California, mostly in Los Angeles, which allowed us to get a lot of the great cameos with Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and Roger Corman,” King said. “Showtime, however, wanted to lower the budget and shoot the series in Canada, and we felt the amount of money they were putting into was not going to be enough to get it right. Plus, shooting in Canada would have made it enormously difficult to get the cameos we got. So, we basically told Showtime thanks, but no thanks.”

“Body Bags” was in many ways a family affair as it involved King and Carpenter working with people they worked with in the past. King had previously worked with Bobby Carradine and Stacey Keach on the Walter Hill western “The Long Riders,” and she had worked with Mark Hamill as well. Peter Jason has appeared in many of Carpenter’s films, and he even used his own car for his appearance in “The Gas Station.” As for the cameos from Craven, Raimi and Corman, she reminded the audience that the horror community is a small and tightly-knit one as everyone knows each other in it.

Carpenter has never seen himself as much of an actor for those who have listened to his various commentary tracks on the movies he has done. After making a Hitchcockian cameo at the beginning of “The Fog,” felt he would be better off behind the camera instead of in front of it. Still, King said she wanted him to play the Coroner in “Body Bags” and that it actually didn’t take much to convince him. She also described Carpenter as an “inner looney” to where he allowed himself to let loose, with the help of Rick Baker’s makeup, on set. Also, Carpenter did not direct himself as the Coroner as King said a friend was brought in to handle his performance and to make sure he hit all his marks. Truth be told, casting him as the Coroner was very inspired.

King said she and Carpenter worked on “Body Bags,” “In the Mouth of Madness” and “Village of the Damned” all in a row. It was originally planned that Carpenter would direct all three stories in “Body Bags,” but as he was already in post-production on “In the Mouth of Madness,” she said Carpenter told her he couldn’t direct all three. To this, she replied, “Okay, we’ll get Tobe.”

The Tobe she was referring to was Tobe Hooper, director of the horror classics “Poltergeist” and the infinitely terrifying “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Getting Hooper to direct “The Eye” was a bit tricky as he was very disturbed by the material which had a husband attempting to kill his pregnant wife, but King told him it would be fun and that he could make it work. She also said it was fun to watch Hooper do comedy as he had a cameo at the end with Tom Arnold in which they play two morgue workers who perhaps enjoy their jobs a little too much.

It was great fun to watch “Body Bags” on the big screen and with an audience at Cinefamily, and it was especially nice to see Sandy King drop by and talk about its making and development. She even brought some Shout Factory Blu-rays of Carpenter’s movies to give away, and this writer was lucky enough to win a copy of the one for “Body Bags.” For Carpenter fans, the Blu-ray is a must as it features a great commentary track, a wonderful making-of documentary, and a trailer for the movie as well. It had been out of print for years, and the previous DVD released by Artisan Entertainment gave us a severely edited version which took out a lot of things like Craven’s inspired cameo and some especially gruesome moments. “Body Bags” may not be epic filmmaking, but it sure is a lot of fun for horror fans.

Poster and trailer courtesy of Shout Factory.

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Oliver Robins Looks Back on ‘Poltergeist’ at New Beverly Cinema

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On Thursday, August 16, 2012, Oliver Robins dropped by New Beverly Cinema to talk about the making of “Poltergeist.” Robins played Robbie Freeling, the boy who was terrified of that weird looking tree looming outside his bedroom window. These days Robins works as a filmmaker, but he explained how his time on the set of “Poltergeist” truly inspired him to make movies, and he helped debunk certain myths which continue to surround it years after its release.

Robins came up to the front of the audience after “Poltergeist” finished showing, and he talked about how he grew up at the New Beverly and discovered many movies which he might not have seen otherwise. He also remarked at how Steven Spielberg, who wrote and produced “Poltergeist,” gave him an 8mm camera as a present, and how the camera and the movie inspired him to become a filmmaker.

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In talking about how he got cast, Robins said he had no real acting experience beforehand and that his only previous acting job was in a fertilizer commercial. The audition for “Poltergeist” was actually an open call which had hundreds of people coming down to be considered. Robins recalled having to wait for hours before he got inside to talk with the casting directors. When he did, they looked at him as being the true incarnation of Robbie as he talked about how he had lived in a haunted house while in New York.

Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper, however, were concerned because Robins couldn’t really scream, and they ended up getting a coach to help him learn how to. It got to where Robins was practicing his screams in his closet, and the neighbors began to wonder if there was any child abuse going on in his home. When he proved to the filmmakers he could indeed scream, Robins was informed he got the part.

When asked if a bond had formed between him and his fellow cast members, Robins told the audience “Poltergeist” was rushed into production and that there was no time for rehearsal. He did say, however, that JoBeth Williams, who played his mother Diane, really was a mother to him throughout the production.

One scene which really stands out is when Robbie’s father, Steven (played by Craig T. Nelson), teaches him how to count after lightning strikes to determine the distance between it and the sound of thunder. Robins remarked how Nelson was a comedy writer before he became an actor and that he made the set of “Poltergeist” very light-hearted as a result. Robins even remarked how working on the movie allowed him to stay up all night which he loved, and Nelson ended up telling him after one crazy night of filmmaking, “This is just another night in Simi Valley!”

Another famous scene from “Poltergeist” is when the tree comes through the window. Robins explained what ended up being 30 seconds of screen time where he got attacked by the tree ended up taking two weeks to film. Now this was back when digital effects were far from being a reality, so all the effects we see in the movie are real. Robins also pointed out there were several different trees being used for this sequence; one with roots, one where the branches reached out at him, and another which tried to eat him.

Robins described the tree sequence as being the most tedious and complex to film, and that he ended up spending much of the time being covered in molasses. He said being covered in that substance makes your body temperature drop precipitously and that he had to emote in his scenes in order create believability.

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Now there is an infamous story on IMDB of how when Robins gets attacked by the toy clown, he got choked for real and yet Hooper and Spielberg thought he was really acting. It was later said that when Robins face began turning purple, the filmmakers rushed over to remove the clown’s hands from around his neck. To this, Robins response was, “Maybe that did happen, but I can’t remember. Maybe I blocked it out of my conscious mind.”

When asked what it was like working with his sisters who were played by Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne, Robins said it was great and that they both felt like real sisters to him. He also remarked at how Hooper and Spielberg were cool to him and other actors about wanting to change their dialogue. As a result, there proved to be a lot of ad-libbing on the set of “Poltergeist.”

There is also this ongoing story of how there were two directors on the set of “Poltergeist.” While Hooper’s name is listed as the film’s director, many believe Spielberg had the most influence. Robins, however, cleared up these rumors once and for all:

“There was only one director on set, and that was Tobe Hooper. Spielberg did write the story, but Hooper was the only one who directed me. It does feel like a Spielberg movie and he did work closely with Hooper on this project. In many ways it was a team effort, but Hooper was the true director of ‘Poltergeist.’”

Robins was also asked what it was like filming the scene between him and Beatrice Straight who plays Dr. Lesh where she tells him what she felt the true nature of ghosts were. He said Straight made him feel like he was really talking with someone who knows about ghosts, and this kept their performances from ever feeling forced.

It was great to hear Oliver Robins talk about the making of “Poltergeist” and to hear him dispel several myths about the 1982 movie. Since making that classic movie, Robins has retired from acting and went on to graduate from USC’s film school to where he has since become a very gifted filmmaker in his own right. His work in the Tobe Hooper-directed movie will continue to stand the test of time.

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No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Poltergeist’

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I got the Blu-ray of “Poltergeist” around the time Circuit City was closing all their stores forever. I had seen bits and pieces of the movie before, but I had never watched it all the way through until a couple of years ago. What finally spurred me to watch it was having watched “Poltergeist III” on cable, and that sequel was a true abomination. I figured what came before that needless sequel had to be so much better. Getting past all the trivia surrounding “Poltergeist” and its so-called “curse,” it remains remarkably frightening for a PG-rated movie.

Actually, it’s quite fitting I watched “Poltergeist” during the period of the wildly successful “Paranormal Activity” movies since they all focus on the strange and bizarre happenings around suburban households. These days it seems like the “found footage” genre is the only way to make a horror movie set in the suburbs seem all the more frightening. But “Poltergeist” showed if you get the details just right, then you can find yourself relating to characters and their surroundings completely and without any question.

“Poltergeist” was directed by Tobe Hooper, but Steven Spielberg’s name is all over the movie as he came up with the story, co-wrote the screenplay and served as one of its producers. It’s hard to escape the influence he had over this production as, like “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” it takes place in the suburbs of America where many of us grew up.

We drop in at the home of the Freeling family which is located in the nice, clean California town of Cuesta Verde, and it’s the kind of neighborhood where the houses don’t look all that different from one another. The cars are parked out front because they aren’t parked in the garage for some odd reason, and the kids are riding their bikes all over the neighborhood.

Steven (Craig T. Nelson) is a successful realtor and his wife, Diane (JoBeth Williams), is a stay at home mom caring for their children Dana, Robbie and Carol Anne. One night, Carol Anne goes downstairs and sits in front of the television which is showing nothing but static. It’s an especially frightening image on the Blu-ray release as the flickering creates an eerie strobe light effect as if the house’s inhabitants are in the process of being brainwashed. Carol Anne begins talking to the television as if she’s having a conversation with someone invisible to everybody else. We can’t even hear what that someone is saying to her, but we believe Carol Anne is communicating with another and our imagination runs amuck at who that might be.

Following this, strange things begin to happen around the Freeling household like chairs moving by themselves and the furniture being rearranged in a heartbeat. One night while sitting in front of the television, a hand reaches out and pushes Carol Anne away which is followed by a force of energy penetrating the walls. Her parents wake up to see their daughter telling them, “They’re here…”

What makes “Poltergeist” so effective is how the filmmakers play on those childhood fears we all had. Whether it’s that creepy looking tree outside the bedroom window or the clown puppet which you fear will come alive and attack you in the night, we can all relate to what goes on here except, of course, for being sucked into another dimension. I remember always asking my mom to put my AT-AT toy, the Imperial walker from “The Empire Strikes Back”, on its side so it wouldn’t crawl over to me while I slept. I also kept having these dreams where this green school desk I had would end up rushing at my bed to attack me. Now imagine if these things happened in real life, and you will get a sense of what “Poltergeist” is all about.

There’s nothing too unique about the characters who live in Cuesta Verde, and this makes them all the more relatable. Seeing the kids’ room with those “Star Wars” posters and bed covers bring back a lot of memories. When these supernatural occurrences start happening and get increasingly worse, we can easily see it happening in our own homes. Then again, this might make our own households far more exciting than they usually are as living in the suburbs can be too low key for some.

“Poltergeist” is also perfectly cast with actors who inhabit their suburban characters with what seems like relative ease. Nelson and Williams still seem like the typical American parents we all know. Heather O’Rourke, Dominique Dunne and Oliver Robins are perfectly natural as their children, and they appear very comfortable in front of a camera. You also have Beatrice Straight as Dr. Lesh, a parapsychologist, and she gives this movie a strong dramatic weight.

There is also something to be said for Zelda Rubinstein’s performance as spiritual medium Tangina Barrons. While her high-pitched voiced might seem a little annoying, she makes her strange dialogue sound very believable as Tangina becomes the family’s last hope to save Carol Anne. It’s no wonder her presence in “Poltergeist” is so unforgettable, and not just for her immortal line, “This house is clean.”

Movies like “Poltergeist” usually have filmmakers getting too caught up in perfecting the special effects at the expense of everything else, but Hooper manages to balance everything out to create one of the most terrifying haunted house movies ever. As much as Spielberg’s name is all over this movie, I have to believe Hooper is the one who made this movie as scary as it is. While it may not be as unnerving as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (and very few movies are), he really packs in a lot of scares for a PG-rated movie.

You could also say that “Poltergeist” is a serious dig at the cutthroat world of real estate as Steven makes the horrifying discovery of how certain sacred things which were not moved from their original location. People will do anything for the perfect property when there’s a ton of money involved, and if they can cut corners to make house building go faster they will. Heck, this almost sounds like a supernatural version of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

I can’t help but wonder if home insurance even covers supernatural occurrences like this. Would the Freeling’s insurance carrier find an excuse to deny them any financial compensation? Could you imagine the looks on their faces if their agent denied their claim for negligence as if it’s their fault for not reporting this to the authorities sooner? If I were on the receiving end of that, I would be pissed!

It says a lot about an 80’s movie like “Poltergeist” that it still holds up so well all these years later. Its portrayal of suburban America doesn’t look much different from what we see today. I guess the only real difference, aside from cell phones and iPads, are the number of bank foreclosures going on, and you certainly don’t see this happening here. While it may have been ruined a bit by sequels (and this movie really didn’t need any), it still is worth re-discovering and would make an interesting double feature with “Paranormal Activity.”

One other thing; is it just me or does that white spidery creature who blocks Williams from her children’s bedroom have the voice of MGM’s roaring lion?

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016

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