Friday, October 30, 2020

Peeping Tom: Trick 'r Treat (2009)

Michael Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat is a cult film that almost never was: Originally meant to be released in theaters during October 2007, the film's production company, Warner Bros, chickened out at the last minute and delayed the film until the following year...and then delayed it again until winter of 2009...and then finally dumped the film direct to DVD in October later that year, two years after its original planned release date and washed their hands of the film. However, after its actual release, the film quickly gained the attention of horror fans everywhere and, faster than usual, a cult following was born.

The question I have now is: How did this film that the studio apparently had no faith in to the point of shelving it for two years for an eventual direct to DVD release prove to be not only good, but good enough that it's got a big ol' cult following now and is a Halloween mainstay for many? The answer lies within a line of dialogue from the film itself: "Tonight is about respecting the dead." It's all about respect: The film's respect for the horror genre, its respect for its audience to live up to its title and give them both tricks and treats (hence the title), and its respect for the holiday of Halloween itself.

Academy Award Winner (TM) Anna Paquin welcomes you to this analysis

Friday, October 23, 2020

Horror at Home: Halloween Specials To Celebrate Indoors With


For many this year, Halloween may be limited to put it lightly: Amidst the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, many places have cancelled trick or treating, discouraged seasonal parties or downright shut down any plans for public events related to the holiday. Simply put, a lot of people are going to have to celebrate Halloween indoors at home this year. Which is why I decided to come up with a handy list of Halloween specials for anyone reading this. Just because a lot of people can't go out on Halloween next week, doesn't mean they have to suffer bored at home on the holiday. And, if you're like me, sometimes you may not want to do a movie night for what feels like the millionth night in a row. So, without further ado, jump the cut and see which TV episodes I've decided to recommend for a fun Halloween night:

Performance Piece: Leslie Nielsen, "Creepshow" (1982)

The performer: Leslie Nielsen

The performance: Playing Richard Vickers in Creepshow (1982)

Why him?

George A. Romero and Stephen King's film Creepshow is remembered for many things. Usually, what comes to mind among fans is the comic book aesthetic, the monsters present throughout, and that wonderfully macabre 80's synth score. In addition to these, an aspect that is often fondly regarded by fans is the cast. Creepshow gathered an ensemble of actors to get their baroque on through the film's five segments. This includes the likes of Ed Harris, King himself, Adrienne Barbeau, EG Marshall and the man of the hour, Leslie Nielsen, who plays the antagonist featured in the film's third segment, "Something to Tide You Over".

Leslie Nielsen as Richard Vickers in Creepshow

Thursday, October 22, 2020

On The Chopping Block: Rebecca (2020)

My history with Rebecca is a brief one: I've heard the name of Daphne Du Maurier's novel turned Alfred Hitchcock Best Pictures Oscar winner film adaptation several times, and knew the basics of the story: That it was a love story turned nightmare and that one of the villains was the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who was memorable enough to have a Creepshow character named after her. I didn't actually do a proper dive into Rebecca until this month, when I watched Hitchcock's adaptation a few days into October. I instantly loved it: The exquisite effects, the (mostly) suspenseful script and directing, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson's wonderful performances. With this in mind, I was open to seeing what Ben Wheatley's new adaptation of Rebecca would entail, especially since it looked as if he was trying to go in a different direction than Hitchcock and the cast included actors I liked, including Armie Hammer from Wheatley's previous film Free Fire and Ann Dowd from Hereditary

After having seen the new adaptation of Rebecca, I can safely say that this new adaptation is certainly a mixed bag. Let's get the bad out of the way first: There are a couple of aspects I felt were hindering Wheatley's new film from succeeding completely: The first being the alterations to the story itself. While I'm never opposed to remakes trying to go in different directions, the different directions in this iteration of Rebecca do not feel beneficial in the way, as one example, the alterations to Leigh Whannell's Invisible Man remake felt. Part of the alterations include the addition of vivid dream sequences in which the second Mrs. De Winter's anxiety is expressed in imagery such as her new husband sleepwalking to the west wing and the second Mrs. De Winter being swallowed by vines that consume her, which...ultimately amount to nothing. And, on top of it, the digital effects used do not look as good as the crew probably intended, so it sticks out more than it would've otherwise. And then there's the ending, which does not finish out the film with the fire at Manderley, but rather tacks on several minutes worth of unnecessary scenes to wrap the film up in a bow it does not need.

The other hinderance to the film is, sad as it is to say, the cast: Simply put, a lot of the cast either does not work as these characters or do not get the chance to shine. The aforementioned Armie Hammer does a fine enough job as Maxim, but can't manage to make his character likable enough for the audience to want to see the second Mrs. De Winter stick with him. Lily James, who I had only seen in Baby Driver prior to this, is decent, but lacks the charm and resilience I felt Joan Fontaine brought to the character in Hitchcock's adaptation. Kristin Scott Thomas is probably the closest to a standout as Mrs. Danvers and does a good job, but I don't feel the film (or rather the screenplay) affords her the same opportunities to truly shine that Judith Anderson got in her turn in the role. That's no fault of Thomas, though, as it doesn't feel to me like any actor really gets to properly shine in this version.

Kristin Scott Thomas & Lily James as Mrs. Danvers and the second Mrs. De Winter

However, despite the faults of the film, there's still sights to behold in Rebecca. Literally, as the main appeal of the film in my opinion is its production values. In addition to the set design of Manderley itself being fantastic (I wish I had some proper photos to expound on this, but alas), another visual aspect that also stands out is the film's use of color: The film begins as its source material does, with Manderley on fire, and then cuts to the second Mrs. De Winter at the chronological beginning of the story. From there on out, the film associates the character with warm colors, especially yellow and red, and it creates a truly gorgeous color palette for the scenes following her in Monte Carlo as she juggles her work for Mrs. Van Hopper with her burgeoning romance with Maxim. It's a delight to watch these scenes, especially as they set the stage for what's to come when the De Winters arrives at Manderley. Throughout most of the Manderley scenes, lots of dark and dreary colors are used to convey the influence the departed Rebecca has left in her absence, as well as having an association with the power Mrs. Danvers has over the home. Several scenes feature warm and bleak colors clashing, illustrating the struggle for control between the two Mrs. De Winters in a way that makes you wish the rest of the film was on par with its stylized visage.

In the end, while this version of Rebecca may lack the substance of its source material and predecessor adaptation, it's still worth a watch for its stunning style alone.

The De Winters in happier times.

Friday, October 16, 2020

New Flesh: Tales of Halloween (2015)

The Film: Tales of Halloween (2015)

What Is It About?: Tales of Halloween is a collection of ten short segments all set within the same suburban town on Halloween Day and connected via the narration of the town's local radio host (Adrienne Barbeau). The plots of the segments are as follows:

    1.) Sweet Tooth -> Young Mikey (Daniel DiMaggio), fresh off of trick or treating, is told a story by his babysitter's boyfriend Kyle (Austin Falk) about Sweet Tooth: A child who was banned from eating any of the candy by his parents and then, upon discovering his parents eating his candy, took revenge on them to reclaim his treats. According to Kyle, Sweet Tooth has been on the prowl ever since for more candy to eat, something that sends a scared Mikey off to bed. Little does Mikey know that, despite Kyle scaring him so that he could have alone time with babysitter Lizzy (Madison Iseman), he have been unintentionally protected by Kyle as danger arrives...

    2.) The Night Billy Raised Hell -> Another kid, Billy (Marcus Eckert), gets dared by his older sister's boyfriend (Ben Stillwell) to prank their neighbor Mr. Abbadon (Barry Bostwick). Just as he's about to go through with the prank, he is caught by Mr. Abbadon. From there, Mr. Abbadon makes Billy accompany him as he performs a series of escalating violent pranks throughout the neighborhood, leaving Billy in a precarious position at the end of the night.

3.) Trick -> A group of friends are spending Halloween night hanging out and toking while watching Night of the Living Dead. When trick or treaters arrive, one of the friends, Nelson (Trent Haaga), answers the door. Instead of being asked for candy, Nelson is attacked and killed by the children at the door. The other friends must fight for their lives against the killer kids, but not all is what it seems as the friends have a secret of their own.

4.) The Weak and The Wicked -> A standoff occurs between a teenager, Jimmy (Keir Gilchrist), and three older bullies (Grace Phipps, Booboo Stewart & Noah Segan). As Jimmy tries to put an end to the cruelty of the bullies, the bullies chase and fight him throughout town. Everything leads up to a surprising ace up Jimmy's sleeve, one that he plays to put a stop to the bullies once and for all.

5.) Grim Grinning Ghost -> At a Halloween party, a woman (Lin Shaye) shares a ghost story about a woman named Mary Bailey, who was bullied for her appearance throughout her life and now wanders the mortal plane as a spirit claiming the eyesight of those who see her. After the party, the woman's daughter Lynn (Alex Essoe) travels back to her home. Along the way, she faces escalating complications that may or may not be caused by Mary Bailey herself, seemingly determined to make Lynn her next victim...

6.) Ding Dong -> A married couple, Jack (Marc Senter) and Bobbie (Pollyanna McIntosh) are childless. Bobbie wants a child, while Jack doesn't feel the same due to Bobbie's abusive streak. On Halloween, the two put on their best game faces to greet the neighborhood children as they trick or treat. While Bobbie plots to try to steal a child for herself, it's up to Jack to prevent her from enacting her plan and escape Bobbie once and for all.

7.) This Means War -> Two neighbors, Boris (Dana Gould) and Dante (James DuVal), embark in a competition over who can attract more attention to their Halloween-decorated homes. The rising tension between the two turns into a full-blown brawl with surprising consequences for the pair.

8.) Friday The 31st -> A killer (Nick Principe) chases a woman (Amanda Moyer) throughout a farm with the intent on murdering her. Despite the woman's best efforts, she is murdered by the killer. However, after the arrival of a new party, the killer finds the tables turned and that he must run and fight for his own life now.

9.) The Ransom of Rusty Rex -> Two petty criminals, Hank (Sam Witwer) and Dutch (Jose Pablo Cantillo) enact a plan of theirs to kidnap one Rusty Rex (Ben Woolf). Hank and Dutch desire to hold Rusty hostage in exchange for a hefty ransom payment from Rusty's millionaire father, Jebediah (John Landis). Much to their surprise, Jebediah is overjoyed that Rusty has been kidnapped and insists on Hank and Dutch keeping him for themselves. The confused duo soon learn exactly why Jebediah is overjoyed at being rid of Rusty as the younger Rex reveals his true nature to the criminals.

10.) Bad Seed -> Local detective McNally (Kristina Klebe) is tasked with investigating a series of murders happening throughout Halloween night. She comes to discover that the culprits are none other than pumpkins that have come alive to kill humans and raise hell. Will McNally get to the bottom of what's behind the pumpkins, or will she be the next victim?

Why Do I Recommend it?

The most wonderful time of the year has finally begun! No, not Christmas season, but rather October! With Halloween quickly approaching, a lot of horror fans tend to binge watch as many horror films as they can get their hands on. And, if they're like, they want a little bang for their buck in terms of quantity; that's why the theme for this month's content is all about horror anthologies, including Tales of Halloween.

Tales of Halloween is an obviously stacked film, considering the plot synopsis may be the longest one I've ever written. So, let's get the bad out of the way first: Like most anthologies, the segments are hit or miss. While there are more hits, the misses are still misses. The more comedic segments, such as "This Means War" and "The Night Billy Raised Hell" tend to be the weaker ones as they don't gel well with the rest of the movie and tend to be more focused on goofiness than anything else. They aren't necessarily terrible, but they would be better served in another anthology that is more overtly horror/comedy than Tales of Halloween. The other major fault to be found in the film is, because of the sheer number of stories it's trying to tell, the short length given to each story doesn't always do them justice. While segments like "Trick" and "Friday The 31st" work fine, others like "Ding Dong" and especially "Bad Seed" feel like clips of stories rather than actual short stories and leave you wanting more.

There is a lot of good to be found within Tales of Halloween, however: For starters, there's more hits than misses: "Grim Grinning Ghost", written and directed by Axelle Carolyn, is a master class in how to create atmosphere and fear within mere minutes, starting with a classic ghost story provided by Lin Shaye's character and ending with ramping up fear with repeated subverted jump scares until the inevitable finally happens to poor Lynn. "The Weak & The Wicked" successfully embeds Western genre elements into the horror short to create a loaded tension between the protagonist and the trio of antagonists. One that worsens as the trio chases and hunts down protagonist Jimmy, with the intent on killing him, but provides for relief when Jimmy overcomes and vanquishes the bullies for good. "Bad Seed", despite being too short for my liking, is a successful example of the film balancing horror and comedy: The ridiculousness of the basic premise of killer pumpkins attacking humans is balanced by the sheer amount of violence the pumpkins wreak, as well as the levity brought by Kristina Klebe's performance as detective McNally.

The best of the Tales of Halloween

Another fun component of Tales of Halloween is the sheer amount of talent in front of the screen, often serving as a "Where's Waldo"-esque game of familiar horror veterans. Some are up and front as the leads of the segments, including Barry Bostwick from Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pollyanna McIntosh of The Woman and The Walking Dead fame, Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and Doctor Sleep, and Kristina Klebe from The Devil's Carnival: Alleluia! and Rob Zombie's Halloween remake. A lot, however, are cameos spread out throughout the film: Some are obvious, such as Adrienne Barbeau as the film's de facto narrator, a homage to her iconic role from The Fog, as well as the aforementioned Lin Shaye giving a tip of the hat to her character in the Insidious franchise. Some you have to look for, such as Felissa Rose from Sleepaway Camp's brief appearance in "Ding Dong", Robert Rusler and Caroline Williams of Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 respectively can be found in "Sweet Tooth" as the titular character's abusive parents, and Jack Dylan Grazer from the remake of It in an early role as the younger version of "The Weak & The Wicked"'s protagonist. There's even some appearances from horror creators such as Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon and Mick Garris sprinkled in for good measure.

Some of the familiar faces within Tales of Halloween

Some more of the joy of Tales of Halloween is a quality that I wrote about before in last month's recommendation for Detention: Tales of Halloween is a very versatile film that, despite having that uneven segment quality, will probably have something to offer to any horror fan. The directors' differing mix of genres allows for, on a base level, appeals to different types of fans: There's straightforward horror in segments such as "Sweet Tooth", "Trick" and "Grim Grinning Ghost", varying measures of comedic horror in segments like "The Night Billy Raised Hell", "This Means War", and "The Ransom of Rusty Rex," and then delves into other genres such as Westerns with "The Weak & The Wicked" and dramas with "Ding Dong". In terms of the actual content, there is also a lot of versatility: Besides the wide arrange of actors that each have their own fanbases, you have content that, again, not unlike Detention can appeal to most. Whether it be serial killers, demons, witches, aliens, a minotaur, evil children or even monstrous pumpkins, there is likely going to be something for anyone who likes horror here.

The versatility of the monsters/stories in Tales of Halloween

So, while Tales of Halloween isn't one hundred percent consistent, it's still a fun assortment of content, especially for horror fans seeking an entertaining anthology for the spooky season among us.

Available on: Tubi, Shudder, Amazon & iTunes.