Tag Archives: slasher

Alice, Sweet Alice – Review

25 Feb

The 1970s was a big decade for the horror genre, especially when it came to slasher films. In 1974, Tobe Hooper gave us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and in 1979, John Carpenter’s Halloween was released. I’ve talked about and referenced these movies many times because I feel like they are very important to the genre. If you look hard enough, however, hidden between these two movies is the 1976 film Alice, Sweet Alice directed and cowritten by Alfred Sole. This is a film that has now become a cult classic, but should really be considered a masterwork in the horror genre.

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Karen Spages (Brooke Shields in her first role) is a 9 year old girl who is more than ready for her First Communion. Her older sister Alice (Paula Sheppard) on the other hand is more of a problem child and causes her mother Catharine (Linda Miller) to be stressed. During Karen’s First Communion, she is brutally murdered with evidence pointing at Alice as the culprit. Catharine’s ex-husband, Dom (Niles McMaster) comes back to town for the funeral, but also to start his own investigation. As Dom keeps snooping around, more of the Spages family and other tenants in the building begin getting attacked and killed in a variety of ways while Alice fights back against the accusations of being a murderer.

This movie felt like a combination of so many cool things. It felt like Alfred Hitchcock meets Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or John Carpenter meets Dario Argento. Really it’s like they all just mushed together and this is the result. It has the feeling and pacing of a giallo film by Argento, thy mystery of Hitchcock, the horror of Carpenter, and the oddball scenes found in a Jeunet movie. It really is baffling how a movie with this much creativity and thought remained so unnoticed. Alice, Sweet Alice belongs in the upper echelons of horror films, especially since it was so successful on such a small budget.

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It’s easy to make people jump, but it isn’t easy to make people feel uncomfortable. Horror movies now seem to aim to give people a momentary scare with a cheap build up, but this film is something entirely different. Just look at that picture. Just look at that god damn mask. If that isn’t one of the freakiest masks you’ve ever seen, than I don’t even know what. There’s also plenty of other great scares in the movie. Remember that scene in Psycho when Norman Bates walks out of his mother’s room and stabs the guy on the stairs? It’s so out of nowhere and unexpected, and a lot of the scary scenes in Alice, Sweet Alice reminded me of that. Things happen so suddenly and without any warning.

There’s also a really interesting use of the Catholic faith in this movie that only strengthens the eerie atmosphere. I’m not saying that the Catholic faith is eerie, but it isn’t very hard to make it seem that way. In one scene in particular, the murderer is doing their thing and the camera keeps cutting away to the faces of different statues, almost as if they’re all watching this happen. That, along with the use of church hymns and the receiving of communion while there’s a murderer present is just a weird thing. It’s a very off putting feeling that sets this movie above the average horror film.

Alice, Sweet Alice is a memorable and effective horror movie that has undeservedly only received the honor of being a cult classic. This is a very strange and unsettling movie, but that should appeal to horror fans even more than most other generic films that have gotten way more recognition. This film isn’t only creepy, it’s also provides genuine scares, suspense the whole way through, and a great mystery story on top of it all. To those horror fans who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this one, I highly advise you get on it right away.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Review

22 Jan

The slasher subgenre of horror isn’t something that you sorta like or have no opinion on. You either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it. There’s something about the classic slasher films that I used to watch when I was younger that fills me with both nostalgia and just simple reminder of why I love horror movies. It can be said that Alfred Hitchcock kickstarted the slasher genre with Psycho in 1960, although Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, also from 1960, can be said to be the start. But that’s not what we’re talking about. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of the proto-slasher films that came out before they were even really a thing, and it still holds up as one of the best horror movies ever to be made.

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In a rural part of Texas, Sally (Marilyn Burns), her paraplegic brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), and their three friends are on a trip to find Sally’s grandfather’s grave to see if it has been vandalized. Things begin to get strange when they pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who cuts his hand open, injures Franklin, and nearly lights the inside of the van on fire. After kicking him out they find Sally’s grandfather’s old house, and begin to explore the area around it. This area just so happens to be inhabited by a family of murderous cannibals who begin picking off the friends one by one. Sally soon comes face to face with the violent, chainsaw wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) who brings her back to the family home to have dinner, and be dinner for Leatherface and rest of the family.

Tobe Hooper, the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has gone on to become a prolific horror director. His other crowning achievement was the 1982 horror classic, Poltergeist, but this is where he really found his stride. One of the most amazing things about this movie is its almost complete lack of budget and experienced cast and crew. The cast were just friends and acting students from the University of Texas, and the budget was so limited that Tobe Hooper and co-writer Kim Henkel had to keep selling their shares of the movie. Even with these limited resources, they were able to create one of the most iconic horror films of all time.

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One of the first things you may notice on your first run through of this movie is the image quality. It looks very cheap and almost like a documentary, which actually helps the film because it solidifies the fact that all of this could really happen. That’s what really makes the film so terrifying. There aren’t any superhuman killers or ghosts or vampires. The family of cannibals make my skin crawl so much because they are completely human and can exist in the real world. In fact, I’m sure there are people just like this family that exist in America today. I can guarantee it. That’s infinitely scarier than any spooky creature you can throw at me.

Something that actually separates The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from the slasher films that came after it is that it is almost completely bloodless. It’s weird to say that a movie is so unflinchingly brutal without a lot of gore, but this one is. There are a few gory scenes, but overall, it’s pretty bloodless. The aesthetic tension that this film creates more than makes up for it. The editing can sometimes become completely chaotic which has a bigger effects on my comfort level than you might think and the set design by Robert A. Burns is excellent. Robert Burns would go on to be a big name in horror art direction, working on films like The Hills Have Eyes and Re-Animator.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t just a horror classic. In terms of film as a whole, it is a classic. In a time when drive in theaters and exploitation films flooded the film world, a lot of what was seen was trash. Fun trash, maybe, but nothing too memorable. But there were a few gems, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre being one of them. It helped redefine horror as a genre and was a testament of Tobe Hooper’s and the rest of the cast and crew’s talents. It’s an awesome horror film that has a spot in film history, which may seem odd considering the subject matter, but it is rightfully earned.

Scream 3 and Scream 4 – Review

20 Dec

In my last post, I made it quite clear that the first Scream film is a contemporary horror classic, and its follow up, Scream 2, wasn’t quite on the same level but worthy all the same. After these first two entries, the series was done with the nineties, but returned in 2000 with Scream 3, and then again 11 years later with Scream 4. One of the main reasons the first two Scream films are great is because the intelligent, sometimes scathing, satire that went along with the traditional horror fare. Unfortunately, these next two entries don’t live up to their predecessors and disappoint on many levels.

Wes Craven was back, but Kevin Williamson was out. Already a rough start for Scream 3.

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Life has been rough on Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell). In order to feel safe, she has secluded herself from society and rarely sees anyone other than her father. When a series of murders begin occurring, with the killer donning the Ghostface costume, and inquiring Sydney’s whereabout, she is brought out of seclusion and goes to Hollywood where the newest Stab movie is being shot. She isn’t alone in this, however, with Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale (Courtney Cox) returning to aid and protect her. As it is said in the film, the rules all change here, and a big reveal that changes everything we thought we knew is the only way to truly end a trilogy.

If you to make a line graph showing all the Scream movies and their quality, this is where you would see a sharp decline. Like…sharp. Everything feels different, and not in a good way. First of all, Sydney gets little screen time, especially since she’s the main protagonist and was onscreen most of the time in the other films. But the biggest problem is the new screenwriter, Ehren Kruger. Kevin Williamson wrote a draft for Scream 3 as a point of reference, but Kruger dismissed pretty much everything Williamson wrote, and did his own thing. The result is not very good at all. Instead of taking shots at the horror genre and the ins and outs of a generation, all of the satire focuses on Hollywood, and turning it into this cartoonish hellhole that is populated by idiots and corruption. Sure, that does sound like Hollywood, but this is way too over the top.

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Bottom line is this: Scream 3 is silly in that stupid kind of way. It isn’t a complete disaster, and the twists at the end are cool, but this is a weak entry with a screenplay that seems like it was written by a high schooler who’s a big fan of the movies. The jokes are too direct and cheesy, the satire is misdirected, and the heroine that we’ve come to root for is in the movie for too little a time. Scream 3 should be seen if you’re serious about this series, but if you’re just looking for something to watch and aren’t really a fan of the others, than this can be skipped easily.

Cut to 11 years later. In a world of reboots, it only seemed fair that Scream comes back to the silver screen and make self referential jokes about what kind of movie it is, and make a comment on the next generation of film goers. The result is… meh.

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15 years after the Woodsboro Massacre, Sydney makes her return to her old hometown to promote her book. As luck would have it, Ghostface also has returned, threatens Sydney, kills some people, and sparks up a new investigation to see who is behind the mask. Dewey and Gale, who are now married, return to help Sydney, and Sydney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) is caught in the middle of all of the violence that is engulfing her family and friends. As bodies begin piling up in a brutal fashion, the people of Woodsboro begin to realize that the rules of the game are all different, and anything goes this time.

If this were any other horror franchise, I’d be annoyed to see it again thinking that there really is no need to bring it back. With Scream 4, I felt pretty comfortable with its return. Williamson is back as screenwriter and only does an OK job. That’s right. Scream 4 isn’t really anything special, but it’s a big improvement over Scream 3. The witty  banter is back and it’s pretty funny hearing the characters talk about the rules of reboots. Hollywood is in an age where every other movie seems to be a reboot or a remake of some sort, so it was interesting hearing a movie produced in Hollywood make such blatant jokes about it. The film’s biggest failing is when it tries too hard. There are moments where the satire is so in your face and over the top that it falls flat and just comes off as annoying. We all get it. You’re making fun of reboots and the film industry clichés. This movie also seems to go nowhere fast for awhile then picks up the pace dramatically in the third half.

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Scream 4 is a huge improvement over Scream 3, but still just doesn’t reach the same heights as the first two movies. I appreciate what it’s trying to say about the state of the film industry and this generation of film buffs, but it’s a bit too big for its britches and comes off as pretentious and annoying at times. That’s not what the Scream films are all about. They’re about laughing and fear, and then laughing at ourselves for being scared. Scream 4 is a good time and if you’re a fan of the series, give it a watch.

I grew up with the original Scream trilogy, and these movies are a few that really helped get me begin to love movies to the degree that I do today. In that way, these movies are very special to me, and it was good to finally get around to seeing Scream 4. Despite the weaknesses that creep up in the last two movies, I can’t say that I could ever truly hate a Scream movie. Disappointed, yes, but hate is a strong word.

Scream and Scream 2 – Review

15 Dec

It can be debated that Wes Craven is the king of modern horror. I strongly believe that he is, but that’s just my opinion that borders on fact. With films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Last House on the Left, it’s clear that he’s left his mark on the horror genre. In 1996, with the help of writer Kevin Williamson, he left an even more distinct map with the Scream franchise. These much talked about horror/satire/mystery films take horror to a meta level that wasn’t explored in the horror genre before, making these films truly unique.

Scream hit the scene in 1996.

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When Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) is brutally murdered, the small town of Woodsboro is thrown into a frenzy. Local high school student Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is having an especially rough time considering that all this is happening so close to the one year anniversary of her mother’s murder. As the body count begins rising, the different players are all put in danger including local policeman Deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), Sydney’s best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan), and film nut Randy (Jamie Kennedy). Pressure also builds further around Sydney when her boyfriend Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) becomes suspect number 1 and media hound Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) interferes with the investigation and Sydney’s past.

What puts Scream on such a higher level than other slasher films is the writing and characterization that can, in part, be accredited to Craven, but I put most of my praise on writer Kevin Williamson. Every time I watch this movie, I care for the characters just a little bit more. Their witty banter that revolves around horror films is relatable to me, and they’re just much more believable than the cliched victims in films like Friday the 13th and even the original Halloween.

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Along with the writing, it both satirizes and terrifies in perfect unison. After Scream came out in 1996, there was a significant rise in caller ID purchases. That’s a fact, and also hilarious. The opening scene in this film is something straight out of my worst childhood nightmares, and the bloody climax is so god damn cool. In terms of comedy, it works just as well as horror. Horror buffs will appreciate all the little in-jokes, but even newcomers to the genre will still find something to laugh at. Throw in the mystery, and you got yourself a multi-genred masterpiece.

Agree with me or not, I firmly believe Scream is destined to be a horror classic. In my eyes, it already is. Not only did it capture a generation that overwhelmed the mid-90s, but it also succeeds at spoofing and honoring the horror genre. It’s bloody brilliance from the combined minds of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson. Need I say more?

But, as with pretty much every horror film, a sequel seemed to be just predestination. Hitting the theaters just one year later, Scream 2 reunited characters and audiences in 1997.

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Having survived the killing spree that took place in Scream, Sydney is trying to get on with her life. Now in college, she has remained close with Randy, lives with her friend Hallie (Elise Neal), and has found love with Derek (Jerry O’Connell). Things are shaken when a murder happens at the premiere of Stab, a film within a film based off of the events of the original, and the media invades Sydney’s school, putting her face to face again with Gale, and reuniting her with Dewey. More students begin dropping and it’s only a matter of time before Sydney herself is at the other end of the knife, unless she can figure out who is behind the mask and why they crave the bloodshed.

As far as sequels go, Scream 2 is as worthy as they come. Being reunited with the survivors of the first film feels just as good every time I put the movie on. All of the new characters work pretty well too. Derek and Hallie have god chemistry with Sydney and are good counter balances to her paranoia, and Timothy Olyphant’s Mickey is just what Randy needs to create fun and memorable film banter, especially about sequels.

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Wes Craven is back directing and Kevin Williamson still penned the movie, so the characters and dialogue are as rich as ever. The screams and the laughs are just about on par with its predecessor, but the sense of mystery doesn’t quite live up to the expectations presented in the first film. In Scream, it’s hard to really figure out who the killer is because of all of the twists and turns the plot takes. In Scream 2, it isn’t really that difficult because a main character pretty much just disappears right in the middle. Then they show back up again, just in time for the climax. There is another twist that is pretty cool, but the whole unmasking thing just doesn’t feel as exciting.

Scream 2 isn’t as great as Scream, but it holds its own with other sequels that are worthy of their predecessors. The film isn’t perfect, nor will it be considered a classic like the first film, but it’s still one of the better modern horror films, even with its satirical elements.

My next review will be covering Scream 3 and Scream 4. Was a trilogy enough, or maybe a fourth was a necessary addition. Check back for my second part of the series. 

High Tension – Review

16 Sep

When you think of countries that make top of the line horror films, I normally think of places like Japan, Korea, or Italy. One of the last places you would expect to look is France, but recently France has  been adopting this style of film making that is dubbed New French Extremity. I’ve reviewed a film a while back called Martyrs, which was my first exposure to New French Extremity. Perhaps even more popular than Martyrs is High Tension, a horror film by Alexandre Aja that is genuinely terrifying, gory, and unpredictable.

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Alexia (Maïwenn) and Marie (Cècile De France) are in need of a vacation, so they head off to Alexia’s family’s farmhouse located far and away from the city so that they can get some quiet for their studies. Paradise soon finds it’s trouble when a mysterious killer (Philippe Nahon) breaks into their home and begins killing the entire family. Soon enough, it’s just down to Alexia and Marie, forcing Marie to take matters into her own hands and stop this killer before he has the chance to kill them.

Simple story, no doubt, but this is a slasher movie when you get right down to it and we all know exactly what we want when we turn one on. In the case of High Tension, I feel like I got a lot more than I was expecting. I heard a lot of good things about this movie, but I didn’t want to get myself all worked up over it and be disappointed when all was said and done, so I went in with a relatively blank slate. In the beginning, I was immediately impressed with the cinematography and the acting, especially for a movie of this genre. I didn’t even have a chance to get bored at this time, because Aja has such a way with building, for lack of a better word, tension.

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When the bodies begin to fall and the gallons of blood begin to pour, the pressure really gets turned up a notch. As a fan of horror movies, I feel like I’ve seen a lot that the genre has to offer. Good thing Alexandre Aja and his writing partner, Grégory Levasseur, are also huge fans of the horror genre. This puts them in a very good position, because now they can pay homage to horror films (High Tension seems like the child of two ’70s exploitation horror films I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left) but at the same time it creates new and interesting situations to keep the viewer interested. The scenes of suspense are crafted in such a way that I found myself not breathing, both out of fear, but also so I wouldn’t give away the location of the hiding women. Yes, this movie is violent and yes, it is ridiculously gory, but hey, that’s New French Extremity for you.

With these new situations and ways of telling a pretty archetypal story, there are things that audiences may not like, and this one has gotten some attention over the years. Without spoiling anything, the ending of this movie does something that makes the audience all say, as if synchronized, “Wait…what the hell?” To some people this will be awesome and make rewatching it a lot more fun than it was the first time around. Others will find this to be the most frustrating and ridiculous thing that could possibly happen. In my opinion, it worked. There are a lot of small winks and clues throughout the entire thing, and in terms of narrative, there are ways of explaining a lot of things that might seem unexplainable. As much as I want to talk about it, I really don’t want to give the ending away.

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High Tension will polarize a lot of people. I’m on the side of loving it. I really, really love this movie. It seems like there’s a lot of film makers who are afraid to really take their horror movies and turn up the terror to an 11, for the sake of getting a rating that will make the movie more accessible to wider audiences. Aja wasn’t afraid to go the extra mile. Granted, when it got to America (and being the wussiest country ever when it comes to movies) some of the scenes had to be toned down to get an R rating. If you get a hand on a copy of High Tension, make sure it’s the unrated copy, because you owe it to yourself to get the best possible version of this movie for maximum enjoyment and discomfort.

Opera – Review

6 Feb

I’ve already talked a lot about Dario Argento on this blog. So far I’ve talked about Suspiria, Inferno, and The Mother of Tears. Well, here we are, back with Argento, one of the masters of the horror genre with his 1987 film Opera. When it was first released for U.S. audiences, it was heavily cut, and therefore never complete. Luckily, I’ve seen the uncut version and I have quite a bit to say, both bad and good.

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MacBeth has always been a cursed show, but never before seen like this. After the original choice for Lady MacBeth is injured in adar accident, the role then goes to newcomer Betty (Cristina Marsillach). Her first performance is met with a standing ovation, but also attracts the attention of an obsessive and violent stalker. Soon after the performance she is forced to watch the masked man kill one of her friends. In the days to come this happens again and again, giving her all the more reason to find out who the murderer is and stop him before she becomes the victim.

It seems that Argento movies always have their fair share of really great things and really terrible things. This film is case and point to my theory. In that same way, he’s kind of lucky that he’s so good at creating memorable scenes of horror, because there are so many things in this movie that have the potential to drag this movie down. The biggest problem, since it happens throughout the entire movie is the acting. This is a problem throughout Argento’s filmography, and this doesn’t have the worst acting (Suspiria), but it can be pretty laughable when the scene is meant to be dead serious.

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The “joy” that is found in Opera are the fantastic murder sequences. These scenes are some of the best that you will ever see in horror along with Psycho and the original Saw. I find it remarkable how the needles that are taped under Betty’s eyes aren’t recognized as a major symbol in the horror genre. The film also shows that Argento will not hold back in his violence. The first killing that is shown is memorable, unexpected, and wonderfully gory. It was so good that I had to rewind the scene a couple of times just to prolong my giddy laughter. The scene that really stands above the rest in the movie features a bullet being shown shooting through a peep hole and into the victims head, all of it in slow motion for maximum appreciation. And what would these murder scenes be if they weren’t accompanied by some unexpected 80s metal music? There are some against this choice of soundtrack, but I think it’s a great contrast from the opera music heard throughout.

The set design also looks fantastic, especially the opera house, where a lot of the action takes place. The hall and the backstage design is both beautiful and spot on. Even Betty’s apartment has this old Italian style that you can’t really find in America. I wouldn’t be able to fully take all of these sights in if it weren’t for Argento’s stalking camera work. The camera seems to have a life of its own as it chases, stalks, and even flies throughout the opera house and the various apartments.

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The problem that almost ruins the entire movie is its godforsaken ending. I can honestly say that this is one of, if not, the worst ending I have ever seen. Never has an ending felt like it was literally thumb tacked on by a kindergartner. The conflict is over way too fast and the whole scenario is way too absurd, bordering on deus ex machina. It’s a joke.

Opera is a very good horror movie, even though it has all of the makings to be dreadful. There’s bad acting throughout and an ending that will leave even the most casual cinephiles annoyed. Still, the murder scenes, set design, camera work, and idea are all great and work well together. This isn’t going to change anyone’s minds about Argento nor will it be appropriate for anyone with a weak stomach, but it’s a fun watch for horror fans, especially those already accustomed to Argento’s style.