Halloween Special: Review 63: Halloween (original) (3.5/5)

Halloween cover.jpg

Halloween

Directed by John Carpenter

Starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles, Nancy Loomis, Nick Castle / Tony Moran

Released on October 25, 1978

Running time: 1h 31m

Rated R (Suggested rating: PG-13 for frightening sequences throughout, sexual content, brief nudity, some language, mild violence, and momentary smoking – all involving teens)

Genre: Horror

If I actually had a Halloween costume this year, I would be going as one of the plague doctors during the Black Death. You know – the ones in black robes with long-beaked bird masks. Either that, or I’d be going as Pinhead the Hell Priest.

Those of you who have been following me from the beginning know that Rob Zombie’s remake of the horror classic Halloween was the fourth film I ever reviewed, and that the remake’s sequel was the fifty-ninth. To avoid anger, I will simply say that my reviews toward them were particularly scathing, with the remake receiving a .5 out of 5, and its sequel receiving a rare 0 out of 5.

Having reviewed both of the aforementioned films and truly hating them, I decided to go back to the original and give you my thoughts on it.

Unlike Madman but like Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween was made out of inspiration rather than obligation. Good!

Literally seconds after the movie starts, the iconic, still-creepy theme song plays, setting the atmosphere and triggering a rush of nostalgia. A big smile broke out on my face. You know, I actually made an attempt to transcribe it to my crummy music notation program. While not very well written, this theme song is undoubtedly creepy, has stood the test of time, and will remain a staple of horror for a good long time yet.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

The title sequence displays a deceptively innocent jack-o-lantern, and the rest of the opening credits show a slow zoom into its left eye.

At the end of the opening credits, we go to 43 Lampkin Ln., Haddonfield, Illinois, as a long POV shot begins. A small group of children recite a rhyme:

“Black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts / Covens of witches and all of their hosts / If you think they scare me, you’re probably right / Blood, guts, and goblins on Halloween night. Trick or treat!

Cute.

As I was saying, a POV shot begins. Obviously, it’s a six-year-old Michael Myers. He goes around the side of the house, and sees his sister Judith (former Playboy playmate Sandy Johnson) and her boyfriend on the couch, then going upstairs to have sex. He goes inside, grabs a big kitchen knife out of a drawer, and puts on a mask. He hides as the boyfriend goes downstairs and exits the house. Michael goes upstairs, and enters Judith’s room, where she is naked and combing her hair. She notices and is initially angry at him, but Michael quickly stabs her to death, while never actually looking at her as he does the deed. Michael walks downstairs and out the front door, where we see that his parents have arrived home. The father goes up to Michael and pulls off his mask. Cut to a front view of Michael as the camera zooms out, and we fade to black.

Did you know? This unbroken POV shot actually took up almost an entire roll of film. Nice.

Transition to fifteen years later, as Dr. Sam Loomis (Pleasence) and a nurse drive to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. They stop at the main gate, and Dr. Loomis gets out to punch in the code to open the gate. Michael (Tony Moran for the face, Nick Castle for the body) appears and attacks the nurse. The nurse jumps out of the car, and Michael drives off. Dr. Loomis laments Michael’s escape.

DR. LOOMIS: He’s gone! He’s gone from here! The evil is gone!

By the way, Carpenter and the producers originally wanted Peter Cushing (with him fresh off of the fame of Star Wars), then Christopher Lee to play Dr. Loomis, but neither would sign on, with Lee considering it the biggest mistake of his acting career. (God rest their souls.)

Transition back to Haddonfield as we are introduced to Laurie Strode, played by future scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis in her first-ever film role. Her performance in this movie is a little rough around the edges, but overall, for her first film role in her entire career, it’s actually pretty decent. We learn that Laurie is to babysit Tommy Doyle that night, as she encounters him as she walks to school. They plan to make popcorn, watch horror movies, and carve a jack-o-lantern. Cool.

I always love drawing the parallel between Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, and her mother, Janet Leigh, in Psycho.

And already, Michael is stalking Laurie, during which we see that he’s a pretty dang good driver for having just driven for the first time the previous night. He stalks her on the way to school, he stares at her through a classroom window, she sees him as she walks home with her friends as he stands halfway in the open as he watches her from a tall fence-like bush, and, when she gets home, she even sees him standing out in her yard. In fact, in every shot he’s in, he is perfectly still. The camera does not show Michael trudging offscreen. He’s like the Slender Man, only not as tall, not as long-limbed, not bald, etc.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Speaking of Laurie’s friends, her friend Lynda was intentionally written to be, well, really girly (thanks, Debra Hill!). In fact, much of her dialogue contains the word “totally”. This is a running gimmick in theatrical showings. Whenever Lynda says a line that includes “totally”, when the line ends, the audience responds with a loud, hearty “Totally!” Ho, ho. Yes. Memorable dialogue.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Also, Laurie’s friend Annie is babysitting Lindsay Wallace, across the street and three houses down from the Doyles’. Lynda plans to show up at the Wallaces’ with her boyfriend Bob so they can have sex.

I must mention that as Laurie is walking home, kids on the block are already trick-or-treating. Odd. It only seems to be between 2:00 and 3:30 PM.

Over the past long while, Dr. Loomis has been calling the town’s Sheriff, Sheriff Brackett (I actually would have liked to see Brad Dourif in this. He was the only redeeming quality that the remake had.), warning him that Michael is coming to Haddonfield. He repeatedly does so over the course of about twenty to thirty minutes.

Annie picks Laurie up at 6:30 and drops her off at the Doyles’ before going to the Wallaces’. The trick-or-treating kids have gotten only a little more populous, but they’re still saying the well-known rhyme “Trick-or-treat! Trick-or-treat! / Give me something good to eat!”, but forgetting the last half: “If you don’t, I don’t care – / I’ll pull down your underwear!” Odd.

Annie and Laurie keep in contact over the next hour or two. Annie is pestered by Lindsay’s dog Lester’s barking, but Michael Myers, who is stalking Annie, … gasp! KILLS THE DOG!

I saw fit to bring this gag back:

AAAAH! AAAAH! AAAAH! AAAAH! OH, NO, NOT THE BEES dog. NOT THE BEES dog. AAAAAAAAH! OH, NO, MY EYES! MY EYES! AAAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAAAAAH-URRRLLKKK!

Ho, ho.

By the way, over the past while, Tommy and Lindsay have, at their respective houses, been watching The Thing from Another World. Odd, as John Carpenter will, in four years, remake it into one of the best dang horror remakes to date.

Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett arrive at the Myers place, where Dr. Loomis explains that Michael is evil. As if we didn’t know. Dr. Loomis patrols around the house as Sheriff Brackett has some of the police patrol around the neighborhood.

Annie brings Lindsay to Tommy’s house, telling Laurie that she’s planning to bring her boyfriend Paul to the Wallace residence (how else can I put this) so they can have sex.

Annie gets into her car and is about to start it when Michael springs up from the backseat and strangles Annie, then slits her throat.

Lynda and Bob show up at the Wallaces’ and have sex. When they finish, Bob gets up to go grab the two of them a beer, leaving Lynda with the now-hilarious-and-iconic death-warrant line “I’ll be right back”. Bob goes downstairs, grabs the beers, and is accosted by Michael, who lifts him up and runs him through with his knife, pinning him to the wall. Michael takes a few steps back and admires his kill like Picasso would admire Guernica.

Michael throws a white sheet over himself and puts on Bob’s glasses over the sheet. I guess Michael has a sense of humor; who knew? He walks into the bedroom where Lynda is, and when he does, Lynda does something unscripted. Good for her!

LYNDA: (drops sheet, revealing her breasts) See anything you like?

Michael remains stoic in the doorway as Lynda gets up and starts to call Laurie. But just as Laurie picks up, Michael moves over and strangles her with the phone cord (how?). The last thing Laurie hears of Lynda is guttural sounds before the line goes dead.

Laurie, seeing that Tommy and Lindsay are asleep, goes over to the Wallaces’ to check on Lynda. She finds the bodies of Annie, Lynda, and Bob, and she encounters Michael. Michael chases her out of the house.

It was now that I realized that Michael’s almost mechanical movements are actually kind of creepy.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Laurie makes it back to the Doyles’ just in time, but Michael cuts the phone line and breaks in. He attacks Laurie, but she briefly distracts him by stabbing him with a sewing needle. She runs upstairs, hides Tommy and Lindsay, and hides in a closet, but Michael breaks in. Laurie sticks Michael with a coat hanger, Michael drops his knife, and Laurie stabs him with it. He falls to the ground.

You know, I always found Michael in the original Halloween to be a little too easily dispatched.

Dr. Loomis sees the car that was stolen from the sanitarium earlier. It’s parked near the Doyles’. He calls the sheriff, and goes over to investigate.

Laurie has the kids run down the road to the neighbors’ house to call the police.

Behind Laurie, we see the iconic shot of Michael sitting up and turning his head to look at Laurie. He attacks her, and Laurie pulls off his mask, revealing his slightly deformed face. Loomis bursts in and pulls out his revolver. Michael stops attacking Laurie and puts his mask back on. Loomis shoots Michael, then runs up the stairs and shoots Michael five more times, sending Michael toppling out of the window and falling to the ground. And then…

LAURIE: That was the boogeyman…

DR. LOOMIS: As a matter of fact, that was.

Dr. Loomis goes back to the window and looks out.

Michael’s body is gone.

Insert the final rendition of the theme song as Dr. Loomis comes to his horrifying realization. We see a short montage of locations throughout the film, as we have also come to the horrifying realization that though Michael is gone, he is somehow everywhere; Michael is an unstoppable, inhuman, supernatural force. And that is terrifying.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Though I freely admit that I did not like the original Halloween as much as everyone else, I did still like it; it’s still a dang good movie; and I will never ever deny the impact Halloween still continues to have.

It still continues to scare audiences. In fact, I even felt a little on edge while watching. Not enough to be creepy, but still. John Carpenter truly went the extra mile to frighten his audiences, and he deserves credit for it. Much of its scariness was visceral. More of it was through clever camerawork. Carpenter uses his camera to establish his situation, and then has the camera pan to the side, showing something looming in the midground or foreground that’s not supposed to be there. Normally, it’s a red herring, making the incidents in which Michael is there that much scarier.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Speaking of Rob Zombie, I forgot how not bloody the original Halloween was when compared to its remake. In fact, there is no blood flying. In fact, any onscreen blood has settled down. In fact, the most violent scene in the original was Michael’s murder of his sister. But by then, the only blood there was settled down.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

There was no explicit sex for the sake of sex in the original Halloween. In fact, we only ever see Judith’s and Lynda’s breasts onscreen for mere seconds. There were no f-bombs in the original Halloween. At the most, there were two or three s-words. There was no illegal drug use in the original Halloween. If anything, there was some smoking and drinking.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

The original Halloween was, in general, a much better product. It takes time to assure us that our characters are normal, timeless people. It takes time to lovingly paint its timeless slice of life long before Michael begins killing.

It’s a timeless, inspired, lovingly created masterpiece that continues to be lauded by many. It deserves to be remembered.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Final verdict: 3.5 out of 5.

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Review 62: Chaos (Thumbs Down)

Chaos

Directed by David DeFalco

Starring Kevin Gage, Stephen Wozniak, Kelly KC Quann, Maya Barovich, Chantal Degroat, Sage Stallone

Released on August 10, 2005

Running time: 1h 14m

Not Rated (Suggested rating: NC-17 for graphic and aberrant sexual content, heavy use of strong language throughout, strong violence, nudity, and drug references)

Genre: Horror, Exploitation

(Sorry, Doug, I’m totally stealing this from you.) Many of you may have heard of and/or seen exploitation films – usually films ranging from subpar to horrid that take controversial topics and exploit the heck out of them. You know, Blaxploitation, Drugsploitation, Cannibalsploitation, Goresploitation, Jailsploitation, Nazisploitation, Sexploitation, even Carsploitation, Gothsploitation and Nunsploitation, and all sploitations in between.

But I’m not here to review any of those. Today’s film is an exploitation film, like many, that, when it was being made, its filmmakers didn’t know that they were making an exploitation film. They thought they were making art (strikes pose and says “art” in an arrogant, and condescending way). This is where Chaos comes in.

As you may remember, I reviewed Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left at the beginning of September of 2015. I praised it for its great storytelling, loathsome-but-still-human villains, raw power, and how effective it was toward its ‘70s audience. I gave it four out of five stars.

Also, as you may remember, in response to my Halloween 2 review, I made a point of reviewing a film or two that I love. After reviewing Hellraiser and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, I figured I had finally rid myself of the anger and despair that I had felt upon reviewing Madman (to a lesser extent), the remake of When a Stranger Calls, and Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2.

Until today, when I watched Chaos.

And with that viewing, all of my amaroidal, astringent hatred came surging back, this time with a vengeance.

Chaos’s director, David DeFalco, a former wrestler nicknamed “The Demon”, originally titled his movie The House in the Middle of Nowhere, credited it as a remake of LHotL, and even cast David Hess, who had originally played Krug Stillo in LHotL. Sage Stallone (son of Sylvester) signed on when he heard that Hess was going to – not exactly, but how else can I put it? – reprise his role as Krug. A couple of unknown actors signed on, believing that they were going to be starring in a remake of LHotL, and production began. But, a little ways into filming, Steven Jay Bernheim came on board, decided that Chaos was strong enough to stand on its own and promote itself as an original film, while in reality deciding to stoop to wholesale plagiarism. Hess and the creative team were kicked off the set and Hess was replaced with Kevin Gage, who needed some way to pay his bills after spending forty-one months in prison for growing marijuana. And I’m not judging Gage for doing that. I have no problem with medicinal marijuana.

When the film was in its final stages of completion, its advertisement campaign began, and it immediately became quite obvious that LHotL had not only influenced Chaos, but that Chaos had openly filched LHotL’s ad campaign. It stole its cover; it even stole its tagline. “Angelica, eighteen, is dying. Even for her the worst is yet to come! She encountered CHAOS. To endure CHAOS, keep repeating ‘It’s only a movie…only a movie…etc.’” Sound familiar? In fact, it even had the audacity to say “Based on an original idea by David DeFalco and Steven Jay Bernheim”. When I had first seen the cover, seen how similar it was to LHotL’s cover, and seen the “original idea” line, I scoffed and said, “Riiiiight.”

Here’s the cover. Judge it as you wish.Chaos (2005 film) poster.jpg

And then the film premiered. Before the film played, there was a big Q&A session with DeFalco, Bernheim, and Stallone. Stallone was strangely quiet, and only spoke up when personally asked a question. DeFalco and Bernheim, however, were very talkative, saying that they [and implying that only they] were “true horror fans”, and they were beyond adamant at pushing Chaos as the “scariest and most brutal movie ever made”. And then, after they openly admitted that LHotL influenced Chaos, they then proceeded to bash LHotL, calling it “unrealistic”, “hard to watch”, and…essentially, their drivel can be summed up as “No, Wes Craven. You did it wrong, and your film should be ashamed for even allowing itself to exist. We have done it right with our film, and it will put you to shame, and become a staple in the collection of every horror fan.” But what was worse, they touted Chaos as a film that could have saved lives and prevented atrocities, such as the death of Natalie Holloway, 9/11, and various suicide bombers and terrorists. It was a flagrantly audacious marketing ploy. By now, there was an obvious change in audience dynamic. The Q&A session finally ended. And then DeFalco and Bernheim brought in this so-called “charity”, a sort of “green peace” animal adoption scam. It depicted poor and neglected puppies, and promised to save them with the audience’s support and donations. And then these “charity workers” went through the theater to every person there and claimed that “the movie wasn’t free”, and that a twenty dollar minimum donation would be acceptable. When this “charity” was done, it exited the theater with thousands of dollars. I presume that this is how it made its paltry $10,289 back from people who went to see it. Already annoyed and nonplussed at DeFalco and Bernheim, the audience sat down in their seats, and the movie began.

The film begins with a cheap opening text crawl, saying that this movie contains shocking sequences and images, is a warning for victims and parents alike, and that it was based on actual events. O RLY?

A woman (Quann) is hitchhiking on the side of a backcountry highway (this is actually U.S. 395 in southern California. I’ve actually driven through this area.). A car stops, two men get out, attempt to drag her into their car to rape her, but two other guys, who are our main villains, appear out of nowhere, beat the first two guys into a pulp with obviously fake punches and kicks, trash their car, and steal their wallets and two grams of meth. Well, we’ve now established our main villains as petty criminals, rather than personifications of evil.

These villains aren’t exactly memorable, and are simply ripoffs of the villains from LHotL. I’ll tell you their Chaos names now, but I will refer to them by their LHotL names from there on out. We haven’t been introduced to Swan (Junior) yet, but our villains are Chaos (Krug) (Gage), who is bald and has a goatee now, Freddie (Weasel) (Wozniak), who has long hair and a ratty beard now, and Daisy (Sadie) (Quann), who has a bridge-of-nose ring and a Southern accent now (odd, as her Chaos name, Daisy, is just a slightly altered anagram of Sadie). By the way, the fact that they are the villains is rubbed in your face by the villains having to drop a swear word at least twice in every sentence.

We then transition to Angelica (Phyllis) (Barovich), who is much “cleaner” than her friend. She has just come home from UCLA to visit her friend Emily (Mari) (DeGroat), who is black now. Well, half black. Her father is white, her mom is black. Okay. That’s fine. I’m not going to judge, and I have no reason to. But if Mari becomes an annoying character, I will call her an Oreo. Anyway, Phyllis tells Mari about how UCLA is essentially Heaven on earth, despite the fact that Morten Lauridsen himself teaches music composition at USC, which is near to and more popular and populous than UCLA. Mari and Phyllis plan to go to a rave in the woods that night. Despite Mari’s interracial parents playing “Twenty Questions” with them, the two manage to get out the door and drive to the rave. They get there surprisingly early – at 4:00 PM. Okay. Oh, and by the way, Mari intentionally leaves her cell phone in Phyllis’s car. Gee. I wonder if this is going to come back and bite her in the ass. They try to score some ecstasy, addressed here as “E”, because of course, and come across Swan (seriously? Who names their son Swan?) (Junior) (Stallone), and he leads them back to his cabin to fetch the ecstasy. Yes. Just go up to a random guy and ask if he has ecstasy, and follow him to his cabin in the woods to fetch it. I’m sure that it won’t backfire in the slightest. By the way, every time either Mari or Phyllis gets suspicious, Junior pegs them with the question, “What are you afraid of?”

As Mari, Phyllis, and Junior make their way to the cabin, I could not help but notice how desperately the script tries to appeal to 2005 teens. It was clearly written for that day’s generation, but definitely not by that day’s generation, as the scriptwriters have little to no grasp of 2005’s slang, putting each slang term they can think of into awkward places in each sentence that Mari and Phyllis say. (Don’t quote me on that; I could be wrong on this, as I’m not very well versed in, nor am a fan of, slang.)

Meanwhile, at home, Mari’s parents make admittedly charming small talk.

Mari, Phyllis, and Junior arrive at the cabin, and Mari and Phyllis are accosted by Krug, Weasel, and Sadie, who duct-tape their mouths, and hands and feet together, toss them into the back of their big black van (of course), and drive off. (I didn’t see any brand name on the duct-tape, so I cannot refer to it as Duck-tape.)

By the way, way to make Krug more evil by making him not want to take care of his own kid.

And of course Krug is a war veteran (presumably either the Persian Gulf War or Desert Storm), and is pro-America. I have mentioned before how much I hate – yes, hate – the “Crazy War Veteran” stereotype. I will not and cannot stand to see the vilification of the men and women who fought and died for America and her people. If anyone has earned the right to not be stereotyped, they have.

Speaking of stereotypes, every character in Chaos is just a stereotype of a stereotype. The villains are generic psychos. Mari and Phyllis are trashy female teenagers that flaunt their sexy or “sexy” bodies and take drugs. Mari’s parents are generic parents desperately trying to hold onto whatever is left of morality in the world. And the two cops, who I’ll get to soon, are racist.

Also, another attempt to make the villains seem more evil: bestiality is funny to them. That’s just tasteless.

When Krug and his thugs pull over and drag Mari and Phyllis into the woods (Into the Woods), and pull the duct tape off of their mouths, we see the signs of a poor actor/actress return when Mari and Phyllis have had nothing between drabness and exaggerated tearless sobbing and screaming. Mari and Phyllis somehow fight off the villains and run away, but Phyllis is caught.

What happens next is the worst-done torture sequence I have ever seen.

WARNING: DISGUSTING. GRAB A BARF BAG. I’LL GIVE YOU TEN SECONDS. … DONE? OKAY. HERE GOES. Krug cuts off Phyllis’s right nipple, chews on it for a bit, and then shoves it into Phyllis’s mouth until she’s gurgling on blood and vomit. Then he turns her over and stabs her in the back multiple times until she dies. Krug then rapes the dead body.

You know, for a movie touting itself as “the most brutal movie ever made”, surprisingly little violence or nudity is shown onscreen. In fact, the only violence that is shown onscreen is a single split-second shot of Phyllis’s bloody back that has clearly just been painted red. While boobs are onscreen for a few seconds, most shots of the torture are just silent shots focusing on the sun shining through the trees. Yes. A film that is so desperate to be edgy by even having necrophilia, yet is too embarrassed to show anything more than a little violence and sex onscreen. Even with the necrophilia, the camera shows Krug taking off his pants, and cuts away before he takes his underwear off. Then, it’s just more shots of the trees or his thugs’ faces as Krug quietly grunts as he does the deed in about fifteen seconds. That’s inhumanly fast sex. That’s also not in any way how to make a controversial movie. And surprisingly enough, this torture sequence is almost shamefully short, barely lasting a few minutes.

By the way, Phyllis’s cries cut off almost every time a new shot begins. That’s just poor editing, plain and simple.

And now it’s nighttime. Wow. Mari is still running away. She falls down a hill she should have seen coming a mile away. She’s a freaking clod.

Mari’s parents, now quite worried, have called the police, who say they’ll check out the rave. How do they know where the rave is? The police check it out and report to Mari’s parents, who say that they can’t find Mari or Phyllis, but will go out to look for them.

I must mention that one of the police officers drops a racially charged remark toward Mari’s parents, referring to them being an interracial couple. In fact, this racist cop is so important that he and his racially charged remark each get their own scene.

Mari wakes up, starts running again, and is caught by Krug. Junior wrestles her to the ground, but she gets ahold of a knife and stabs him in the balls. Ouch. Apparently it must have hit the femoral artery or something, because Junior is now bleeding to death. And no, there are no important arteries or veins located in the crotch-ular area. In response, Krug smothers his own son to death. Mari runs away, gets to the road, waves down a car, gets it to stop, and runs up to it, but yoink! Krug catches up to her and yanks her back into the trees. And I burst out laughing when the car just sped off.

Mari’s parents have decided to do their own search for Mari and Phyllis. They find Phyllis’s body remarkably quickly and are, of course, shocked.

Krug brings Mari back to Weasel and Sadie. Amid a slew of racial slurs, they strip her down, showing some full-frontal nudity. And no – considering the current situation, this nudity is in no way sexual. When Mari, faced with death, desperately calls upon God (I can’t remember if it’s the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23), Krug mocks her and God, asking “Where’s your God now?” I would have replied, “He’s waiting for me in heaven, as He knows that it’s my time,” but Mari does nothing of the sort, as Krug’s question essentially shatters her last bit of hope. While this death scene shows more nudity than the previous one, the torture is much shorter. Again, WARNING: DISGUSTING. GRAB A BARF BAG. I’LL GIVE YOU TEN SECONDS … DONE? OKAY. HERE GOES. Krug shoves his knife up Mari’s vagina, and essentially makes the vagina and the anus into a single hole. It still gives me the jibblies as I type this. But no, it’s not shocking in the slightest. My reaction to it was “Eww!” as that was just tasteless, revolting, and sleazy. Oh, and this somehow kills Mari.

I was surprised to see that Mari had not become annoying enough to warrant me calling her an Oreo.

Krug, Weasel, and Sadie go back to their van, but it won’t start. Seeing the lights of a house through the trees, they decide to stop there and ask for help and/or steal their car. Of course, the house just so happens to belong to Mari’s parents, who are initially a little suspicious when Krug and his thugs go inside and ask for assistance. But Mari’s dad allows them to stay the night. When Krug and his thugs go upstairs into the guest bedroom, Mari’s mom pulls Dad into the kitchen, quietly telling him that Sadie is wearing Mari’s plastic-jewel-studded belt.

Krug and his thugs are upstairs, knowing that Mari’s parents are acting suspicious. Krug and Sadie go downstairs, only to be faced by Mari’s dad, who is pointing a shotgun at them. Weasel bursts into the room, having somehow captured Mari’s mom. This distracts the dad long enough for Krug to snatch the shotgun out of his hands, and throw Mari’s parents to the floor. Sadie then says something wrong, because Krug turns around and shoots her in the chest, killing her. In the commotion, Mari’s parents get away, the mother calling the police and getting to her car, and the father grabbing his chainsaw. Mari’s father bursts back into the room and quickly disembowels Weasel. He quickly breaks through any of Krug’s defenses, but Krug somehow knocks the chainsaw out of his hands, gets the shotgun, points it at Mari’s dad, and pulls the trigger. Conveniently, the shotgun is unloaded. Mari’s father pulls a screwdriver out of his pocket and stabs Krug in the leg. He wrestles the shotgun away from Krug, reloads it with a few more cartridges, and holds Krug at gunpoint.

The cops arrive, and they, as well as Mari’s mother, burst inside. And, surprisingly, they tell Mari’s dad to drop his gun, and when he doesn’t, the racist cop guns him down, completely defying police protocol by not dealing with the killer before dealing with Mari’s dad. I broke down in anger at this point, screaming unintelligible hatred at the screen, and was helpless to watch as Mari’s mother pulled out the racist cop’s revolver and shot him twice, the other cop yanked the revolver out of Mari’s mom’s hands, Krug grabbed the shotgun out of Mari’s dad’s dead hands and blasted the second cop in the chest, and held the gun to Mari’s now-defenseless mother. After a few seconds of shots of the faces of Krug and Mari’s mother, Krug shoots Mari’s mother just as the screen goes dark. His cold laughter is heard for a few seconds before the credits roll. And I continued screaming the angry version of “bloody murder” at the screen until either the edges of my vision turned black and I had to stop, or I racked up such a horrible migraine that I had to stop.

And guess what? The movie drags itself micron by micron across the finish line, exhausted to the point of death, at a not just measly, but shameful, humiliating, and ignominious sixty-six minutes. It couldn’t even reach the same length as LHotL, which was ninety-one minutes. Chaos is almost an entire half hour shorter than LHotL. And this is even more outrageous: the filmmakers actually thought that this ending would be controversial and edgy. Can you think of good films that ended with the bad guy winning? I don’t know about you, but the couple I can come up with are, oh, No Country for Old Men, The Usual Suspects, The Dark Knight, The Vanishing, The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, The Wicker Man (the original), Primal Fear, Brazil, Rosemary’s BabyChinatownFunny Games, Memento, Fallen, SawThe OmenArlington RoadFrailtyOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Identity, Matchstick Men, Fight ClubA Serbian FilmStorm of the CenturyNight of the Living DeadInvasion of the Body SnatchersSinisterUnited 93, and The Empire Strikes Back.

Even the ending credits were wrong; the eight minutes of credits show words fading in, stopping, and then fading in the rest of the way.

The final insult was “Based on an original idea by David DeFalco and Steven Jay Bernheim”. Original idea? My left testicle.

Also, the opening text crawl was actually a tacked-on-at-the-last-minute gambit for the movie to justify itself.

I felt dumber. I had, for the past sixty-six minutes, been feeling my brain cells die. As I calmed down from my (to put it lightly) displeasure at the film in general, my anger slowly began to be replaced by weary resignation to the fact that humanity had actually created something so morally reprehensible. I wanted to go out and walk a few miles around my rural neighborhood, muse about the contrast between humanity’s inherent goodness and its potential for wild depravity, and then order a pizza when I got home. I didn’t, because my mind had then shifted to “The only way this film will be allowed to affect me will be when I write my review so I can stick it to this schlock.”

The camerawork is awful, looking cheap and poorly shot. The acting is horrendous and unrealistic, with the actors having no gap in between blandness and screaming. The plot is poorly paced, barely making it to sixty-six minutes. It unnecessarily prolongs unimportant scenes, and the so-called “brutal” scenes of torture are over far too quickly. The soundtrack, which manifests itself as two terrible songs, is itself terrible. The violence was as cheap, trashy, and tawdry as can be. I Spit on Your Grave had better violence effects than this. Sure, I was repulsed, but I was never shocked in the slightest. In fact, throughout all of its alleged edginess, I felt a constant sense of torpidity and sloth. It completely lacks character development, except to make our characters more unlikable and stereotypical than they already are. Our “heroes” are weak and idiotic, and we are never reminded that our villains are or have ever been human. It hamfists and shoehorns in its nihilism purely for the sake of not being mainstream in a desperate attempt to make themselves look like the next Ayn Rand or Friedrich Nietzche…or Karl Marx…or Marquis de Sade. It was an absolute waste of just over an hour of my life, but I do not regret watching it. I may be angry at myself for watching it, but I will never wish that I had not.

By the way, most people who saw the premiere of Chaos walked out before the movie was over. To explain why I didn’t: After the debacle that was Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween, I vowed to never walk out of a movie again. So I had to sit through Chaos.

When Roger Ebert himself saw Chaos, gave it a zero-star review, and took the movie to task as the repugnant jumble of unmitigated bunkum that it was, DeFalco and Bernheim saw fit to reply in the most ridiculous, gelastic, douchebaggish way possible in an attempted lecture to Mr. Ebert that essentially boils down to “How dare you criticize us for trying to portray evil so realistically, you ignorant sheep! By criticizing our movie, you have doomed the people of America, in particular her teenage girls, to lives of fear and pain! (Insert pitiful hooey that will be addressed shortly here.)” Mr. Ebert responded with his essay “Evil in Film: To What End?” with several themes that I will expand upon in my closing thoughts. DeFalco and Bernheim have still not responded to Mr. Ebert’s essay.

At future screenings, before the film would start, DeFalco and Bernheim would hand out copies of Roger Ebert’s review, and their “astute” response. However, viewers saw through the act and eviscerated DeFalco and Bernheim in the post-movie Q&A session. At the session, DeFalco, dressed in a wrestler outfit and sporting red contact lenses, began the discussion by ejaculating leechlike balderdash about how “hardcore” Chaos was, dropping remarks like “I am a demon!” and “I am the King of Violence and Evil!” But when the audience called him out on the violence and how asinine, pointless, inane, arrant, casuistic, and exploitative it was, DeFalco and Bernheim quickly backpedaled to their “cautionary tale” prating, going on a long harangue about how they were trying to “warn people and save lives”. But then people called them out again, this time on their shameless exhibitionism that was even present on the movie’s website. DeFalco childishly stooped to threatening the audience, saying “You know what’s onscreen! You know what I’m capable of!” Essentially, this fries their “trying to save lives” facade and reveals them as obnoxious, desperate, try-hard, “controversial” dudes looking to whip up a media storm so they can sell their nugatory product.

Chaos‘s story follows the plot of The Last House on the Left so closely that Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham could file for plagiarism, sue DeFalco and Bernheim for an astronomical amount of money, and win the case with ease. I’m amazed that they haven’t. In fact, the only things that were changed from LHotL were its character names and its ending where the bad guy wins. In fact, they completely failed at capturing anything that made LHotL interesting, unique, shocking, or good. Chaos lacks the raw power, fingering boldness, political backlash, irony, subtlety, soul, gritty and sabulous feel, overall message, or point of LHotL. It failed to replicate LHotL’s themes of dealing with tragedy, loss, and human nature, and that in the end, all evildoers will get their comeuppance. In fact, DeFalco and Bernheim’s overall view of LHotL was that it was just about repulsive behavior. While Chaos has repulsive behavior, it is too deadpan, matter-of-fact, and lacking in context. In fact, Chaos, throughout its entirety, forgot to remind us that its killers were human. After hearing DeFalco and Bernheim speak so openly about how Chaos was not only their tour de force, their magnum opus, but set to trump LHotL, which has become the quintessential rape-and-revenge film, I’m not too hopeful that I’m going to see them make anything that has the slightest notion of originality.

It is unsurprising that the majority of the cast and crew have, rightly so, distanced themselves from this film. Sage Stallone in particular had, as I said before, only signed on to Chaos because he had heard that it was going to star David Hess, and since the movie has come out, he has renounced it.

David DeFalco was a wrestler before he made Chaos, and it shows, as he pulls an Uwe Boll by challenging his critics to fight him. Class act. I am one of those film critics that are angry beyond measure at him, but, contrary to how DeFalco would like our confrontation to go down, I will not fight him. I will dismiss him by saying “Violence is not the answer.”

In another desperate attempt to not only distance Chaos from LHotL, but be “based on actual events”, DeFalco has actually said that the murders in the film are based on “some serial killer guy” that has since been executed. That is a perfect execution of how to be lazy whenever your film’s “based on actual events” claim is challenged.

Chaos acts as if the innumerable films of its same nature just haven’t been made over the past several decades, and it flat-out refuses to update its ideas, themes, or action. While LHotL and plenty of other hideously disturbing films took their time to have the audience get to know the killers and victims as actual people (A Serbian Film comes to mind), Chaos treats its characters’ suffering as the only thing that matters, and regards its actual characters as simply hunks of meat to be humiliated, defiled, and brutally murdered, not always in that order. Any aspiring filmmaker that desires to up the ante on violence in film can point a camera at staged obscene and violent acts and get audiences to squirm, but DeFalco and Bernheim have forgotten that their movie needs to actually be dramatic, intriguing, and provocative enough to keep the attention of the audience, to keep their eyes riveted on the screen as horrific atrocities play out before their eyes.

Ultimately, Chaos was made purely to be disturbing rather than didactic, to push the limits for what was allowed on film, and all for the sake of making money…and possibly something for DeFalco to jerk off to. It was meant to be scandalous merely so that news networks would pick up on it, complain about it, and inadvertently make more people want to see it. Perhaps if Chaos actually took some thought, time, and effort to make, it could have been decent. But no.

Even in their attempts to go to the extreme, they felt too ashamed to show the barbarities committed onscreen. Far superior “disturbing” films, like, of course, LHotL, went to the extreme, but not only showed its atrocities committed onscreen, but knew how to balance what was onscreen with what was offscreen. Chaos had absolutely no idea that this balance even existed. In Chaos, the sexual mutilation in particular could have come across as disturbing and shocking had the movie as a whole been executed adroitly, but the context of this movie lacked verisimilitude to such an extreme degree by, for example, the actresses who played Mari and Phyllis shrieking and crying tearlessly in closeup. All in all, the violence, along with the entire picture, felt like DeFalco and Bernheim were attempting to live out their sick fantasies, like Tarsem Singh in The Cell, or Rob Zombie in his various films. When a film is violent, we don’t want to recoil at it. We want to live our own sick sadistic fantasies. However, we don’t want to admit this, even to ourselves, so screenwriters dehumanize cinematic killers. And in Chaos, the violence is just there for the sake of violence.

This film is a callous, vicious, grotesque, tedious, indolent, degenerate exercise in inhumanity, misanthropy, nihilism, misogyny, brutality, sadism, and, to a lesser extent, racism. It lacked any sort of edge. Its disturbing gags were its only marketable feature, but it is neither disturbing, disgusting save for a few moments, or thought-provoking in the slightest. Its own terrible ideas are made worse by the entire movie looking and feeling very drab, vacuous, and amateur.

Chaos taught me how to truly hate. I thought I knew how to hate with Halloween 2. I thought I knew how to hate with An American HauntingThe Fourth KindThe Haunting of Molly HartleyThe Messenger: The Story of Joan of ArcThe Cat in the Hat. Even the horrifically terrible The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Unfortunately, when compared to my hatred for Chaos, my hatred for the aforementioned fistfuls of feculence shoved down my throat is merely a childish fantasy of loathing. Real hatred, the palpable, seething fury that makes you want to tear someone apart, the pure, unadulterated rage that no human should experience, can only be gleaned from this visually dolorous, artistically and morally destitute, structurally riven, exploitative, and disgustingly horrendous rape, torture, and murder (not always in that order) of the human senses.

It is a movie so vile that only DeFalco and Bernheim did anything but distance themselves from it. It is the perfect snapshot of what exactly DeFalco and Bernheim think of their audience. As mentally ill, socially self-destructive cattle.

It is an imprudent, brash, astigmatic disease that is here to rake in the cash it can at the expense of the happiness and overall sanity of moviegoers everywhere. It cashes in not only an audience’s benevolence and trust, but an audience’s yearning to see an actual movie, only so that it can make some quick and very filthily acquired bucks. It’s a thorough scam that hid behind a recognizable name to administer actual poison and then tried to hide it by bashing the name it hid behind. It’s marketed on lies and is profligately imprudent in handling mainstay cinematic property. It is vivaciously fabricated out of the celluloid shrapnel of a superior film. It is a master class in utterly senseless and ludicrous content and abhorrent, odious, and offensive writing. It showcases the very worst of the independent film industry. It is open hatred for the consumer. It attempted to put in the minimum effort in an attempt to gain a maximum amount of money. It tries and fails to market spoor as gold. It is undignified, woebegone, desperate, and grotesque in its shows of insolence and disrespect for moviegoers, its industry, and itself with this type of hubris and audacity. It’s the type of soul-sucking bilge that has been methodically hacking at the film industry’s roots ever since filmmakers decided to start pushing the envelope. Movies like this are venomous, and they have no place in a medium that is supposed to respect itself. Doing all of this, combined with dragging the good name of The Last House on the Left through the mud in order to make some quick cash, is totally, utterly, unforgivably despicable. Everyone who had a hand in this travesty, this personal attack on humanity, ought to be fully and completely humiliated to their cores.

Ratiocinative, perspicacious, adult minds did not create this unshapely trainwreck. It was drudged up from the sickly, rotting, pulsating, pus-leaking brains of the mutilated and the reprobate. And they actually want you to pay some of your hard-earned money to watch it. I made sure to look around online for some way, any way whatsoever to find someplace where I could watch it for free. And that is exactly what I did. I streamed it. If the police bust down my door sometime in the future and place me under arrest, I will show them this film, and while I will still be charged with piracy, the people of the United States of America will understand precisely why I did it.

It’s a cliche to say that Chaos is “everything wrong with cinema”, but it, without hyperbole, is it. It is truly everything wrong with cinema. Inexpiable. Grotesque. The absolute worst. How dare you, DeFalco and Bernheim. How dare you.

Heck, there’s not even an actual movie here.

It does at least have one achievement to its name – as the official absolute Worst Movie I have Ever Seen, as the most awful movie I can imagine.

David DeFalco and Steven Jay Bernheim, you are, in my opinion, the worst two filmmakers I have ever encountered in the long list of films I have watched in all of my eighteen and a half years. Not only are you small in talent, but you are large in arrogance and ignorance. While the things you have done in making your movie are by no means illegal save the plagiarism of LHotL, they are by no means decent, they are by no means acceptable, they are by no means cool, and they are by no means ethical. Despite you thinking that your awkward, uncomfortable, insipid reply to Roger Ebert’s review is enough to protect yourselves from criticism, you have been caught red-handed in a spiderweb of your lies, hubris, and pomposity, and you want to lie low until this blows over. The only thing I can do to bring attention to your disgusting thing that you call not just your movie but your tour de force is to review it and expose it and you as obtuse, truculent, injudicious, tactless, stolid, jejune, and pestilential. Your presence in the independent film industry is purely and irrevocably vampiric and cancerous, and you need to either come up with some real talent and make a legitimate movie, or leave the filmmaking world altogether. I will never try to censor you. But I will call you out on your lack of talent and shady practices. And I say “how dare you” when you call my fellow Chaos-haters out for calling you out and telling you that your dreck is dreck and that your drivel is drivel.

I did not seek this movie out. I simply happened to come across it. I saw that it was allegedly “the most brutal movie ever made”, and my interest was piqued. I watched it purely on a whim, and though I do not regret seeing it, I am angry at myself every day for watching it. You siphoned sixty-six minutes out of my life, David DeFalco and Steven Jay Bernheim, and this review is my attempt so siphon them back.

But as much as I may detest you two, DeFalco and Bernheim, I will be the first to shout your praise from the rooftops should you make a good movie or even a passable one. But movies like that take time. They take original ideas and competent writing. They need to be made out of inspiration, not obligation. They take talent. They take effort. Good films need that. Eraserhead took years to get made, and look at it now; it’s not only one of my personal favorites, but it’s a critically acclaimed staple of its genre. 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s ideas were inspired rather than contrived, and look at it now; it’s not only one of my personal favorites, but it’s a critically acclaimed staple of its genre. Stanley Kubrick made only thirteen films over the course of forty-six years. David Lynch made only ten films over forty years. Am I being harsh toward you when I say that you need to put in legitimate time and effort toward making a movie? I don’t think I am. I’m simply refusing to spare the rod and spoil the child. I’m giving you a little tough love. Throwing your toys out of the playpen and reacting violently to a well-known critic criticizing you is not going to improve your standing in the independent film industry or give you decent freaking PR. But you can do it. You can make a good movie. But proceed with caution as you follow William Edward Hickson’s wise words: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

It boggles my mind – no, it astounds me beyond belief that some people like this movie. They don’t just like it, but they love it. They still try to defend it. They actually told me what I have summed up in these two sentences: “Oh, you just didn’t get it! You should stick to Hollywood movies like the sheep you are and stay away from mentally challenging art like Chaos!” I scoffed at this response. I thought, What is there to get? Actually, the majority of moral, rational, thinking people like me are all in agreement that Chaos is a disgraceful clod of rubbish and codswallop. Maybe we are the ones who “get it.”

I searched the Internet and found more opinions of people who like Chaos. They weren’t pretty.

I found people who praised it for its brutality, realism, believability, acting, cinematography, story, pacing, intentions, and violence. They praised DeFalco and Bernheim for not making a feel-good movie.

I found people who claimed that Chaos was “hardcore”, “startling”, “relentless”, “nasty”, “gritty”, “bold”, “in your face”, “engaging”, “moving”, “gripping” and “powerful”.

I found people who claimed that Chaos “evoked strong feelings in [them] the whole way through”, “had [them] on the edge of their seat”, “never cuts away from its violence”, “shows how dangerous some people really are”, “really made [them] feel like [they] were there”, and “wasn’t a movie, but an experience”.

Then I encountered the people who think that Chaos trumps LHotL. “[Chaos is] everything that the remake of LHotL should have been”. “LHotL was cheap, exploitative, completely without quality, and deserved to be ripped off”.

Then I came across the people who defend Chaos‘s lack of plot or character. “Not everything is about plot”. “The things done to these two teens are the plot. Get it?” “No need for dialogue or character development”.

And then I had the misfortune of seeing the opinions of those who bash people who hate Chaos. “Typical stupid pussified American sheep are so reliant on their message of hope that they can’t handle an unhappy ending”. “If you don’t like Chaos, you’re not a true slasher movie lover”. “People who hate this just don’t know horror”. “If you don’t like Chaos, then you are not a true lover of brutality movies”. “If you hate Chaos, then you are not a true horror fan”. “If you hate Chaos, you are not a true movie lover”. “People who bash this movie have obviously never seen it”. “People just want to keep their blinders on”. “People just don’t want to admit that Chaos bothers them”. “People are just afraid of seeing this slice of life”. “People just can’t handle how realistic this movie is”. “People are just bashing this masterpiece because they can’t handle the extreme violence”. “Critics of Chaos clearly don’t live in the real world and have never had something like this happen to them”.

And yes, I of course saw people’s opinions that Chaos is art. “Chaos is art”. “I’m used to hearing the typical predictable, tiresome claims that Chaos is anything less than art”. “Art can be uncomfortable too”.

And then I came across this person, whose spiel has not been edited.

“1. “this movie is sad”-reviewer, yeah what do you expect a film boasting as “themost brutal film ever made” -ta be, happy? 2. gore, even though there isn’t much, holds up! 3. the story has it’s quirky moments to lighten up the intense atmosphere. 4. this movie could happen just like another reviewer stated bout me th-amphetamine users 5. the world is an ugly place. 6. i refuses to give in to the other remake pg-13 level hip & cool quick camera b.s. crap thats killing horror.”

I had to do a double-take on that little tidbit, and do the dramatic glasses-lowering thing.

It was a sad day when I found the people who are actually willing to defend Chaos.

Considering not just my hatred for Chaos, but the shady and shameless practices by DeFalco and Bernheim and the ludicrous and atrocious content in Chaos, does Chaos have a right to exist? Of course. It’s free speech, I guess, just so long as this movie wasn’t actually based on real-life events, as that would be screwed up.

Parenting. It’s what it’s all about. If you as a parent don’t want your kids (or your teens for that matter) to watch Chaosdon’t let them freaking watch Chaos! And if responsible adults who are aware of Chaos being garbage want to watch Chaos, I don’t give a crap! Have at it! And if you like it, that’s fine! Just…don’t talk to me. Actually, I take that back. If you like it, please tell me why. I would be intrigued to know. Talk to me as a child and explain in graphic detail why Chaos is a good movie.

But my issue is not with you. My issue is with David DeFalco and Steven Jay Bernheim.

I have never regretted watching a movie. Even Chaos. Every movie I see shapes my cinematic paradigm, for better or worse, from godsent films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Passion of the Christ to sleazy muck like The Messenger: The Story of Joan of ArcThe Cat in the Hat, and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Movies help me deal with my insecurity. They give me a voice. They help me educate myself on my own self, the goodness of humanity, and the glory of God. And when I see movies like Chaos, I teach myself to reinforce my outlook on life. But with movies like Chaos, it becomes very hard to remind myself that I believe in God’s plan for me and humanity. It becomes very hard to remind myself that I believe that while humanity can be a force for great evil, it can also be a force for good. Though I believe in the goodness of humanity, I believe that God is a key component to maintaining that goodness.

When the movie finally ended, I sat in my computer chair, bewildered, but for all of the wrong reasons. I am not always picky about realism in film, but after hearing DeFalco and Bernheim make such a point about how this film was “disturbing”, “brutal”, “horrifying”, and “thought-provoking” in its “realism”, I must judge Chaos on it.

By the time Chaos’s personification of evil has killed all of our “heroes”, the screen has gone dark, and we hear the villain’s quiet, rough, cold, heartless laughter, indicating that evil has triumphed. So, over the course of Chaos, including its opening text crawl, what have we learned? That if teenage girls do anything as simple as take a walk in the woods, let alone go to a party or actually try to do a dang thing with their lives, that evil, disgusting pigs will torture, rape, and murder them, not always in that order? We can’t spend our lives in total seclusion, living under rocks and waiting out our meager existences. If DeFalco and Bernheim truly wanted to educate teenage girls on the horrors of what human monsters can do to them, they should have spent the time that was used to make this movie spending time and money helping women’s groups, filming public service announcements to show and tell where abused and battered women can seek help and shelter. Maybe they could have made safety videos on the dangers of talking to strangers and doing drugs. And at the very least, DeFalco and Bernheim could have made a movie that addresses the violence depicted in Chaos, made every showing of the movie free, had a Q&A session after every viewing, and actually treated their audience as more than cattle. If this sounds like Roger Ebert’s rather snobbish attitude toward the typical slasher movies of the eighties, allow me to explain why it’s not. When Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert reviewed Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter, they claimed that the movie was delivering a potentially damaging message to its teenage audience that is similar to the message I elaborated on above. While some of you may say that Chaos is simply meant to be like any typical eighties slasher, and that there is no message, allow me to counter: at the very beginning of Chaos, the opening text very clearly said that the movie was meant to be educational and was meant to warn parents and their children.

While evil cannot be overlooked, disinfected, or exscinded, evil, in Chaos’s case, is exploited and then some. When filmmakers, novelists, poets, and songwriters portray evil, they know that, even though the victory of evil does happen often, it is not enough to simply show or record it. They must show some sort of reaction to it. They need to give some sort of commentary. They need to give some notion that they have an idea of how to deal with and ultimately conquer evil. Not only does Chaos do nothing of the sort, it does absolutely nothing to help its audience even gain any semblance of understanding inhumanity, war, genocide, murder, rape, torture, or anything remotely associated with evil. Worse, it lacks even basic understanding of human nature. It only exists to exploit the horrible things done to these two young women. And yes, violence like this does happen to some people every day, but we as people need context. We need to be given an idea of how to stop it. Chaos does nothing to help the audience understand violence and evil, and worse, it doesn’t even give any sort of justification for it all.

In such a volatile time as this, in a world growing increasingly detached from morality in general and spinning away into oblivion, is it worth it to just show evil? By just saying that the world is full of evil and evil people and then doing little else other than showing us a picture of evil in its purest, basest, lowest form, you are not “depicting” evil. You are essentially just giving up and surrendering to it.

But Chaos does more than just surrender to evil – it feeds it. DeFalco said himself that he is the “King of Violence and Evil”. Chaos in and of itself is the glorification of wanton physical and sexual sadism and murder without any semblance of comeuppance. More than that, Chaos presents this veneration of evil with its own attitude of there being little to no method to fight against it. In Chaos, evil is given no accountability, no zeal, no background, no setup, no framework or structure, and no profundity. In fact, as I said earlier, we are given zero reminders that our villains at any point are actually human. It has completely forgotten the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” It is a closed system that will always be self-defeating.

One of Chaos’s most damning ideas is that it lacks any and every aspect of hope. While Chaos may have its sense of ineffectuality and dejection and its unhappy ending, it lacks any sort of release or catharsis. Most films with unhappy endings have these unhappy endings to help us deal with them, and accept failure, defeat, pain, and death as part of our lives, and serve to make us educate ourselves about our own humanity, our shortcomings, and, ultimately, our mortality. According to Chaos’s filmmakers, there is simply no alternative to death, destruction, and damnation, that life is worthless and lacks any sort of value, that hope is impossible let alone pointless, and that evil not only reigns and runs rampant through every society today, but will ultimately triumph over good. This is what DeFalco and Bernheim say that our world is like and that this is how things are and always will be.

In a world of reprehensible evil, your only response is to be nihilistic and hopeless? What type of people are you? I already know that your response will be “We are realists, and we are the people that will watch humanity in silence as it destroys itself. There is nothing worth saving, and so we will not bother trying.”

Humanity inherently evil? Humanity destroying itself? Humanity having nothing worth saving?

That could not be farther from the truth.

While humanity may be inherently flawed, there will always be those who strive to cling to morality and common decency, setting an example for others looking for a source of hope, a reason to exist. Contrary to popular belief, people are, in increasing numbers, turning to, for example, religion and God for any sort of reason what we are, why we are what we are, where we come from, why we are here, and where we are going. Paul Gauguin asked the same question in his famous painting. But I and many others are finding the answers to these five big questions. As the godless and the irreligious speed away into untold evils, more and more people are realizing that they, and we, have a purpose. This is why I believe in God, and am part of the LDS church. It gives me hope. It makes it easier to love my family, friends, fellow members of my church, and humanity in general. And, most of all, it gives me the slightest shred of hope that I’m actually here for a reason, that life actually has purpose, that I didn’t just materialize out of nothing, and that there’s something waiting for me when it’s all over.

And, like more than ninety percent of people in this world, I don’t just believe, but know, that soon, the evildoers will get their comeuppance, and the righteous shall reap their reward. Soon.

In the meantime, just ignore David DeFalco, ignore Steven Jay Bernheim, and ignore their huffy, dismal little film. In time, it, and they, will die, alone, defunct, desolate, forsaken, and forgotten, having not only received their comeuppance, but having been lost from even the darkest recesses of the minds of men.

We’ll all be better off for it.

God be with us.

Final verdict: Thumbs Down.

Review 61: Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (5/5)

Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

Directed by Robert Wiene

Starring Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski

Released on February 26, 1920

Running time 1h 11m

Not Rated (Suggested rating: PG for frightening sequences throughout and some violence. Though I would rate it PG, I must stress that this is not a kids’ movie.)

Genre: Horror

As an up-and-coming horror fan, I knew that I would have to go on a long, perilous journey back to the very beginning, and bear witness of the first full-length horror film, and the forerunner of the German expressionism movement: Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari. While the 1913-14 serial Fantomas was technically the first horror film, it was a ghost story set in a familiar world. This was not the case with Caligari.

Beforehand, I had had little to no fear about what I would experience. How bad can German expressionism be? After I watched Caligari, I cursed myself for not investigating this film earlier. I felt like a much more experienced and knowledgeable horror junkie after watching it.

The best version of this that I could find was a 1996 remastering, so that is what I am reviewing today.

Like Hellraiser, Caligari establishes its atmosphere right off the bat with a fantastic soundtrack by Timothy Brock. (He was only the composer for this remastering.) It sounded very Bernard-Herrman-in-Psycho­, as it is entirely made up of a small string ensemble, sounding like two violins, two violas, one or two cellos, and maybe a contrabass, and it is entirely atonal, meaning that it is in no established key. It’s strange, it’s unnerving, and it never stops throughout the film.

We open in a forest, where a young man in his thirties talks to an old man, who claims that spirits have driven him from his family and home. The young man’s name is Francis (Feher), and he one-ups the old man with his story of what he believes to be the strangest experience of his life.

Iris shot transition to a illustration of a town on a steep mountain. Immediately, the atmosphere is given another level of unease, as the drawing of the village looks eerily similar to an exodus of ghostly figures struggling to reach the top of a hill.

And then we are introduced to why this film is so famous: its set design. Its set pieces are warped and twisted, a nervous and upsetting jagged, disorderly landscape of sharp, sudden angles, slanted and lopsided walls and windows, low ceilings and doors, tall chairs and tables, stairways ascending through odd diagonals away into mystery, trees that resemble lightning, bottomless, murkier-than-usual shadows, and lights and shadows painted directly on the sets. This all was done in order to make the viewer believe that he or she is in a nightmare. It is a dark, melancholy, and gloomy idiosyncratic fantastical mindscape, full of delusions, false impressions, and deceptive appearances, eerie, nether fascination, and gaudy sensationalism, using its own theories of knowledge and its own technological restrictions to overpower its audience with incontestably spine-chilling power. While being relentlessly nagging in how disconcerting they are, these visuals are curiously beautiful in their atavistically horrific influence. While films had heretofore made an effort to encapsulate realism onscreen, Caligari not only ditches that method of filmmaking, but behaves like and may as well be averring that it doesn’t exist. It intentionally makes itself exist outside of the realm of reality. It’s actually quite a sight to see. In fact, these visuals are there during the entire film. There is nowhere “safe” from them.

As Francis and his best friend Alan (von Twardowski) good-naturedly compete for the love of Jane (Dagover), a man dressed all in black arrives in the town of Holstenwall. He is somewhat overweight, and has wide, staring, piercing eyes.He goes to the town hall to acquire a permit to present an exhibit at the upcoming town fair, where he plans to present a somnambulist. This man’s name is Dr. Caligari (Krauss). At the first day of the fair, he rings his bell in front of his tent, advertising Cesare (Veidt), the aforementioned somnambulist, who, when awoken, has the ability to see one’s future. That night, the town clerk is found murdered.

I do not care that Werner Krauss was a Nazi sympathizer. I do not care that he starred in several anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda films, however reprehensible that may be. What matters here is Krauss’s performance as Dr. Caligari. In fact, what matters is the performances of all of the actors. The quirk about silent films is that actors were not able to act with their voices. They had to act only with their bodies, faces, and eyes. And in Caligari’s case, the performances are fantastic even now. Krauss plays a deliciously over-the-top mad scientist in the doctor himself. Already, his spasmodic way of walking disconcerts, his odd and unkempt look perturbs, and his wide, wild, manic eyes disturb. I will discuss the other actors later.

Also, the only thing that looks remotely normal about this world is the characters within it. But even then, almost all of them are wide-eyed, pale, skinny, and do not look well grounded in reality.

The next day, Francis and Alan go to the fair, and see Dr. Caligari alongside a group of people. They go into Caligari’s tent, where Caligari pulls back a curtain to reveal a coffin standing up. He opens the doors to reveal a sleeping, unnaturally skinny man dressed in what would eventually become a Morphsuit, and rouses him. And this is the moment that caused women in 1920 to scream and/or faint: the man, named Cesare, opens his eyes. I understand why – it’s a creepy moment. Those dang eyes stare into your soul.

Alan quickly steps up to have Cesare answer his question: “How long do I have to live?” Cesare speaks his only line: “‘til dawn tomorrow.” Alan is initially shocked, but quickly dismisses it as a hoax, laughing it off as he and Francis leave.

That night, when Alan and Francis get to Francis’s house, they encounter Jane, who is pleased to see both of them before she leaves for her own house. As Francis is about to go into his own house, Francis and Alan reaffirm to each other that though they both love Jane, no matter which of them she chooses, they will both remain friends. Great move. That’s one example of how to make likable characters.

But this friendship doesn’t last long, as just before dawn, a shadowy figure comes into Alan’s bedroom and stabs him to death with a knife.

Francis is told of Alan’s death, goes to see his body, and realizes that Cesare’s prophecy came true. After he tells a shocked Jane about it, he goes to the police and asks for police authorization to investigate Dr. Caligari and Cesare.

The first time I watched this movie, my instincts told me that Francis could be using the story about Caligari and Cesare as a method to cover up his murder of Alan in order to have no competition on his way to marrying Jane. But I pushed these instincts back down into my system, as this would not be consistent with Francis as a character.

When night falls, another man – not Cesare – is caught trying to kill an old woman. He is caught, and the police and Francis question him. The would-be murderer confesses to the attempted murder of the old woman, but denies any involvement in the deaths of Alan or the town clerk.

Later that night, Francis secretly spies on Dr. Caligari, and watches as Cesare sleeps in his box. Strangely, Cesare appears at the window of Jane, and he breaks in. This scene also made women faint back in 1920. Stunned by her beauty, he refuses to kill her, instead abducting her and running off. When an angry mob gives chase, Cesare drops Jane, flees, gets a decent distance away, then collapses and dies. The criminal from earlier had been locked away all night, so he is not suspected. Francis and the police barge into Caligari’s shack and pull out the coffin with Cesare in it, only to see that the Cesare in the coffin is only a dummy. Caligari escapes in the confusion, but Francis chases after him to an insane asylum, and upon entering, Francis sees that Caligari is the director of the asylum.

Later, when Caligari is asleep in his villa, Francis and the asylum staff study his records and diary. They tell of an 11th-century mystic named Caligari, who terrorized northern Italian towns by using his somnambulist to commit murders. “Caligari”, obsessed with the real Caligari, goes insane himself, constantly telling himself “Du musst Caligari werden,” which means “You must become Caligari”. He experiments on a somnambulist brought to his asylum, making the somnambulist his very own “Cesare”. Francis and the staff leave the office.

Soon after “Caligari” returns to his office, he is confronted by Francis, the asylum staff, and the police, who show him “Cesare’s” corpse. “Caligari” is shocked at the corpse, and attacks one of the asylum staff. He is restrained, put into a straitjacket, and becomes an inmate in his own asylum. For him and his former patients, I can safely say that it takes an insane man to know another insane man. That was a terrible attempt on my part to say “It takes one to know one”.

We return to the present as Francis finishes telling the old man his story. Francis takes the old man to…you know what, this is a great twist ending. I want to build it up. It comes pretty close to giving The Sixth Sense, Planet of the Apes, The Usual Suspects, Fight Club, Primal Fear, Sleepaway Camp, Psycho, The Empire Strikes Back, Se7en, Memento, The Others, The Village, Orphan, and Shutter Island runs for their money, if not actually doing so. It is such a damning twist that it even makes the twisted set design make sense. It somehow wraps up every loose end. I was amazed.

The twist is…no. Screw it. I’m not going to spoil it. All I can say is that it is awesome. It actually hurts to see. It is that good. Go watch it for yourself. Here’s a Youtube link, so you won’t have to go out and actually try to find a DVD: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AP3WDQXkJq4

It’s not a very scary story, but the way it is told combined with its unique German expressionistic visual style makes it a thoroughly harrowing experience.

When this film was remastered in 1996, the people who did so intentionally left the spots and blemishes on the video. Overall, it adds to the atmosphere, and shows that the movie has aged remarkably well through its almost one hundred years of existence.

Even the film being black-and white was changed slightly, as each shot was tinted brown for day, blue for night, and purple for one shot inside Jane’s house.

The acting and writing behind all of it is fantastic. Francis is clearly scared but determined to see justice done. Jane’s innocence holds strong. Alan inspires a cracked smile with his more casual attitude. The imposing “Cesare” still terrifies with his almost voodoo-zombie-like movements and actions. But “Caligari” easily steals the show.

But this film surprised me the most by doing this single, solitary thing among all of the disturbing beauty. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari scared me. But it didn’t do just that. In fact, just like Hellraiser, it actually disturbed me.

What makes this film so scary for me is the constant, persistent feeling that something is wrong. It is just unsettling enough to continually be on my mind. It is a nagging, nauseating feeling (in a good way) that still scares me every time I watch it. It is one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen. Its outlook on horror in general is remarkably unique. It did just enough to put me out of my comfort zone and actually start to make me feel uneasy, then actually kind of creeped out, to actually scared. I may not have lost sleep that night when I first watched it, but it certainly stuck with me for a long while.

I felt physically affected, ill, and buffeted about by its ever-twisting, ever-adjusting, ever-mentally-scarring story-backed imagery.

This film introduced me into the strange and wondrous land of German expressionist films, where the story, characters, and world discard all notions of reality, filling themselves with wrong angles and lost values. It is one of few genres that have and will continue to stand the test of time.

And if films like Der Golem, Metropolis, M, and Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens are anything like Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari, I’m in for a treat.

It was also quite nice to know that Robert Wiene (the director) and Conrad Veidt (Cesare) successfully moved on to more good movies. I can’t say the same for Werner Krauss, as the majority of his career after Caligari was spent making Nazi propaganda films. Wiene and Veidt worked together on The Hands of Orlac, and Veidt moved on to The Man Who Laughs, The Thief of Bagdad, and Casablanca, and even starred in two responses to Nazi anti-Semitic films, The Eternal Jew and Jew Suss.

Good job, Herr Wiene and Herr Veidt. Glad I could see what you two do best. Caligari was a wonderful, scary film that I will definitely show to my friends.

Thanks for making it.

Final verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

Review 60: Hellraiser (5/5)

Hellraiser

Directed by Clive Barker

Starring Ashley Laurence, Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman, Andrew Robinson, Oliver Smith, Doug Bradley

Released on September 10, 1987

Running time 1hr 33m

Rated R

Genre: Horror

Before I start: My previous review was a particularly bad experience, so I am going to review a horror film that I love in an attempt to dispel my anger and bewilderment. I will gladly say that this film is one of those diamonds hidden in the mountain of sludge.

Stephen King, one of my personal favorite horror writers (though his other stuff is just as good), actually said, “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.”

Hellraiser was my first foray into the strange and wondrous land of Clive Barker’s imagination. I then read some of his books, watched some of his movies, and even watched YouTube videos of people playing Undying and Jericho.

I knew next to nothing about Hellraiser before I watched it. And I have no regrets about doing so.

Right off the bat, in the opening credits, Christopher Young’s fantastic orchestral soundtrack sets the overall mood for the entire film. Dark. Moody. Gloomy. Gritty. Terrifying.

We start with a zoom-out shot of the iconic Lament Configuration puzzle box as a man named Frank (Chapman), our first main character, buys it from its Asian owner.

BOX OWNER: What’s your pleasure, Mr. Cotton?

FRANK: The box.

FRANK, whose fingernails are very dirty, slides over a wad of cash.

BOX OWNER: Take it. It’s yours.

FRANK picks up the Box, and takes a few steps away.

BOX OWNER: It always was.

FRANK walks away.

Cut immediately to Frank, in his house’s attic, surrounded by a square of candles. He is on his knees, trying to solve the box. He opens the box, hears a slightly flat C sharp bell tone, and a small blast of light is emitted from the box as several chains with hooks on the end reach out and snare Frank. He screams. Cut to the outside of Frank’s house. Cut back in to reveal chains with hooks on the ends of them hanging from the ceiling, all covered in blood and with hunks of flesh hanging from them, with one or two swiveling pillars covered in hooks of all shapes and sizes sticking out at every angle, also covered in blood and flesh. Frank has been torn to pieces. A humanoid creature dressed in black fetish wear with nails sticking out of its head in a grid pattern (I’ll talk about him later) reassembles Frank’s face and closes the box, returning the room to normal, leaving no trace of themselves, their torture devices, or Frank.

Frank’s character is expanded on in Barker’s book The Hellbound Heart. Frank is a sexual rebel, a soulless hedonist who lives only for the pleasures of the flesh. He will do anything to satisfy his lusts, and thinks nothing of the sacrifices he will need to make or the people he may step on in order to achieve his goals. He has reached what he thinks is the limit of experiences of the flesh, and he wants more. He bought the Lament Configuration, hearing that it opens doors to new levels of experience beyond what the flesh can offer. He got what was coming to him; he stopped at nothing to find his next sexual thrill, and this has resulted in his physical and metaphysical destruction. But, as the film will show us, the creatures that dwell in the realm inside the Lament Configuration will never fully destroy a soul.

We then transition to our next main character, Julia (Higgins), and her husband Larry (Rory in the book) (Robinson), as they move into the same house. They find Frank’s things and have their respective reactions, and leave, preparing to movie in on Sunday.

Julia is a very interesting character. She is a very taciturn and callous. Beautiful, picturesque, and immaculate, she is very distant and reserved, and seems to derive no pleasure from anything or anyone, least of all her husband and his daughter from a previous marriage. Later in this scene, we learn Julia’s only private joy – the memories of her extramarital affair with Larry’s brother…Frank. Frank was the only man who was never intimidated by her. He treated her roughly, broke down her defenses, seduced her with his dark and sadistic sexual aura, and she fell for it. This same aura lay dormant in Julia until it was awakened by Frank. Julia likes her sex rough. In fact, their first time having sex was the day of Julia and Larry’s wedding. Even though Frank is gone, she still lusts after him.

Larry, on the other hand, was written to be dull as a slice of unbuttered toast. He truly loves his wife with all his heart, but he doesn’t quite understand how to treat a woman. He is truly a nice guy, but he possesses no foresight, no imagination. He is essentially the everyday, mundane man brought down by his own simple existence and his own unquestioning devotion to Julia.

While the movers are helping Julia and Larry move their belongings into the house, Larry’s twentysomething daughter Kirsty (Laurence) arrives. Larry and the movers try to get a mattress up the stairs. Larry cuts his hand badly on a nail sticking out of the rail, and goes up to Julia, who is in the attic remembering her affair with Frank. Blood drips on the floor. Julia has Kirsty drive him to the hospital.

As the three exit the room, something strange happens. The blood is sucked into the attic floor. Clear, bubbling liquid seeps up from the floorboards before a skinless hand bursts through. And in one of the best displays of practical effects I have ever seen, another hand, a heart, a spine, a brain, legs, nearly everything slowly and cringingly reforms into a skinless, mangled humanoid figure. I bet you can guess who he is.

Downstairs, Larry and Kirsty have returned from the hospital. Family members and Kirsty’s boyfriend have been invited to a dinner celebrating the move. Julia leaves the dinner early, but hears sounds coming from the attic. She investigates, and is shocked to find the humanoid creature, who grabs her and tells her that it is Frank (Smith, but dubbed by Chapman). It even has Frank’s voice. Frank tells her that Larry’s blood revived him and has regenerated his flesh to a degree. Frank asks Julia to bring him someone to feed on to continue his regeneration. After the initial shock, Julia acquiesces, remembering their affair.

Kirsty, a little tipsy, returns to her home where she lives with her boyfriend, seeing a shifty-looking homeless man on the way. Remember this guy. And that night, she has this nightmare. Just imagine me turning off the lights and shining a flashlight under my face. “The echoing sounds of wings flapping and a baby crying fill the room. Downy feathers float down from the ceiling. The room is lit by two candles. In the center is a table with a body on it, with a white sheet covering it. Blood slowly spreads from the body across the down-covered sheet. The baby’s cries get louder as you pull the sheet off the body, and the body, revealed to be the body of Larry, sits up.” Kirsty wakes up, obviously terrified, and calls her father, who is fine.

The next day, Julia makes her final character evolutionary step in her absolutely Oscar-worthy performance: from reticent and withdrawn to shocked, sickened, and aghast, to cool, calculating, aloof, and seductive as she hooks up with a guy at a bar and brings him home with the promise of sex. She lures him into the attic and they start to undress. Frank’s off in a corner in the dark, with a “get on with it” look on his face. I know how he feels. The potential suitor realizes he’s had too much to drink and tries to exit the attic to empty his bladder. But Julia has already locked the door, and when the poor lamb’s back is turned, Julia smashes his head in with three blows from a hammer. This spatters blood on her clothes, and she exits the room as Frank moves over to the corpse. We hear odd sounds emanating from the attic as Frank presumably sucks every last nutrient out of the body. Actually looking physically older after committing her first murder, Julia goes to the bathroom and washes up and successfully disposes of the now-desiccated corpse as Larry returns home. Julia confronts Frank later. Frank’s nerves are beginning to work again, and he’s in pain. He asks for one, maybe two more bodies, and despite Julia’s initial refusal, she agrees once reminded of the affair with Frank. And I find part of her to be rather hesitant. I think Frank’s going to make Julia do this for him whether she wants to or not.

FRANK: Come to Daddy.

Now that I’ve seen this film, that line makes me shudder.

The next day, at Kirsty’s workplace at an exotic pet shop, the same homeless man reappears, steals a handful of crickets, and, when Kirsty tells him to put them back, the homeless man shoves the crickets in his mouth and eats them. Kirsty is obviously disgusted, and when her boyfriend arrives out of nowhere, the homeless man disappears without a trace.

As Julia commits her next murder, she is visibly less shaken by it. Any hesitancy is gone. This reaction can be likened to addictions to drugs or pornography. It’s tough the first time, but it gets easier once you’ve started…and it gets harder to quit. I should know – I’m still dealing with occasional usage of pornography. My own addiction has definitely lessened over the years – I still thank God for that – but I still have a ways to go.

Julia asks Frank how he got to the state he was in, and how he came back. Frank holds up the Lament Configuration.

FRANK: Don’t touch it! It’s dangerous. It opens doors.

JULIA: What kind of doors?

(Brief montage of FRANK’s torture and glimpses of the humanoid creatures of the realm inside the Box as FRANK says)

FRANK: Doors to the pleasures of Heaven or Hell. I didn’t care which. I thought I’d gone to the limits. I hadn’t. The Cenobites gave me an experience beyond the limits. Pain and pleasure indivisible.

In a scene somewhere around now, Kirsty is having dinner with Larry at a restaurant, and Larry asks Kirsty to visit and try to befriend Julia.

That night, Larry and Julia overhear Frank pounding the wall to distract himself from his pain. Julia begs Larry not to go to the attic, and distracts him with the promise of sex. They go into the bedroom and get onto the bed. Larry’s into it, but Julia sees Frank standing at the foot of the bed. Julia says “No” and “I can’t bear it” both to Larry because of the sex, and Frank because she doesn’t want him to kill her husband. By the way – ANIMAL CRUELTY ALERT – Frank slices open a rat before Julia’s desperate pleas to stop. Frank retreats to the attic while a bewildered Larry says that he doesn’t understand Julia.

And now we switch main characters for the final time: to Kirsty.

Kirsty is this film’s personification of goodness. She clearly loves her father and Julia and is an overall good person, but she is not innocent; she lives with her boyfriend and presumably participates in nonmarital sex.

The next scene shows Kirsty about a hundred yards away from the house, witnessing Julia lead a third man into the house. Obviously this movie is following the rule of threes. Julia leads the man upstairs, where he is attacked by Frank. Kirsty hears his screams, runs into the house, and runs upstairs, only to see the dying man lurch out of the room, managing to squeeze out a cry for help before Frank kills him. And then Frank goes for Kirsty, saying that he remembers her and that she’s more beautiful now. He even tries to remind her that it’s Uncle Frank by using the phrase “Come to Daddy”. My mouth dropped open in shock. Has Frank sexually abused Kirsty in the past? If so, wow. Thinking of that still gives me the jibblies. Frank maneuvers Kirsty into the attic. Kirsty happenstances upon the Lament Configuration. After Frank demands that she give him the box, Kirsty taunts him with it, then tosses it out the window. Frank shouts “NO”, Kirsty runs out of the house, she picks up the box, and runs away, obviously shaken, and keeps running until she collapses from exhaustion.

Two things about this past scene: 1) This movie’s total count of F words is three. Two are used in this past scene. 2) Unlike Camilla Belle from the remake of When a Stranger Calls, Ashley Laurence is a talented and much underappreciated actress, and she manages to act horrified, disgusted, and ultimately shaken and traumatized.

Kirsty awakens in the hospital. She is desperate to call her father, but the doctor demands that she get some rest and, leaving the Lament Configuration in the room, he locks her in. Kirsty then tries to solve the box, ignorant of what will happen. Kirsty then hits the right spot and inadvertently solves the box. A corridor opens up in the wall. Kirsty gets up and walks into it, and this is where I decided, Nope! Nope! Don’t go any further! I don’t need to see what Hell looks like! I didn’t turn off the movie, but I was telling Kirsty to not go any further. In fact, the movie itself tells her when a pink monster hanging upside-down from the ceiling appears and chases her out of the corridor, which closes behind her. The TV in the corner of the hospital room that had heretofore been playing a video of a red rose blooming is interrupted by static and feeds of an IV saline bag sucking blood and eventually bursting and white flowers blooming. That dang bell tolls. Even the soundtrack glitches a bit.

And then we not only meet, but get our first good look at, the Cenobites. First, a bald, tan-skinned, eyeless, lips-peeled-back Cenobite shows up with his chattering teeth on prominent display. Call him Chatterer. Second, another bald Cenobite shows up, but this time, he’s obese, with very odd obesity effects in the head area, and wearing a pair of round sunglasses. Nice. Call him Butterball. A third, female Cenobite shows up, with wires piercing her cheeks and peeling back the skin around her trachea. Call her the Female. And finally, the majestic horror icon known by many appears; he has nails sticking out of his head in a grid pattern, and is the leader of these four Cenobites: Pinhead. All four Cenobites have areas of revealed flesh where torture has or is going on, featuring what Clive Barker refers to as “repulsive glamour”. They are all horrifically mutilated, and wear black fetish wear that is permanently attached to their bodies with body piercings. The bell sound that I fear is the herald for the Cenobites’ arrival.

By the way, Pinhead is actually not the lead Cenobite’s name. Doug Bradley was credited as “Lead Cenobite”, but he was nicknamed Pinhead. Clive Barker wasn’t happy with this, so in his recent novel The Scarlet Gospels (which I have yet to read), he gave the lead Cenobite the name of the Hell Priest. So that is what I will call him from here on out.

Chatterer restrains Kirsty as Butterball looks on and Female remains the Hell Priest’s cohort.

HELL PRIEST: The box. You opened it. We came.

It’s just a puzzle box.

HELL PRIEST: Oh no. It is a means to summon us.

What even are the Cenobites?

HELL PRIEST: Explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some; angels to others.

The opening of the box was an accident. Can’t they just go back?

FEMALE: We can’t. Not alone.

HELL PRIEST: You solved the box. We came. Now you must come with us. Taste our pleasures.

Kirsty is obviously going bonkers with terror.

HELL PRIEST: Oh, no tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.

Kirsty, desperate, comes up with an idea. She tells the Cenobites to wait.

HELL PRIEST: No time for argument.

Kirsty asks if they’ve done this before.

HELL PRIEST: Many, many times.

Kirsty asks if they know Frank.

FEMALE: Oh, yes.

Kirsty says that Frank escaped them.

HELL PRIEST: Nobody escapes us.

Kirsty says that she’s seen him.

FEMALE: Impossible.

HELL PRIEST: Supposing he had escaped us, what has that to do with you?

Kirsty says that she can take them to him, and trade him for herself.

FEMALE: Perhaps we prefer you.

HELL PRIEST: I want to hear him confess himself. Then, maybe, maybe…

FEMALE: But if you cheat us…

HELL PRIEST: We’ll tear your soul apart.

The Cenobites leave, and Kirsty is left alone.

The Cenobites practice a supernatural form of hedonism with almost religious devotion that manifests itself through sensory overload to the point of impossible pain through all manner of comprehendible and unfathomable unremitting sexual torture that transcends the laws of physics. The dominion of the Cenobites is a dreary, sinister, hellish land that should never be accessed by humankind. The religious origins of the Cenobites are ambiguous. Despite them seeming like they would come from Hell itself, they abjure any overt parallels to Abrahamic or Eastern delineations of Hell, damnation, demonic nature, or even origin. They are completely amoral, with their ardor and lifestyle taking primacy over any whims, let alone philosophies, of right or wrong.

Back at the house, Frank, in response to Kirsty’s escape, tells Julia that he needs a new skin. Julia, now desensitized to murder, notices that Larry has arrived home. She goes down to meet him and lures him upstairs. Larry (or is it…?) comes back downstairs, and, when he touches Julia’s cheek, he leaves a smear of blood. Julia and Larry (that can’t actually be him, right?) then have a few-second-long shot of a delicious, passionate lovemaking session before both, fully clothed, hear Kirsty arrive at the house. When greeted by Julia at the door, she demands to see her father and barges in to find Larry (it’s Larry’s voice! It must be him!) with a somewhat bloody hairline. She runs up to him and throws her arms around him as Larry (I have a bad feeling about this) and Julia assure her that the situation with Frank is over, that they took care of him, that he’s gone now. (by now, all of my instincts are kicking in that it’s not really Larry, that all is not right.) Anyway, Julia shows Kirsty the desiccated cadaver in the attic. When Kirsty is alone up there, the Cenobites show up and ask for the man that was responsible for this killing. Thinking that the Cenobites want her father, Kirsty refuses and runs downstairs, begging Julia and Larry (I’m just gonna keep dragging this out, aren’t I?) to leave with her. Larry (don’t worry, I’ll only be a moment) tries to stop her, saying that

“LARRY”: We can all be happy here.

And then my suspicions, doubts, and fears were confirmed when the mother of all shudder-worthy catchphrases rears its ugly head for the final time.

“LARRY”: Come to Daddy.

KIRSTY: (Realizes what’s going on, starts backing away.) Oh my God.

(“LARRY”, now revealed as FRANK, starts moving toward KIRSTY.)

FRANK: Come to Daddy. (Advances on KIRSTY. She rears up and digs three gouges into FRANK’s face with her fingers. FRANK rears back, in pain.)

Julia restrains Kirsty, and Frank pulls out a switchblade, ready to stab Kirsty and suck her dry. Frank lunges forward, but at the last second, Kirsty moves to the side, and Frank inadvertently stabs Julia. Kirsty escapes Julia’s grasp, runs upstairs, and hides. Downstairs, Frank sucks Julia dry without remorse.

FRANK: It’s nothing personal, baby.

It was now that I realized that Andrew Robinson would make a great villain. He definitely has the soft, smooth voice that gets under your skin. Kind of like Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. And, when I looked up Robinson’s filmography, it turns out that he has already played a great villain – Scorpio from Dirty Harry. In fact, his performance in that is so convincing that he actually received death threats after the film’s release.

And now begins the beautiful, delicious suspense part of the movie – and boy, is it glorious. I was terrified. This sick man is not just going to kill our heroine, but he’s going to screw her before and/or after killing her. And Kirsty gives a fantastic performance. Even the soundtrack plays it smart with this scene by being completely absent. This sequence is very slow, very patient in allowing the dripping-with-atmosphere scene to build and build into an almost unbearable payoff in which Frank finds her, corners her, and maneuvers her into the attic. Frank then addresses himself as Frank, sealing his own doom, as the bell sounds and the Cenobites appear.

HELL PRIEST: Frank.

FRANK: (Realizes he is doomed.) No.

FEMALE: We had to hear it from your own lips.

FRANK: (to KIRSTY) You set me up, b!tch!

Frank moves to stab Kirsty with his switchblade, but a hooked chain springs out of nowhere and snags his hand. Many other chains spring out and hook Frank, and start pulling away in all directions.

HELL PRIEST: This isn’t for your eyes.

And then the screaming Frank, defiant to the last, pauses, and then drops this unscripted line:

FRANK: Jesus wept. (Laughs.)

Kirsty runs out of the room just as the chains pull taut and tear Frank to pieces, body and soul.

Frank loved being sadistic, but he shrank away from any semblance of masochism. He could not handle sadism turned on him. The Cenobites are what Frank wanted to be, but he was not strong enough. He was crushed by his own ego. He wanted to be a god, but he realized too late that he was only an insect. The Cenobites embodied the vices that Frank and Julia shared, and these vices ultimately claimed their lives, damning their souls to an eternity of torture.

Kirsty starts making her way downstairs, but she is blocked by the Female, who, dragging a hook along the wall, causing the walls to bleed, she says

FEMALE: Not leaving us so soon, are you?

Kirsty runs into Julia’s room, where she finds Julia’s corpse clutching the open Lament Configuration. She pries it out of Julia’s hands as the Hell Priest appears in front of her, saying

HELL PRIEST: We have such sights to show you.

In response, Kirsty puts the box back together, sending the Cenobites back to their realm in blasts of yellow lightning. Her boyfriend arrives and they escape the crumbling house.

Do I want to know what pleasures the Cenobites have to offer? Definitely. Would I open that box under any circumstances of sanity? Absolutely not.

At a burning rubbish pile outside the nearest city, Kirsty throws the box onto the fire, but the homeless man from earlier appears. It seems that he is one of the keepers of the Lament Configuration, as he transforms into a skeletal dragon-creature and flies off with the box into the night, returning it to the owner.

Hellraiser ends as it began; in the same location, with another man who wants to buy the Lament Configuration.

BOX OWNER: What’s your pleasure, sir?

Rob Zombie, if you want an example of violence and sex in a horror film done right, look no further than Hellraiser. This is how it’s done.

If you want to know how a book can be adapted for the big screen, look no further than Hellraiser. This is how it’s done.

While it loses a bit of its impact in its transition from paper to celluloid, it is no less majestic. This film is one of a precious few that didn’t just scare me, but disturbed me. The story is dark, disturbing, and terrifying. It is innovative. Nothing like it had or has ever been made. It remains original to this day. It never imitates better storytellers. It’s all fresh and frighteningly new. It knows exactly where to put its stress. It is amazingly ambitious and surprisingly intelligent in its themes of moral and emotional complexities, with its only rival of its year being Fatal Attraction. While Hellraiser is about treachery, deception, and murder within a family, as well as to not tamper with the forces of the ethereal plane, Hellraiser is also about blind love, real-life situations that are better off left alone, the darkest parts of the human psyche, and reckless desire in its purest form. The true monster of the story is ambition and desire, with the Cenobites being just a cataclysmic metaphor to carry Frank and Julia to their just deserts. It is another illicit-sex-equals-death story, but with an updated feel. Even when Hellraiser’s ambition exceeds the $1 million budget, the film actually manages to say something. The story overall was not written to pander to the audiences of the eighties. It was the story that Clive Barker wanted to tell, as he personally took the helm of directing his movie and not only alienated audiences that had been raised on Friday the 13th, House, The Evil Dead, and Fright Night, but blew them away. It is sick and remorseless, at times shocking. Its style of storytelling and overall horror is very Baroque.

Its practical effects are a little dated, but they still shock to this day. It easily trumps Rob Zombie’s effects by having the blood and actual gore have structure, be reasonable, and have some semblance of restraint. It never goes over-the-top. Even the dialogue is well-written and memorable, with the lines uttered with conviction. I expected no less from a great author. The cinematography is outstanding and captures the overall atmosphere with a very dark feel, a soft focus, just-barely-noticeable washed-out look, and juxtaposition of sensual and nightmarish imagery. The soundtrack magnifies the atmosphere flawlessly, even being absent when necessary.

While the film is all about Frank and Julia and the sins that they share, the strangely beautiful, stately Cenobites cannot be ignored. Refer to my paragraph that I wrote about them during the part when Kirsty opens the Lament Configuration. What made them such effective characters was that they were presented as the ultimate boogeymen (and boogeywoman) by giving them as little screen time as necessary, and keeping them as cryptic as possible to the audience. They were much more potent that way. The Hell Priest himself was made more verbose than Michael Myers and more earnest than Freddy Krueger. Even the internal logic in the rules that the Cenobites live by remains sound, becoming more nuanced than the typical sex=death slasher code. They are pure evil, but fair. Strange enough as it is, the Cenobites are bound by rules, and they do not break them. Though, the sequels certainly do.

It is a sick and depraved movie, and I love every minute of it. It is one of the best and most intelligent horror films to date.

As I said earlier, Stephen King said, “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.” I disagree. Barker is not the future of horror. He is the definition of horror, especially with Hellraiser.

I cannot recommend this masterpiece of cinema enough. If you need a legitimate horror film that you will compare all others against, look no farther than Hellraiser.

This is how it’s done.

Final verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

Review 59: Halloween 2 (remake) (0/5)

Halloween 2

Directed by Rob Zombie

Starring Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Sheri Moon Zombie, Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, Scout Taylor-Compton

Released on August 28, 2009

Running time: 1h 41m (theatrical) 2h (director’s cut)

Rated R

Genre: Horror, Exploitation

For this review, I watched the director’s cut.

Halloween 2 is perhaps the most unwanted and most unnecessary sequel I can think of.

As my viewers may remember, this film’s predecessor, Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween was the fourth film I ever reviewed on this blog. I found it to be a vile, bitter, ugly, cruel, cynical movie, and a reprehensibly butchered attempt to recreate the original Halloween for today’s audiences. Its two greatest crimes can be summed up as going against everything the original Halloween stood for.

Its second biggest mistake was the gutting of the character of Michael Myers. In the original Halloween, Michael was portrayed as, essentially, the boogeyman. He was rightfully referred to in the credits as The Shape. He was seen as this nameless, faceless, inhuman, and ultimately unstoppable entity that would make a beeline for you and kill you. This legitimately scares viewers even to this day. In the remake, Rob Zombie attempts to humanize Michael. The character of Michael is brought out into the limelight and poorly analyzed. In fact, by the time I walked out, all I had “learned” about Michael was “There’s nothing but evil in there.” And I had already known that. In the original, Dr. Sam Loomis, played by Donald Pleasance, taught me that by giving as little of an explanation as the audience needed. But where did Michael’s evil come from? What drove him to kill? In the original, it was up to the viewer to decide. What was more was that we didn’t need an answer. All we needed was to be afraid of Michael. Unfortunately, in the remake, the answer is halfheartedly given as “He had a less-than-satisfactory family life.” While that has helped to influence serial killers in real life, we knew that the original did not intend its killer to be from the realms of reality, even though the story was presented in a timeless manner and was treated like it could happen to anyone. So, no. We have never received an answer (a good one, anyway, as Halloween 6 would show), and it should stay that way. It’s scarier that way.

Its most damning error was its complete lack of knowledge of how to restrain itself. It lacked subtlety. It was about as over-the-top of a slasher flick as can be. Its real star was not Laurie. It was not even Michael. It was the violence. Its violence was graphic and incredibly bloody, yet somehow not actually gory. Rob Zombie, a fellow horror junkie, failed to understand that difference between bloody and gory. The film resorted to violence-induced shock value rather than actually scaring the viewer. Its incredibly unnecessarily graphic and bloody violence drove away any semblance of scariness. It was also full to the brim of illicit and explicit sex, at least two hundred F bombs, and illegal drug use. Also, the original was allegedly a social commentary on the immorality of ‘70s youth, though John Carpenter has denied this. Laurie was the lone survivor; she was depicted as innocent and pure while the rest of Michael’s victims were sexually promiscuous and/or substance abusers. The remake is nothing of the sort.

It was an ugly, repulsive, physically steaming and stinking pile of the worst that horror films have to offer.

It will remain to this day one of few films I have actually walked out of.

Nine months later, I watched the sequel, making sure not to walk out. It was worse. Talk about reopening old wounds and rubbing salt into them. This movie actually hurt to watch. I’m still hurting as I write this.

We begin with a flashback to young Michael’s days at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium as Michael’s mother (Zombie, reprise) visits Michael (Vanek), and gives him a statuette of a white horse. According to a text card, the white horse is supposed to represent some sort of emotional purification.

Looks like Daeg Faerch knew that this sequel was going to suck, as he does not reprise his role as young Michael. Also, it seems that Zombie forgot that Michael is never supposed to smile or show any semblance of emotion.

Cut forward in time to just after the end of the previous movie, with Laurie (Taylor-Compton) having just supposedly killed Michael (Mane). She is in shock as she is taken to the hospital and given emergency surgery for her injuries. The paramedics also pick up Laurie’s friend Annie (Harris) and Dr. Loomis (McDowell), who were attacked and presumed dead at the hands of Michael.  Laurie’s injuries are actually cringe-worthy. Nice…don’t count that chick before it hatches, me.

Meanwhile, Michael has been loaded into a separate ambulance to be taken to the morgue. As the driver and other officer drive, they discuss being sexually attracted to a corpse. That’s just tasteless, disgusting, dirty, creepy, wrong, and stupid. I mean…eeeeewww! But during this conversation, the driver forgets to watch the freaking road, and crashes into a cow, killing it and him, and injuring the officer. Michael awakens, kills the officer, who is a terrible actor that drops at least twenty f bombs in a minute, and then follows a ghostly apparition of his mother dressed in white. Yes, we’re only five to ten minutes in and the kills have already started.

I must mention the kills in this movie. In this movie, Michael grunts loudly as he stabs each victim upwards of twenty times. As many of us know, Michael never makes a sound apart from heavy breathing, and he never goes overboard with his kills. But all of the kills are seriously cheapened, as there is not nearly as much blood. But just because it’s not bloody, it doesn’t mean that it’s not violent. In fact, it’s more violent than the first one.

Insert title sequence in which the font has become significantly less stylized. In fact, all of the credits have been cheapened.

Laurie wakes up after surgery and wanders around the hospital. Michael comes in and kills the two-nurse skeleton crew, making his way to Laurie. Laurie sees him and flees as fast as she can manage while wearing a boot. Every groan she makes is like Bijou Phillips having sex. Michael chases her through the hospital, out the back, and into a security outpost at the gate, where Michael kills the security guard. Michael catches up to Laurie, and just as he is about to kill her, she wakes up in her bed at Sheriff Brackett’s house, now two years after the events of the previous movie.

Yes. It was all a dream. (insert breakdown almost on the same level as my last review) Guess how long that dream actually lasted. Fifteen minutes, folks, fifteen minutes! Do you want to know how to waste time when you write a script? That’s how you waste time when you write a script. And with this past scene being a dream, was the scene in which Michael escapes a dream too? If so, where in heaven’s name has he gone in the two entire years he’s been absent from Haddonfield? What even happened to have Michael go missing for exactly two years? What has he eaten? How has he lived? Where has he lived? Did he ever bathe? Where has he gotten his clothes?

As I was saying, Laurie is living with the Bracketts now, essentially being Annie’s adopted sister. Michael has been missing since two Halloweens ago, and Laurie has had recurring nightmares. Laurie is dealing with her issues through therapy (her therapist is played by Margot Kidder {what was she thinking?}), and actually has a job at some independently owned store, where she has befriended two equally white-trashy coworkers. By the way, the first scene in this store actually uses its opportunity to throw in an anti-corporate message.

By this point, I had noticed a serious and immature problem with the dialogue. Roughly every third word is the f word. I can’t describe how annoying and at times infuriating this gets. It’s a very immature way to give this movie an “edge”. By the time the movie was over, I was ready to wash out my own mouth with that blue enzyme killer that my dad has at his office that I would use to clean surgical instruments.

As Laurie is healing from her experience, Dr. Loomis has taken the time to undergo a sudden and unnecessary character change. He changes from the down-on-his-luck, bumbling doctor desperately trying to fix his mistakes to an egotistical hack job trying to capitalize on the events of two years ago by writing another book. I can’t describe how awkward this is, as this is a serious continuity error from the previous movie. At a press conference about his book, Dr. Loomis shows a clip of one of his interviews with Michael…not only after his mother died, but after he’d stopped speaking. Again, exasperating continuity error. (I miss Daeg Faerch.) In fact, Dr. Loomis meets with backlash, as the crowds blame him for Michael’s rampage and exploiting the deaths of the victims. Well, what did he think was going to happen?

Michael as a killer is actually given more screentime, again to the movie’s detriment, making Michael that much less scary. He has visions of his mother and a younger version of himself, who instruct him that it is time for him to return to Haddonfield and find his sister…even though that was the overall idea of the first one. Talk about lazy writing.

While Michael literally walks an arbitrary distance to Haddonfield, he comes across three stereotypical rednecks. They’re Caucasian, have big beards, are drunk, Southern, hunters, gun enthusiasts, and foul-mouthed. Have I mentioned before how much I hate stereotypes? The three rednecks, of course, attack Michael, and surprisingly easily beat him into submission. That’s also unbelievably enraging. But Michael gets back up, catches the rednecks off guard, and overkills them, and then killing their dog and feasting on its guts. That wasn’t tasteless at all. By the way, during Michael’s traveling, apart from the killings, he has not only changed out of his black or blue jumpsuit into dark, baggy traveling clothes with a big black hood to cover his face, he has kept his mask off. Michael NEVER does that.  This was part of what made Michael scary – we never saw his face. By now, Michael has long light brown hair, and a big beard. Here’s what he looks like. Essentially a staff-less, modern, hillbilly Moses.

Insert another massive breakdown of mine.

Laurie experiences two visions of herself in the place of Michael, both involving Michael’s mother and a younger version of Michael, and Laurie reenacting one of Michael’s murders. For example, in one of the visions, Laurie duct tapes Annie to a chair and reenacts Michael’s murder of his own father. These were entirely unnecessary. The second was some psychedelic bullhonky that resorted to fast camera effects and surreal imagery in a desperate attempt to be scary. It failed.

Laurie also blows up at her therapist at her next appointment, demanding to be prescribed more drugs. I may not be a medical professional, but I’m pretty sure that loading up on drugs is going to make your problems much worse, and will eventually fry your brain.

And this scene was a brutal reminder that the original Halloween‘s Laurie was warm, loving, and considerate, but still a tough and no-nonsense girl. Here she’s a whiny, sex-and-drug-hungry, complaining, uncharismatic, bipolar little bitch. Pardon me; the only times I will ever use derogatory terms for women in movies is if their characters are truly unlikeable, and, in this case, downright beyond the pale.

Laurie starts drinking. Because that will totally help.

Dr. Loomis’s book is finally released. Laurie buys a copy and reads it. She discovers, to her horror, that she is Michael Myers’s sister, Angel. Gee. What a plot twist that noooobody eeeeever saw coming. She has a breakdown, and flees to the house of one of her coworkers to crash at her place. Her other coworker shows up to comfort her.

Cut to a strip club, where we meet a pimp, his whore, and his grunt. By the way, this pimp is actually a Vietnam veteran. Way to reinforce another Crazy War Veteran stereotype – horny. The pimp sends his grunt to take out the trash, and when the grunt complies, he comes across a mask-less Michael, who has now arrived in Haddonfield. Jeez, this is on the same level as Friday the 13th Part XIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Ouch. When the grunt tries to get Michael out of his way, Michael takes him down with one punch, and then stomps on his head until he crushes it. The shot just before Michael actually does it completely gives the modus operandi of the kill away. The pimp and the whore are just about to have sex, so Michael goes inside and kills them. The whore rips off part of his mask as she dies.

Dr. Loomis is featured on a Tonight Show with Jay Leno-esque show called The Newman Hour, guest-starring himself and…”Weird” Al Yankovic?

JOHNNY CAGE (Mortal Kombat): NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

JUDGE DREDD (Stallone ’95): NO!

FRANK COTTON (Hellraiser): NO.

ELLIOT MOORE (The Happening): What? No!

DEREK ZOOLANDER: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

RON BURGUNDY (Anchorman): NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

SECURITY GUARD (Austin Powers): NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

CAPT. PICARD (Star Trek: First Contact): NO! NOOOOOOOO!

CAESAR (Rise of the Planet of the Apes): NOOOO!

FRODO BAGGINS: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

SAMWISE GAMGEE: NOOOOO!

RALPHIE (A Christmas Story): NOOOOOOOOOO!

BRICK TAMLAND (Anchorman): NO! GOD! NO! GOD! PLEASE! NO! NOOO! NOOOOO!

GRINCH: NOOOOO!

DR. OCTOPUS: NOOOOOOOOO!

PATRICK STAR: NO! THIS IS PATRICK!

CHUCKY (Child’s Play…all three): NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

RAMESES (Prince of Egypt): NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

PETER PARKER (Spider-Man 2): NOOOOOOOOOO!

SULLEY (Monsters, Inc.): No. No! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NOOOOOOO!

BUZZ LIGHTYEAR: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

JAFAR: NOOOOOOOO!

ZEUS (Hercules): NOOOOOOOOO!

ZUKO (Avatar: The Last Airbender): NOOOOOOOOO!

JONNIE GOODBOY TYLER (Battlefield Earth): NOOOOOO!

LUKE SKYWALKER (A New Hope): NO!

LUKE SKYWALKER (The Empire Strikes Back): NOOOOO! NOOOO!

ANAKIN SKYWALKER: NO!

OBI-WAN KENOBI: NOOOOOOOOO!

ASH (Evil Dead 2): NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

ACE VENTURA: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

DARTH VADER: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Why, Al, why? What made you think you would be cameoing in a good movie? You have too much talent to do this! I LOVED UHF!

Yes, I am fully aware that I just overdid that joke.

Loomis is humiliated on camera by Mr. Newman, and leaves, believing his career to be over. Well, it is time to think about retirement.

Then I looked at the timer on the movie and saw that we somehow have forty minutes left.

We cut back to Laurie and her two coworkers, and Laurie has gone through another odd emotional change. In the last scene, she was all, “My f^cking life is in f^cking shambles and I’m never gonna f^cking recover!” to “I’m so f^cking happy-go-lucky! I wanna f^cking party! I don’t f^cking care anymore!” Yes, her dialogue goes something like that. I’m not kidding; about every third word is the f word. Laurie and her two coworkers go to some concert featuring a band known as Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures. Yes, Rob, I got your reference. Judging by their genre of music, which is horror-themed soft rock, you’d think that they’d be a pretty tame band. But when you judge them by their audience, and the fact that in between each of Captain Clegg’s songs, we hear the tasteless quips of a repulsive, debauched comedian who seems to build his entire career off of working blue, they’re probably the most trashy band ever, as their audience is essentially a mosh pit that may as well be a freaking orgy. Practically every woman there is topless or completely naked. Way to go, Rob Zombie. You’ve just demonstrated how immature you are when it comes to nudity. I don’t remember the Halloween costume of one of the coworkers, but Laurie is dressed up as a sexy maid, while the other coworker is dressed as Dr. Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sigh.

As I sat through this concert, I can honestly say that I became physically uncomfortable. I felt not just disgusting, but physically sick. I wanted nothing more than to skip this scene. But, regrettably, I stuck it out. I was amazed – this is one of very few movies that made me physically uncomfortable. In fact, I have never felt more uncomfortable while watching a movie.

Michael arrives at the concert and kills “Dr. Frank-N-Furter” and her would-be sexual liaison. Laurie and the other coworker go back to the Bracketts’. Michael goes there and kills Annie and the coworker. Laurie runs away. Sheriff Brackett arrives with the police force only to find his own daughter dead. And this leads to the only redeeming moment of the entire film – Brackett’s reaction to Annie’s corpse. It’s actually kind of sad. Had this scene – and this entire freaking movie – been done right, it could have been the next The Green Mile. Brad Dourif easily gives the best performance in the whole movie. It’s really nice to see him playing something other than Grima Wormtongue from The Two Towers or Chucky from Child’s Play. In particular, it’s nice to see him playing a father. Dude, he  should have been the star of this movie! “Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield, and it’s up to the sheriff to protect his town from Michael’s bloody rampage.”

Laurie runs several miles out of Haddonfield before she collapses and is picked up by a passing driver. Of course, Michael gets there in the nick of time and kills the driver. Michael flips the car over by himself, knocking Laurie out. Now, that’s just silly. Michael claims his prize, and carries her toward a dilapidated shack in the middle of a clearing.

Dr. Loomis catches the story on the news (that quickly, huh?) and heads out there. Sheriff Brackett and the entire police force surround the shack.

Laurie is being forced by a vision of Michael’s mother – now her mother as well – to repeatedly say, “I love you, mommy.”

Dr. Loomis arrives at the shack and approaches the Sheriff. The Sheriff blames Dr. Loomis for his daughter’s death – who wouldn’t? – and punches him in the jaw. He gets out his gun and threatens to shoot Dr. Loomis, but his officers restrain him, and the Sheriff orders Dr. Loomis to leave. Dr. Loomis breaks the police barrier, saying that he owes this to the Sheriff, and runs inside the shack. He confronts a now-insane Laurie and a stoic Michael. Michael is given a “go” signal by the apparition of his mother, and he tackles Dr. Loomis, busting through the cabin wall. The police say they don’t have a clear shot (they actually kind of do), so they hold their fire. Michael removes his mask (boo hiss.) in front of Dr. Loomis and the police, and this is where I broke. Again.

Michael speaks.

You read that correctly.

Michael speaks.

Mr. Zombie, do you have any idea how insulting that is to me, audiences, and the franchise? I don’t care that you’re trying to create your own unique vision of Michael, which is actually not all that unique. You have just eliminated every last bit of anything that could possibly make Michael scary. Because that’s all you care about, isn’t it? Scaring us. Not only that, but thinking that you can make a movie scary with only an overload of over-the-top violence. I have heard people accuse Mel Gibson for making The Passion of the Christ purely as masturbatory material. I proved the masses wrong. But this. Your “original” and “new” “vision” of a beloved franchise. This is masturbatory material. This is your desperate attempt to juxtapose violence and sex in such a manner that I am concerned for you. This is how you have used the Halloween license and treated its franchise. You have failed in such a horrible way that you have rendered the Halloween franchise unrecognizable. If there was ever a horror movie that if I was faced with the director and I would point my finger, say “Shame on you,” and spit on the director, it would be this film.

Anyway, Michael takes off his mask, showing his face to Dr. Loomis and the police, and only says one solitary word.

MICHAEL: Die!

And Michael stabs Dr. Loomis in the chest. Dr. Loomis falls to the ground, dead (again, infuriating, as the original Dr. Loomis lives all the way until Halloween 6). Sheriff Brackett, knowing the police have a clear shot now, shouts, “Now!” and the police open fire on Michael like they did in Halloween 4. Michael laughably wiggles like he’s getting blown away by a machine gun, even though the police are only shooting standard-issue pistols, bolt-action rifles, and shotguns. After a long, side-splittingly silly slow-mo sequence, Michael finally falls to the ground, dead. Laurie staggers outside, bends down, and grabs Michael’s knife. The police, for some reason, shoot her three or four or five times before Sheriff Brackett screams for them to hold their fire. Laurie collapses to the ground as “Love Hurts” plays in the background.

Cut to Laurie in a white hall with no windows or doors. She is wearing a hospital gown and is sitting on a bed. The apparition of her/Michael’s mother appears at the end of the hall, leading a white horse toward Laurie. Laurie grins as her mother approaches, with the wall advancing just behind her. And then…credits?

So what the heck happened? Is she dead? Is she now in the psych ward? Is she in some sort of limbo? Has she gone insane and is about to start killing like Michael? Is her mother’s spirit escorting her to purgatory? What is going on? And what are the effects of this back in the real world? These questions will never be answered.

Oh, and throughout the movie, you will notice the obvious lack of the original theme song during the movie. Don’t worry – they bring it back…for a single playthrough during the end credits. The final insult.

This is the nightmare that every priest and religious parent dreads that horror films are. This is the type of horror film that they are thinking of when they keep their children from watching horror movies.

Its only way that it improved over its predecessor was in how its violence was less bloody. But it was no less violent.

The story is like looking at yourself through a very crass funhouse mirror. It refuses to gel. It is so bloodthirsty and sex-hungry. It is bereft of scares, suspense, or any semblance of quality. It is so desperate in overcompensation of violence to make up for its lack of scariness or plot or character. Its artsy sequences fail miserably when they are drowned in blood. And the ending is awful.

Every character, aside from Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett, is the worst that white trash can offer.

Even the city of Haddonfield is more trashy, raunchy – oh, screw it, it may as well be a suburban version of the love child produced from a three-way gangbang between Chicago, Detroit, and San Francisco.

Here’s an idea that probably would have saved the film: take the hospital scene, and make that the entire movie.

But Rob Zombie never took that idea to heart, because the product we end up with is purely and simply abhorrent. It is downright bizarre. It is surprisingly confusing. It is crudely and sloppily thrown together. It was demoralizing to sit through it. It was trashy in its ways that it created its characters. It was desperate for a single scare. The overall story was derivative and has been done before. More than that, it was surprisingly rushed, considering that it’s a two-hour movie. The overall product lacked focus. It was an absolute disaster to see. It was disgraceful. Hateful. Vile. Repulsive. Sleazy. It was disgusting to look at, and I felt disgusting through most of it. It was sadistic in how it showed its violence. It was practically perverted in its quest for boobs. It was a completely pointless endeavor. It’s practically screaming “Look at me! I’m complex! I’m tortured! You should watch me and study my every move!” It was that pretentious.

But it can all be summed up in one solitary word: ugly.

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie may have said that there is no such thing as ugliness in the world. It and Halloween 2 convinced me that there is ugly. There is horrendous, evil ugliness in the world, and it’s all been compiled and composted into this movie.

And what baffles me even more is this: some people actually like this movie! They don’t just like it, but they love it! When I had first watched this movie, and announced that I thought it was a reprehensible pile of rotten, overcooked refuse and hogwash, I was told by these poor, naïve, foolish people that I “just didn’t get it”. That somehow, this was one of the greatest horror movies ever, and I just didn’t understand why. I, in response, thought, What is there to understand? But if someone can talk to me, walk me through this movie, speaking to me like a child who is watching his first horror movie, and explain why this is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, it will introduce me to an entirely new realm of horror cinema that I have never dreamed of, or even fathomed the possibility of its existence. Can one of those people please talk to me? Please? I need to know how this movie is so unique. It will be the most enlightening experience I have ever had. Please talk to me. I need to know.

Final thoughts. It is films like this that make me question why, in the name of God, I decided to start writing these reviews.

Why do I do this to myself?

Why do I watch such ungodly movies?

Why do I expose myself to such reeking slurry?

Why do I inflict such torture on myself in doing this?

Why do I write reviews on them?

Why am I not doing something more productive than this?

Because I want to.

But that is not the only or main reason I do this.

I do all of this for you.

While I have always had an interest in movies, watching movies, and telling people of my love/hate relationship with them, there has always been another reason in the back of my mind.

I want to entertain people by writing my crummy, silly, stupid reviews.

I want to make someone’s day just a little brighter by providing them with something lightly funny through jokes and sarcasm.

These reasons are why I am avoiding making a YouTube channel – I do not wish to make money off of writing my reviews, and am trying to avoid the temptation of writing these reviews out of avarice than out of charity.

I want to prove to and to warn my fellow Mormons that if they have any notions of curiosity about the realm of R-rated cinema, they will have to dig through a lot of dreck and waste to reach the few diamonds scattered around the miles-wide pile.

Your curiosity will most likely kill you before you make it to any.

Curiosity killed the cat.

But satisfaction brought him back, as I have witnessed miracles like Psycho. Hellraiser. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Assault on Precinct 13. The Evil Dead quadrilogy. The Exorcist. The Silence of the Lambs. Suspiria. Blue Velvet. Night of the Living Dead. Dawn of the Dead. Deliverance. Highlander. The Hills Have Eyes. The Last House on the Left. Men Behind the Sun. The Passion of the Christ. Pan’s Labyrinth. Requiem for a Dream. Dredd. Moon. The Conjuring. A Scanner Darkly. Sinister. Carrie. Oculus. Orphan. Saw. A Serbian Film. And so many more diamonds in the sludge.

And I am still searching for more, and will continue to do so, knowing that it will be worth the time and effort.

You can do the same if you try hard enough.

You can find jewels like the aforementioned films.

But I must leave you with some words of warning; words that I suggest you heed.

Proceed with caution.

Final verdict: 0 out of 5 stars.

Review 58: When a Stranger Calls (remake) (.5/5)

When a Stranger Calls

Directed by Simon West

Starring Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Katie Cassidy, Clark Gregg

Released on February 10, 2006

Running time: 1h 27m

Rated PG-13

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Have you ever heard the urban legend “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs”? How have you not? It’s only one of the most well-known urban legends to date.  For those of you who haven’t heard it before, I will tell you:

One dark night, a teenage girl is babysitting a few children. The children have been put to bed upstairs, and the babysitter is downstairs, watching TV. The phone rings, and the babysitter picks it up. A voice tells her over the phone to check the children, and then hangs up. Rather than check the children, the babysitter goes right back to watching TV. The stranger calls several times more, and the babysitter starts to become paranoid. She calls the cops, who tell her that they will trace the next call. The stranger calls again. The cops call, telling the babysitter that the calls are coming from inside the house, and that the babysitter needs to get out. I’ve heard two different endings to this: 1) the babysitter goes outside and meets the police. They go back inside only to find the children murdered and the stranger gone. 2) the cops arrive too late; the babysitter and children have been murdered, and the stranger is gone.

This urban legend has been adapted into plenty of films, the most notable being 1979’s When a Stranger Calls.

Yes, I have watched the original When a Stranger Calls. Admittedly, I found it to be unimpressive overall. I will admit that the first twenty minutes were slightly creepy, but the rest of the movie was a terribly uninteresting mess. It was twenty minutes of supposedly terrifying tripe, an hour of filler, fifteen minutes of buildup, and then a minute-long anticlimax. I get that the “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” story is a decently creepy urban legend. But it would only work as a twenty-to-thirty-minute short film. Unfortunately, 1979’s WaSC didn’t get that memo, as the “Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” story only took up the first twenty minutes, while the rest of the movie, about an hour and fifteen minutes, was instead focused on the psycho that was “the Man Upstairs”. But those first twenty minutes are somehow legendary in the eyes of its cult following as one of the scariest sequences in cinema. Frankly, I only found it slightly creepy, and only at the end of the sequence as the babysitter desperately tries to get out of the house. Plus, Carol Kane does not do a good job as Jill Johnson, with her acting ranging from bland to forced paranoia. The beef I have with this movie is this: playing your trump card right off the bat is never a good idea, as it essentially spells doom for the rest of your product. I wanted this movie to basically be a game of cat and mouse around the house. Unfortunately, combined with a Norman Bates wannabe villain and an admittedly good soundtrack that desperately wants to be from Psycho, WaSC is a sad, depressed, cynical little movie. If I had to give it a final verdict, it would be a disappointing 1.5 out of 5. It’s not awful, but it fails miserably at making good on its ideas. Much like Black Christmas, which I watched just before WaSC, and would give a 2 out of 5.

Why so much concern for the original? Because the remake, and Camilla Belle as Jill Johnson, are hands down much worse.

Its first mistake was this: instead of the “Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” sequence taking up only the first twenty minutes, it takes up the entire movie, with about five minutes of exposition and resolution each.

Second: these “Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” incidents are a string of serial murders. That’s just tasteless. This child murderer really wants to be Freddy Krueger.

Third: why Jill is babysitting at this house in the first place. It turns out that Jill has succumbed to first world problems: she has gone over her allotted phone call minutes by over thirteen hours and twenty minutes. That’s…actually an accomplishment. Well done, Jill. I can’t wait to see what becomes of you when the iPhone 7 comes out. So Jill needs to pay off the cost of going over her allotted minutes by babysitting the two children of some rich doctor.

Fourth: rather than being a timeless story that could happen to anyone, this movie clearly belongs in 2006. It is a product of its time. Flip phones. Poor child discipline. Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship issues. Really nice cars that were obviously made just that year. Terrible teen slang. “Hang tough”? Really? I’m also surprised I didn’t catch a Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita being owned by that doctor. I’m also amazed that Jill’s family doesn’t own a Fiat Multipla. Seriously, ew.

Fifth: in its suspense sequences before we actually get the iconic calls, we as an audience need something to be afraid of.

Sixth. Could you have cast a worse chick to play Jill? At all? (Kristen Stewart?) I stand corrected. But Camille Belle is certainly a pretty face, but nothing else.

Seventh: our stranger. Rather than keeping him in the dark, making him the unseen but ever present danger, and actually making him kind of creepy, the movie shows him to be just another guy. In fact, at the end, they actually show his face, shattering every semblance of scariness. Also, if the stranger was planning to kill Jill and bathe in her blood, he may want to make sure that he can actually beat her in a fistfight. Because he’s clearly too weak to do so. Finally, they actually showed the stranger in the trailer.

Eighth and final. In the trailer, Jill actually checks the children. She actually checks the children.

Our story begins as a babysitter is called by a man who doesn’t even drop the iconic “Have you checked the children?” before he murders the babysitter and kids with his bare hands. The police are none too pleased.

Transition to Jill (Belle), who is dealing with some oh-so-painful-and-unfair first world problems, as her boyfriend Jock (not his real name) has cheated on her with her friend Harlot (not really her name, but it’s what I’m calling her) (Cassidy), and she has gone over her allotted cell phone minutes by over eight hundred minutes. Still, wow. As punishment, her dad (Clark Gregg – is that Phil Coulson from The Avengers saga? It is! What the heck is he doing here of all places?) has confiscated her phone, revoked her driving privileges, and is having her babysit the two children of a wealthy doctor. And Jill whines about her punishment being unfair.

You know, this character is so unmemorable and so boring, I’m not going to address her as Jill. I will address her as…Skank.

First off, this is not how my parents disciplined me as a child. If ever I was naughty, my parents would send me to my room or take toys away. For larger offenses, my dad would hit or spank me just hard enough to cause pain, but not enough to even leave a bruise, let alone do damage. Yet teenagers these days, upon the loss of their phone(s) or driving privileges, they pussy out and act as if they’ve lost a child. Second, my parents taught me respect and discipline. I’m not very good at it, but my parents at least tried their hardest to teach me, and they at least had some success. Skank talks to her father in a rude, snide manner, as if she thinks of him as a fly to be swatted rather than her father. Third. My parents taught me to dress modestly. Skank wears a tiny denim miniskirt for the first ten minutes before she somehow changes into a pair of jeans. But, considering that I’m a guy, dressing immodestly was never an issue. These teachings about dressing modestly were only in response to curiosity about why so many other boys were letting their pants sag. Fourth. I’ve never had an active enough social life to warrant eight hundred minutes of phone call time. The only times I’ve ever had a typical phone call exceed five to ten or even thirty minutes were three FaceTime calls with an old flame. ({You know who you are}, I’m still really sorry that our relationship didn’t work out.)

Skank’s father is going to a concert with Skank’s mother that night, and Skank’s father is clearly dreading it. Why? Because the concert that night is focused on Baroque chamber music. And then the movie finally broke me.

Mind you, I was sitting in my computer chair, leaning back from the computer screen with my arms folded, was breathing heavily, and was tapping my foot in annoyance and impatience. I was in the middle of thinking, Please, God, make it stop! Upon hearing this line, I snapped. I slammed my fists down on my desk, grabbed my computer monitor, and screamed through my clenched teeth at my computer screen, “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH BAROQUE CHAMBER MUSIC?!” Thinking to myself, Well, that’s definitely a first! I paused the movie, walked to the kitchen, got a drink, and waited for myself to cool down. When I walked back to my computer after about twenty minutes, I sat down in my chair, and politely asked the computer screen if I could buy Skank’s dad’s ticket off of him. I would love to hear a concert of Baroque chamber music. I was actually part of a makeshift string quartet in middle school. I played cello. I had a lot of fun with it, and I loved playing that Bach piece, the name of which escapes me.

By the time I had gotten fifteen minutes in, I had grown very tired of the atrocious acting, of which Camilla Belle is easily the worst offender, with her vocal and emotional range barely and rarely breaking an octave. Clark Gregg as Skank’s dad is clearly trying, but he clearly just wants to finish up with the two scenes he’s in and get his check so he can go home and save his skills for playing Phil Coulson in Iron Man and Vance in (500) Days of Summer. Even Jill’s friends are awful actors.

Anyway, Skank’s dad drops Skank off at the doctor’s house, and Whoa. This house is extravagant. Wow. But it’s not a good set for a horror movie. We meet Dr. Mandrakis and his wife as they show Skank around, telling her to make herself at home, and that they probably won’t be back until midnight. Surprisingly, the kids are already upstairs, asleep, despite it easily only being 5:00 in the afternoon. The Mandrakises leave, and Skank is left alone in the house. A few passage of time shots bring us to well after the sun has set. I’m busy thinking, I want to babysit these kids. This place is gorgeous! and At least this remake had the decency to establish its setting and characters…this optimism’s going to last about a minute. Sure enough, we then get our first “suspense” sequence of the movie. It’s essentially us dealing with Camilla Belle’s bored expression as she walks around the house investigating strange sounds, and us essentially spending five to ten minutes practically looking at nothing. Wow. It’s as if that these crapheads didn’t get the memo that the one thing you need in your horror movie is something to be afraid of. Even if it’s just Skank’s fragile mind. Also, when Skank grabs a weapon to investigate the house, she at first grabs the ash shovel from the fire place. No, Skank, you’re supposed to grab the fire poker when you – there you go.

After a few alarm system issues in which Skank doesn’t even check to see if something’s wrong, Skank’s friend Harlot shows up…for a few minutes before Skank actually does something intelligent – she, not wanting to get in more trouble, kicks her out. Skank did something intelligent? That’s a laugh. As Harlot leaves, we get our first way too premature scare as Harlot is attacked by an unknown force. Wait – the stranger asking “Have you checked the children?” is supposed to be the FIRST SCARE.

Speaking of which, here it is. Skank, having already received one or two anonymous silent phone calls earlier, picks up the phone, places it to her ear, and hears the iconic line:

STRANGER: Have you checked the children?

Yes. It only took fifty minutes to finally get to the entire reason we as an audience came to see your movie: to see a chick get stalked and terrorized.

But Skank has little to no reaction to this. Hell, the admittedly good soundtrack has to do the acting for her.

James Dooley’s soundtrack is so much better than the movie deserves. It could have been part of a fantastic horror movie.

After a few more phone calls, Skank, now out-of-nowhere paranoid, calls the cops. No really. Just a few seconds ago, she was bored out of her mind, and now, she is miserably failing at stressing the hell out and adding an artificial vocal tremble to her voice. This is the sign of a bad actress – she has nothing in between blandness at its finest and forced over-the-top panicking, again with her voice barely breaking an octave. The cops tell Skank that they’ll try to trace the call, but she needs to keep the stranger on the line for a minute. Then a pointless red herring leads her out to the guest house and back to the main house. That was necessary.

So, we’re an hour in, with less than thirty minutes to go. And still, nothing has happened apart from the calls and the red herring.

But then something FINALLY happens when Skank hears a shower turn on. She goes upstairs to check it out, and finds the corpse of Harlot. We get three forced, short yelps from Skank before she returns to the realm of dull acting.

Skank receives a call from the stranger again, and this time is able to keep him on the line for a minute. The police immediately call back and whoop-de-doo, the calls are coming from inside the house. Skank goes to collect the Mandrakis children, and when she does so, she sees the stranger looking down at her from a loft. Consult the seventh big mistake this movie made for a repeat of my spiel on it. Skank and the kids flee, but are trapped in the house’s indoor greenhouse. Skank turns on the water-mister-thingy-I-forget-what-it’s-called-but-it’s-used-to-water-the-plants, obscuring the stranger’s view and allowing the three to escape the greenhouse, but the kids run off somewhere into the house. When the stranger goes in to investigate the greenhouse, Skank locks him in and goes to search for the kids. By the time she finds them, it has taken the stranger no less than four minutes to shatter the pane of glass – no, not shatter. Knock it out of its frame.

The kids make it out of the house, but just as Skank is going through the doorframe, the stranger yanks her back in. He tries to wrestle her into submission, but she easily, and I mean easily, fights him off (refer again to my seventh complaint), and shanks his hand with the fire poker, pinning it to the floor long enough for the cops to come in and arrest the stranger.

The Mendrakises arrive and reunite with their oh-so-scared-looking kids, while Skank, still bored, watches as the stranger is driven away in the back of a police car. The stranger’s face is lit up by the moonlight, revealing him to be only slightly less bored than Skank.

Fade to an arbitrary length of time later to a mental hospital, showing Skank as a patient there. Wow, she must have been really shaken by her experience. She certainly looked shaken. I mean, did you see how shaken she looked? And look at how shaken she still is. Sheesh. You know, I didn’t actually see the “insanity” bit coming, as Skank has spent the entire movie looking bored. Skank walks around the somehow empty mental hospital until she hears a phone ring. She is terrified, thinking that the past hour and twenty minutes is going to repeat itself (I know how she feels), and when she turns around, the stranger is behind her – but, oooh, you sly scamp, it’s just a dream! It’s all part of an elaborate hallucination because apparently all this crap drove her insane. She wakes up, frantically panicking and overacting in the arms of her father and various hospital staff. Pan out and fade to black.

What a terrible excuse for a horror movie. I was amazed that, upon finishing WaSC, I felt that House at the End of the Street was a far superior product. Ouch. If Madman was a pitiful excuse for a slasher film, then When a Stranger Calls is just as pitiful of an excuse for a home invasion movie and then some.

The solution to its very slow, plodding, uninteresting story, as well as the story of the original, could have been to make the “Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” into a twenty to thirty minute short film.

The characters are brutally shallow and hollow.

As I have mentioned before, the acting is abominable; some of the worst I’ve ever heard, especially on the part of Skank. In every “suspenseful” sequence, in which we rely entirely on Skank acting with her face and body, her blank expression and forced movements destroy any semblance of scariness.

At least the lighting and set design was nice…?

At least the guy who wrote the great soundtrack, James Dooley, has been spending most of his career working with Hans Zimmer. That’s definitely a plus.

On the other hand, Camilla Belle and Simon West, the director, have only made one or two arguably decent films each in their entire careers. Simon West made the negligibly decent The Expendables 2 and Con Air, and Camilla Belle starred in the still critically divided The Ballad of Jack and Rose.

I didn’t know this until recently: Camilla Belle was one of Tim Tebow’s former girlfriends that had attempted to make him break his vow of celibacy until marriage. So…she can go screw off.

This is also the tamest retelling of “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” to date.

The idea to make the “tBatMU” segment the entire movie could have worked, had the movie been shorter, and in this movie’s case, an hour shorter.

From original to remake, they took one step forward with the exposition, but then took twelve steps backward with everything else. As a matter of fact, with both original and remake, both lost my interest rather quickly. I pulled my phone out to check Facebook several times during each.

But, when you read about the horribly tragic crime that this urban legend was based on, you will understand why I find making a movie about this to be tasteless.

On the evening of March 18, 1950, thirteen-year-old Janett Christman was babysitting three-year-old Gregory Romack at his home. Sometime after Christman put Romack to bed, and intruder shattered a window and attacked Christman in the Romacks’ living room. At 10:35 PM, Officer Roy McCowan received a phone call in which a girl, presumably Christman, was screaming on the other end, telling the police to come quick. The call was lost before the girl could identify herself, and at that late hour, the call could not be traced. At 1:35 AM, the Romack parents returned to find Christman and Romack both dead, with Christman having been bludgeoned, raped, strangled, and having several small puncture wounds on her head. The prime suspect was a close friend of the Romacks, twenty-seven-year-old Robert Mueller, who lived less than a half mile from the Romack house, who had met Christman several times, was physically and possibly sexually attracted to her, and, according to Mrs. Romack, had made unwelcome advances toward Christman in the past. Mueller was never charged, passed a lie detector test, and sued the police department for holding him illegally. The crime has never been solved.

God rest the souls of these dead.

And may He have mercy on the souls of those involved in this movie.

Final verdict: .5 out of 5. This movie just barely escapes a 0. It simply wasn’t bad enough.

Review 57: Madman (.5/5)

Madman

Directed by Joe Giannone

Starring Gaylen Ross, Jimmy Steele, Jan Claire, Alexander Murphy, Jr., Harriet Bass, Carl Fredericks, Tony Fish, Seth Jones, Paul Ehlers

Released on January 1, 1982

Running time: 1h 28m

Rated R (Suggested rating: PG-13 for some violence, sexual content, momentary nudity, brief mild language, and drinking – all involving twentysomething playing teens. Note how I intentionally left out “frightening moments”.)

Genre: Horror

I really don’t know a thing about the Cropsey legends of some escaped mental patient killing people. I spent six hours searching for any shred of what the Cropsey legends even are, and all I can find are bits and pieces of contradictory information, or some actual story of some boarding school whose staff physically and sexually abused its kids (which has nothing to do with Cropsey), The Burning, which is a 1981 slasher movie that focused on the Cropsey legends, some killer named Andre Rand who killed children in 1983 (this Rand guy is obviously not the basis for the legend, because The Burning came out two years prior), and the inspiration for the The Burning version of Cropsey. As you can imagine, I was annoyed by the lack of info, as, well, this is the effing Internet.

I was going to read up on the Cropsey legends, as this was the basis for Madman. At least, it would have been, had The Burning not already gotten to that idea seven months earlier, and, thankfully, eliminated my need for ridiculously thorough research. Madman resorted to changing its backstory and antagonist last-minute.

1982 was the peak of popularity of the low-budget slasher flick, popularized by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Black Christmas, Halloween, and Friday the 13th, and the craze was just starting to die when Madman was released.

Madman was conceived in the minds of two filmmakers known as Joe Giannone and Gary Sales back in 1979. They had witnessed the overnight success of Halloween, and they knew that low-budget slasher films were all the rage those days thanks to Halloween, and so decided to capitalize on its popularity, as well as the popularity of Friday the 13th, by essentially making a cash-grab.

This is not like the conception of A Nightmare on Elm Street. That movie was made out of inspiration and the simple desire to make a movie out of an original idea, and required hard work to finish. Madman was made out of at best obligation, at worst greed and envy, and the overall backstory was unoriginal, despite Madman requiring about half as hard of work as NoES.

But Madman, unlike NoES, was much less lucky in finding any sort of funding. It took eight months and over one hundred attempts to find someone who would back and fund the movie. And guess what – even the person who backed and funded Madman intended the movie to be a cash-grab. But then, in 1980, Giannone and Sales came across the creators of the significantly better The Burning, and noticed that The Burning had picked up on the idea of the Cropsey legends several months earlier. Realizing that they could have copyright issues and serious lack of box office intake on their hands, Giannone and Sales quickly – and lazily – changed Madman’s backstory and antagonist. I will explain what these changes amounted to later, but these changes were totally pointless, as this new killer desperately wants to be Cropsey.

Production finally began near the end of the summer of 1980. The weather was taking a turn for the colder, so production needed to be taken care of quickly. While the film is set in upstate New York, filming was done at Fish Cove in Southampton, Long Island. The first person to be cast was Paul Ehlers as the killer. Ehlers had already created the art for the opening credits. For the role of Max, the head camp counselor (I will explain later), Giannone and Sales wanted Vincent Price, but with the movie being non-union, they felt that Price would decline the offer. So they cast Carl Fredericks. In fact, the only recognizable actor in Madman – actress in this case – was Gaylen Ross, who had recently played Francine in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, released in 1978. Strangely, Ross took a pseudonym for her crediting in Madman: Alexis Dubin. The rest of the cast was made of first-time actors.

Finally, just before filming began, the script for Madman had been modified by Giannone just enough so that the movie was about as generic as it could get. The characters were cardboard cutouts, and the story elements that didn’t involve murders involved melodrama on the same level as a soap opera.

Filming consisted entirely of night shoots. Considering that this was November, the leaves were turning brown and falling from the trees. The crew was ordered to find as many as possible and paint them green to give the impression that the movie was set in summer. Odd, as the script clearly states that the movie takes place on the last Friday night before Thanksgiving.

Fish Cove not only had a large, dilapidated house to film in, but also had about twenty-five cabins, providing room and board for the cast and crew. They were, conveniently enough, charged only $25 per head by the owners.

During production, Paul Ehlers and his wife were expecting their first child. One night during a shoot, Ehlers was informed that his wife had gone into labor and had been rushed to the hospital. Ehlers, in his haste to be with his wife, neglected to change out of his killer garb and prosthetics. He freaked out plenty of nurses at the hospital as he rushed to see his wife. His son Jonathan was born on November 15, 1980. Good for him and his wife!

One particular incident happened on set: one night, some of the cast and crew claimed to see a strange figure in the woods. Ehlers, in full killer makeup and wielding the killer’s axe, headed into the woods to see what was up. If there was anyone in the woods that night, Ehlers must have scared him off, as Ehlers wasn’t able to find anyone, and no odd figures troubled that night’s shoot.

Madman was finally released in January 1982 and was a sleeper hit at drive-in theaters. Over the decades, it was forgotten, but it is still lauded by horror junkies to this day as a classic slasher flick. (What are those horror junkies smoking?)

Why did I give such a detailed account of the conception of 1982’s Madman? Here’s why: I found the movie to be such an uninteresting, generic, and surprisingly inept mess, so I looked to the director’s and actors’ commentary to find something salvageable. When that had only negligible success, I looked to its history and compared it to the commentary. I still have had only marginal success. Madman is a saga of obligation rather than inspiration. It’s interesting to compare the two rocky sagas of Madman and A Nightmare on Elm Street, with the former making its product out of obligation, and, two years later, the latter making its product out of inspiration. Guess which film is better. Guess which film is actually (kind of) scary. Guess which one actually spawned a franchise.

The movie begins trying to scare us literally right off the bat with its title sequence accompanied by a synthesized instrumental “scream”. Transition to the opening credits in black text against a red background, surrounded by a drawing of two gnarled hands, as our subpar, lethargic theme song plays. While the theme song of Halloween was medium-fast, minimalist, creepy, and remains iconic, Friday the 13th’s theme song was fast, driving, tense, and remains iconic, and Nightmare on Elm Street‘s theme song was slow, creepy, took time to establish itself, and remains iconic, Madman’s theme song is slow, tedious, monotonous, gloomy, and lethargic rather than scary.

The song ends, and we fade to a group of children, young adults, and one middle-aged man around a campfire that’s really just a big light that is cleverly hidden, as there are no flickering effects that a fire would give off. This is a presumably week-long camp for gifted children. The young adults are the camp counselors, and the middle-aged guy is the head counselor. The scene begins with the lead young adult counselor, TP (Fish) (really? TP?), singing the same song that we’ve just been listening to for the past two-ish minutes during the opening credits. This song deals with our killer. Unfortunately, this song is filled with non sequiturs, lines that don’t even rhyme, and – screw it, it’s as if Tony Fish is making it up on the spot. TP is admittedly having a crap ton of fun. TP’s a nice, strong baritone, but his vibrato is a little shaky, and he needs a few diction lessons. I would offer to teach him such for, after maybe a little negotiation, free. Oh, and by the way, Tony Fish, who plays TP, learned these song lyrics at literally the last minute, as the killer’s prosthetics hadn’t arrived yet, causing the shooting schedule to change. Good for Mr. Fish. When TP finishes his song, Max, the middle-aged head counselor, tells the same story, but not in song. The story essentially goes like this:

(shines flashlight under face, speaks in a low, trembling, whispery voice)

We’re not supposed to be this close to that dilapidated house behind the tree line, because many strange things happen around here. That house used to be the home of a man. This man was a mentally unstable, deformed farmer, who was a wife- and child-beater, obviously. Of course, we don’t know why any woman would marry, let alone have sex with the man. He was an exceptionally strong man, and he was a drunkard. Many years ago, on a night just like tonight, in fact, the same night as tonight, this farmer went stark, raving mad. He, in the middle of the night, took his axe and slaughtered his wife and two children. He “chopped them into little pieces”. Right after doing the deed, he walked to the local bar, set the bloody axe on the counter, and ordered himself a beer. An arbitrary length of time afterward, ten men dragged the farmer to the forest next to his house, and lynched him, leaving him for dead hanging by a noose from a tree. The next morning, they went back to collect the body, only to find the rope broken and the farmer gone. The bodies of himself, his wife, and his children have never been found. It is said that this mad farmer still haunts these woods on nights when the moon is full. If you speak his name above a whisper, he will hear you. If he hears you say his name, he will look for you. He will find you. And, by the time the night is over, he will kill you. Ho, ho. His name is Marz. Madman Marz. (Okay, at this point I could easily tell that this was a very lazy change from the Cropsey legends. And plus, what a stupid name. I can think of several better ones right now.) No one will be safe tonight. Anyone alone in the woods will not hear or see him coming. The only sign will be the odor of death, and by then, it’s already too late for you. When you turn around, the mutilated face of Madman Marz looking down at you will be the last thing you see before ZAP (really?)! Off goes your head.

Of course, this story is much better as a campfire story than the basis for a slasher flick. First of all, is it possible to chop anything into little pieces with a big wood axe? Wouldn’t it take hours? Second, how did the two children not hear the commotion, wake up, and run out of the house?

By the way, to achieve the blood effects in the sequence in which M&Ms (ho, ho) killed his wife, they actually filled a condom with stage blood and put a wig over it.

(For those who are confused: Madman Marz)

So, of course, Richie (Steele), a cocky, ignorant teenager, like a doofus, does the obvious.

RICHIE: Hey, Marz! Madman Marz! Here we are! Come and get us, madman! (RICHIE throws a rock into the trees. Somehow, it reaches MADMAN MARZ’s house, and shatters a window.) Madman Marz!

It is now that the script inadvertently reveals that it takes place on the last Friday before Thanksgiving.

And then I told myself, You know, I want to know what this camp for gifted children is like. Do the children enjoy it? What activities do they participate in during the week? What life skills are they learning? Is the camp actually fun? Would I want to send my child(ren) there?

TP and his girlfriend Betsy (Ross) have a brief argument about having sex that night before Stacey (Bass) interrupts them, and Max, the kids, and the female counselors head back to camp while the male counselors stay behind to kill the fire. The fire is killed with the speed of a jumpcut, and the male counselors head back to camp. Richie falls behind and sees a humanoid silhouette in a tree. This shot of said silhouette is accompanied by the music bit that is heard every time M&Ms is onscreen or whenever he is present. Three notes, F G G, followed by a soft “chaka chaka chaka” sound that quickly fades. Is it creepy or suspenseful? No, but it is tacky as heck.

By the way, that shot of the silhouette was the image used on the first Madman cover I ever saw. Only the image was entirely in red and black. The killer looked like a humanoid blur, and I thought that this was going to be Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street meet Eraserhead and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Unfortunately, in the actual movie, the shot is in blue and black, because it’s at night.

Richie, like the doofus he is, decides to investigate M&Ms’s house. And in this scene shot in M&Ms’s house, I can’t even tell which shots are from Richie’s perspective and which shots are from M&Ms’s perspective.

I also couldn’t help but notice the odd casting. This is a slasher film – why is there no actually sexy chick meant to be eye candy and cannon fodder? I can’t even figure out who the young, beautiful Final Girl is supposed to be. In fact, each chick lacks every one of these necessary traits for a female slasher film character: youth, beauty, and/or sex appeal. In fact, each of these girls look like their eyes are too wide and far apart, or have Down syndrome. I may as well not even have a sex scene to look forward to.

Also, I just now noticed that this movie’s audio sounds like it came from the early seventies rather than the eighties.

Outside the main building, an axe sits stuck in a tree stump. Max and TP are unable to dislodge it, and then share some pointless philosophical BS for about ten seconds. Gee. I wonder if the attempt to remove the axe is supposed to be foreshadowing.

We are then introduced to the camp chef, Dippy, who literally has no lines whatsoever, and is only there to add to the body count. Don’t believe me? He’s literally in the movie for less than a minute before M&Ms kills him and drags his body away. And with the tamest and cheapest of blood effects, even for a low-budget slasher.

And here is where we get our first glimpse at our killer. He looks sooooo much scarier when he’s barefoot and dressed in the oh-so-terrifying colors of tan and blue, and being well-lit by the full moon. Oooooh. Yes. He’s so much more threatening when we’re given a shot of him putting out a candle with his bare hands. Sigh.

Insert the only charming scene in the movie here, in which Max says goodbye to the camp counselors and asks them to save him a beer from their supposed-to-be-secret stash, and TP publicly apologizes to Betsy and the other counselors for his actions earlier that night. TP is lauded for his humility, and…the movie goes downhill from here.

Fade to shots that fade in between Betsy and TP undressing as a terrible slow R&B song plays. Brief sequence of Betsy showing her boobs for a split second as she climbs into a bubbling hot tub. Brief sequence of TP briefly showing his butt as he too descends into the hot tub. Aaaand this sex scene, perved on by M&Ms, makes the sex scene in Gigli look erotic by comparison. Ouch. At least Jennifer Lopez had a decently voluptuous figure. Gaylen Ross does not.

After more pointless philosophical BS between the other four counselors, Richie is realized to be missing. TP essentially says, “I’ll be right back,” goes to look for Richie and is hung by M&Ms, who later takes the axe out of the stump with ease. You know, when you’re getting hanged, and you survive the first neck-breaking drop, you cannot possibly produce gagging, guttural sounds like in movies. Your windpipe is completely blocked, and no air can enter or exit your lungs.

Also, shouldn’t our killer be wearing some sort of footwear in this deciduous forest set in upstate New York but shot on Long Island?

Ellie (Claire), a skinny brunette with a terrible perm who is possibly somewhat mentally ill, and Bill (Murphy), a less-skinny guy with a porn star mustache, go out into the woods to have sex offscreen. Ellie is even less sexy than Betsy. Great. Thanks to these two sex scenes and the scene with TP’s hanging, I now know that Betsy, TP, Ellie, and Bill are now toast. So…Stacey must be the Final Girl, right?

Counselor Dave (Jones) notices that TP is missing, goes to find him, and is decapitated by M&Ms.

And, somehow, Richie is still out in the woods. Wow.

Stacey then goes out to find Dave. She gets a ways into the woods, finding a headless, bloody obvious dummy, and flees a little ways before her truck engine stalls. She gets out, opens the hood, and leans in far enough. M&Ms is present, but Stacey isn’t going to die; she’s our Final Girl, right? WRONG! M&Ms jumps on the hood, bringing it down, and somehow decapitating her. This was an awful idea with terrible blood effects.

Then who is supposed to be our Final Girl? The only other two girls in this movie have had sex! They’re doomed!

Also, what a terrible attempt to not be cliche in a movie that made every attempt to be cliche.

Ellie and Bill are asked to look for Richie, TP, Dave, and Stacey. Ellie and Bill split up, because of course, and Ellie sees M&Ms at the truck. She screams, flees, and finds Bill.

This is our first decent shot of M&Ms’s face…and he’s just a grizzled, fat, old mountain man that is not the least bit frightening.

Also, the character of Ellie is just this scared, weak little mouse that my cats would love to play with before brutally killing. And her scared face is a mix of fear at what M&Ms looks like, and excitement that she’s actually in a movie.

And then one thing is at least half decent – the claustrophobia of its forested sets.

Ellie is nigh incoherent when she finds Bill. They go back to the truck, not seeing the obvious blood splotch on the hood, and cannot start the truck. The audience hears the obvious squishing sound. Bill gets out to check what the problem is, is horrified by the sight of Stacey’s head, throws it away, and starts driving away with Ellie. But M&Ms shows up and yoink! He picks up Bill like an obvious mannequin and drags him out of the truck. Come on! Nightmare on Elm Street pulled off a similar shot infinitely better! And considering the context of that sequence, it was legitimately creepy in that movie! Anyway, Ellie runs away, but not before she turns back to see M&Ms break Bill in half offscreen, accompanied by poor dubbing on Bill’s part.

Richie is still busy exploring; in fact, he’s back at M&Ms’s house. Uh, why? He goes down to the basement and sees something that obviously shocks him to his core as the music builds. We see his facial reaction, but we don’t see what he sees, as we immediately cut to Betsy comforting a child.

Okay, dick move (pardon me). You had this opportunity for a big, effective plot twist, and you just squandered it. You could have given us a big scare, and you didn’t bother. Dick move (pardon me again. I try to keep my swears to a minimum).

And now, about sixty-five minutes in, I came to a realization. Though I have labeled plenty of movies with this in the past, I have realized that this is not one of those movies that you and your friends pop in on a Friday night and laugh at over beers. It’s far too boring for that. This does not even qualify as a movie that you can pop in, have a conversation over, and occasionally make a remark about it, kind of like 30-to-70-year-old mothers and grandmothers watching chick flicks (have you ever been a part of that? It’s actually quite entertaining). It’s too uninteresting and not fun to look at for that. What this barely (and I mean barely) qualifies as is the movie that plays in the background at low volume as you and three friends play Parcheesi or some old-timey, easily playable board game around the coffee table. You or a friend will occasionally look up, think to your/him/herself, Yup, it’s still bad, and go back to playing Parcheesi, talking about the latest movie or football game, and popping some beers. Speaking of which, does anyone actually remember Parcheesi? Does anyone get any nostalgic feelings when Parcheesi is mentioned? I played Parcheesi as a kid with my doting grandmother, and I enjoyed it.

Anyway, back to the “story”. Ellie is still being chased by M&Ms. She flees into a cabin, goes into its kitchen, empties the refrigerator of its contents, throws them on the floor, causes quite a ruckus, makes it easy to tell that she’s in the kitchen, and, in one of the most awkward moments I have ever sat through, she climbs into the fridge. M&Ms busts into the cabin, looks around, actually passes the fridge by like the walking, stalking sack of meat he is, and leaves. Ellie climbs out and gets to the cabin door before she is axed in the chest by M&Ms.

Wow. I’m actually glad Ellie’s dead. She was the one character out of the many slasher movies I’ve seen that is, surprisingly enough, unworthy of being given a stereotype.

Betsy, who apparently is now our Final Girl, discovers the bloody cabin, phones Max, tells him to come back, grabs a double-barrel shotgun, takes only five shells with her, and begins a minute-long buildup walk to the cabin, all while the camera shows the same bored expression on her face. It’s as if she knew how far she had fallen since Dawn of the Dead. Betsy gets to the cabin window, but Ellie’s corpse slams against it, startling Betsy, and causing her to shoot the corpse. Another dick move (pardon me).

Betsy tells all the children to get up and board the bus. She instructs the oldest male kid, who’s probably a licensed driver, to drive the bus to town.

An armed Betsy goes to M&Ms’s house for the final confrontation. She goes inside…and is easily overpowered by M&Ms, who drags her downstairs to his basement as she makes the most laughably bored cries of fear, and impales her on a coat hook. Well, what did Betsy think was gonna happen? Betsy pulls a knife out of her butt and stabs M&Ms in the shoulder, causing him to knock over a lit candle, somehow setting his own house on fire. After making a vocal impression of a sad leopard and giving us our best shot of his obviously prosthetic face, M&Ms presumably leaves as Betsy and all the other bodies, including those of M&Ms’s wife and children (gasp.), are immolated.

Richie, still alive somehow and exploring but shaken, is almost hit by Max as Max returns to camp in his car. Max starts to console the mentally scarred Richie, but Richie leaves Max, and the audience, with these words:

RICHIE: Madman Marz…he’s real.

Insert brief incoherent song about M&Ms.

“Lore of the campfire, telling of his horror / Lost in the woods with the madman and the stars / Don’t laugh at the tale, heed if you call him / The legend lives beware the Madman Marz / The legend lives beware the Madman Marz.”

And then the movie sort of just…ends. Scratch that; the movie sort of just…stops.

And then credits, but not before the credits end with the same synthesized instrumental “scream” that the movie opened with.

Well, what a mess.

While watching it for the first time back in September of 2015, I almost fell asleep. After watching it for the third time the night before I posted this review, I was physically exhausted by how uninteresting the movie was. The feeling of such boredom had literally drained me of energy, and, that night, I literally fell asleep like that (snaps fingers) in my computer chair.

The story is laughably generic, boring, and is desperately trying to not feature anything having to do with the Cropsey legends. The characters have absolutely no identities whatsoever. Our killer is legitimately amazing…ly pathetic. The acting is as poor as it gets in a cheap cash-grab of a slasher movie that can get borderline sleazy at times in how much it just wants money. It’s not fun to look at with its poor, cheap blood effects and set design. With the awful sex scene, it’s as if the movie is willing to suck you off for a few bucks. In fact, after watching that scene for the first time, I felt like I had just been part of a sexual molestation attempt by a predator who would give me candy if I would take off my clothes, but I had given him just enough money to make him back off. It’s not even worth its R rating. It ultimately deserves to disappear into the blur of movies that formed the eighties slasher craze.

But for some strange reason, this is somehow a cult classic. A lot of people really love it, and consider it one of the staples of its genre. Oh, you poor fools…

In fact, I can summarize the entire movie in two words: Inept. Worthless.

I’m actually kind of glad that hardly any of the cast or crew went on to do anything good. I’m a craphead that way.

Well…anyone up for a game of Parcheesi?

Final verdict: .5 out of 5. Ineptitude alone cannot earn a 0.