Archive for the ‘Classics’ Category

reanimator

Re-Animator is about as close to the classic “Mad Scientist” movie as you can get. It’s hard to make an archetypal film, especially when the specific genre you are going for has many different ways to progress through it’s story, but Re-Animator touches all the bases that fans love. First and foremost, we have Herbert West, a clever take on the mad scientist role, played by the incomparable Jeffrey Combs. The story is (loosely) based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, so at it’s heart it is a deep discussion of man’s place in the cosmos, not just the goofy romp it seems like on the surface. While the dialogue itself is not overly technical, lay viewers still get the feeling that they are being audience to a little bit of behind the scenes medical knowledge, the kind of thing the average person isn’t supposed to know. Even with all of these deep undercurrents running through the movie, Stuart Gordon still puts on a show that is highly entertaining, funny, and downright disgusting all at the same time. Talk about packing a punch!

The acting in Re-Animator is classy, and that’s the best word I can use. Bruce Abbot gives every bit of life to Dan Cain as is allowable by the script. With a little more freedom here and there he may have been able to make Dan as memorable a character as West, but Abbot brings upon a great empathy to the character. The character of Cain is in a peculiar situation that we see a lot in genre films: That of the protagonist who is really not the main character. Re-Animator is about Herbert West, the brilliant, somewhat diabolical young doctor who has discovered the secret to returning life to dead tissue. Cain is the vessel through which West’s story is told. Jeffrey Combs, who plays West, gives one of the more memorable performances of the 80’s with his take on the young scientist. Both frightening and pitiful, mad and more grounded than anyone else, Combs plays a highly dynamic and thought provoking character. The main players certainly are the stars, but it would be belittling not to mention the other talents in the film. David Gale is awesome as the counter to Cain, the corruptible Dr. Carl Hill, who truly makes the transition from good to evil as he discovers the power that West has created. Robert Sampson and Barbara Crampton also do well as the supporting father-daughter duo who add an interesting element to the story, as well as some important plot devices (corrupted father, damsel in distress, etc.).

Stuart Gordon really makes a name for himself in his debut, but more importantly makes a cinematic statement that many have tried to emulate over the years. The pace of Re-Animator is great, seamlessly transitioning from slower, story building segments to fast paced action segments. Gordon allows the writers to develop each character in a methodical way, but keeps the story moving in the midst without ever worrying about losing audience members. The tale itself is presented masterfully, with minimal set and scene changes and a talented eye for showing us exactly what we need to see. With the exception of the decapitated monster “rape” scene, Gordon leaves a tremendous amount the imagination, which in my opinion is not only the mark of a great director but that of someone that truly knows the story he is telling. The cinematography is clean, and camera angles, lighting and sound are all used to convey the story, not as unnecessary show off elements.

I can’t say enough about the visual effects in this movie. It’s no “The Thing”, but the physical effects are nothing short of amazing. The make up effects on the dead bodies in the morgue look very real and believable, which enhances the realism of the whole movie. Those same effects turn into the key elements to the horror and cheese later in the movie. Blood splattering and dismemberment is just over the top enough to be entertaining to hardcore horror fans, but it will still get some squirms out of the less experienced in the audience. The last bit of visual dynamite is the re-animation serum. It’s a minor thing, but the fact that it is super neon green just makes me smile inside. As with most of the rest of the decisions made in the movie, would it not be completely stereotypical that the mad scientist’s concoction would be neon green?

Re-Animator is fun, has a good story and some solid acting, but it’s a bit more than that. It is one of those few movies that are especially important to the genre. First of all, it’s one of the first good “Lovecraft” stories, which signals the transition of one of horror’s most beloved storytellers into the realm of film. There were attempts before and after, but Re-Animator is probably one of the best and most well known. While I’m not saying it’s a faithful retelling, it is definitely an important step in ringing in the master of cosmic horror. It also brought life back to the “mad scientist” sub genre. It’s not a particularly big sub genre, nor is it one that comes to mind very often, but it is good to see that it is still relevant. “Frankenstein” is obviously the primary example, but I think modern folk will relate much closer to Herbert West than Dr. Frankenstein. Lastly, it’s a prime example of both classic 80’s horror and dark comedies. Even when taking all film genres into account, it’s hard to not list Re-Animator in your selection of great dark comedies. It has the wit, gags and lurking pure evil to stand with any of them.

In the end, Re-Animator is twisted, stylish, fun and interesting. It’s not the most original of stories (and maybe that’s just coming from the fact that it’s 2013), but it is still a great story. It was filmed in a great way, where everything you see furthers the plot and hardly anything is unnecessary. Among horror circles, Re-Animator is liked well enough, but I feel it is very under appreciated for what it is. Outside of horror, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that’s ever even heard of it. Anyway, with it’s recent release on Blu-Ray(get it here), hopefully it will see a bump in popularity as young blood experience it for the first time and old fans (like me) revisit it.

Story: 8

Visuals: 8

Fun Factor: 8

Elvira-Image

Like the original “Friday the 13th”, “Elvira” is one of those movies that everyone talks about but no one has seen. It’s become so ingrained in the horror culture that we think we know everything about it, and in reality know just about nothing. In the case of “Friday”, you get a decent slasher flick a good bit of insight into the story behind the franchise. With “Elvira”, we all know she’s a horror host with huge boobs, but what you discover when you actually watch the movie is that… there really is nothing more to the story. When they’re not making boob jokes, they’re setting up for the next boob joke. Don’t get me wrong, this is pretty entertaining, but there is definitely a reason “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark” fell off into horror obscurity.

First things first: There actually is a plot to this movie. Like any good 80’s horror comedy, the plot takes a backseat to goofy characters and over-the-top jokes, but it is there, lurking in the background. The movie starts with Elvira being fired from her current gig, hosting a late night horror theater on cable. She wants to move to Vegas and start her own show, but she doesn’t have the money to make it happen. Almost simultaneously, she receives word that a mysterious great aunt has passed away, and is leaving her fortune to Elvira. In the interest of starting her career in Vegas, she travels to the little New England town where her aunt lived to claim her fortune. Hilarity ensues as the ever-shameless Elvira butts heads with the stuck up locals. Oh, and there’s some witchcraft and stuff.

Calling this a scary movie is a grave misunderstanding of the term “horror”. We certainly have all the elements to make it a horror movie: a spooky house, demons being summoned, an old evil warlock, and plenty of magic. These are all key elements to the plot, however the movie really centers around Elvira’s “assets”. No, not physical assets, necessarily. We get most of the plot movement through Elvira’s sassy attitude towards the town through her inheritance proceedings. When the inheritance ends up being a house, Elvira is stuck in the town until she can manage to sell it, which proves difficult. Eventually she finds a spell book in her great aunts possessions and saves the town from another relative who attempts to use the book to take over the world. Townspeople back on her side, she is able to sell the house and move to Vegas to start her show, which turns out to be nothing more than a burlesque show in which she flaunts those assets we’ve been hinting at the whole time. By the time the “Singin’ in the Rain”-esque final number ends and the credits roll, you’ve totally forgotten you’re watching FearNet.

As far as gore is concerned, we get a whole lotta nothing. There is an attempt a shock value where a demon pops out of a soupy concoction, but other than that the grossest thing we get is a bunch of old people dancing in their underwear. In all honesty, that could have been the scene that got this thing labeled “horror”. Other than that, Elvira is constantly doing her “how much cleavage can I show without actually showing anything” routine throughout the whole movie, which is usually fairly entertaining. But alas, perverts everywhere, nothing is bared, and the PG-13 rating is intact.

Continuing with the B-movie theme, “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark” is chock full of actors you will recognize. Unfortunately, they are the type of actors that you recognize, but couldn’t name if you tried. Cassandra Peterson herself is fairly well known, but because of Elvira. In fact, she is just billed as “Elvira” in the flick. There are a few other notables, specifically the realtor and Chastity. I can’t help more than that, but if you see the movie you’ll know who I’m talking about. Anyway, in terms of acting prowess, everyone overplays their roles to the extreme, which is exactly what is called for. You can’t ask for much more in a B-movie like this, so I won’t.

“Elvira: Mistress of the Dark” is an interesting movie if you’re bored and young and curious what all the fuss was about. Maybe some people grew up with the Mistress on TV every Friday night hosting some terrible horror movie, but I sure didn’t. The character of Elvira is actually very entertaining, with her sassy, no holds barred attitude and disregard for anything conventional. I will definitely be on the look out for Elvira cameos when I dip into my 80’s horror collections, but I can’t say I’ll be picking up “Elvira’s Haunted Hills” any time soon.

Story: 4

Visuals: 4

Fun Factor: 6

Mr. Dark

“Something Wicked This Way Comes” concludes the Halloween Seven. This is currently my Halloween night movie, because I think it has a great blend of terror, fun and morality that brings together everything the holiday is about. The movie is strongly based on the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name, first published in 1962. It is about a pair of boys, one dark, one light, in the small town of Green Town, Illinois. A carnival mysteriously shows up in late October, just a week before Halloween, bringing with it all the mystery and intrigue that a carnival can. There are endearing characters, great settings, and plenty of Halloween bravado. It is not a scary movie by any means, but it makes you think, and more than that makes you appreciate the holiday. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is a great way for kids to start their trick or treating, and a great way for adults to wind down and remember the good old days when they used to dress up and prowl the streets.

The movie, released over twenty years later, has one feature very uncommon to crossover stories: It was written by the same person that wrote the book. This is important to note, and I think it is one of the main reasons this movie is so successful, whether compared to the book or on its own. The usual comment is that “the book was sooo much better”, but that sentiment really doesn’t exist here. The story lines of both are very similar, but the way they go about telling said story, emotionally at least, is very different. The novel really highlights the two boys, Will and Jim, as main characters. Their segments are fast paced and exciting, while Mr. Halloway’s segments are slower and brooding. The movie, however, almost turns the tables. Mr. Halloway seems much more intriguing than the boys and his character really moves the story in a way the kids can’t. I believe this has a lot to do with the quality of actor portraying both parties, but that is for another time.

As I have stated, the differences between novel and film are few, but when they are evident, it is hard to tell which is “better”. Some scenes are completely different, but it would be hard to debate which comes across stronger. It seems to me as though Mr. Bradbury wanted to take his novel and explain it in a different way with the film. The difference in endings is the best way to show this, so I will try my best not to ruin anything. In the book, a character loads and fires an imaginary bullet with a real gun, which kills an evil character. This very distinctly illustrates a big theme in both stories, that belief is a very powerful force. In the film, the characters flap their arms, make bird noises, laugh and smile to defeat the evil characters. This ending shows a variation on that theme, the power of imagination and how it is important just to be a kid. Both are equally effective, have the same result, but express very different themes.

The special effects in “Something Wicked” are really not very special. There are some very cool shots in the mirror maze, something that is difficult to do well even now. The costuming is spot on. While it may not be period correct, it invokes that sense of timelessness I speak so highly about. We don’t see any cars, and they have gas lamps, but these qualities existed in small towns well into the twentieth century. It certainly isn’t set in the 60’s, but any time before the 50’s is fairly believable. The set pieces are also wonderful and full of Halloween flavor, but I have a sneaking (but unconfirmed) suspicion that the town square set is the same one from “The Lady in White”. Maybe that’s why I like both so much. The real “special effects” include lightning bolts, transforming mirrors, and tons of spiders. The transitional effects are pleasant and effective, even thirty years later, but the lightning and electrical shocks really date the film. A note on the spiders: I’m almost positive they are all real, so if you are squeamish about creepy crawlers, prepare to close your eyes for a bit.

The acting does need to be touched upon before any sort on conclusion can be made. The majority of the actors play their parts well and believably, everyone from Will and Jim to Miss Foley and the Lightning Rod Salesman. Jonathan Pryce is very effective as Mr. Dark, bringing in the equal parts charm and pure evil that the role requires. He would make a good vampire. The real standout, as I vaguely mentioned earlier, is Jason Robards as Mr. Charles Halloway. Robards plays the aging father of a young boy, the librarian (a little better job than in the book, in which he is the janitor at the library) and a very thoughtful and brooding man. The combination of Bradbury’s writing and Robards’s acting skill make for a very memorable character in Mr. Halloway. The elder Halloway is a fairly verbose character, but he doesn’t really need to be. It seems as though every word he says has the power of three from any other voice. His facial expressions and inflection do an amazing job of conveying the thoughts and troubles of the aging character. In both book and movie, Halloway ends up being a hero just out of sheer power of will. This is easier to convey in a novel, when the reader can be right inside a character’s head, but on film it takes a very talented actor to give the audience that level of intimacy.

“Something Wicked This Way Comes” is a thought provoking look into our own souls. It makes the viewer take stock in what he believes in, then analyze it. Almost because of this, it is very slow. It builds and builds, luring the attentive and imploring viewer into its sticky web of desire and lust. Much like the characters at the carnival, each audience member will take away something different from the film. Many people will get nothing out of it but the feeling that they just wasted ninety good minutes. Others, like myself, will keep coming back, year after year, just to see what changes the extra year has made on them. Much like “Peter Pan”, “Something Wicked” forces you to think and act like a kid, and if you’re not open to it, the movie will fail for you.

Story: 10

Visuals: 7

Fun Factor: 7

lady-in-white-20050920013817507-000

“The Lady in White” is a relatively obscure little horror movie from the 80’s that makes a great addition to anyone’s Halloween collection. The movie is set in the 1960’s, which means no cell phones, no computers, no nothing. I like this feel, as it gives films a certain timeless quality without dating them. The story centers around Frankie, a young Italian boy who sees the ghost of a little girl being killed in the coat room at his school. He is nearly killed himself by an unknown assailant, which begins a months long investigation into Frankie and the original girl’s attempted murder and murder. Multiple child murders from the past are revisited, and racial issues and family ties come front and center as the police and Frankie himself try to get to the bottom of this radical series of events. The film is rather unique with it’s PG rated imagery and dialogue but much more mature subject matter. The young viewer sees this movie just as it is displayed on screen: A very intriguing and terrifying ghost story with a wild twist. As the age of the viewer increases, the commentary into ethnic and racial stereotyping and the strong bonds of family really set “The Lady in White” apart from most generic fright fests.

What really sets “The Lady in White” apart from other genre films is that it is just a good old fashioned ghost story. These ghosts are not dangerous and they certainly aren’t out to kill anyone; they are just souls who suffered horrible deaths and have stuck around the mortal world to bring justice to the people that wronged them. They appear in the places that they died, and serve to re-enact their own gruesome ends. Now isn’t that what a ghost is supposed to do? In the old ghost stories you heard as a kid, ghosts would close doors, move objects around, whisper to you in the dark. They were there to scare you, not to hurt you. How could something with no physical presence hurt you? That concept brings up the secret to every good ghost story: Behind every ghost is a horrible, depraved person that helped to create it. Ghosts can get your heart pounding, but you know you’re safe as long as you throw your sheets over your head. People, on the other hand, can do some real damage. Sheets don’t help when there’s a murderer in your room. “The Lady in White” does an amazing job of mixing these two types of terror. First we see a ghost and run and hide, frightened half to death. Then in comes the real monster, a man with a knife or a bow and arrow or just his bare hands, that we can’t hope to run or hide from. Your poor heart, already on overdrive, can’t help but to shut down, leaving you cowering in a corner, shaking with fear.

Beyond the basic story and premise, “The Lady in White” has a few other impressive features. The first is the acting and characterization. For a movie with a relatively unknown set of actors, the casting was spot on. While Lukas Haas, who plays Frankie, was the main character, Alex Rocco stole the show as Al Scarlatti, Frankie’s hard-working, blue collar, all Italian father. His love and passion towards his family serves as a great counter-point and catalyst to the character of Uncle Phil, played by Len Cariou. All three have gone on to become well regarded actors in television and highly sought after for bit parts. They are certainly not household names, but what is important in any movie is how the play their part. Each actor becomes his character,not letting up for a minute that they are part of an Italian family in the 60’s. Special props go to Cariou, whose character of Phil Terragarossa is by far the most dynamic and interesting.

Special effects in the movie were nothing to go crazy about, but as was the case with every other cinematic element, they were exactly what was called for. There are a multitude of ghosts; They are the classic eerie, translucent specters we have seen since the dawn of cinema. The float through walls and are not effected by the physical world. This is what was needed for the story, and this is what we got. The piano teacher also had some great ghostly make up and costuming, which added to the mystery surrounding her character. Overall, “The Lady in White” was visually appealing, without going overboard anywhere.

This movie is most definitely a classic, with it’s subtle scares, compelling story and deep themes. It surely has it’s “faults” in that it’s pace is fairly slow, the effects seem dated, there is very little gore and many people find it’s humor and charm to be childish. Well, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Those few elements are exactly what most horror lacks these days. “The Lady in White” is truly a timeless piece to be enjoyed year after year, by generation after generation. It’s like any good ghost story; it is passed down over the years, and while it may not be up to date or entirely relevant, it is loved by those that share it.

Story: 9

Visuals: 7

Fun Factor: 8

Classic Poster Image

The next movie on the list is “Dawn of the Dead”. While this one isn’t much in terms of Halloween, it’s a good horror movie and in this day of zombies in mainstream media, is there any better way to get people hyped about the season? Personally I’m much more of a “Night of the Living Dead” fan, but this one has more action, more gore and more mass appeal than it’s black and white predecessor. So what’s left to be said about “Dawn of the Dead”? It’s gained a boat load of notoriety in the last fifteen years, and especially in the online community. But I seached far and wide, and still never found anything written by me on the subject. So here’s my two cents.

While “Dawn of the Dead” was certainly not the first zombie movie, and is probably not the most famous, it’s definitely the one you most associate with the genre. It’s funny, calling zombies their own genre, but these days they truly are. It seems like every other piece of horror media you see is about zombies, from movies and television to video games and books. They are very successful in society as a bad guy because they are us, only hungrier. They are the dead, but mobile, and savage. Stories revolving around zombies are very simple and highly mutable, which leads to a plethora of different situations that anyone can get into. But I digress, and hard. “White Zombie” introduced us to voodoo zombies, which are very different than the zombies you see today. There were several more films in the 40’s and 50’s, but the next big jump in zombie iconography was “Night of the Living Dead.” This film was absolutely iconic and for more reasons than the new formula for zombies, but that is for another review entirely. “Night” gave us a preview of the slow, unrelenting, flesh eating zombie we have come to love. The fact that you can’t kill them. That they are deterred by fire. “Dawn” took that idea, multiplied it by a thousand, dipped it in technicolor and put it on the big screen for the world to see. And a lot of people feinted.

“Dawn”, like any good zombie movie, offers us a simple premise. A group of survivors land their chopper at a mall to resupply. They find that the mall has everything they could ever need and decide to stay a while. Who wouldn’t? They spend their days killing undead, “shopping”, eating and generally enjoying life. Once rid of the zombies, they start to have fun with the place. There’s so much to do in a mall with only 4 people in it. The only problem is that a group of roving bikers decide they want to get in on the fun as well. With them come more zombies. Cue all hell breaking loose. Romero gets a bit preachy at points, but if you’re drinking a beer like you should be you’ll hardly notice it.

A note to all you new viewers out there: When you pick up a random copy of “Dawn of the Dead” you never know what you’re going to get. When I first snagged this movie, it was at the dawn of the DVD and nearly impossible to find. No, Amazon did not have it. Best Buy and Wal-Mart would laugh you out of the store. I think I got it second hand on eBay in the end. But I had to get it, and I had to get the right version. Since it was not exactly the most well received movie in history, there are several versions out there, with differences ranging from run time and story content to music and score. You can do a little research for yourself online, but what I’ve found is that the US theatrical cut is the overall winner. It’s a good bit shorter than some of the director’s cuts (yes I said ‘some’, as in more than one; Romero was really trying to get this one right), but what you lose is the fluff and the boredom. You lose some plot points, but no big deal. You also get at least two different endings, depending on which cut you get. Music is another big factor, with one version getting a pretty solid soundtrack by ‘The Goblins’. I most recently watched it on Blu-Ray, which happened to be one of the director’s cuts. I won’t tell a lie, I got a little bored. I appreciate debauchery in an empty mall as much as the next guy, but this is why we edit films.

“Dawn of the Dead” is remembered for a lot of reasons, but the main one is the gore. Even today, this game is nasty. People bleed a lot in “Dawn”, and due to technicolor or recoloring or whatever, that stuff is red. People are getting ripped apart, bitten, shot, cut, stabbed, you name it. All in the interest of survival, after all, but it is fairly shocking. I won’t make any comments into the special effects of the day when it was made, but I know it was revolutionary if only for its content.

So it’s not the first, not the best and not the most famous, but it’s got the biggest balls. “Dawn of the Dead” set a precedent that people have been trying to live up to for more than thirty years now, and it still holds. We compare everything to what we saw in “Dawn”, even if we’ve never seen “Dawn”. How many kids make the distinction between Danny Boyle’s lightening fast zombies in “28 Days Later” and “traditional” zombies without ever seeing “Dawn”? Tons. Like “Halloween”, you have to give credit where credit is due. You might not be the best looking guy in school, but if you’ve got the biggest dick, people know. They have no way of knowing, but they know. That’s like with zombies. From your first interaction with horror, zombies, as you know them, are the bad guys featured in “Dawn of the Dead”. The first time you see “Dawn”, you will probably be surprised at how non-lethal they come off as. But just like the zombie plague spreads from human to human, getting stronger and gaining strength, so does the zombie mythology as it goes from movies to books, ever expanding. There had to be a patient zero, and that guy was “Dawn of the Dead”.

Story: 7

Visuals: 8

Fun Factor: 7

YoungMichaelWhat list of Halloween movies would be complete without “Halloween”? Love it or hate it, John Carpenter’s iconic horror film is one of the most prolific of all time. Sure, horror really started to gain popularity and credibility with the Universal films of the 1930’s and nowadays people associate it more with Freddy Kreuger than with Dracula, but “Halloween” is where the genre hit it’s stride. Nearly every convention, cliché, scare technique and plot element of modern horror can be traced back to “Halloween”.  Not everyone agrees this is a good thing, and I bet even John Carpenter would be disappointed to hear it, but it is true. As Americans, we love our slashers. We can’t get enough of them. They have become the standard for horror cinema, and it is all because of a little 1978 flick called “Halloween”.

For a little self justification and convincing, I’d like to make a few points about the impact of “Halloween” on the world of horror. First, the notion of the slasher. You will never hear me argue that this was the first ‘slasher’, but if I did I’d have a pretty good point. Psycho killers have been hacking away at teenagers for a while, but there really was no formula behind this. “Psycho” was an intricate, slow building, horrendously un-action packed example of a swing at the slasher pic. While I doubt that was Hitchcock’s intent, a lot of people saw it from that viewpoint. Then there was “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, another great example of a psycho killer, but while it was gritty and realistic and infamous in it’s own right, it didn’t have the mass appeal that “Halloween” had. Another element is the human monster. We’ve always had Dracula and the Wolfman, but Michael Myers reminded us in this day of science and reason that there are still monsters out there. They may be demented and un-killable, but we find Michael a lot more realistic than a vampire. I could go on and on about this topic, and I probably will someday, but this isn’t an essay, it’s a review. So back to the movie.

I think we’re all agreed by this point that “Halloween” is incredibly influential, but that doesn’t answer the question as to whether it is good or not and what we should think of it from an acute standpoint. Such as, would I watch this on Halloween even if it wasn’t called “Halloween”? The quick answer is yes, but I’ve been watching this movie for years and years and have come to appreciate it. There is a ton of Halloween atmosphere, it has some genuinely creepy scenes, and the story is pretty fun. However, on a scale of one to ten, I think giving it an eight is being nice. It reminds you where the genre came from, but these days seems old and cliché. If you can throw away all your preconceptions, so you’re in the mindset of the 1978 audience, “Halloween” is nothing but enjoyable. Otherwise it’s going to be a tired snorefest, and you know how it ends.

Like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, this movie is surprisingly not gory. “TCM” takes it to the max and I don’t think you see even a hint of violence actually on screen, but compared to popular movies today, “Halloween” is relatively dry. We do get a few stabbings and some blood, but nothing’s spurting out or getting cut off. In fact, most deaths are by strangulation of some sort, which is very un-gory. This is not to say the film is without violence. There is plenty of it, it’s just not gratuitous like we’re used to. As for nudity, I did say this was the prototype for the slasher, so obviously we get some boobs. Then we get the classic teenage sex and the beginning of the “only virgins are safe” notion. Again, nothing gratuitous, but we know what’s going on.

“Halloween”’s shining star is the tension. This thing wraps you in and has you on the edge of your seat from minute one. The opening segment, which I have left out til this point, is a masterpiece. You are hooked from the start, being put behind the eyes of a psychotic little boy. This kind of thing will freak you out the first time you see it, and have you grinning each subsequent viewing. As the movie moves along, Michael starts his ominous stalking. He is there the whole time, staring into windows, standing behind bushes, always for just a frame or a split second. We feel just like Laurie, not knowing if we’re seeing things or if this creepy guy in a mechanic’s suit and a mask is really there. Then there’s the chase. Michael is slow moving, big and scary, but it seems like you should be able to get away from him if you could just run. That is definitely not the case. The guy may move like a snail, but he keeps popping up everywhere. You really can’t get away, and you can’t do anything about it. This is downright unnerving. There’s a long standing debate as to which is scarier, a slow moving baddie or a fast one. I am firmly on Michael’s side, feeling that slow and steady is the way to scare people. An enemy that chases you down would definitely have you scared for your life, but someone that plods around but is always right behind you makes you feel something else. It’s definitely fear, but not necessarily for your life. Maybe for your soul.

The best way to sum everything up is to say “Halloween” is a classic. It may not turn everyone on, but like it’s signature character, it will not be stopped and it will not be denied. The movie has spawned 5 direct sequels, two re-imaginings, and was influential in the development of pretty much every every horror movie since. It is one of the classic Halloween movies, and should be revered as such. I used to think it wasn’t worthy of the title “Halloween”; thinking about it a bit, I doubt anything else even comes close. It is Halloween is every sense: It’s American, it’s original, it’s frightening, it’s sexy, there are monsters and dumb characters and trick-or-treating and pumpkins. There are a few other films that come to mind with these same characteristics, and all of them are on my Halloween list. But “Halloween” did it first, it went harder and it did it better.

Story: 7

Visuals: 7

Fun Factor: 8

In the Salem graveyard

So I know I’ll take a lot of flak from all you gorehounds for this one, but I could care less. “Hocus Pocus” is one of the better Halloween movies out there. I know I’m getting started a little late, but as it is October, I’ll be reviewing my top eight Halloween movies. These are my semi-permanent stable of films that I feel best embody the holiday, so I watch one each day for the week leading up to Halloween. How do I get eight then, you ask? To mark the beginning of the best month of the year, I feel it necessary to watch one of my top Halloween movies on October 1st. This year, that movie happened to be “Hocus Pocus”. As a disclaimer, this list does not correspond to my favorite horror movies, just the ones I feel best adhere to the atmosphere and themes of Halloween.

The movie has all the elements to become a Halloween classic. It is set in Salem, right before the holiday. A new kid, Max, moves into town from LA, and is instantly thrust into the traditional and very old fashioned Salem customs. In order to impress a girl he meets, on Halloween night he sneaks into the Sanderson Sisters Museum and lights the “Black Flame Candle”, which has the unintended effect of bringing the witches back from the grave. The rest of the story unfolds Halloween night, as Max, Allison and his little sister Dani must keep the witches at bay and not let them suck the souls out of children. Along the way they meet a talking cat and an occasionally headless zombie, both victims of the witches 1693 escapades.

Being rated PG, this movie really is intended for families. While it’s intentions are not really to scare, it does incorporate many of the classic horror elements, including zombies, wicthcraft, virgin sacrifice, and of course, Halloween night. “Hocus Pocus” plays on these in a fun and lighthearted way, but is still true to it’s genre. It is a great way to get younger kids into the genre, without also frightening the crap out of them. To make my point, really break down the main plot: Three witches from Salem, executed during the Witch Trials, are brought back to life by an innocent kid. They regain their power and set out to trick all the kids in town into coming to their house to steal their souls and thus live forever. Taken in an R rated direction, that could be a real good, gory, scary movie. I’d like to make a comparison, but I don’t think witches have really been seriously explored in the horror genre yet. If you drop Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy from the cast of witches, Bette Middler can be downright creepy at times, which might just be what the genre needs.

Moving on, we’ll discuss the direction, and finally get to the elephant in the room. Yes, Kenny Ortega, director and choreographer of “High School Musical” and “This Is It”, put the cameras to this fine film. And for the style of movie this is, he did a great job, so shut it. The cinematography is nothing flashy, but then again this is a movie for kids. What we do get is lots of full figure framing and action-capturing dolly shots. It does very well to frame the story and keep your mind on content rather than visuals. Consequently, it’s nothing special to look at, but it gets the point across. What is done wonderfully is costuming and set design. Walking down the street while trick-or-treating, Max and Dani, and the audience, are treated to an amazing array of fall foliage, Halloween decorations, bright colors and reveling children. I think Walt Disney Studios really has a touch for creating this atmosphere, as it proves time and time again with it’s annual Halloween movies.

As a way to start off the season, “Hocus Pocus” is good fun all around and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old, depraved “Saw” lover or scared of “Spooky Buddies”. Sure, there are plenty of other great atmosphere filled movies that you could start October with, but my choice this year is “Hocus Pocus”. Get back in that youthful mindset. Remember when everything was fun and carefree? You snuck out at night and drank sodas with your friends? Start the month out like that. Then, as the leaves change, you get your house decorations all set up, and the cold starts to set in, put on a pot of spiced cider, add a generous helping of rum, slap “Trick ‘r Treat” into your DVD player and go massacre a pumpkin. That’s what Halloween is all about.

Story: 8

Visuals: 6

Fun Factor: 9