The Stuff (1985)

stuffposterThe Stuff is not one of the best movies we’ve watched in our Halloween Horror-a-thon, but it has some merits.

After being found bubbling up from the ground at a mine, a white, creamy and apparently delicious substance is packaged and sold throughout America (and presumably the world) as The Stuff. Early on we, the audience, knows that something is a little off about The Stuff when young Jason (Scott Bloom) sees it moving around outside of its box in the refrigerator.

Undeterred by the fact that no one else in his family has ever seen it move, or anyone else that he knows, he’s hell bent on keeping people from eating it. At his local grocery store he goes on a rampage and destroys hundreds of containers of The Stuff.

But it really doesn’t matter because it’s everywhere – grocery stores, department stores, 24-hour specialty shops. Even at 2:30 in the morning there are lines around the building waiting for more of the ‘all natural, low calorie’ dessert treat.

Meanwhile, slimy Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) is hired by a The Stuff competitor to find and steal the formula for the product so that his employers can make their own knock-off version of The Stuff.

Along with the help of The Stuff’s publicity manager Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci) and Chocolate Chip Charlie Hobbs (Garrett Morris), a candy company owner whose company was taken over by The Stuff’s parent company, Mo witnesses the truth about The Stuff – it’s a sentient, killing and very addictive substance that’s goal is to take over the world.

Through a series of misadventures and some very , very bad editing, Mo and his friends (which eventually includes Jason who barely escapes from his possessed, crazed family) track down a right-wing militant nutjob (Paul Sorvino) who happens to own some radio stations. Convinced that The Stuff is Communist, he sends out the warning to avoid The Stuff and to destroy it.

This movie has some interesting practical special effects (although the miniatures rarely match up with the full-size sets they’re supposed to model) and the acting is adequate and sometimes fun, but the poor direction and just plain awful editing often led me to stare at the screen and say ‘huh?’ I understood what was going on but it was often not clear how the characters obtained their knowledge.

This movie was entertaining enough and I think could have been a decent monster invasion film but it really needed a better director and an entirely new editing crew.

You’ll Find Out (1940)

You'll Find Out PosterA Halloween tradition in our household is the viewing of classic horror-comedies including the likes of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Hold that Ghost (1941).

Last year we added to our collection with the purchase of You’ll Find Out (1940) which stars not one, not two, but three classic horror film stars – Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.

However, the real star of the film is the now nearly-forgotten band leader Kay Kyser and his group, the Kay Kyser Band. Kyser was famous for his radio show “Kollege of Musical Knowledge” and the film actually starts with a radio broadcast of the show.

In the movie, Kyser’s band is hired to play at the 21st birthday party of the girlfriend of Kyser’s agent, Chuck Deems (Dennis O’Keefe.) It becomes clear quite early on that someone is trying to kill birthday girl Janis (Helen Parrish) and it’s up to Kay and the gang to figure this whole thing out.

The movie is full of self-aware corny jokes, over-acting, Scooby-doo type shenanigans and even a dog in a wig. Nevertheless, the séance scenes are genuinely creepy, the cast is enjoyable and it moves along at a nice pace. The character of Ish Kabibble (M.A. Bogue) is on-screen just a little too much considering how unfunny he is, but he was apparently quite popular at the time.

As for the main attraction for modern film-lovers, Boris Karloff is slimily sinister, Peter Lorre is apathetically aloof and Bela Lugosi creepily charming. All three of them are a delight to watch and one of the funnier conceits of the film is that no one suspects Lorre and Karloff of evil-doings until the last five minutes of the film.

If you’re a fan of these types of movies I highly recommend you try this one out. It’s a hoot and even has several very catchy musical numbers.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

in_mouth_of_madness_poster_01In this third installment of what John Carpenter calls his Apocalypse Trilogy, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) takes a trip with a publishing company’s editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) in order to find the missing author Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow.)

Despite Styles’ insistence that the publishing company knows nothing about Cane’s disappearance, Trent becomes convinced that the whole thing is a publicity stunt to promote Cane’s newest book titled ‘In the Mouth of Madness.’

However, Trent’s resolve is tested when they reach the supposedly fictional town of Hobb’s End where they do find Cane. Images, people and even the physical landscape changes in the blink of an eye, making both characters question what they had actually seen in the first place. Cane claims to be re-writing the reality of the entire world and once everyone reads his new book, the reality will manifest permanently.

This film is quite surrealistic with many effective sequences. Sam Neill brings some weight to the film as the one character that seems able to hold onto his sanity…at least for a while. Some fourth-wall breaking comes into play, leaving the viewer to wonder what was real and what wasn’t.

I didn’t like this one quite as much as I like Prince of Darkness, but it’s pretty good and taken as part of the aforementioned trilogy (bundled with The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987)) it brings the whole slow apocalypse to a satisfying close.

I can only assume the film ends in 1999.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

shaun-of-the-dead-poster A movie that is both a spoof and a gushing love letter to zombie films (in particular the George Romero series), Shaun of the Dead is a genius mixture of comedy and horror with witty writing, interesting characters and several moments of true heart.

Every time I watch this movie I catch more references and more echoes. A lengthy guidebook could be written to point out all of the references this movie makes to past horror films and Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright/Nick Frost projects. But amazingly enough, you don’t have to have any familiarity with those past films and projects to truly enjoy this movie.

This movie follows the exploits of every-man Shaun. We find that he has little to no ambition at work, he takes his relationship with his girlfriend Liz for granted, and he enables his best friend Ed to the detriment of himself and those around them.

When his girlfriend Liz finally dumps him after breaking a promise (although it’s not entirely his fault) Shaun has a drunken night out with Ed but afterwards decides that it’s time to get his life together, including paying more attention to his mother and fixing his relationship with Liz.

However, circumstances get in the way and after an oblivious walk through a zombie-infested Crouch End, Shaun, along with Ed finally realize that life has had a bit of an odd turn.

Although his plans rarely pan out, Shaun is able to gather his mother, Ed, Liz and a few of her friends and get them to the relative safety of their favorite pub – where all hell breaks loose.

This movie is funny, scary, contains some impressive character growth considering just how much is going on and is one of the best out there of any genre.

Highly recommended. If you haven’t seen this one or it’s been a while, get it now!

My Weekend with Satan

Quite by accident, this past weekend we watched two movies that dealt with Satan’s domination of the Earth.

Prince of Darkness (1987) PosterIn Prince of Darkness (1987) we are told a tale of the subtle beginnings of the takeover. In the basement of a Catholic church resides a large glass jar chock full of Satan. Turns out he’s a green, slimy critter that the Church has kept hidden away for centuries. Quite coincidentally, he’s decided to hold his coming-out party the same weekend that a group of scientists and linguists stay over to study the jar.

The priest (Donald Pleasance) that asked them to make the study has hopes that proving the existence of Satan will somehow save the world from his evil but considering how easy it is to convert/brainwash human beings (turns out Evil is a water-borne disease) I don’t think any of them have much of a chance.

This movie is more of an atmospheric film than an effects-laden project and hinges on its strong writing, good direction and charismatic performances by its actors.

And, as a bonus, it stars a Brother Simon (Jameson Parker).

titendThe second Satan-is-coming film is an all-out Apocalyptic nightmare called This is the End (2013). During a party at James Franco’s house, the Rapture occurs. The good are sucked up by a blue beam of light while most of those left behind are sucked down into fire and lava-filled pits.

No one at Franco’s house sees any blue beams of light and it takes a while for any of them, excepting Jay Baruchel who did see the blue beams while outside with Seth Rogen, to accept the truth of what has happened. Hell is now on Earth, and I’m not talking about Danny McBride’s films.

I liked this movie quite a bit. It’s hilarious in places and Michael Cera’s distorted version of himself is worth the price of a rental (assuming you can tolerate crude humor). However,  it is very dude-bro heavy and the one main female cast member is on-screen for about five minutes.

If you can get past that and can tolerate the crudeness (which is mostly very funny) I do recommend the film. Even Jonah Hill was funny and Danny McBride was tolerable – which is high praise coming from me. (Seriously, have you ever seen Your Highness? That movie would have been pretty decent if McBride hadn’t been in it.)

The Lost Boys (1987)

lostboysposterThe Plot: Two teenage boys and their mother move to a new town after a messy divorce. The older brother, lured by a mysterious beauty, unwittingly joins a gang of vampires. When he realizes what has happened, he and his younger brother (along with a local duo of ‘vampire hunters’) take on the vampires in hopes of saving all the ‘half-vampires’ so that they can become human once again.

Back when I was a teenager in the 80’s (yes – I be old) The Lost Boys was standard horror-movie viewing. What wasn’t to like? It had to two Coreys (Corey Haim and Corey Feldman) in their first film together; it had a handsome lead and some handsome vampires (if you liked the hair-band look) who were the ultimate bad boys and it even had a ‘surprise’ ending.

Watching again after all these years I still like it despite its flaws although those flaws are more obvious to me now. For one, while it felt fresh and modern at the time, the clothes and hair date this film in a way that the other horror movies of the time (Fright Night, the Nightmare series, the Friday the 13th series) don’t suffer. It’s a nice time capsule but Corey Haim’s ridiculous outfits are often distracting.

The pace of the film is much slower than modern films and in my opinion that is a good thing. It builds up nicely to that explosion of violence that is the final scene. And other than a shot of the main character going transparent in a mirror, there isn’t any on-screen vampire violence until well into the film which could almost make the viewer wonder if there are any vampires at all or if it’s just the paranoia of the Frog brothers.

Kiefer Sutherland makes the perfect cold-hearted bloodsucker which almost makes up for Jason Patric’s lack of charisma. The film is classed up quite a bit by Dianne Wiest who perfectly plays the boys’ mother and Jami Gertz (the films only other female character) is hauntingly beautiful and plays the tortured half-vampire quite well.

Intruder (1989)

IntruderNext up in our Horror-movie-a-thon is the 1989 slasher thriller, Intruder. While this film is mainly remembered as an early work of individuals who would later become famous (director Sam Raimi, the KNB special effects group, producer Lawrence Bender, actor Bruce Campbell, actor Ted Raimi), it is an adequate little film that can stand on its own merits – as long as you ignore the stiff acting performances.

The setup in itself is pretty unique – the entire film takes place in a supermarket after hours. The employees – all college-age teens – have been asked to stay overnight by the co-owners to mark down all prices by half due to the fact that the store has been sold and will be closed.

I guess the market is a great place to work because everyone is upset about its closing. The only person who seems happy about it is the partner who owns 51% of the store. His poor 49%-owning partner reluctantly signs the paperwork to sell.

Meanwhile, our heroic lead Jennifer Ross (Elizabeth Cox) has her own problems when an ex-boyfriend, fresh out of jail, comes snooping around and basically stalks her. Even after being physically thrown from the store by all of the males on hand, he hangs around outside, staring ominously into doors and windows.

After a long while, the killings start and that’s when things get really interesting. Despite its low budget, this film delivers the gore that slasher-film fans love and some of them are especially ambitious considering the resources on hand.

Despite the fact that most of the acting is pretty stiff (and there wasn’t enough Ted Raimi), this film is an enjoyable little horror flick.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)They say humor is subjective. The film The Fearless Vampire Killers proves the point.

The Plot: Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his assistant Alfred (Roman Polanski) have traveled to Transylvania in search of vampires. As luck would have it, a local vampire raids the inn they are staying at and snatches the first pretty girl he finds, Sarah Shagal (Sharon Tate), who is the daughter of the inn keeper (Alfie Bass).

After some convoluted shenanigans they end up at the vampire’s castle, run around like a couple of idiots, come face to face with about two dozen vampires and fail to dispatch even one of them. They do escape, believing they have at least rescued Sarah from a vampiric fate, but it turns out that she’s already one of the undead and in the closing moments of the film, the narrator informs us that this leads to the spread of vampirism throughout the world.

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This movie isn’t all bad or unfunny. The scene where Alfred, in an attempt to escape from a vampire, runs in a complete circle to end up right back in front of the blood-sucker is pretty damn funny. There are a few one-liners that are humorous and once they get to the castle, the pace picks up and it at least becomes watchable.

However, my problems with the movie outweigh its appealing aspects greatly. The humor is uneven and often just doesn’t work, the female characters are treated as nothing but sex objects and there’s even a gay vampire who is feared more for his sexuality than the fact that he’s a blood-sucking fiend.

I could go on about what doesn’t work about this movie but I honestly don’t want to expound the effort on a film I will never watch again – except for maybe a YouTube clip of Alfred’s run around the castle, as you can see below (starting at 3:50).

I am aware that many people love this film and find it hilarious. Like I said before, humor is subjective and if you can get past the blatant sexism and mild homophobia, be my guest and check it out.

How to Make A Monster (1958)

How to Make a Monster (1958)This movie was picked out by the husband this time and while it wasn’t great, it certainly was different.

An early example of ‘meta’ plot lines, this movie revolves around Pete Dumond (Robert H. Harris) the monster make-up artist working at American International pictures (an actual company). New management has come in and informs our ‘hero’ that his services will no longer be needed after his current Teenage Werewolf Meets Teenage Frankenstein picture.

Instead of moving into a different area of make-up or finding a job elsewhere (I guess if he can’t work at American International, he’d rather not work at all) he decides to take out the men who robbed him of his life’s work.

Using a special make-up formula, Pete brainwashes his teen monster stars into doing his dirty work for him. In full Werewolf and Frankenstein’s Monster makeup they attack and kill the new studio heads, exacting Pete’s revenge.

In the end Pete decides that he has to take out all of his accomplices, including the two clueless teens, but while trying to do so, ends up burning all of his ‘children’ along with himself.

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While the dialogue in this film is very affected and stiff, the plotline is certainly quite original and Robert H. Harris plays Pete chillingly well. In the beginning he is portrayed as a sympathetic man, a man to admire and trust, especially since he’s ‘down’ with modern youth. As this film was aimed at a teenage audience, this was no doubt intended to ingratiate the character on the viewers.

But even in his ‘aren’t teenagers great?’ speech, there’s already a bit of creepiness there. He repeats several times about how he likes to put his hands on the teenagers and how accommodating they are – not like those crotchety old ‘adults’ who care more about their image than their performances.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found the exact opposite to be true, but I digress.

As the film progresses and as Pete plots his next murder by proxy, he gets creepier and creepier until by the end, he’s a full-blown nut-bag showing off his ‘children’ of monster make-up masks – masks who, as they are burning, are revealed to have actual skulls beneath them making the viewer realize that Pete lost it WAY before American International was taken over by monster-hating adults.