Hellraiser is a horrible film! There, I’ve said it! I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, although we will touch on some of the more negative aspects of the film later, I mean this in the best way possible for a horror film! Hellraiser can be hard to look at, the kill scenes grizzly to say the least and the main antagonist, Pinhead, appears like a car crash in that you don’t want to keep looking at him but you just can’t help yourself!
I started re-watching the whole series again recently and was immediately struck by the contrasts of the original Hellraiser. I’m not sure if it was done on purpose but the opening scenes of Hellraiser are shot like an 80s soap opera, it appears in soft focus and Claire (one of the main characters) is a typical 80s business woman complete with killer shoulder pads! I’m not sure if it’s my eyes or if, again, this is done on purpose but I honestly thought that once Frank reappears in muscle and bone form that the soft focus stops, almost as if the arrival of the horror to the film jolts it out of the soft focus and brings the monstrous reality right to the forefront of the film.
For the uninitiated, Hellraiser is really about the Puzzle Box, aka The Lament Configuration. Many people make the mistake of thinking that these films belong to Pinhead and his Cenobites which is partially correct, however, everything begins with this innocuous yet ornate looking box.
For the most part either desperate people or twisted, hedonistic, extreme pleasure seekers seem to come into possession of the box whether it be through a monetary transaction or just ‘happening’ to find it. One thing that quickly becomes clear in the Hellraiser franchise is that there are no accidents when it comes to finding the box. Those who who happen across it are actively looking for perverse pleasures that can’t be found in the everyday, real world. One thing is for sure, when the box is opened, it doesn’t hold back, the chains come out, hooking onto its victims (participants?) and tearing their physical bodies apart before Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobite crew go to work on the person’s eternal soul in hell. The way the box works seems to change over the various entries on the series which does give the series some variation, sometimes the victims body is torn apart and sometimes reality might be altered, in the case of parts 5 & 6 which result in some interesting twists in the tales here. Make no mistake, this franchise belongs to the Lament Configuration Box!
Pinhead is the featured series villain here and he is absolutely the right monster for the job. He is a rare beast in horror in that he is a character that talks yet doesn’t go over the top with the dialogue and what he does say, hits the mark every time with his menacing tone and darkly acerbic wit. Only Freddy Krueger can best Pinhead in this respect. Most of this great line delivery comes from the fantastic Doug Bradley who plays the High Priest of Hell – he nails (pun intended!) this part and, like Freddy, you can’t imagine anyone else playing him. I haven’t seen Revelations or Judgement yet, so can’t comment on the different Pinhead actors.
Bradley has a certain gravitas for the role and he plays it perfectly – Pinhead clearly isn’t someone who is inherently evil, he is someone doing his job – albeit someone who bloody loves his job! As an English actor I think Bradley exercises a certain restraint in the part but it serves to make it even more eerie when he speaks so eloquently and so purposefully about the atrocities that are about to take place. Not that Pinhead thinks these things are atrocious as he says to Kirsty in Hellraiser 2, “Your suffering shall be legendary, even in hell!!”
Speaking of Kirsty, let’s have a look at this character, played by Ashley Laurence. From the picture above i think we can all agree that the woman clearly doesn’t age at all, she must have some kind of Dorian Gray style portrait stashed away in her loft! Kirsty, for me, is one of horrors quintessential final girls. A bold statement perhaps, especially when you think of Jamie Lee Curtis, Heather Langenkamp or Adrienne King. However, Kirsty had bested Pinhead on no fewer than 3 occasions so far with the possibility that maybe her character could return for a swansong, which is something I imagine a lot of fans would like to see. Ashley Laurence also brings with her (along with Doug Bradley) some much needed acting ability to the film, especially the first one as there is apparently nobody else in the film capable of acting at all! It’s a good job that the kills are so inventive and the film is just horrible… In the best possible way, just what you want from your horror films really. Like Bradley, Laurence brings a refinement to the acting staff and you can tell she knows what she’s doing which is more than can be said for some of the other members of the cast.
Step right up Claire!! Kirsty’s stepmother is one of the main offenders in the terrible acting stakes, she is truly awful in this movie. The worst thing is, I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen her in other things which means she has taken her own brand of awfulness over different projects. The problem here is that she is just so wooden as an actress and really doesn’t put any emotion into her lines at all, hers is a real ‘phoned in’ performance. Kirsty’s father is another awful, awful performance – just have a look at him when he cuts his hand! It’s a really pivotal moment of the film and he seems really half arsed about it!! Still, his one saving grace is an unintentional part of the film when he is helping move a sofa – is the lead up to him cutting his hand but I challenge you to watch this part without doing a Ross (from Friends) style voiceover and shout ‘Pivot! Pivot!’ as he goes up the stairs!
However, by far the worst offender in the movie is Frank. Kirsty’s uncle who is having an affair with kirsty’s stepmother which kick-starts the whole story here resulting in Frank’s resurrection. Where he should be engaging and charismatic – you have to believe someone would jeopardize their marriage for him but you never believe that, he is wooden, annoying and a seriously smarmy little shit!! He isn’t believable as the character being portrayed and I think the movie would have been served to have spent more time on the audition process!
It is testament to the movie as a whole that it manages to transcend these acting issues and still be a great movie to watch, there’s not many films that have these massive issues yet still make you watch the movie for its inventive story and great kills. Overall this is still a great movie and one that you have to watch at least once in your life. Go watch it now, “We have such sights to show you!”
The unwritten law of horror movies is that no matter how many times the title of said horror movie has the word final or end in them, you shouldn’t believe them! Let’s have a look at the evidence, Saw: The Final Chapter had another chapter after it with another on the way. Freddy’s Dead was definitely not The Final Nightmare and as we all know, Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter was certainly not the last word on unlucky Fridays! I always thought it would have been silly to end the series there just as it’s getting into its stride story wise but did the makers of the Friday the 13th franchise get this new beginning right? Or was it as reckless as Reggie’s brother getting into a portaloo and trying to duet with ‘Jason!’
Now, I will have to give away spoilers for this movie – those of you who read regularly will know that I will try not to give any spoilers in case anybody hasn’t seen it – however I can’t avoid it here but in any case, it has been over 35 years since it was released so I won’t feel too bad about it! But we’ll start where everybody should start. At the beginning.
The pre credits opening scene has a very cool cameo from Corey Feldman reprising his role as Tommy Jarvis – Feldman was reportedly due to play Tommy again in part 5 but his career really took off after part 4 so was unable to do it. Feldman takes part in scenes strangely reminiscent of the opening scene of part 6, except that here, Tommy is watching two randoms digging up Jason’s grave whilst hidden in the bushes. Inevitably Jason rises from the grave, kills the two grave diggers and comes for Tommy. Jason swings back his huge machete as Tommy is frozen in fear and just as the knife is about the make contact, present day Tommy wakes up in the back of a psychiatric hospital van and we are soon introduced to the main setting of the movie, Pinehurst.
Pinehurst is a psychiatric rehabilitation facility that has been, unfortunately, set up a little too close to Crystal Lake. It does however provide a perfect backdrop for the movie though with plenty of troubled teens being scared half to death and, in Tommy’s case, he doesn’t know if what he’s seeing is real or not. He is plagued by visions of Jason even when awake and through the early part of the movie has trouble distinguishing between the images of his tormented brain and real life.
The atrocities at Pinehurst begin with an admittedly annoying patient called Joey who is doing his best to help out around the place but just can’t seem to stop messing up. Joey ends up asking the resident psychopath if he can help cup would with him and won’t take no for an answer which isn’t a great course of action when speaking to someone holding their chopper in their hands – I mean a wood chopper before the innuendo police get me! Joey gets hacked to pieces in what I genuinely think it’s quite a shocking scene considering all the grisly deaths in this series but the way it’s done is quite brutal and instantly serves to get the sympathy back for Joey.
This is where things start to go awry for the group at Pinehurst. It’s almost as if Jason has sensed a murder and instantly risen from his grave… off camera! You know that if you haven’t seen Jason come back to life then something is off here but who else is it going to be? Nobody else is going to dresses up as Jason surely? They are, and don’t call me Shirley!
The original intention for this movie was that it was going to set up a new direction for the franchise in that Jason really was dead and gone but there would be different killers under the mask – kinda like Scream a little over a decade later. Personally, I always thought this could have been an interesting idea and might have given some different avenues any sequels to go down – true, we may not have got Jason Vs ‘Carrie’ in part 7 or a trip to ‘Manhattan’ in part 8 but I seriously doubt that few would mourn the loss of those films!
Unfortunately, however this direction was short lived as the movie bombed and fans just didn’t buy into having anyone other than Jason be the killer and so the new killer in every film was canned and we had Jason Lives instead for part 6 which admittedly is a great movie and I couldn’t imagine that not being a part of F13 folklore. I’m not too sure what people hated about having a copycat Jason so much because I remember my first reaction to seeing that it wasn’t Jason who was the killer, it was a great twist that, I felt, provided a great shock right at the end of the film, especially as the final confrontation shows Tommy facing off against ‘Jason’, seemingly confronting his demon. Then to find that it wasn’t Jason at all makes you wonder where that leaves Tommy in all this – thankfully, we don’t have to wait long to find out!
If there is indeed any of you who don’t know who part 5’s killer was then look away now… … … Ok, so the twist here was that Joey’s father, Roy Burns, was the killer who went on the rampage as revenge against the people he views as responsible for his sons death – basically a male Pamela Voorhees! Tommy, as you might expect, was pretty psychologically damaged by the end of the film and, as you can see from the picture above, was even teased as being the killer for part 6 which would have given us a massively different movie. As I said before though, the studio basically pulled the plug on the whole thing as they didn’t think there was money in it. People just wanted Jason. It’s very similar to Halloween 4 that teased Jamie Lloyd being the killer for part 5 of the Halloween series but fans reportedly didn’t buy that either.
One of the other major characters in the film is Reggie, who I think endears himself to pretty much everybody in the audience, unless you have a heart of stone! Reckless Reggie, to give him his full title, is at Pinehurst due to his grandfather being the chef there, not sure to any psychological trauma, at least not to begin with anyway! He is a kid who likes to think he is streetwise and had a smart mouth and is oblivious to his brother basically being a drug taking vagrant although their relationship is quite a sweet one really even though Reggie attempts to pass off one of the head Psychologists as his girlfriend at one point which I think would be questionable these days to say the least! One of his best scenes, however, was a very Mr T style bursting out of a garage door or a barn door on a tractor to take out the non-Simpson’s Mr Burns in his Jason gear! Honestly, I don’t think this film would be the same without Reggie in it and it’s pretty unusual for a horror film to feature a child and not portray them as an annoying side character.
Unfortunately, Reggie’s delinquent brother, Demon isn’t quite so lucky despite the strangely sweet nature of his relationship with Reggie as he gets bumped off following a toilet based prank by his girlfriend after a mildly amusing duet between the two of them. Obviously the girlfriend gets bumped off too during all this. I would kinda think there might be room for a film featuring a grown up Reggie, trying to deal with the loss of his brother and his grandfather and somehow having to face off against Jason again to avenge his relatives. Possibly a better story line than Jason X right?!
In amongst all this, we still have Tommy battling his personal demons. He’s been seeing Jason/Roy Burns practically everywhere and the poor lad doesn’t know if he’s ill or a total fruit loop! It does lead to an interesting final battle where Tommy believes that he is finally confronting his own demons and nearly meets his end at the hands of Roy, only to find that Jason, the object of his psychosis is still haunting his dreams due to Tommy not actually facing his demon which almost causes him to become what he is so afraid of. All in all, there’s a lot going on in this film which includes character Violet (fun fact for you: the character of Violet is played Tiffany Helm, who is the daughter of Brooke Bundy who played Elaine Parker in Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 4) inventing the robot dance that you see in the Friday the 13th Video Game! The movie is well worth a watch and I would implore anybody to ignore the negative reviews and comments and make you own minds up about this.
Just before I go, there is one final observation I would to share with you all. That particular observation is that when the sheriff and mayor are talking about who is responsible for the murders and Jason’s name gets mentioned, it is stated that Jason was cremated, not buried. If this is correct then they’d no way that Jason himself could be back for part 6 and there is a case to answer that the Jason that is reanimated in part 6 is actually Roy Burns!! Every subsequent iteration of Jason would have to be Roy if Jason was actually cremated after part 4. I’m sure the makers would argue that the character who said this was mistaken and that the real Jason was actually buried making part 6 feasible again. But imagine if it were Roy, lots a slightly different spin on all subsequent parts doesn’t it?!
Although I don’t want to admit it, it was 26 years ago since I saw this masterpiece of a movie at the cinema! I was 15 years old, which if your maths is up to scratch, means that I’m probably too old for blogging and social media!! I don’t care though, it just means that I have more horror films and books to speak to you about.
So, I’m 15 and turn up at the local multiplex with my Dad – I didn’t care that it probably wasn’t cool to go with your Dad at that age, all I was bothered about was the fact that I was finally getting to see Freddy on the big screen and thanks to the BBFC’s 15 rating, I was finally getting to achieve that dream.
Even then at that tender age I was well aware of the series diminishing quality over the previous couple of films, The Dream Child was a bit of a mess I thought and Freddy’s Dead, had some nice ideas but was ultimately devoid of any real story (as an aside, did anybody else notice that in Freddy’s Dead, the set design people loved Sepultura as the band names crops up a few times as graffiti!!). Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much from this 7th entry in the franchise.
However, there was a glimmer of hope for this entry and this was the return of the master of storytelling, Wes Craven. Note that I label Craven not the master of horror (which would be equally true!) but the master of storytelling. To fully appreciate this distinction, you should save this post until later and go and watch Red Eye, Craven’s fast paced thriller with is a start to finish thrill ride and a captivating story to boot. If you have time, also read Craven’s Fountain Society, a science fiction thriller that just keeps you turning page after page. It’s a shame that Craven never wrote more books as his stories could have rivalled even Stephen King.
I wasn’t ready for the masterclass of horror that I was about to watch at Walsall’s finest flea pit, or that I was about to see Freddy at his best again, albeit with a different look – I’ll come to that later on. One thing about New Nightmare that you can say with hindsight is that it is very much the precursor for Craven’s own Scream series in that it is post modern, self referential and not afraid to like fun at itself in some ways. Like Scream, there was plenty of little set pieces with phones, particularly during the first act of the movie where Heather gets plagued by nuisance phone calls with a terrifying voice at the other end purporting to be Freddy himself which is very akin to Drew Barrymore’s call at the start of Scream with the Scary Movie quiz!
Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself here, I mentioned Heather in the last paragraph, this is Heather Langenkamp who plays Nancy in the original movie. In New Nightmare she plays herself, with a husband (Chase) who works on special effects on movies and who just so happens to be working on a top secret new Freddy movie. Heather also has a little boy, Dylan, in New Nightmare played by the phenomenal Miko Hughes who always gets my vote in child actor stakes. Heather appears as a working actress who is being harangued by New Line Cinema to come back to the Nightmare Films after it is revealed to her that Wes Craven is back at the helm for this new movie on the basis that he’s started having nightmares again. In the meantime, Heather is being harassed by a supposed telephone stalker and weird things start happening as the story unfolds.
As you can see from the picture above, Freddy had a very different look in this film although from his mannerisms and line delivery you still know that it’s Robert Englund under that hideous visage so there is a certain comfort to the character from that point of view but also a certain uneasiness about it too as the new look is supposed to convey that this is Freddy in real life and as Robert Englund (as himself) says in the film, ‘he’s darker, more evil!’
The distinction between ‘real Freddy’ and fictional Freddy is important in a couple of ways here. Firstly, there is a scene in which Heather is doing a daytime talk show talking about her involvement in the Elm Street series before bringing out a special guest…Freddy!! The movie version of him that we all know and love anyway! I love this scene purely for all the audience members dressed up as Freddy but it does get me wondering if daytime talk shows in the US would be doing Freddy specials, even in the mid 90’s. Most people have now seen Oprah interviewing Harry and Meghan but could we have seen Oprah interviewing Freddy Krueger? Maybe not!!
The other reason for distinguishing between the two versions of Freddy is to set up Wes Craven’s explanation of why Freddy is leaking into the real world – yes, the film is so meta that Wes Craven himself is in it with a speaking part! This explanation is that Freddy is not actually Freddy but actually some kind of ancient ‘entity’ or demon that was supposedly made when Nightmare on Elm Street was originally committed to film. Wes goes on to say that the entity was content being trapped in the Elm Street movies for a while but now was looking to break free of his celluloid shackles and move into the real world where the real terror will begin. During the course of Cravens monologue there is a part that I thought was a moment of genius where he essentially echoes the sentiment that Drew Barrymore’s character in Scream brings up when she tells the telephone stalker that the first Nightmare on Elm Street was great, ‘but the rest sucked!’ Craven’s character explains that the demon has become free because there has been too many sequels, that the story has become watered down to make it an easier sell and that is too familiar to people. Basically Freddy wants to wreak havoc on our world due to being made to be in too many crappy sequels! Maybe Super Freddy in NOES5 was the last straw!
I could go into just how meta, post modern and self referential the film is but going into our in too much detail would ruin the end of the film to go into it too much and plus, for those of you that have seen this movie, how do you explain some of the stuff that goes on in the final act – art imitating life imitating a movie? It’s not too much of a stretch however to say that this movie is Cravens most Shakespearian screenplay to date – hold on, I know you think I’m going a bit far here but think A Midsummer Night’s Dream (fitting given the source material) in that much of the film features a film within a film just the like the famous play and works well for it, in fact Scream doesn’t get close to this level of greatness with its Stab movies that feature there. By the end of New Nightmare, you’re not sure what is imitating what but you know you’ve been on a hell of a ride.
As I’ve mentioned above Miko Hughes is notable in this movie for his performance here. He starts as a normal, everyday kid who just wants his Mummy to stay home with him but soon begins to suffer from Freddy nightmares before having a complete psychotic episode after being subjected to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street on the TV. It is better that Hughes performance goes into overdrive, some of the scenes he has as he is succumbing to the entities grasp are chilling, particularly one scene where he tapes knives to his fingers waiting for his Mom to approach him so he can attack her a la Freddy! Anyone who has seen Miko in Pet Semetary will be aware of his capabilities once his character Gage goes feral after being buried in the cemetery.
Heather Langenkamp has a great performance here too, playing a version of herself plagued by Freddy phone calls and nightmares just like she is in the original films. She is at the centre of some great references to the source material such as her hair turning grey after a traumatic nightmare and in the hospital when all the doctor’s suddenly turn into gibbering idiots after their initial concerns that Heather may be purposefully subjecting her son to the Freddy movies. The turn comes just after the doctors inform Heather that Social Services will have to become involved with Dylan but they overlook the fact that he can sleepwalk right or of the hospital after the nurse sneakily sedates him. Heather is seen trying to get to Dylan through a restricted access door where a nurse informs get she needs a pass and of course there is only one response, “Screw your pass!!”
All in all, if you haven’t seen New Nightmare at all or haven’t seen it in a while then I urge you to see it again. This is truly a horror masterpiece from a writer and director whose whole catalogue is littered with classics. And wait till the end credits to see the entry for Freddy Krueger listed as being played by himself and, of course, know that that is a roundabout way of saying Robert Englund.
I am going to say something controversial now…Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies were excellent! There, I’ve said it – if you don’t agree with this well all I can say is “tough”. I will attempt to outline in this article why I believe this to be the case and hopefully, if you’re interested, you may stick around with me to find out why and maybe even be open to having a few minds changed. If you’re not going to stick with it for this one then please be my guest to sit this one out…but you’ll definitely be missing out.
If you know your Halloween movies then you will surely remember The Curse of Michael Myers. For those of you who may not be as familiar with this one, this is the one where they made out that Michael was controlled by some kind of druidic cult – sound a bit silly? Perhaps. Why start at H6 when we’re talking about Rob Zombie’s movies though? Well, to answer this point it is important to remember that from here, the Halloween franchise was struggling to say the least – the druids were the last vestige of doing something different with the series from a writing point of view but it was panned by fans and critics alike with not even the heralded Producer’s Cut of the film offering much more in terms of quality.
Now, ok we had Steve Miner’s excellent Halloween: 20 Years Later directly after this which should definitely be seen as it’s a real return to form for the series and you might be forgiven for thinking that the franchise as a whole was right back on track with this but then we got Halloween Resurrection which reminded us that this was a franchise largely devoid of new ideas.
To be fair to Resurrection, it did have it’s moments and some good idea’s in there too but whoever decided that Busta Rhymes Kung Fu kicking the crap out of Michael Myers was a good idea needs slapping with a wet kipper. The issues with Resurrection could form a whole post just by itself but what I really want to illustrate here is that Halloween desperately needed some new idea’s and a new execution and there aren’t really very many directors qualified to take on such a big franchise horror and have the confidence to put their stamp all over it. This is where Rob Zombie comes in.
The House of a 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects had cemented Zombie’s reputation for giving Horror fans something different, opting for an old school approach of favouring characterisation in order to build up to shocks later on and one thing both of these films have in droves is shocks and violence and gore. This must have caught the eye of the producer’s of Halloween too as they clearly agreed that a different approach was needed to elevate this once great franchise back onto it’s pedestal.
From the outset, Rob Zombie’s stamp was all over the original Halloween remake that he made – right from the early exchanges between Michael’s mother and step dad when they swear and cuss each out while baby Angel looks on from her crib lets you know that this is going to be different from any other Halloween movie that you’ve seen before. I’m sure this exchange may have put off as many people as it drew in but either way you could certainly be assured that this Halloween had a very different vibe about it already.
If you boil down both of Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies to its bare bones then family is at the heart of it, particularly Halloween 2 where we get an insight into Michael’s need to annihilate his family. It becomes apparent that he needs to kill his family in order to have them all reunited either in the afterlife or just in Michael’s head in order for him to have the family ideal that his twisted mind has made it into.
The whole family aspect of these films has come in for a lot of criticism over the years, firstly for overly humanising the monster that is Michael Myers by showing his terrible home life and potentially violent relationship with his step father. In the second film, the criticism centres around Michael’s visions of his dead Mother which many thought was too reminiscent of Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th series.
The Voorhees Mother fixation however, is a much too simple explanation to apply to Myers visions of his Mother, he’s not so much killing for her as wanting his own strange vision to be his reality. Really playing on the amount of time that he has spent in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium no doubt, given the increasing strangeness of these visions as the movie goes on.
One of the things that I did enjoy about Zombie’s Halloween movies was the brutality of them, each kill was absolutely merciless and left you in no doubt whatsoever that this version of Michael Myers means business! I know there is some debate about extreme gore or violence in horror films which I think dates back to the Saw franchise which some people still dismiss as merely torture porn. To dismiss it like this though is inherently lazy, when used effectively, violence can still be shocking even within the confines of a ‘horror’ movie – after all, isn’t that part of the reason they are called horror movies? Horror is meant to be…well…horrible and be uncomfortable to view sometimes – take the first 20 – 30 minutes of I Spit on Your Grave remake. That is so uncomfortable and upsetting to watch but it works for that film because you vouch for that girl to kill her attackers in increasingly more horrible ways. In the Zombie Halloween movies, it serves to hammer home the brutality of this serial killer, we’re not here to cheer on a pseudo comedy killer here, you really need this killer stopped because his brutality is so unparalleled. I think sometimes in horror, you need to be shocked into feeing something one way or the other because the world can be such a shitty place these days it perhaps takes more for us to be shocked or surprised by a horror movie but Rob Zombie delivers this, certainly in Halloween 2 – anybody remember the stabbing of the nurse in the hospital? As I said earlier in this paragraph, Michael Myer’s means business in these films and doesn’t make many mistakes at all, although one mistake I was happy that he made was him leaving Annie Brackett alive in the first film which leads me onto my next point regarding these movies.
Danielle Harris. It was great to see her back in the Halloween series (I would have loved to see her reprise her role as Laurie’s daughter in the 2018 movie but that’s by the by!). Now, I was only 8 years old myself when Danielle had her first starring role in a Halloween movie in Halloween 4 so it’s hard to say what the fan reaction was like to Halloween 4 at the time but I always really liked this one and a large part of that was down to Harris’ portrayal of young Jamie Lloyd – it was a part that needed to go well as she is integral to the plot of H4. Thankfully, it did go very well indeed and we followed her story in 2 films as a youngster and through part of Halloween 6 although that didn’t cast Danielle Harris as Jamie. Looking back though, I’m sure she’s probably glad that she didn’t have that particular blot on her CV. Having said that though, H6 didn’t do so badly for Paul Rudd did it?!
I digress, the point being here that the casting of Danielle Harris as Annie Brackett in Rob Zombie’s movies was a masterstroke as not only are you getting a high calibre actress in your film but you get someone who was already a scream queen at the age of 10 or 11 when she originally starred as Jamie. Better than that though, by casting Harris, all us Halloween fans got a massive shot of nostalgia when we see her on screen for the first time. I know whe I saw the first RZ Halloween, I didn’t know that she was in it at all and when she made her first appearance, I did a double take and it took me a second to work out who Annie Brackett was but when I did I thought that was a really cool reference to the older films that Harris was in.
It’s also worth noting as well the different versions of Laurie Strode that Scout Taylor-Compton portrays in the movies. You have the confident yet possibly slightly naive version of Laurie that is portrayed in the first movie which is pretty close to the original Laurie, as portrayed of course by Jamie Lee Curtis, with the addition of a few curse words here and there! After the events of the first RZ Halloween though we are then introduced to a much more fragile Laurie, obviously affected by her ordeal as we see glimpses of her mental state, particularly in the first scenes of RZH2 where she dreams about Myers stalking her through the Hospital hallways. Tje fact that she is still dreaming like this a year on from her first meeting with Michael is testament to just how badly she has been affected by the whole affair. Things don’t get much better for her when she finds out from Dr Loomis’ book that she is in fact Michael’s baby sister Angel as she appears to have a full on breakdown at this point and goes and get’s blind drunk at a Halloween party – which is usually a death knell in most horror films, particularly for its final girl!
In terms of the characters in the movie, you have to admire the casting of Dr Loomis here. Donald Pleasance had played this character for close to 20 years and the thought of somebody else playing him is almost unthinkable. He had such presence in the original movies and often, as the series went on, was the driving force behind the franchise. So Dr Loomis’ recasting had to be handled very carefully. Enter Malcolm McDowell of A Clockwork Orange fame. Possibly, one could argue that he was the ONLY choice to play Loomis, someone who has the gravitas to hold your attention on screen yet be a believable choice to protect Laurie from Michael. Halloween 2 saw a very different Loomis to what we’re used to as he becomes a bit of a diva and profits from the misery of Laurie and company with the writing of his book about Michael Myers. It is only towards the end of the movie that he realises his folly here.
Finally, no Halloween is complete without The Shape, Michael Myers. Poor casting or a poor mask can damage your film almost irreparably. Tyler Mane, however had to be the perfect choice here – an absolute hulk of a man who you could believe could throw about a burly trucker with little problem at all. In fact the little boy in Halloween 2 sums up this version of Myers perfectly when he asks him “Are you a giant?” Ths is what you want from your Bogeyman, someone whom it looks like you would have to go within an inch of your life to put down once and for all and that is what Laurie and Dr Loomis ultimately have to do in this series.
Overall then, the real reason why I am contending that Rob Zombie’s Halloween films were great is that they were born from the necessity for something different, something fresh and that, to me is exactly what we got. We have an origin story that sheds light on Michael’s troubled past and adds expertly to Myers story, showing Dr Loomis’ relationship with the young Michael which I thought was great, really running the line between hm sympathisig with Michael yet knowing exactly how dangerous he was. Halloween 2 was Rob Zombie in full flow, given the reins to the franchise to do what he wanted with it and why not do something different? We needed something different and everybody who rubbished this movie was afraid of just how different this was, to me it was a masterstroke of brutal, twisted cinema, delving into its characters twisted or broken psyche’s. When you watch all of the Halloween films one after the other, these 2 movies really stand out as a breath of fresh air as they dare to be different, they wear their freak flag with pride and are rightly unapolagetic for it.
If ever words in a book have danced around in your mind creating equally magical and nightmarish worlds and ultimately have made you put the book down in fear then chances are, you’ve been reading a Stephen King book. When you talk about horror books then you cannot ignore the man that most people will refer to as the master of horror as there are so many classic stories to choose from such as Carrie, Firestarter, Pet Sematary, IT, Bag of Bones and The Outsider. Some of those novels will be spoken about here in this article, clearly there are so many books to choose from that you can’t possibly write about them all so I will write about some of my favourites and hope that you will enjoy reading my experiences of these stories. Don’t worry, this won’t be a pretentious book club lecture but rather an appreciation of someone who is truly a master of their craft.
Anybody who has read at least a couple of Stephen King books will know that he has an amazing eye for detail in his stories and very much has a talent for describing what seems to be the most innocuous details in painstaking detail but yet still has you glued to the pages reading these descriptions. I imagine that not only would a lot of authors not go into this level of detail but a lot of them would perhaps not have the talent to do so without making their readers yawn. I don’t mind admitting that this isn’t something that I have been able to achieve in my writing but then this is a part of what makes King such an intriguing and master of the art of storytelling. This is part of why I read his novels, yes, I read for the suspense and scary nature of the stories but actually the style of writing within the stories are like nothing you will get anywhere else, from anyone else.
Without any further ado, lets get on with looking at some of my favourite Stephen King novels.
As a child, I loved reading and made my way through a good portion of the books in my school library and would try to stay up at night in order to devour Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl books. Reading was in my blood and always will be, however as a 14 year old boy, I was looking for something different – I was too old now for The Famous Five or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and as a typical teenager I wanted something more adult. Now I don’t know where other kids my age went when they wanted a more grown up book to read – I never thought to ask – but this is where I went – Pet Sematary!
I found this on my parents bookshelf, I think it had been left there by my sister who had left home a few years before. So, I picked it off the shelf to have a look and something about that tagline grabbed me – “Sometimes Dead is Better!” To me that was all the reason I needed to start reading it. Little did I know that these few hundred pages would start a love affair with Stephen King (his writing you dirty minded people!) that continues to this very day in my 40th year on this planet!
I had never read anything like this at all, I was riveted as I sat there and read about the family cat getting killed and subsequently placed in the Pet Cemetery. I read with fiendish delight to see what happened next as the cat comes back to life and is nowhere near the same animal it was when it was alive. Changed, bloodthirsty and vicious the animal became and the more these changes became apparent the more I was glued to the book! As a bit of an aside, before I started reading this, I was convinced that Semetary spelt the way it is on the front cover was genuinely the way that Americans spelt the word! It wasn’t until it was pointed out in the book that it was a mis-spelling by a character in the story that I realised that my initial theory wasn’t correct.
The story, of course, has many twists and turns and shocks but I must admit that I was particularly shocked when (*spoiler alert*) the little boy, Gage dies. Up to now I’d always read books where the protagonists rescued anybody in danger especially if it was a child. If there is one thing you learn about Stephen King it is that he knows how to shock and he certainly isn’t averse to killing off a child here and there – read Cujo for further proof of this!
I also want to speak about the film versions briefly, I won’t spend too much time on them but I think both films certainly have their merits. The newer movie that was made last year has changed certain things in the story which can sometimes be a cardinal sin with Stephen King films but this one kind of works in a way that I think you might be pleasantly surprised by. I won’t give it away if you’ve not seen it but it does provide an interesting spin on the story as a whole.
The original film is what I would like to speak about though really or at least the performance of Miko Hughes as Gage. Now, I’m not sure how old Miko was here but he turns in an absolutely captivating performance as Gage in this movie. As the version of Gage before he gets run over by the truck you could almost forget about him but as the post burial Gage, you could honeatly believe that Miko might actually kill you, he played it demonically which was perfect for the role. He was also great in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare which may be a future blog post here. I’m not sure about his career as an adult but output as a child horror actor is phenomenal and always worth a watch.
It wasn’t long after reading this novel that I was longing for more and this one is what I chose as my second one…
It was the same Summer in which I read Pet Sematary that I started IT. This novel would be different, this was no finish it in two weeks job like the last one, this one would take me a solid couple of months to read. Now, you have to understand a couple of things about IT, a) it is fucking long and b) there is so much content to it in terms of characters, exposition, suspense and good old fashioned horror! The main thing about IT is that you really get to know the characters you read about, even supporting characters like the policemen, i can’t remember know if they’re investigating George’s death or it’s a flashback to 27 years previously. Either way, you know exactly what drives each and every character in the story.
Despite the length of time it actually took me to read IT, this is undoubtedly a stone wall classic and must be revered as one of Kings crowing achievements. I would say it was THE crowning achievement but for the existence of The Dark Tower but I’ll come to that later on.
To me, IT represents the ultimate coming of age story, a bunch of rag tag individuals thrown together by circumstance and a mutual hatred of the school bully, Henry Bowers. I don’t know about you but this story kind of represented my school life – I didn’t have a Henry Bowers thankfully but I did have a Losers Club and there wasn’t anybody else I wanted to share my experience with. This was largely how I got through those years and so is the case in IT. The Losers Club is greater than the sum of its parts and just by being together they survive school and it is by being together that they are able to take on Pennywise as kids and later, as adults.
Pennywise, is an amazing villain. Very possibly the greatest that Stephen King has created and it’s largely because it is fear itself, the creature knows what you fear the most and can project it back at you. But, for all that it is the creatures default setting that has terrified people for 34 years now. I am, of course, talking about Pennywise the Dancing Clown. He has plenty of wise cracks as the clown but a nasty, violent streak to him that could scare the pants off you as he toyed with his potential prey.
Pennywise has had two amazing actors play him over the last 30 years but my own personal favourite was Tim Curry in the 1990 mini series who was a truly inspired piece of casting. He got the campness of the clown exactly right but when it becomes time for Pennywise to make the kill you see the change come over him and Curry switches to full on psychopath mode and really cranks up the chills. Tim Curry always bring something special to any character that he portrays but I think Pennywise is his crowning achievement as an actor and almost definitely, he is the reason why so many people hold this tv miniseries so dearly.
In the more recent two remake movies, Pennywse has had another actor don the greasepaint and Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal of the killer clown is very nearly at the level of Tim Curry’s performance but not quite. That is just my humble opinion though. The two actors obviously bring something different to the role, Skarsgard is more like a venus fly trap in trying to attract children towards him by appearing super friendly and then just when they get that little bit too close, the teeth come out and bam! One less child. Curry’s portrayal is more of a cat playing with their prey and the wisecracks he makes is the animal toying with its food before it devours them to harvest the maximum amount of fear possible. In terms of story, the new movies stick much more closely to the original novel than the 1990 miniseries but that is probably more to do with budget than anything else. As much as it pains me to say, despite Tim Curry’s amazing portrayal of Pennywise, the new movies are much better story wise and get so much closer to King’s original vision. Although it has to be said that nether the ovies or the miniseries dealt with the ending as satisfactorily as Stephen King does in the novel – one in the eye for anybody who says King can’t write an ending!
The Shining is the final novel of Stephen King that I will be looking at where the motion picture is as famous as its source material. Published back in 1977 and the film version released in 1980, I would never have had a chance at reading this novel without my image of the characters and the Overlook Hotel being influenced by the movie version. Famously, Stephen King has oft been critical of the movie version having expressed his dislike of the way Wendy’s character was handled in the film as I think she should have been shown to be much stronger in the movie and I can’t imagine he would have been massively keen on the ending of the film either which, as seemed to be the norm for King adaptations, was changed massively once again. With this in mind, I will just talk about the novel here rather than the film which, in my opinion works much better than the movie ever could.
Now, as I mentioned because I was 15 or 16 when I first read this book, I was already aware of Kubrick’s film version which has a knock on effect of making you imagine Jack Nicholson in the main role which I don’t normally like but it can perhaps be seen as a reflection of how well Nicholson played this character. As a 15 or 16 year old boy I remember being struck by just how much of a different story The Shining is than Pet Sematary or IT. You never read the same story twice and when you consider the sheer volume of Stephen King books there are is an amazing achievement and testament to the vast imagination the man has. True, there are stories everywhere in life if you look hard enough for them but to have over 80 books to your name it is quite the achievement.
As different as this story was to anything that I had read before at this point, I absolutely loved the story and how claustrophobic it is being set in the Overlook Hotel with no way for the family to get out of the place as the winter sets in and snows them in. Although Jack turns from family man to full on psychopath during the story, the narrative is crafted expertly enough that you actually have sympathy with Jack as the Hotel itself overtakes him and twists his mind against his family and you know that he can’t help it or control it, he is unfortunately just the one member of the family who the hotel knows it can exploit and manipulate due to his own insecurities and fears.
The story itself is again, one of the best that King has written and despite the inherently claustrophobic nature of it there is a vast array of events that are kickstarted by Jack having various visions of the Hotel’s storied past and making him obsessed with the characters that have populated the place over the years. Danny, Jack’s son, also has some disturbing visions of the place too with the classic vision of the evil twins plaguing Danny at one point as well as the inhabitant of the bath tub in room 217 which also conjures up some particularly disturbing images too. It’s easy to see why Friends Joey Tribbiani used to keep this book in the freezer when it got too scary!
The character of Jack was also meant to be symbolic of Stephen King’s own personal issues with alcohol at the time. I always imagined that the long stints that Jack spends sitting in front of the typewriter, tapping out the same sentence over and over again, getting frustrated and slowly going crazy were a parallel of sorts into King’s own life, if he may have had writer’s block at this point or in the past and getting more and more frustrated with this and medicating this with alcohol, clouding his mind. I could be wrong and I probably am but this is what I always imagined.
The ending, once again, is the case of Stephen King having written a great ending that is far superior to the movie that was completely ignored by Kubrick for the film version although, to maybe give Kubrick the benefit of the doubt, it could have been considered too violent to try to commit this ending to film as the novel version features Jack smashing his own skull in with a mallet as the Hotel exercises complete and total control over him in an effort to kill the Torrances and collect their souls for the hotel. The one part of the book’s ending that I really did like was that Dick Hallorann survives the grisly encounter to guide the family to safety in the aftermath of the hotel’s destruction.
Insomnia is perhaps the most surprising entry on this list as I realise that this isn’t considered to be one of Stephen King’s best or most popular works but that doesn’t mean to say that it isn’t without its merits and it does rank in my top 10 books written by King. Any such list is clearly highly subjective and from one person to the next I’m pretty sure that everybody would have at least one entry on their list that somebody would consider surprising or controversial, such is the breadth of stories to be read here.
My experience of Insomnia (the book, not the condition!) was at university, my Stephen King obsession was still really in it’s infancy although a little further along than it was aged 15 and 16. I had made my way through most of the ‘classics’ and now was looking for other lesser known stories to continue my journey and my main University friend was also reading the book at more or less exactly the same time so we were constantly talking about it, both the story and the style of writing.
The main thing that my friend and I spoke about was probably the one thing that I think Stephen King doesn’t get enough credit for – his ability to describe something in the minutest detail for a good few pages. I know some people have criticised King for this in the past but to me, it is what sets him apart from a lot of other author’s in that I think through doing this the world that you imagine from reading one of his novels has vast layers to it and you can imagine absolutely everything down to that last detail and it’s all because the author gives you the details with which to do this. I can’t think of too many authors that do or will do this – maybe it comes with being already established, I’m not sure but when it comes to world building I don’t think you can get better than Stephen King at this.
The particular part of Insomnia that sticks out to me when I think about it, in terms of story telling, is when Ralph is first getting to grips with the different coloured aura’s that he can see appearing around other characters in the book. The level of detail used to describe this is immense, going on for quite some time but by the end of it you would swear that you were able to see these aura’s too! This is what I believe good storytelling is all about – you don’t need augmented reality glasses when you have a book this well detailed and written. Another scene which springs to mind is a conversation that Ralph has which spans over 40 pages – some people may baulk at this level of dialogue and each to their own I guess but the level of detail conveyed here is essential to your understanding and imangination of the novel.
Stephen King himself has been critical of this particular book saying that it tries too hard. I imagine when speaking about your own work, you’re always your own worst critic but I believe he was being too hard on himself here, there is a great story here with a great villain in Ed Deepneau – you really root for him to get what he deserves in the end. As already discussed I am a great fan of the use of detail to get your story across and this book does that very well. I understand it may not be for everyone but all I can say is that, if you get it, you get it.
The Dark Tower Series
The Dark Tower. What an epic series of books this turned out to be, but who knew it was going to end up being quite so epic? It starts innocently enough with The Gunslinger who is in pursuit of The Man in Black. It was quite a departure for Stephen King to write such a fantasy led story such as this but it worked really well and proved that Stephen King could turn his hand to quite a different type of story. If you were reading the Gunslinger in 1982 when it was released, I’m not sure you would have necessarily have thought it would develop into such an epic series, The Gunslinger was a good story but not one which you would have necessarily thought would spawn a series due to it being a very quick read with a small set of characters but it is actually Roland’s (The Gunslinger) interactions with the boy Jake which sets the chain of events which take this from standalone story to series.
The second book in this series didn’t appear until 1987 a full 5 years after the original which suggests to me that maybe King hadn’t intended the series to exist, again I could be wrong, but I for one am glad that it did become a series. To me this is Stephen King’s Lord of the Rings and in many ways, I feel, The Dark Tower actually surpasses the Lord of the Rings Trilogy with the vast detail of the world depicted here and the emotional rollercoaster that these stories take you on – who can forget when Oy, the Billy Bumbler, died? I’ve never actually cried whilst reading a book but my goodness I was pretty close when that Billy Bumbler copped it saving our main characters!
I find this series of books, extremely symbolic, encompassing Stephen King’s other works and really tying them together. The Dark Tower, talks about The Beams – “everything serves the beam”. The beams in the story seem to be kind of mystical forces which are holding up The Dark Tower and to some extents all of reality. The beams in real life I take to be Kings other non Dark Tower books which effectively hold up this epic series. I say this because various other books are referenced by the Dark Tower and some books mention the Dark Tower or reference some part of it’s world in King’s other novels. It, The Stand, Salem’s Lot, Insomnia, Hearts in Atlantis, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Shining, and Cell are all either referenced within The Dark Tower or reference the Dark Tower in those stories. The Stand’s Randall Flagg is possiby the most directly referenced character to have a part in The Dark Tower story. Black House (one of King’s collaborations with Peter Straub) also has quite a hefty part of it’s story that features The Dark Tower and indeed Roland Deschain, so there are quite a number of books that are interwoven with The Dark Tower and I believe this makes King’s work unique to all be tied to something as big as this.
When I started reading these books, I had just started a new job where I had to travel by bus to my new workplace so I needed to train myself to be able to read books on the bus (I was very travel sick at this point) and The Dark Tower series books 1 – 4 were my books of choice at the time. I think I actually had impeccable timing in starting these books when I did because I started in January 2003 when only The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands and Wizard and Glass existed. However, I didn’t have to wait too long for the series to be concluded as The Wolves of the Calla was released later in 2003 with Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower released in 2004. I always felt like I was kucky in this respect because I’m not sure I could have contained myself to wait six years for the series to continue after Wizard and Glass.
I don’t want to give away anything about this series but if you haven’t read them, you should as these really are the centrepiece of all Stephen Kings works and quite honestly, I’m not sure that there has been or will be a book series that can surpass this. Go and read them now!! As ever, please leave comments or likes to the article and don’t forget to subscribe to the page by following All Things Horror.
The Iconic sign as you enter the small town of Silent Hill is now one of the most foreboding and troublesome town limit signs as you’re ever going to see. But it wasn’t always so, back in 1999 when the original Silent Hill was released, little did we know just what kind of disturbing imagery we would see held within the confines of this disc. These days, of course, we see this particular road sign as a measure of a set of (mostly) great games and can look forward to seeing the set of monsters and abominations held within the town in the way that one might look forward to seeing a dear old friend.
Rewind all the way back to 1999 to find an 20 year old me who was only really about 3 or 4 years into proper horror fandom and I was consuming (appropriately enough) all things horror. Classic movie franchises were being binge watched on an almost nightly basis and classic Stephen King books were being read cover to cover. The only thing that was really missing from my horror vaults were video games, I’d never really played any games that could really call themselves horror. It was probably my own hardware choices as I’d had an Amstrad CPC 464 for many years and clearly attempts at horror on that particular computer were always going to be limited (see my Green Screen of Horror article for proof of this!). Then I had a Megadrive (Genesis for any US readers) which, again didn’t really have many horror titles and I couldn’t get hold of Splatterhouse 2 at the time so couldn’t even see that one! It wasn’t until I received a Playstation for Christmas of 1999 that I had access to what was considered to be more realistic games. I had briefly experienced Resident Evil 2 by this point and had to admit that some bits of it had made me jump which I thought was just great as I hadn’t seen a video game that could do that to me up to that point.
Upon playing Silent Hill though, it was apparent that this was an entirely different kettle of fish. The introduction to the game set the tone immediately and you knew it wasn’t just a case of a guy that had lost his daughter and had to go find her…I mean, it IS that but you knew there was something more to it, you could almost smell the air of mystery emanating from its very code and the first 30 minutes or so of gameplay did nothing to dispel that feeling as the story builds layer upon layer, minute by minute as you wonder just what the hell is actually going on.
So, you start the game chasing after your daughter and as your character, Harry Mason runs and shouts after her, it seemingly has no effect on making her stop and come back to you and she continues to run into the ever thickening fog until you lose sight of her altogether. It’s probably only at this point that you really stop and take stock of your surroundings, the town you’re in seems abandoned and empty. The fog never shows any signs of lifting and it’s snowing…or is it ash? I don’t think we ever really find this one out but it’s one of the things in the game that can be left to your imagination as you decide which is scarier? Snow falling or ashes raining down from the sky for no real reason.
The fog itself is great at contributing to the spooky atmosphere of the game but also actually serves another purpose which has probably been fairly well documented up to this point. Due to the technical restrictions of the original PlayStation and the fact that Silent Hill has a full 3D town as the centre piece of the game as well as more detailed versions of that towns location, the fog was implemented as a way of disguising the buildings just popping up out of nowhere in the game as the game struggled to keep up with the characters progress. The addition of the fog however meant that the building pop ups made much more sense as this kind of would happen in thick fog in real life as you went along. For something actually meant to hide a bit of a glitch with the game it really adds to the game more than the developers could have possibly hoped for.
The monsters also make an appearance pretty early on, the winged demons of hell chase you around all over the place and it’s not until you manage to pick up a gun that you can really sucessfully start to fend these bad boys off. Although I do seem to remember back in the day that if you had the lead pipe you could use this quite effectively if you could time it well enough – alas that particular skill seems to have eluded me now as I play through whilst just into my fourth decade on the planet. Then, if the demons weren’t bad enough, there’s the dogs! Those mother jeffing dogs are the bane of your existence in the first part of the game as they jump at you, tearing and ripping at you with their teeth, draining you of your life force and forcing you to hunt for the first aid medicines that will restore you to at least a portion of what you were before.
As you progress through the game the puzzles are used in order for to progress to new areas or for your character to find out more information on the whereabouts of Harry’s daughter – you remember her? The little girl who never stops running? Who has more stamina than Mo Farah?! As you track her and meet some of the game’s other characters who are each more strange than the last the puzzles and area’s get more fiendish and disturbing and that’s what keeps you going with Silent Hill as you wonder just what else is going to be round the next corner or who on earth you’re next going to meet – it really is a wonderfully crafted game to keep you hanging on like that to see what might happen next, it’s almost how you might binge watch a Netflix series to give it a modern day comparison.
It’s when the air raid sirens sound when things start to get really weird and the lines between reality and nightmares become blurred and you’re not sure if what you are seeing is real or if Harry is stuck in some kind of nightmare sequence as you do see that from time to time during your play through. When the sirens go off, you get to see a hellish alternate version of the portion of the game that you’re playing through giving you access to new locations or giving you the answer to certain puzzles or access to items you might need to solve a puzzle elsewhere in the game. I won’t give away any plot points here as usual if you have never played Silent Hill before but rest assured that much of the more strange moments of an already weird game take place in these alternate sections.
I would like to take a moment to applaud the developers here for providing a relatively open world town for you to play in. These sorts of big sandbox adventures might be quite commonplace now but they weren’t in the days of the PS1 and producing such a big detailed town for us to play in was quite an achievement even with the necessity of the fog. Granted, the town isn’t inhabited by anything other than creatures for the most part but this must have been quite some achievement at the time.
All in all, if you haven’t played Silent Hill then I would urge you to do so, even in these days of ultra realistic graphics and the impending release of PS5 and the new Xbox there is still fun and frights to be had with Silent Hill – a great game remains a great game no matter how many years removed you are from it.
Horror has been much maligned over the past decade or so for constantly releasing new films that act as the dreaded ‘reboot’. Even the word strikes fear into the heart of even the most ardent horror fan. As much as you may like a franchise, there is no guarantee that a rebooted franchise will be a hit at the cinema or, more importantly, do your favourite film justice. We can go right the way back to 2005 and The Amityville Horror remake – to the uninitiated this may seem like a perfectly decent film with jump scares and creepy moments but the moment you go back to watch the original 1979 movie then the whole remake/reboot movie looks particularly flimsy and overly slick. We can all appreciate a well made film whether it be a reboot or not but how does Child’s Play fare in the world of the horror reboot?
The answer is that it fares surprisingly well – I did expect this to be a bit of a shambles I must admit when I heard it announced. I certainly didn’t go to see it at the cinema, how could they do this movie without turning it into a comedy horror mess (I’m looking at you Seed of Chucky!) Did the world really need a new version of Chucky? It could still be argued that maybe the world didn’t need a new Chucky at all, especially with the original Chucky very much still live and stabbing (more on tat in a moment)! Movie studio’s being movie studio’s sensed some money in this and set their minds to producing a 21st Century upgrade to Chucky and actually, the end result of this is a movie that is pretty well put together, a story well told and a movie you never even knew that you wanted to see.
Gone is the voodoo Mumbo Jumbo of the original movies so there is no more Charles Lee Ray being gunned down in a toy store and transferring his soul into a doll. Although this is kind of part of the charm of the original film, it feels like a very 80’s horror trope to have black magic involved to explain something that can’t really be explained. Instead we have a more technical Good Guy Doll, which has been re-branded as Buddi for the reboot and a disgruntled and mistreated factory employee who alters the coding of this Buddi doll and removes all of it’s inhibitors before placing it in the packaging, ready to be sold to the unsuspecting general public.
The Buddi Doll’s are less like the Good Guy Dolls depicted in the original movies in that they are more like a fully moving Alexa or Google Home and, as such, Andy Barclay has to be a slightly older kid that would be interested in using such a toy so the upgrade to a Google-esque device is a welcome and believable plot device. As you will see during the movie, anything that has Wi-fi can be controlled by the Buddi doll which cleverly feeds into all of our homes slowly becoming dependent on AI devices that even down to the colour of our light bulbs, opening or shutting doors and curtains and even the robotic vacuum cleaners, fridges and other domestic appliances that are becoming ‘Smart’ now. It would seem that I may have initially under estimated this movie as I really like these idea’s and even though it is bang up to date and on-trend for a lot of homes now, it is also very old school in the way that the movie prey’s on real things to create real fear from the viewer. It is this sort of horror movie making that has been missing from films for quite some time now.
As I have mentioned, the story is well crafted and the movie takes it’s time in exploring Andy’s relationship with his Buddi doll, which, if you’re wondering, does end up calling himself Chucky. It’s a welcome change for a movie like this to spend time on characterisation and have the kills and gore gradually ramp up as the characters develop and don’t just go gung-ho into ridiculous or gratuitous kills right from the off. As usual I won’t give away any specifics of the film but there are some great kills in this and some good uses of technology and environment to achieve this. As horror fans, we can always appreciate those elements!
Let’s move our attention to the Chucky doll itself and this is probably the one element of the film that I wasn’t particularly crazy about. For all the 21st Century enhancements to the doll’s abilities it’s actually the look of the doll that lets the whole thing down a little bit as I don’t think that it really looks like too far removed from the original Chucky doll. I get that there needs to be some familiarity there with the character and maybe there is only so much you can do with a doll but I just can’t help thinking that they could have done better with it than they did. Although it is worth noting that during the third act of the movie, the doll does manage to look suitably threatening when it needs to. As my other half told me during the film, in real life you have these Baby Annabelle dolls and Baby Born dolls that don’t really look too realistic but do look very creepy and kids go absolutely crazy for these things so maybe the look of the doll isn’t as much of an issue as I’d made it out to be as that is possibly how it might look if this was real life.
Whilst we’re talking of Chucky himself, it would be amiss of me to not mention the Elephant in the room – Brad Dourif. For 7 movies now, he has been the voice of Chucky and to most people, including myself, IS Chucky to most extents. So, it’s a pretty big deal for Brad Dourif not to be the voice of the killer doll. Instead, in this movie, we have Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) of Star Wars fame who provides the vocal talents here. What we get is, essentially, a variation of The Joker voice that Hamill does in some of the Batman animated movies as well the Arkham games on PS3, which really works for Chucky as it is the sort of voice that you would want Chucky to have I think, especially when the doll is going super psycho towards the end.
It is Brad Dourif’s abscence from the film that actually provides the biggest paradox that I very briefly touched upon in the introduction to this article and that is that Brad Dourif’s version of Chucky still exists! We have a weird situation here that now we have the new Child’s Play franchise beginning with this reboot but also we have the existing 7 Chucky films with the promise of adding more to the franchise from creator Don Mancini as well as the promise of a TV series coming featuring original Chucky too. It’s the first time that I can remember that two different versions of the same character can exist at the same time and, as ever, this is due to licensing issues. The production company that did this reboot has the rights to the Child’s Play name and Don Mancini has the rights to the characters and use them as long as the title Child’s Play is not used. For me, Brad Dourif will always be the voice of Chucky and he is certainly the most skilled at it, his over the top voice work is perfect for the character and I do hope that this version of the character continues for a long time yet.
All in all, despite my issues with the doll itself, I can’t really criticise the reboot too much and would certainly welcome a sequel to this as I would be interested to see where this story can go. I also wonder how the rogue code will be transferred to another doll in any sequel as the soul was always transferred when the doll was remade in the original sequels so I will definitely be interested to see how this will be handled. I am glad that I am glad, if that makes sense, because that shows that Child’s Play was a worthwhile film and we can only hope that the quality of the film will be upheld in future if there are to be any sequels.
First of all, I need to make a big apology for not being around in the last few months, in the first instance work took over for a while and I wasn’t able to write much and then, of course, the world has taken a massive down turn on a shit covered slide in the form of Coronavirus, which I’m sure you’re all aware of! Working from home and home schooling has taken some getting used to with myself and my better half being key workers but I think I can come back to writing a bit about horror films now for you, especially since I’ve had time to watch a few!
So, that’s the last I’ll bang on about Covid-19 as you hear it pretty much everywhere else, you don’t need it here. Let’s move onto Veronica.
I’ll admit, it wasn’t a movie that I had heard of before and it was only through looking through a list of “best Netflix horror movies” that I found this one at all. Don’t judge me, i’ve watched a load of horror movies on Netflix now and I’m down to ones I’ve not heard of before! Anyway, it sounded interesting as the blurb on Google mentioned supernatural occurrences and I am a bit of a sucker for supernatural films – almost as much as I am for time travel (See my Happy Death Day 2U article for more on that!), so I poured a beer, settled down and popped on Veronica.
Now, I will say that it was soon after this point that I had a bit of a choice to make as it became clear that this was a Spanish film with English subtitles. I’m not averse to foreign films with subtitles but it’s not something I tend to choose very often, usually because of tiredness which is a bit of a drawback to keeping up with the film when you’re falling asleep all over the place! After a quick evaluation, I realised that 8pm armed with beer, was too early even for me to be falling asleep so I carried on and I am so glad I did.
As with all good subtitled films, you actually end up not noticing the subtitles that much as you become immersed in the movie and you actually forget you’re reading them at some and become convinced you can actually understand Spanish and just as you’re thinking you could fluently converse with the locals in Madrid, you realise you’re reading the subtitles. Maybe that’s just me though!
The plot of the film revolves around a young girl by the name of…Veronica! I know, big surprise there, right?! Anyway, Veronica is a young girl of around 16 I would say and she is responsible for essentially looking after her three other siblings whilst her Mother works all hours at a diner/bar. All of this and she is also trying to get her own education in whilst trying her best by her brother and sisters. Already you have you have the template of the downtrodden horror movie character who is just looking for an outlet for all her natural teenage angst coupled with the resentment of her Mother who leaves her to run the household whilst she is either working or sleeping. In this respect the film is somewhat of an ode to all of the child carer’s in this world encountering the same struggles, thoughts and resentment that Veronica is facing.
Naturally, the few friends at school that she does have provide her with a temporary escape from her real world problems and in this case it comes in the form of one of those magazine collections you see advertised on the television that comes in a seemingly never ending number of parts that you can put into folders and keep for posterity. The first issue always seems to be 99p and then about £25 thereafter!! You know the ones I mean. This one is a occult collection of magazines which appears to come with a Ouija board as a free gift in the first issue.
As you may have guessed, Veronica and her two friends hold a seance in a dusty old out-building at their school and are over joyed when they appear to make contact with a spirit. Veronica especially is excited by this as she is desperate to contact her deceased Father whom she was clearly close to before his untimely death. They appear to be having a nice enough time even if the the other two girls are getting a little spooked by the seance but, ultimately, nothing untoward happens here. Now, I know that many of you that are hardcore horror fans will probably realise that in the world of horror, you don’t hold a seance without any consequences and this film is certainly no different.
Following the seance strange things begin to happen to Veronica and her family at her flat and Veronica herself is plagued by horrific dreams and disturbing visions of her father so it’s clear that something out of the ordinary has occurred as a result of the girls seance and it’s up to Veronica to find out exactly what is going on.
I’m not going to reveal any more of the story as I think if you do intend to watch this film, I don’t want to spoil it for you. What I will say is that it is well worth a watch and actually, provides a welcome departure from Netflix’s usual habit of providing English dubbing to foreign films or tv series as they did with Marianne amongst others. Actually providing the subtitles is far less distracting.
This is about as atmospheric a horror movie as one could hope to find in my opinion, the initial story surrounding Veronica’s home life is dealt with well and brings across her angst and resentment perfectly. Everything after the seance scene is also perfectly pitched as the tension is really palpable throughout and you really feel the sense of panic and fear of the family being trapped in their small apartment being terrorised by an invisible fiend. I was intrigued throughout and it really drew me in from a really early point. I’m always a little apprehensive about watching films from best film lists as they are always really subjective but this one was an absolute gem and I would have zero hesitation in recommending this as a film to watch for anyone who loves a bit of supernatural horror as much as I do.
The actors and actresses in this movie really bring the story to life as there are some really good performances throughout and some genuinely heartwarming bits as well as genuinely funny parts as well. Veronica in particular is portrayed really well and you really believe her character and the challenges she faces. Veronica as a whole is one of those movies that really benefits from there being nobody in it that you know because then you aren’t preoccupied with the performance of one big actor or another and you can just settle down and concentrate on the story being told which really is what movies are all about, stories.
I shall be doing my best to come back a bit more regularly and do some reviews of films that I have watched during lock-down so I look forward to writing here again soon and, as ever, if you do watch Veronica, please don’t forget to leave some comments about what you thought of it.
The Back to the Future inspired time travel horror series that you never knew you wanted! That last sentence is possibly the most truthful single sentence I have written on these blog pages, the movie(s) in question today is Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2 U and if, like me, you have dismissed these films without ever having watched them then prepare to think on and strap yourself in for one of the most entertaining horror/thriller stories of recent years.
The premise of the original Happy Death Day is more Groundhog Day than Back to the Future at this point in that main character Theresa Gelbman is stuck reliving the same day over and over again. The day that Theresa (nicknamed Tree) is forced to relive multiple times is her birthday, which sounds like it should be amazing but obviously, as this is a horror film, it is a waking nightmare for her. The problem is that after waking up drunk in a classmates dorm room doing the ‘walk of shame’ back to her own Sorority house, she then is shown getting ready for her birthday party and as she makes her way there is brutally murdered by somebody wearing a black hoodie and a baby mask which is her College’s Basketball mascot. Then she wakes up!
In true Groundhog Day style, Tree relives the day with different outcomes countless times until she figures out who it is that is trying to kill her and why. She interacts differently with all of the different characters in different ways too in order to make sense of her nonsensical new world and ultimately to work out who the killer is and why they are trying to kill her. I know that to describe the movie in this way does it a disservice because it makes it sound like a pure rip off and while it does clearly riff off Groundhog Day for it’s main premise it is actually a very smart and very well made slasher/thriller movie that I can’t recommend enough. It is a film that dares to be different and isn’t afraid to have a sense of humour about it that never goes over the top and will keep you guessing the whole time.
The film itself has some nice touches to it as well such as highlighting the relationship between Tree and her Dad whom she begins the movie by ignoring his phone calls and generally blocking him out of her life following the death of her Mother. It is genuinely heart warming to see her re-evaluate her relationship with him as she keeps reliving the day and being forced to ignore the same phone call every single day until she actually begins to try and work out why she is ignoring him and why the two don’t have a close relationship. The fact that this can happen within the confines of a horror movie shows that characterisation need not be sacrificed at the expense of the body count.
Tree also gets to re-evaluate the way that she treats others at college which particularly changes her character as she starts the movie as a typically solipsistic Sorority girl, more obsessed with being popular and on trend but finishes the movie as a different, much more likeable character following her forced deja vu. At the beginning of the film she is shown as being dismissive any studious, geeky types that may be around as well as even her own Dorm-mates whom she appears to have little time for except if she feels they can aid her in climbing the social ladder. As fun as a lot of the scenes in the movie are, you kind of feel that this is the real story arc here and by the time you enter the final half hour with the final ‘confrontations’ (that’s as much of a spoiler as I will give here!) you really root for her to pull through and somehow end the time loop.
It is Happy Death Day 2 U where the Back to the Future parallels and references really begin and the movie intentionally embraces this too which makes for some great moments but we will come to that in a second. To give a brief overview of this sequel – it kicks off focussed on Ryan, the character that we kept seeing walking in on Carter and Tree in the original movie and promptly gets kicked out of the room every time. He has much more of a prominent role this time which is quite a cool feature of this second film and is a good way to introduce a ‘new character’.
College student Ryan wakes up in his car on Tuesday, September 19. Returning to his dorm room, he walks in on his roommate Carter and Tree. He resumes work on an experimental quantum reactor with fellow students Samar and Dre. After Bronson, the school dean, shuts down the project for triggering several power outages, Ryan is murdered by someone dressed as Babyface, and wakes up again on Tuesday the 19th. Tree explains her experience reliving the previous day and she and Carter agree to help Ryan. They learn the reactor was responsible for creating the loop. The new Babyface tracks Ryan down, but Tree unmasks him to reveal another Ryan. The second Ryan warns that the original must die for the loop to close. Terrified, Ryan activates the reactor, releasing a powerful energy pulse that knocks everyone unconscious.
Now, anybody that struggles with time travels movies and tv series (and believe me, there are plenty out there!) may suffer a little bit with some of the storyline concepts that come up here in that we get quite a lot of multiverse theory while Ryan attempts to explain to Tree why certain events and people are different after she has been knocked unconscious by the Quantum Reactor (nicknamed Sissy). Without giving too much away, in this alternate reality, the killer from the original film is no longer the killer in this timeline and Carter is actually in a relationship with Danielle, the horrible Sorority pack leader from the first film. And while you do get a lot of complicated sounding theories about why this might have happened, if you are confused, please just refer to Doc Brown’s diagram in Back to the Future 2 which will pretty much explain to you what is going on here!
Speaking of Back to the Future, the films (especially part 2) get referenced pretty early on in Happy Death Day 2 U’s dialogue and there are plenty of references to throughout from then on, even down to a version of Alan Silvestri’s ‘twinkly’ incidental music which appears throughout the Back to the Future trilogy. I won’t give all of the BTTF2 references away but I will let you know my favourite one is where a woodchipper is prominently featured in a shot with the logo of the gardening firm that operates it reading, “Biff’s Gardening Services”. The fact that the Back to the Future franchise is amongst my favourite movies of all time certainly helps endear Happy Death Day 2 U to me – I am a sucker for a bit of time travel drama though!
Although the original movie deals with Tree’s relationships with both her Father and her fellow students, the second film deals with her relationship with her Mother. Now, in the original movie we learn that her Mother is dead and this was implied as part of the reason that she and her Father did not have a great relationship. Here, we see Tree and her Father enjoying a close relationship but when Tree goes to meet him at the same restaurant that she was always meeting him at in the original film. There is one difference though, her Dad tells her they are waiting for one more lunch guest and then, through the door comes – Tree’s Mother! In this timeline, Tree’s Mother is alive and we see her struggle with the idea of trying to remain in this alternate reality in order to stay with her Mom. Anybody who has lost a parent can surely relate to this part of the movie as it is tenderly done and verges on having a few tearjerker moments especially the first time that she lays eyes on her previously dead Mother. These moments show that there is plenty of time within horror movies for character development and well written scenes that don’t just serve to get you to the next fright. I would even go as far as to say that these films may be the best written horror films since Wes Craven was gracing the silver screens but that is just my opinion.
The films have a little bit of everything, suspense, some jump scares with the Babyface killer, humour – but not too much as to be ridiculous, action and general geekery. It has a little bit of everything which is rare for a movie these days to have and to pull off quite so well as this. So, to Double Back (see what I did with the Back to the Future reference there?!) to the beginning of the article, if you have dismissed either or both of these films based on the admittedly slightly rubbish sounding title, then you need to rectify this right now and see what I’m talking about here. Happy Death Day is currently on Netflix and Happy Death Day 2 U is currently showing on Sky Cinema in the UK. Enjoy and thank me later!
You have the right to remain silent…forever! Take it in, read it again. Now tell me you have seen a better tagline to a movie in your life – for me, this has got to be one of the top contenders! The film that it belongs to? Maniac Cop. This is the film that we will be talking about today and also the subject of an upcoming episode of the 80’s Movie Club Podcast.
Some of you won’t have heard of this before and I’m sure that some of you will but either way by the time you’ve finished reading this article I’m sure that you will be wanting to watch this, either for the first time or for the umpteenth time if you’re a fan.
To set the scene for those of you who haven’t yet seen Maniac Cop, we kick off the film with images of a cop (shown only from the neck down) getting into what appears to be a ceremonial Police Officers uniform, so far so good. Then we see some punks mugging a nice young lady for her handbag. However, these hapless criminals haven’t bet on the lady handing their asses to them on a platter and beating her attackers “like a government mule” with the very handbag they were attempting to snatch! Anyway, young Cassie runs off and eventually finds a Police Officer to report the crime to and – you guessed it – she picks the wrong cop and gets killed by the titular character! Even the punks look disgusted by this – even petty criminals have their code of ethics you know!
Maniac Cop kicks off at a frenetic pace with a couple of kills inside the first 5 minutes, however, it isn’t just a kill fest, there is at the heart of the film quite a good and gripping storyline that keeps you watching. Detective Frank McCrae is working the cases of the first two homicide victims and notices a link in that eye witnesses have reported seeing a Police Officer carrying out these atrocities. From here on in, we see Frank and Jack Forrest (who gets framed for the Maniac Cop murders when his wife is killed early on) try to piece together who exactly this Cop is and why he is on the rampage.
Entering into watching this movie, I had zero expectations, I had heard of it and had spent a while looking longingly at the cover art in the video rental shop (remember those?!) as my eyes were always drawn to it but I’d never rented it as I’d always plumped for the more established horror icons such as Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, Pinhead et al. So I was interested to see Maniac Cop but didn’t necessarily expect anything from it and I think I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up finding myself quite entertained by it.
As I have said, the story line is quite gripping, it is simple yet effective – maniac on the loose who happens to be a cop and our protagonists are attempting to uncover exactly who it is perpetrating the killings. All whilst Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) is being framed for the murders. The film maker’s pitch this perfectly as you find out little bits here and there about our antagonist but the final reveal is saved for the end of the film which is the first time we see Maniac Cop’s face.
However, there are other elements that elevate this movie well above what it should be – two other elements to be exact, Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell. Tom Atkins, who you might remember from Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, The Fog and Lethal Weapon brings an old school kind of vibe here. To me, he is the person you want steering the ship as your lead actor in a film like this, he knows how to deliver lines and carry a story whilst holding intrigue. You could argue that it is the writers that do this and while that is undoubtedly part of it I don’t think the film would be the same with some b-movie nobody delivering these lines. You can even forgive the hyperbole that he exhibits when urging his pretty journalist friend to go public with the Maniac Cop allegations, inviting her to make it “bigger than AIDS!” I do wonder though if Tom Atkins has some input into the scripts that he stars sometimes though because his characters can often surround themselves with pretty female characters who it is often implied, either overtly or otherwise, that he is/has had a relationship with these ladies. Go check out Halloween 3 if you don’t believe me!
Bruce Campbell (pictured) is another element of the film that elevates it above it’s station – yes he is known for schlocky B movie horror such as The Evil Dead series and movies like Bubba Ho-Tep but as an actor he is criminally underrated. His performance here is one of a deeply flawed hero, Forrest has cheated on his wife and been framed for the Maniac Cop murders yet it is these imperfections which kind of make you root for him as the hero of the film. Nobody is all good or all bad, everybody is shades of grey in real life and I don’t think anybody can say they haven’t done something that they regret in life and Bruce Campbell portrays this every man perfectly – Campbell really does deserve to have been in more high profile movies. What’s more, given Bruce Campbell’s look of having a prominent chin he is actually spectacularly out-chinned in this film by Robert Z’Dar who plays Maniac Cop – but where else are you going to experience such a dizzying array of Hollywood chinnery?!
Then there is the Maniac Cop – not so much the actor who portrays him for this one but rather the way that he is used within the film – it is perfect really, you never see his face until the final 20 minutes of the film although this could be more to do with some of the dodgy makeup work on Robert Z’Dar’s face. It does work though and adds to the films overall mystique as to the identity of the killer cop. I do like the way in which you find out bits of information about the Maniac Cop particularly his back story and what happened to him at the hands of corrupt city officials. The only thing I wasn’t too clear on was whether, after the reveal about how he went to prison, whether you were meant to have sympathy for him as some sort of antihero type or whether he was just a cold hearted killer – but you can listen to the Maniac Cop episode of the 80’s Movie Club Podcast for more thoughts on that. You also find out that the Maniac Cop’s name is Matthew Cordell. Come on, really? What sort of name for a killer in a slasher movie is Matthew? We have Freddy, I can let Jason go (just), Chucky and Ghostface, all great slasher killer names but Matthew? Just makes me think of the old 80’s/90’s sitcom Desmond’s where one of the character would frequently proclaim “Matthew, there is an ooooolllllllld African saying…” Still, I guess it’s slightly better than Eric in Phantom of the Mall!!
So pleasantly surprised was I by watching Maniac Cop that I am planning to watch it’s two sequels pretty soon so you can expect a report on that as soon as I get chance to watch it. Whilst on the subject of surprise, you can imagine my surprise when researching this article when I found that there is a Maniac Cop TV series reportedly in the works at the moment. The movie(s) have kind of become cult classics over the years so it could be said it was only a matter of time before somebody wanted to remake it in some way but this is actually quite a welcome addition to the Maniac Cop screen family if this comes to fruition. Reports are abound that HBO are looking to make this series which, for the uninitiated, are the same network who have made Game of Thrones, Westworld, Big Little Lies and Watchmen, so we should perhaps expect decent handling of the subject matter I would think. There are no details at the moment as to when this would be airing however, as it is being produced by HBO then it may be reasonable to think that there is a possibility of it being shown on Sky Atlantic here in the UK.
That is all from me from the mean streets of New York City where Officer Cordell may possibly still be stalking. However, if you enjoyed this and want more then keep an eye out on the Facebook page of “80’s Movie Club” podcast for the Maniac Cop episode which should be out pretty soon. Also, I would urge you to have a look at Maniac Cop too as you may be as pleasantly surprised at this movie as I was. You can get it from Amazon as well as YouTube. Let us know what you think in the comments.