IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE CHANGELING (1980)

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Here’s a reprint of a column I wrote back in 2016:

I first saw THE CHANGELING way back when I was in high school.  It was a late night showing on HBO, and I gotta tell you, it creeped me out.  At the time, other than THE EXORCIST (1973), no other horror movie had gotten under my skin like this one.

So, I was very excited the other day to finally see THE CHANGELING again  on DVD, since I hadn’t seen it in years.  And while I have to admit that it didn’t scare me like it did back in the early 80s when I first saw it, it remains a first-rate horror movie.

It’s the type of horror movie that I love:  an A-list cast, talented director, and a sense of seriousness that lifts it above standard horror fare.  In short, it’s a high-quality movie.

THE CHANGELING opens with a tragedy:  composer John Russell (George C. Scott) watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are killed in a freak car accident.  In an effort to rebuild his life, Russell moves across the country, from New York City to the suburbs of Seattle.  He moves into a mansion, a quiet home where he hopes to be able to work on his music in solitude.

He soon begins hearing strange noises at night, noises that lead him to discover a secret room, and inside this room he finds a tiny wheelchair and other items belonging to a child.  Russell soon realizes that there is a ghost in his house, a ghost of a child, and this ghost isn’t trying to frighten him away but on the contrary is trying to communicate with him.  Russell wonders if perhaps the reason this spirit is seeking him might be connected to the fact that he lost his daughter at a young age.

Russell begins to investigate the history of the house, and what he learns leads him to the wealthy U.S. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas) who once lived in Russell’s house as a child.  Russell finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict, with supernatural forces on one side, and the power of a U.S. Senator on the other.

THE CHANGELING is a well-made, creepy and haunting horror movie that certainly belongs in the conversation when discussing the best haunted house/ghost story movies ever made.

Director Peter Medak does a wonderful job here.  The scenes in the house are creepy and atmospheric, and he makes full use of some truly memorable images.  A simple child’s wheelchair has never been so eerie.  Likewise, he uses the child’s voice to full effect and there are some shocking scenes as well, like one involving a bathtub.  The film also looks great.  It looks like something Hammer would have done had they still been in business in 1980 and had moved on to contemporary tales.

Peter Medak has a ton of credits, most of them TV credits, including episodes of SPACE 1999 (1976-77), HOUSE (2004), BREAKING BAD (2009), and HANNIBAL (2013-14), among many, many others.

THE CHANGELING boasts an A-List cast, led by the great George C. Scott, who does a bang-up job here as a man still in grief over the loss of his wife and daughter.  He makes John Russell believable as he channels his grief into helping the child ghost.  You understand why Russell becomes so committed to the ghost’s plight, as he sees it as his job as a parent— especially a parent whose daughter was taken from him at a young age— to help this child who when alive had no one to help him.

And while George C. Scott is remembered as a star actor who worked on such powerful films as PATTON (1970), he was actually no stranger to genre films as he made several in his career, including the science fiction thriller THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973), Stephen King’s FIRESTARTER (1984), the TV movie THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1986), and the third EXORCIST movie, THE EXORCIST III (1990).

Likewise, veteran actor Melvyn Douglas adds class to the proceedings as Senator Carmichael.  THE CHANGELING was the first of back-to-back ghost story movies which Douglas made just before his death in 1981, as he also starred in Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY (1981), his final screen credit.

And while Douglas enjoyed a long and varied film career spanning five decades, he began and ended his career with horror films, as he also starred in THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) with Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Ernest Thesiger, and Gloria Stuart, and in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) with Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Dwight Frye.

Scott’s real-life wife and frequent co-star Trish Van Devere appears as real estate agent Claire Norman who helps John with his investigation.  She’s very good in the role.  THE CHANGELING was the eighth time Van Devere and George C. Scott starred in a movie together. Trish Van Devere is still with us, as at present, she is 75.

And in another SPACE 1999 connection, Barry Morse appears briefly as a psychologist.  Morse is probably most famous for his role as Lieutenant Philip Gerard on the TV show THE FUGITIVE (1963-1967) but genre fans remember him fondly as Professor Victor Bergman on the science fiction show SPACE 1999 (1975-76).  Morse also appeared in the Amicus anthology horror movie ASYLUM (1972) starring Peter Cushing.

William Gray and Diana Maddox wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Russell Hunter.  Gray also wrote the screenplay for the original PROM NIGHT (1980) starring Jamie Lee Curtis. The screenplay here for THE CHANGELING is far superior to the silly slasher story of PROM NIGHT.

THE CHANGELING will creep you out in the same way that the modern-day PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies do but with the added bonus of also delivering a solid story, something the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies have never done.  And that’s what sets THE CHANGELING apart from a lot of other horror movies.  It does something that most horror films do not do, and that is it generates scares and creates a sense of eeriness without skimping on its story.  In fact, the story just might be the strongest part of this film.

THE CHANGELING is one of the best movies of its type.  And while I didn’t find it quite as scary as I did way back in the early 80s, it still holds up very well today. In fact, if you’ve never seen it and you’re watching it for the first time, you might not want to watch it alone.  Just sayin’.

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M3GAN (2022) – Evil Toy Doll Horror Movie Has Its Moments But Doesn’t Wow

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Do we really need another horror movie about an evil doll?

Of course, we do!

They’re friggin’ creepy!

Plus, truth be told, we really haven’t had a whole lot of evil doll movies which have saturated the horror market and made us sick of them. In recent years we’ve had the ANNABELLE series, which have pretty much been underwhelming, and we’ve had THE BOY (2016) and its silly sequel. M3GAN actually reminded me more of the CHILD’S PLAY (2019) reimagining, with its inclusion of present-day computer technology as a plot device for making the doll act the way it does.

In M3GAN, robotics engineer Gemma (Allison Williams) is desperately trying to create the world’s next best toy, a doll that is so life-like in the way it can think and learn, that it not only can be a perfect playmate, but also a babysitter, as it can remind children to brush their teeth or flush the toilet, but obviously such a project is incredibly expensive, and so her boss David (Ronny Chieng) isn’t interested and tells her to shut the project down.

But when Gemma’s sister and husband are killed in a car crash, leaving their nine-year-old orphaned daughter Cady (Violet McGraw) in Gemma’s custody, her life changes. She is not equipped to be a parent, and during her struggles to find time off work and connect with Cady, she introduces Cady to a prototype robot toy she once built, which Cady thinks is amazing, and which inspires Gemma to ignore her boss and go all in with her latest project. The result is M3gan, a doll that can think, learn, and seemingly care about the child it is joined with, and in this case that child is Cady.

It doesn’t take long for Cady to absolutely love M3gan, and at a demonstration for David, he is blown away by the way M3gan and Cady interact, and so he greenlights the project to move forward, which means one more demonstration in front of the people in the company with the money. To better ensure a successful second demonstration, he encourages Gemma to have Cady and M3gan spend as much time together as possible, even though Cady’s therapist warns Gemma against doing so, that Cady may be developing unhealthy bonds with the toy and may not be able to let it go later, and which may get in the way of the child’s grieving process.

Gemma ignores the advice, and all is well, until it becomes apparent that M3gan sees it as her mission to protect Cady at all costs and in every way possible, meaning that the doll won’t stop short of murder or of seeing Gemma as a threat as well.

I liked M3GAN well enough and had no major issues with it, other than taken as a whole, it’s all rather slight. It doesn’t really go to any thought provoking places, nor is it much of a scary horror movie. It’s entertaining, and it does have a devilish sense of humor, which for me, was the best part of this one.

Allison Williams makes for a decent lead as Gemma. She is the single professional who has no idea what it takes to raise a child, nor is she really interested, except she does want to be there for her niece, and so it makes for a legitimate conflict. And she’s quite tough later when she realizes what M3gan is up to, and fights hard for Cady. Williams was similarly effective in a darker role as Rose Armitage in GET OUT (2017)

Young Violet McGraw gives the best performance in the movie as Cady. She is perfect as the confused and conflicted child, grieving over the death of her parents, needing someone in her life, and finding that someone in M3gan. Her facial expressions alone capture so much in this movie. It’s a great performance by a young actor. And we’ve seen her before, as McGraw has appeared in BLACK WIDOW (2021), DOCTOR SLEEP (2019), and where she was most memorable, as young Nell in the Netflix horror series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018).

Ronny Chieng is also memorable as David, Gemma’s opportunistic boss, and Chieng’s comedic timing here comes into play as he gets some laugh-out-loud lines.

M3gan is played by two different actors. Amie Donald provided the movements, and Jenna Davis provided the voice.

Akela Cooper wrote the screenplay based on a story by James Wan. It’s a pretty straightforward story. It has a decent premise but doesn’t really go anywhere beyond typical horror movie fare. The dialogue is the best part, which is tight and oftentimes humorous, and also tells a tender story from Cady’s perspective.

Gerard Johnstone directed this one, and like the screenplay, the film as a whole remains a standard horror movie trope. The murders are all rather predictable and not overly exciting or frightening. Interestingly, M3GAN was originally intended to be an R rated movie, but the decision was made to go with a PG-13 rating to attract more teenagers, so evidently the murder scenes were watered down for this version. Not sure if more gratuitous violence would have made things better (probably not) but as the film stands now, it’s not very scary.

All this being said, I still had fun watching M3GAN, but I wasn’t blown away by any means.

I give M3GAN two and a half stars.

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RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1958)

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I’ve always had a soft spot for THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1958), a low-budget black and white Dracula movie starring the unheralded Francis Lederer as the Count.

There’s a lot that’s significant about this no frills black and white Dracula movie from the 1950s.

First of all, it was the first standalone Dracula movie to hit theaters in nearly fifteen years, as the last time Dracula appeared alone in a horror movie was in Universal’s SON OF DRACULA (1943), in which the Count was portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr., and he was called Count Alucard in the film, which never really came out and said if the character Chaney was portraying was Dracula’s son or Dracula himself. It was left open to interpretation. The film implied it was the original Dracula, but its title was SON OF DRACULA.

After SON OF DRACULA, John Carradine took over the role, but he was sharing screen time with the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). Bela Lugosi returned to play the Count three years later in the horror comedy ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).

So, when Francis Lederer played Count Dracula in THE RETURN OF DRACULA, it had been a while since audiences had seen a movie about Dracula, especially a serious one where Dracula was the only monster in the film, and those movies had all been made by Universal and had followed the same formula. So, there’s a lot that was fresh about THE RETURN OF DRACULA. And Francis Lederer, a well-known Czechoslovakian actor who never became a major star but still made a lot of movies over the decades and who wasn’t known for making horror movies, actually makes a very successful and rather frightening Dracula, albeit all in the most subtle of ways. In fact, I actually prefer Lederer’s performance as Dracula in this movie over John Carradine’s performances in the two aforementioned Universal Dracula movies above.

Lederer with his accent and cold, calculating, and dominating personality, makes for a commanding king of the undead.

And while part of THE RETURN OF DRACULA was refreshing, since it was not part of the Universal monster universe, another part was very familiar, because the plot of THE RETURN OF DRACULA borrows heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). In that film, a teenage girl begins to suspect that her favorite uncle, played by Joseph Cotten, is really a murderer wanted by the police. Here in THE RETURN OF DRACULA, the teenage girl learns that her favorite cousin is really Count Dracula!

THE RETURN OF DRACULA, which takes place in the 1950s and so it was a contemporary setting for its time, opens with an atmospheric scene where vampire hunter John Merriman (John Wengraf) leads a group of vampire hunters into a crypt in Transylvania where they plan to drive a stake through Dracula’s heart. When they open his coffin, they discover his body is no longer there.

The action then switches to a train where we see Dracula (Francis Lederer) murder a passenger, and then he assumes his identity. He makes his way to the United States, to California, and there he pretends to be cousin Bellac, the eccentric artist who likes to sleep all day and go out at night at odd hours. Fortunately for Dracula, no one in Bellac’s California family knows what he looks like, since it’s his first time travelling to the United States. He’s welcomed into the family, and the teenage daughter, Rachel (Norma Eberhardt) takes a particular interest in her cousin, since she also wants to be an artist.

All is well, until people start dying. Well, Dracula has to eat, after all! These deaths attract the attention of our hero John Merriman from the opening sequence, and he makes his way to California in pursuit of the undead Count.

While there is nothing spectacular about THE RETURN OF DRACULA, the film does have some notable scenes, including a decent stake-in the heart scene, and as I said, Francis Lederer makes for a really effective Count Dracula.

This movie may have gone on to become something more than just a refreshing low budget Dracula movie, if not for another Dracula movie which was released just one month after this one, a “little” movie by Hammer Films, called HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). Of course, HORROR OF DRACULA, the first Dracula movie in color, took the world by storm, and made international stars out of Christopher Lee, playing an athletic and violent Dracula, and Peter Cushing, playing an equally athletic and heroic Van Helsing. The film revolutionized the horror movie industry, and made a movie like THE RETURN OF DRACULA, seem pale and lethargic by comparison. Hammer went on to make seven more Dracula movies, six with Christopher Lee, and a multitude of vampire movies. THE RETURN OF DRACULA was largely forgotten.

Which is too bad since it really is a decent Dracula movie.

It’s also interesting to note that THE RETURN OF DRACULA contains a somewhat violent staking scene, much more explicit than anything Universal ever showed, and that it pre-dated HORROR OF DRACULA, which is the movie that is credited with adding more violence to horror movies. Of course, the blood and gore in HORROR OF DRACULA is much more explicit than anything shown in THE RETURN OF DRACULA, and all of it was in color! Also, the film’s hero, John Merriman, played by German actor John Wengraf, is much younger than the older “professors” who were the heroes in the Universal Dracula movies. Merriman is a nice precursor to Peter Cushing’s younger interpretation of Van Helsing in HORROR OF DRACULA.

THE RETURN OF DRACULA was directed by Paul Landres, who also directed another interesting black and white vampire movie from the 1950s, THE VAMPIRE (1957), a film which had more of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde plot, with the scientist in that movie turning into a vampire. Landres does a nice job with THE RETURN OF DRACULA. For a low budget black and white movie, the scare scenes work rather well.

Pat Fielder wrote the effective screenplay, and she also penned Landre’s THE VAMPIRE, as well as another 1950s horror classic, THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957). She does a great job with the characterizations here in THE RETURN OF DRACULA, and the scenes between Dracula and Rachel are among the best in the movie.

Francis Lederer, who in a very subtle and understated way is quite scary as Dracula, would reprise the role in an episode of NIGHT GALLERY, “A Question of Fear/The Devil is not Mocked” (1971).

Forever overshadowed by Hammer’s HORROR OF DRACULA, and rightly so, because HORROR is clearly the superior film, nonetheless THE RETURN OF DRACULA is a Dracula movie that is well worth a look and certainly should not be forgotten.

This holiday season, return to a time just before the Hammer Dracula explosion, when an unassuming Dracula puts the bite on 1950s small town America, but instead of indulging in mom’s apple pie, he’s taking a nibble on young teenage throats.

A RETURN TO MAYBERRY, this ain’t!

—END—

TROLL (2022) – New Netflix Giant Monster Movie Monstrously Good

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My favorite part about TROLL (2022), a new giant monster movie from Norway now streaming on Netflix, is that it pays homage to the monster movies of yesteryear and gets nearly everything right about the subgenre, even as it tells a story about a giant troll.

It gets that right too, since trolls are a part of Norwegian folklore, and so the fantasy here is grounded in mythology.

TROLL also has a fabulous script by Espen Aukan, based on a story by director Roar Uthaug. It takes its monster plot seriously, while keeping the script lively and at times light, and includes references to Godzilla and King Kong. It also didn’t hurt to have a couple of characters be STAR TREK fans, and so some of the conversations are peppered with STAR TREK references that actually have bearing on the plot. So, for this STAR TREK fan, that was a lot of fun.

In short, I enjoyed TROLL more than some of the recent bigger budget GODZILLA and KING KONG movies of late.

TROLL tells the story of scientist Nora Tidemann (Ine Marie Wilmann) who is called in as a government advisor when there is an “incident” following a construction crew’s blasting of a major tunnel and there are what appear to be giant footprints in the ground leading away from the area. She is quick to point out the obvious, that they are looking at footprints, and while she can’t say what made them, she does tell the skeptical government officials that they should be looking for a creature of considerable size.

It turns out that what made them is a troll, and to help her with this situation, Nora turns to her estranged father Tobias (Gard B. Eidsvold) who is an expert on the subject but because of his intense belief in trolls has been labeled as somewhat of a crackpot. Tobias is only too happy to learn that proof of what he has been saying all his life has finally materialized, and while the government is only interested in destroying the troll, Nora and Tobias would prefer to learn more about it.

Nora gains more credence when traditional weapons fail against the troll, and her and Tobias’ expertise are again requested. Nora also gains two allies, government advisor and self-described STAR TREK geek Andreas (Kim Falck) and military captain Kris (Mads Sjogard Pettersen) both of whom come to respect Nora and value her insight on the threat.

The script nails all these characters, and everyone in this movie acts like real people, including the government officials. TROLL is not a giant monster movie where the characters are all cardboard and boring. They’re three dimensional and interesting.

And the actors all do standup jobs with their roles.

The special effects are excellent. The troll looks authentic and frightening. Director Roar Uthaug crafts some impressive giant monster scenes, some intense, some frightening, and others flat out exciting.

The back story for the troll also gives the creature plenty of sympathy. An intriguing subtext is the troll’s disdain for Christians, and the film almost takes a daring step to frame Christianity as a villain here, which would have been a gutsy and refreshing call, but the film stops short of completely developing this theme. There’s one scene in particular where a soldier is praying, and the troll can smell his blood, and that’s the soldier he targets and kills, but other than this, the topic is muted.

TROLL is available on Netflix in an English language version or in its original Norwegian language with English subtitles, which is how I saw it. Always go with the original language. As good as dubbing can sometimes be, the acting is always more natural in the original language.

If you like giant monster movies, especially those that take their subject matter seriously and know their cinematic history, you’ll love TROLL.

It’s a monstrously good time.

I give it three stars.

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RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

THE MENU (2022) – Thought-Provoking Social Satire Won’t Spoil Your Appetite

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So, what’s on the menu?

Exquisite food from one of the world’s top chefs, tension, plenty of tension, a little violence, a little horror, and to top it all off, satire. Lots of satire.

THE MENU (2022) is an odd movie, as many satires are, but at the end of the day, if nothing else, it’s thought-provoking. It’s the type of movie that will have you thinking, and that’s a good thing.

THE MENU opens like an episode of the old TV show FANTASY ISLAND (1977-1984) where a group of strangers are about to travel to a remote island, but rather than taking a plane (“da plane! da plane!”) they take a boat, and rather than meeting Mr. Roarke and Tatoo, they meet one of the greatest chefs in the world, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), and he’s their host. They have all paid exorbitant amounts of money to be treated to a private dinner by one of the world’s most renowned chefs.

The characters we meet first are Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), who is so enamored with the Chef that he practically has an orgasm every time he talks about him, and Tyler’s date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who becomes the central character and the person who the audience most identifies with, because as we soon learn, she wasn’t supposed to be there, as Tyler’s girlfriend broke up with him, and so she was a last minute second choice.

All the guests are wealthy, and all of them have their reasons for coming to this dinner, but with the exception of Tyler, none of them are really there purely for Chef’s food. Things start out well enough, as if it’s going to be an evening of fine food and performance dining, but then in what once more feels like an episode of FANTASY ISLAND, things begin to grow weird and unsettling. Tortillas are served with personal images on them, and so secrets are suddenly revealed. And later when one guest has a finger chopped off, and a cook shoots himself in the head as part of a dish, the guests realize they may not get off the island alive.

That being said, THE MENU is not a straight thriller or horror movie. While those elements are there, the main focus of this movie is undoubtedly satire, and there are various levels to it.

There’s the social status satire. These folks are all there because they have tons of money and can afford to be there, but Chef makes it clear that they’re not really there for his food. He talks about the art of food preparation and consumption, and tells them not to eat, but to taste. His passion for the symbiotic relationship between food and nature reaches almost religious proportions. And it’s also clear that he is insulted that they are there only because they can afford to be, and his passion for cooking is totally lost on them. At one point, he reminds a guest that he has been to multiple dinners on the island, and he asks the man to name at least one dish he’s eaten while there, and the man can’t even do that.

But the sharp screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy doesn’t stop there. There’s a food critic on the guest list, a washed-up actor, and three arrogant moneymakers who work for the company which sponsors these dinners, and so they feel entitled to threaten the Chef when he doesn’t please them. Each of these characters have back stories, all of which add to the social commentary.

As such, one of the film’s most significant moments comes when Tyler becomes increasingly frustrated by Margot’s complaints about what is going on, and he snaps his fingers at her before becoming flat out rude and insulting, prompting her to get up and leave. It’s a moment where we see his complete lack of acknowledgement of Margot as a person, and that the only reason he is there is because of his blind passion for the Chef, something that the Chef later shows him to be a waste of his time. It’s a moment in the movie that speaks to the way men sometimes treat women, and while that theme is not the main one of the film, it works all the same.

When Chef speaks to Margot privately, he laments that she wasn’t supposed to be there, and he needs to know her story for the dinner to work, because he needs to know who she is. Is she a server, and thus belongs in the kitchen, or is she like the other guests, a taker, and belongs out with the guests in the dining room?

In another biting moment, Chef reveals that he told Tyler ahead of time that everyone was going to die that night, and yet not only did Tyler still agree to come, he also still invited Margot, knowing that she too would die. And when Chef asks Tyler why he invited Margot, Tyler answers that guests were not allowed to come solo. They had to have a guest. Which speaks to the shallowness of our society and the total disregard people have to their fellow humans.

Similarly, the Chef mocks his guests later in the movie, telling them that if they really wanted to escape, why didn’t they make a stronger effort to do so? Would it really have been that difficult to overpower him and the other chefs? He asks them to think about that, and the audience does as well. Why didn’t these people try harder to escape? Is it because they are all too lethargic and passive? Because they wanted to remain to get what they paid for? Or did they on some level enjoy what was going on? Or perhaps they all believed it was just an act, and a safe answer would be revealed in the end?

Again, it’s a thought-provoking script, and it will have you thinking.

Anya Taylor-Joy is a terrific actress who continues to deliver in her movies, often giving the best performance in the film. She’s best known for her work in the Netflix TV show THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2020) and in the horror movie THE WITCH (2015). But we just saw her deliver back-to-back excellent performances in LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (2021) and AMSTERDAM (2022). She’s at it again here in THE MENU. Margot is the most dynamic and interesting character in the movie, and the more we learn about her, the more we like her. Anya Taylor-Joy brings this character to life, creating a fiery yet sympathetic person who we feel comfortable rooting for.

Ralph Fiennes is perfect as Chef, a culinary version of Mr. Roarke. While he has his own agenda, his own final masterpiece, he also sheds light on the make-up of each and every one of his guests. It’s yet another masterful performance by Fiennes, and while he doesn’t exactly make Chef a sympathetic character, he does make him understandable. We get where he’s coming from, and why he is doing the things he does. While he has countless movie credits, this performance follows upon the heels of two other equally impressive ones, in THE DIG (2021) and THE FORGIVEN (2021).

The supporting cast is terrific.

Janet McTeer is cold and biting as food critic Lillian, and Paul Adelstein is agreeable as her yes-man magazine sponsor Ted. John Leguizamo is the washed-up actor who is looking to make a comeback. He’s also the butt of one of the better jokes in the film, when Chef pretty much tells him he’s there to die because Chef hated his last movie, which was a complete waste of his time, and he doesn’t like wasting time.

And Hong Chau nearly steals the show as the tight-lipped yet brutally honest right-hand person to Chef, Elsa, in effect playing Tatoo to Ralph Fiennes’ Mr. Roarke.

Director Mark Mylod keeps things tight, and the pacing here is brisk, and the suspense builds. I was unsettled throughout, and really didn’t know where this one was going. The photography is brilliant, the island locales beautiful, with my favorite part being the connection shown throughout the movie between people and the ocean. The dining area and kitchen also share special significance, as at times it feels like a fortress in a James Bond movie, only much smaller.

Not everything works. Like most satires, the humor is there, but often you have to work hard to find it, and much of the laughter is of the under your breath variety. And while the plot of this movie is built around food and food preparation, don’t expect the kind of movie, a la CHEF (2014) and THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014) where all the mouthwatering meals cooked in the film make you want to buy a second popcorn and then go out to dinner afterwards, because as this one goes on, the food becomes less appetizing, and in general there’s less of it, rather than more.

While things grow dark, the film never becomes an all-out horror movie or gross fest. For the most part, I liked this, but it could have gone further in the disturbing department, because there were moments where I felt things didn’t go far enough.

Speaking of horror movies, with a little imagination, it wasn’t difficult to imagine this one being made in the 1970s with Vincent Price playing Chef. Now that would have been a black comedy/horror movie to be sure!

But overall, I really liked THE MENU. It makes its points about what money has done to our society, and it presents its satire like a five-course meal, spreading out over the evening in a movie that will have you on the edge of laughter and of your seat from beginning to end.

Waiter? I’ll take mine to go, thank you very much!

I give it three and a half stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963)

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Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT we visit THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), Roger Corman’s sixth Edgar Allan Poe adaptation.

Technically, it isn’t a Poe adaptation, since after making five horror movies in three years based on Edgar Allan Poe works, Corman wanted a break and chose as his source material for his next movie, the story “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by H.P. Lovecraft. However, American-International felt a Poe connection was needed, and so they tacked on an Edgar Allan Poe poem title “The Haunted Palace” to the film, which is mostly, if not completely, based on the Lovecraft story.

THE HAUNTED PALACE once again stars Vincent Price, who starred in most of Corman’s earlier Poe films, and he was joined by a rather interesting co-star: Lon Chaney Jr! This would mark the second and last time these two horror icons would appear together in the same movie, although the first time, in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), hardly counts, as Vincent Price only “appears” in the final seconds of the film as the Invisible Man. In THE HAUNTED PALACE, both Price and Chaney have ample screen time and share lots of scenes together.

THE HAUNTED PALACE opens with a prologue that shows the angry villagers storming the mansion of Joseph Curwan (Vincent Price) who they not only accuse of witchcraft, but they also drag him out of his home and burn him at the stake, but not before he curses the town and their descendants. The story then jumps ahead 100 plus years, and we see Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price) arrive at the home of his ancestor Joseph Curwan, along with his wife Ann (Debra Paget) to start a new life together.

Not so fast Mr. Ward!

See, the villagers who live there, including Edgar Weeden (Leo Gordon) and Peter Smith (Elisha Cook, Jr.), have not forgotten the curse placed on them by Joseph Curwan and want no part of his descendant returning home! It doesn’t help that Charles is a dead ringer for Joseph, but to that end, I would tell these folks to go look in the mirror, because all of them are dead ringers for their ancestors as well! See, that’s what happens when the same actors play ancestors and descendants. Not exactly the most creative way to cast a story!

Anyway, the one townsperson who is sympathetic to Charles and his wife is Dr. Marinus Willet (Frank Maxwell), but even he warns them about staying, since the townsfolk could make things mighty difficult for them. Inside the mansion, they meet the caretaker Simone Orne (Lon Chaney Jr.), and since he’s played by Lon Chaney Jr., you know he’s going to be something more than just an ordinary caretaker.

No, he’s not secretly the Wolf Man!

But he is secretly an old friend of Joseph Curwen, and he introduces Charles to a portrait of Joseph, and when he does, the spirit of Joseph enters Charles’ body. Together, they begin to work on fulfilling the plan they started 150 years earlier, involving the book, the Necronomicon, and the conjuring of a demon-like beast from the depths below. Their work is slowed by the fact that Joseph can’t remain inside Charles’ body for long, which allows Vincent Price the chance to basically play two different roles, almost a Jekyll and Hyde variation.

This back and forth continues, with Joseph gaining more power each time he enters Charles’ body, and the final part of the plan involves sacrificing Ann to the demon creature. Unless, that is, Charles can break through and save his wife!

THE HAUNTED PALACE is one of the livelier Roger Corman Poe films. His earlier works, like HOUSE OF USHER (1960) and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) were very claustrophobic, with the bulk of the action taking place inside the castle walls, whereas here in THE HAUNTED PALACE equal time is spent in the village as well, and the whole feel of this one is more melodramatic and freewheeling.

I also absolutely love the music score here by Ronald Stein. It’s a powerful score and my favorite of the Roger Corman Poe movies. Stein scored many genre films from the 1950s-60s, including DINOSAURUS! (1960), a laughable but likeable dinosaur-on-the-loose movie by Universal in which Stein’s serious score is also a highlight.

As he always does, Vincent Price chews up the scenery here as Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen. Price’s persona dominates these movies. Sometimes he’s the character who’s tortured by the evil within him, and other times, he’s the character who seems to take such glee and enjoyment in being evil. He gets to be both in this movie. In the Roger Corman movies, Price’s most intriguing performances probably came in the next two movies in the series, which would be the final two, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964). But he’s awfully entertaining here as Charles Dexter Ward and his nefarious ancestor!

Lon Chaney Jr. is creepy and fun as Simon, the caretaker with the sinister secret and agenda. There’s one shot framed by Corman in which Chaney appears from the shadows to frighten Ann, and he’s completely backlit, which means you only see the frame of his body and not his face, and with a little imagination, you can almost see the Wolf Man standing there in the dark corridor! Sadly, since he was dealing with health issues mostly due to heavy drinking, Chaney looks pretty awful in this movie. Of course, he was also made up to look rather sinister, but still, he looks about 10-15 years older than Price in this movie, when in reality he was only five years older, with Chaney being 58 at the time, and Price 53.

THE HAUNTED PALACE also has a great supporting cast. Leo Gordon was one of the great screen heavies, playing villainous roles in numerous westerns. I always remember him as the baddie Cass in THE NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966). If you’re going to start a mob in a horror movie, Leo Gordon is the guy you want leading it!

Elisha Cook Jr., a terrific character actor going all the way back to THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), where he was famously humiliated and slapped around by Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. Cook appeared in several genre movies, including HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), which also starred Vincent Price, and THE NIGHT STALKER (1972). Here, he plays a frightened villager who’s basically a yes-man to Leo Gordon’s character.

You also have Debra Paget and Frank Maxwell.

The screenplay by Charles Beaumont based on the Lovecraft story, and a little bit on the Poe poem, hits all the right notes and makes for a decent plot.

Roger Corman, who at 96 is still with us, keeps this one a bit more energetic than his other Poe outings. One part, however, that doesn’t work, is the storyline about the cursed townsfolk’s offspring, many of whom are “mutants.” The story is fine, but the make-up is rather ludicrous. It looks like someone stuck silly putty over their eyes. Here you go. Just add this silly putty here, and now you look like mutants with no eyes! Er…, no!

Other than this little hiccup, THE HAUNTED PALACE is worthwhile viewing, especially around Halloween time. It’s hard to find someone having more fun being evil in a horror movie than Vincent Price, and his talents are on full display here. Add a little menacing Lon Chaney Jr. and it gets even better! Why, there’s even a sinister final shot in the movie for good measure!

THE HAUNTED PALACE isn’t one of the more famous Roger Corman Poe movies– heck, technically it’s not even a Poe movie but a Lovecraft one— but it’s still a heck of a lot of fun!

Looking for a place to stay this Halloween? Try THE HAUNTED PALACE. Just don’t stare at the paintings for too long. I hear they have a knack for… getting under your skin!

Happy Halloween!

—END—

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT (2022) – Marvel’s Werewolf Movie a Visual Treat but Not Exactly Horrific

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WEREWOLF BY NIGHT (2022) is a curious creature.

This very short movie, which runs only 55 minutes and is a standalone film, not an episode of a TV series, is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s also a horror movie. Based on Marvel’s Legion of Monsters comic series, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is being billed as an action, adventure, horror comedy.

Talk about your vegetable soup!

Anyway, I’d been hearing a lot of good things about this one, mostly from horror fans, who have been saying WEREWOLF BY NIGHT reminded them a lot of the classic black and white Universal monster movies. Sadly, I didn’t see or feel that connection. The only similarity I saw between the two was they were both shot in black and white. For me, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, which premiered on Disney Plus and is now streaming there, plays like a Disney/Marvel family friendly hybrid with a few mild and tame horror elements thrown in. While I appreciated the visual elements of this movie, I was basically unimpressed with just about everything else.

Indeed, the best part about WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and the main reason to see this one is the work by director and music composer Michael Giacchino. Giacchino is one of my favorite film composers working today, and he has composed a ton of memorable movie music scores, including music for THE BATMAN (2022) and THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022). He has written the scores for other Marvel superhero movies, for the recent JURASSIC PARK films, for the recent PLANET OF THE APES series, for the recent STAR TREK movies, and on and on! Two of my favorite Giacchino scores were in horror films, the Hammer vampire movie LET ME IN (2010), and one of the all-time best giant monster movies, CLOVERFIELD (2008). His very memorable theme in CLOVERFIELD doesn’t appear until the end credits, but it’s worth the wait. He also wrote a pretty memorable score for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016).

So, yeah, he’s scored a few movies.

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is Michael Giacchino’s directorial debut, and it’s a good one. Visually, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is a real treat to watch. The black and white photography is atmospheric and effective, and Giacchino even includes a la STRANGER THINGS the grainy look of film, even inserting the infamous cigarette burns— the little dot in the upper half of the frame– which used to appear in all movies to alert projectionists that it was time to start the next reel. Of course, there’s no need for those anymore since today’s movies are all digital. Giacchino does use some color, most notably for the very red bloodstone, which is integral to the movie’s plot.

Oh yes. The plot.

It’s pretty standard and also at 55 minutes pretty quick.

Basically, a group of infamous monster hunters gather at the castle of the recently deceased Ulysses Bloodstone, the most famous monster hunter of them all. These hunters are all tasked with hunting a very dangerous creature, and the one who slays the beast, will inherit the glowing red bloodstone, which will give its owner the power and right to be the master monster hunter. Blah, blah, blah.

The two main characters are Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), a hunter who isn’t quite who he says he is, and Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), the estranged daughter of the deceased, and these two form a pact during the hunt to work together so Elsa can get the bloodstone, and Jack can get what he really wants.

Things don’t go as planned, and during the film’s second half, the werewolf element finally emerges.

Since this is based on the Marvel comic by Gerry Conway, the screenplay by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron pretty much tells an action-adventure story. While the horror elements are there, they are downplayed. The film also contains some witty snappy dialogue which Marvel superhero movie fans have come to expect.

But since I am also a huge fan of werewolf movies, I have to say that the werewolf stuff— both the actual werewolf and all of the werewolf sequences in this movie— was a bit of a letdown. I wasn’t impressed with the actual werewolf, and the scenes were just meh. The biggest problem I had with the werewolf scenes comes down to the movie’s plot, about hunters trying to slay a beast, which isn’t even the werewolf, by the way. The story is all rather mediocre.

But Giacchino’s work behind the camera is definitely not mediocre, nor is his music score, and it was fun to watch how he integrated the music with his film direction. The timing was impeccable.

I enjoyed watching WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, even though I found its story to be something of a snooze, and as such, and I for one was glad it was only 55 minutes long.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END–

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MIST (2007)

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My two favorite works by Stephen King are his novel Salem’s Lot (1975), which I read when it first came out when I was eleven years old, and it scared the crap out of me, and his novella The Mist (1980).

So, when the movie version THE MIST (2007) came out, I knew it would be hard-pressed to meet my expectations because I enjoyed the novella so much, and while I generally liked the movie, I didn’t love it.

Part of this is because of my love of the novella itself, but another more important part is the movie version simply isn’t as intense as King’s original story, even with its infamous changed and much darker ending. Having re-watched the film for the purposes of this column, my opinion remains unchanged.

In THE MIST, a mysterious mist covers a small Maine town after a ferocious thunderstorm, and a group of townspeople including David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son find themselves trapped inside a supermarket with giant carnivorous insects and other unseen nasties hovering outside in the fog, creatures that are not only waiting to eat people who venture outside, but also that are actively trying to break through the glass of the market and get inside.

It’s a great premise for a story.

THE MIST was written and directed by Frank Darabont, who also successfully adapted a couple of other Stephen King stories for the big screen, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) and THE GREEN MILE (1999). Darabont is also the man who developed and created the TV show THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2022). THE MIST shares a common theme with THE WALKING DEAD, as both stories follow a group of survivors as they try not only to deal with the supernatural threat in their world, but also the threat from other humans who lose their sh*t when the world as they know it comes to an end. They even share some of the same cast members, as Laurie Holden (Andrea), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), and Melissa McBride (Carol) all have roles in THE MIST.

But THE MIST is not as intense as THE WALKING DEAD, nor is it as intense as the novella on which it is based, which has always been my problem with this movie. It’s generally enjoyable and scary, but it never really gets under your skin or goes for the throat, with the exception of its chilling conclusion. But so much before that, like the all-important sequences in the grocery store, is talky and drawn out.

The most frightening part of the movie version of THE MIST is not its monsters, but human character Mrs. Carmody, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who delivers one of the best performances in the movie. Mrs. Carmody believes the mist and its monsters have happened because her Old Testament vengeful God is angry with humanity and is exacting revenge. To appease her God, she begins to seek followers inside the supermarket, and there’s talk of offering a sacrifice to God to show him that they are faithful. This character remains frightening today as in recent years both religious and political extremism has grown more aggressive and violent.

Also memorable is character actor Toby Jones as Ollie Weeks, the supermarket employee and character audiences probably most identify with, as he is just an everyday loyal worker who finds himself stepping up and taking on a leadership role. I always enjoy Jones’ work, and his credits are too numerous to list here, but his performance is one of my favorite parts of THE MIST.

WALKING DEAD veterans Jeffrey DeMunn and Laurie Holden are also really good here in their roles, which almost seem like warm-ups for their roles on the blockbuster TV series.

Andre Braugher is fine as the annoying Brent Norton, and in the lead, Thomas Jane is okay as David Drayton, but I’ve always found his performance, with the exception of the ending, to be, like the rest of the movie, lacking in the necessary intensity. Supposedly, Frank Darabont wanted Jane to star as Rick Grimes in THE WALKING DEAD. Based on his performance here in THE MIST, I’m glad the lead role of that zombie series went to Andrew Lincoln instead.

Of course, you can’t talk about THE MIST without talking about the ending. The ending to the novella simply had the characters exiting into the mist, and their fate was left for the reader to decide, which was something that worked for me. Darabont famously changed the ending, which gives the film an incredibly dark finish, which for many fans, made this movie something extra special. Indeed, even Stephen King is on record as saying he loved the ending to the movie and wishes he had thought of it. As endings go, it is incredibly grim, and again, since I loved the entire novella so much, I prefer its original ending to the one in the movie. Let’s put it this way. It’s the ending which prevents me from wanting to watch this one over and over, as it’s such a complete downer.

But there is one positive that I took from this depressing ending as I watched the movie again here in 2022, a time when extremism is running rampant throughout the world. On the one end in THE MIST, we have the extremism of Mrs. Carmody, which is easy to see, and on the other end, at the film’s conclusion, we witness an extreme decision made by David Drayton, which at the time, seemed like the best decision, in spite of how excruciatingly painful it would be, to make. But moments after pulling the trigger— eh hem— on this decision, Drayton sees that it was so very wrong, and he falls to his knees and screams in agonized horror. So, the ending, in spite of the fact that I don’t really like it, does speak, like the rest of the film does, to the importance of avoiding extremism, whether that be extreme beliefs or actions. If Drayton and those in the car with him, had only expressed a bit more faith in humanity, their fates would have been different.

THE MIST is a well-made, frightening horror movie. For some, it’s an exceptional horror movie. For me, it remains just very good, because its source material, Stephen King’s novella of the same name, is far superior.

Either way, THE MIST is worth a look, and its ending is one you definitely need to experience at least once, and then as you walk away from the end credits, you can ask yourself, would I have done the same?

—END—

HALLOWEEN ENDS (2022) – Final Film in HALLOWEEN Franchise Much Better Than Expected

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HALLOWEEN ENDS… we can only hope!

Actually, I’m a big fan of the HALLOWEEN series and have been since seeing John Carpenter’s classic HALLOWEEN (1978) at the movies when it first came out, a long, long time ago. That first movie remains my favorite, and truth be told, most of the sequels and re-imaginings have been pretty bad, but I’ve enjoyed most of them, as guilty pleasures, I guess. I’ve had this conversation with friends, but one of the reasons I’ve always liked the HALLOWEEN movies even when they’re not that great is because of John Carpenter’s iconic HALLOWEEN music score. As soon as it starts playing on the soundtrack, I’m in!

And the music was about the only thing I liked about the reimagined sequel HALLOWEEN (2018) which brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to the series and told her character’s story about how she had been dealing with the fallout from Michael Myers for forty years, a film which pretty much ignored all the sequels and tried to be a sole sequel to the 1978 film. It was a worthy idea, but the script was pretty bad, and the film a disappointment.

I was one of the few people who actually enjoyed the sequel to that movie, HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021) more than the 2018 film.

Now comes the “final” installment in this new HALLOWEEN trilogy, HALLOWEEN ENDS— who is coming up with the titles to these movies?— and all three movies were directed by David Gordon Green.

HALLOWEEN ENDS is not getting good reviews, but I’ll cut right to the chase: I actually liked this one better than HALLOWEEN KILLS, which makes it my favorite of this new HALLOWEEN trilogy.

One of the biggest reasons I liked this one? It tries a lot that is new, and so if you are expecting two hours of Michael Myers vs. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode, that’s not what you’re going to get. I’m sure some fans will be put off by this. I wasn’t, mostly because what was in its place were story elements that were all rather intriguing.

HALLOWEEN ENDS opens in the here and now in Haddonfield, Illinois, the small town which seems to have been forever cursed by Michael Myers, with a different take on the babysitting trope, as this time the babysitter is a young man, Corey (Rohan Campbell). Corey is babysitting a bratty little kid who tells Corey he’s not afraid because Michael Myers doesn’t kill kids; he kills babysitters! Ouch! Before the night is over, the boy locks Corey inside an attic room. When Corey kicks the door open, tragedy results, and the little tyke is killed in front of his parents’ eyes who have just returned home.

Cue opening credits.

Usually, introducing new story elements and characters isn’t the best idea in a third film in a series, as you want to know what’s going on with the characters from the first two installments, but it somehow works here in HALLOWEEN ENDS, and Corey becomes an intriguing character. Even with all the Michael Myers history, Corey is now considered the town psycho after he is not convicted of murder. He’s the recipient of massive hating and bullying, and he has a mother who would be right at home being best friends with Norman Bates’ mother.

One thing HALLOWEEN ENDS gets right is it paints a portrait of hatred and vindictiveness in our modern-day culture, and I think it nails this throughout the movie. It reminded me a little bit of what Sandra Bullock’s character went through in the excellent Netflix movie THE UNFORGIVABLE (2021), where Bullock played an ex-con where pretty much everyone in society decided her crime was unforgivable and treated her like dirt.

When we finally catch up with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), she’s living with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), and the two are trying to live their lives in Haddonfield after the events from the last movie where Allyson’s mom and Laurie’s daughter was murdered by Michael Myers. Laurie is writing her memoirs, and we learn that Michael Myers has disappeared.

When bullies actually push Corey off a bridge, he finds himself left for dead on the banks of the river. He makes his way into an underground tunnel and there discovers— you got it! Michael Myers has taken up residence underneath Haddonfield! When Myers attacks Corey, their eyes lock, and a strange thing happens. Is it a meeting of the minds? Does Myers see a fellow psycho? Or is the evil that inhabits Myers now transferred to Corey? Whatever the answer, Corey finds a newfound power, and an ally, and together they go on a vengeance killing spree.

Around this same time, Allyson meets Corey, thinks he’s cute, and pursues him, and the two characters grow close, finding common ground in their disdain for Haddonfield, and they speak openly of blowing everything up and then leaving for good. This story arc is rather interesting, as it brings together a Michael Myers disciple and Laurie’s granddaughter, now both working together for less than noble purposes.

Of course, Laurie disapproves, especially when she begins to receive Michael Myers’ vibes when she looks at Corey. As she says, she sees Myers’ eyes in Corey’s eyes. There’s a neat scene where Laurie looks out her window and sees Corey standing by some hanging laundry which mirrors a similar scene in the original HALLOWEEN.

Corey eventually wants more power, and battles Michael Myers and steals his mask, in effect becoming a new Michael Myers. But HALLOWEEN ENDS isn’t SON OF MICHAEL MYERS, and good old Michael isn’t interested in retiring just yet.

And Michael is old, as he should be in his 60s right about now, and the film stays true to that notion, and we see a killer who isn’t a young man anymore. That’s not to say he’s not in killing shape. He’s just a demonic killer who’s now in his 60s, which is something else about this movie that I liked.

HALLOWEEN ENDS makes good on its title and goes out of its way to make sure that Michael Myers isn’t coming back ever again—almost to a laughable degree—but never say never. This is the movies, after all, and anything can happen in the movies.

Also, as Laurie says in her voice over narration from the memoir she’s writing, evil never really dies. It just changes shape, an intriguing notion and choice of words, since Michael Myers is often credited as The Shape in the HALLOWEEN movies. Which is a neat way of wrapping up this series, with the idea that Michael was just a temporary shape of evil, housing some demonic entity, which may in fact live on even after its host body has been destroyed.

I thought there was a lot to like about HALLOWEEN ENDS. The screenplay by Paul Brad Logan somehow kept this story fresh throughout. I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy the story about Corey, but it works. I also thought Logan nailed the hate and vindictiveness in our modern-day society. Townpeople call out Laurie and blame her for their woes, because she had the gall to irk Michael Myers, rather than just leaving him alone.

One thing that doesn’t work, however, is the notion that this is a long-standing battle between Laurie and Michael. Sure, he attacked her in the original movie, but if anyone was truly his adversary, it was his doctor, Doctor Loomis, played by the late great Donald Pleasence. The idea that Laurie and Michael are bitter adversaries really was concocted for this trilogy.

Jamie Lee Curtis is fine, playing Laurie for what seems to be the final time. But one of my favorite performances however belongs to Andi Matichak as Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson, who is a much more interesting character, and her flirtations with evil and “burning down” Haddonfield are some of the more interesting parts of the film. Rohan Campbell is also very good as Corey, the misunderstood youth who becomes a Michael Myers disciple.

David Gordon Green’s direction isn’t bad. The film takes its time, which might turn off audiences, but it didn’t bother me because the story was firing on all cylinders. How does it stand up as a horror movie? Not bad. It’s not all that scary, which is not a good thing. How does it rank as a HALLOWEEN movie? It’s the best of this latest trilogy, but it still pales in comparison to John Carpenter’s original.

That being said, it was still way better than I expected, and so I have few complaints about this one. If you’re going to call your movie HALLOWEEN ENDS and plan to end a franchise, this was certainly a fitting way to do it. Then again, maybe it was just that iconic music score working its magic again…

Either way, this series started back in 1978, and although this installment actually included some new ideas, most of the films have not, and so on that note, I think it’s time we put this series to bed. So while I like this one, I’m still hoping HALLOWEEN ENDS lives up to its name.

I give HALLOWEEN ENDS three stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

SMILE (2022) – Decent Horror Movie Provides Some First-Half Scares

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Yes, smiles can be creepy.

And SMILE (2022), a new horror movie now playing in theaters, takes full advantage of that fact. For two thirds of its running time, it delivers some genuine scares and a very interesting premise, before it falls off a bit with some over-the-top and unintentionally laughable special effects and a plot in which its characters seem to figure things out long after the audience does.

For while, SMILE reminded me somewhat of a better horror movie from a few years back, IT FOLLOWS (2014) as both movies had a creative and rather unique plot. In IT FOLLOWS, in what served as an allegory for the transmission of stds, the supernatural threat was passed on from person to person through sexual contact. The entity in IT FOLLOWS would slowly follow its victims, a relentless pursuit which would only end in either the victim dying, or, if the victim had sex with someone, then the entity would be passed on to that person and would stalk them.

Here in SMILE, the entity feeds off trauma, and it stalks its victims through suicide. Each victim, who sees random and oftentimes people they know smiling at them strangely, are driven to commit suicide, and the person who witnesses the suicide is the next to be stalked. The difference between the two movies is that in IT FOLLOWS, the teenage characters aggressively attempted to fight back and figure out ways to stop the supernatural stalker, whereas here in SMILE, it takes forever for the characters to figure out what’s going on, and when they do, for some strange reason, they fail to act on it.

In SMILE, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) treats a young woman who insists she’s not crazy, that she is being stalked by a real creature that appears like ordinary human beings only with a sadistic smile. While Rose tries to treat her, the woman suddenly shrieks that the creature is in the room with them, and she brutally slits her own throat.

A short time later, Rose begins to experience the same symptoms, having bizarre and frightening hallucinations of people she knows smiling threateningly at her. To make matters more complicated, when Rose was a child she witnessed her abusive mother commit suicide, so when Rose begins to act unhinged, her sister, her fiancĂ©, her boss, all believe it’s the result of childhood trauma. The only person who does believe her is her cop ex-boyfriend, Joel (Kyle Gallner), and he helps her investigate the strange goings on, and they discover a trail going back a long time of suicide victims who were witnesses to other suicides. Rose then uses this information to fight for her life.

For a while, SMILE was firing on all cylinders. I was enjoying the story, which had a premise I found rather interesting, and the scares were there. Early on, there were some frightening scenes, spots where I actually jumped.

But when Rose finally figures out what is going on, and it becomes clear that the supernatural entity goes from one body to another after its current host’s suicide is witnessed by someone else, the story takes a hit because you expect Rose to realize this and make it her strategy to isolate herself, to get away from any other people in order to strip the creature of its calling card, but by the time she decides to do this, it’s way too late.

Plus, the film makes the dubious decision to include some over-the-top gross out effects which seem like they jumped off the set of a Tim Burton movie. Members of the audience actually laughed at these effects, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention.

Writer/director Parker Finn has written an intriguing horror tale but unfortunately his main characters suffer through a major case of the stupids and don’t figure things out until long after those of us sitting in the audience have done so. He does craft some frightening scenes early on, and I liked this, but the film doesn’t hold it together for its entirety, slowing down and becoming much less frightening as it closes in on its end credits.

SMILE is an okay horror movie that provides some decent scares for this Halloween season, even though in its latter half there isn’t all that much to smile about.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful