“The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (1976)

At the start of the film, “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” Cosmo Vittelli has just paid off the debt he owed a loan shark, Marty (Al Rubin). In exchange for paying off what he owed, Cosmo’ nightclub, The Crazy Horse West, located on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, is once again his place, free and clear. Cosmo is portrayed by Emmy winner Ben Gazzara (Run for your Life) who gives a first-rate performance. Instead of basking in his financial accomplishment, Cosmo decides to celebrate with a handful of his female employees. He doesn’t furnish the women with expensive gifts, nor does he whisk the ladies off on a private plane to a tropical island. Instead, he has each of the women picked up, by a chauffeur driven limousine, and each lady is given a carnation to wear. The limousine drives Cosmo and the women, to an illegal gambling establishment run by local gangsters with mafia connections; it is a place, where seemingly anyone can receive a line of credit to play. Payment, however, for those who lose, is expected immediately, unless other arrangements can be agreed to.

By evening’s end, Cosmo, is called in to meet with the establishment’s boss (Morgan Woodward) to settle his debts. After being in the financial clear for less than a day, he is back in debt. According to the accountant (John Kullers), Cosmo owes $23,000 dollars, which in 2018, would be equivalent to approximately $105,000. Cosmo doesn’t have that kind of money, nor would his club generate that kind of  income in sufficient time to pay back the gangsters. Working in Cosmo’s favor, albeit, just in the manner in which it buys him more time, is that one of the gangsters, Mort, played by Oscar nominee Seymour Cassel (Faces), happens to personally like Cosmo.

The gangsters agree to let Cosmo and the ladies leave, but they will be in touch soon, to discuss how he can pay down his considerable debt. When the gangsters catch up with Cosmo, they inform him that they have a way for him to erase his debts. What they want, is for Cosmo, a Korean War veteran, to kill one of their competitors, a Chinese bookie, Soto Joe Hugh. Cosmo is hesitant at first, but after being taken into a back alleyway, by Flo (Timothy Carey), and physically worked over for a bit, to see what he would be in for, with an outright refusal, Cosmo accepts the job.

Cosmo has no desire to either be disabled or killed, nor does he want to lose his club. He considers the club, and the people that work for him, to be his true family, having no immediate family of his own. He even fancies himself a bit of an artist, even though the paying customers are there to see women strip. Cosmo insists on putting on musical numbers, as a way to separate himself from the other strip clubs. The musical numbers and skits are designed by Cosmo, and hosted by Mr. Sophistication (Meade Roberts). He is a heavy set individual, who wears brash makeup, and dresses in a tux, replete with cane and a top hat.

Given a gun – directions to where the bookie lives – instructions to purchase hamburger meat in order to keep the man’s guard dogs busy, and a key which unlocks the door to the building the bookie lives in, Cosmo sets off in a stolen car. From the outset, what can go wrong, does go wrong. When Cosmo arrives at the bookie’s house, the man is entertaining company. Additionally, the bookie has a number of bodyguards spread out throughout the property, more than Cosmo thought he would be contending with.

Only because it is not the primary focus of the movie, merely the catalyst for what comes afterward, I will let it be known, that Cosmo does successfully kill the bookie. After doing so, Cosmo has placed himself in tremendous peril. What Cosmo doesn’t know, information that the gangsters withheld from him, for obvious reasons, is as follows: The gangsters never expected him to be able to pull off the job. They figured he would kill the bookie, and one of the bookie’s people would take out Cosmo, and they would step in and take over Cosmo’s nightclub. Furthermore, the person Cosmo killed, wasn’t just a simple bookie, but was the head of west coast operations for an international criminal Chinese syndicate.

Is there a way out for Cosmo? Will he have to go to war with the gangsters to win his freedom? If he succeeds, and bests the gangsters, what about the Chinese crime syndicate? Do they come looking for Cosmo to extract their revenge against him for taking out one of their leaders? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the film.

“The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” was written and directed by  three time Oscar nominee John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence).  The film premiered on February 15, 1976 in New York City, New York. When the film first premiered, and for approximately a week thereafter, its runtime was 135 minutes, but after receiving less than stellar critical reviews, Cassavetes released a 109 minute version of the movie. The original story for the film had been developed years earlier by John Cassavetes and Oscar winner Martin Scorsese (The Departed). The film comprises the genres of crime, drama, and thriller. The pacing is slow, but that only enhances the realism that Cassavetes was striving for while dealing with people who are on the fringes of society. In closing, the role of Cosmo was an excellent character study, thanks to the performance given by Ben Gazzara; the cast as a whole was uniformly good, and the score by Emmy winner Bo Harwood (Ups & Downs), helps to elevate the tension of what is taking place on screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Searching (2018) – An Immersive Film Experience”

The opening minutes of the film “Searching” inform the viewer about the three members of the Kim family. Through a series of digital calendar entries, pictures, and video clips, the viewer is introduced to, and learns about: David Kim, portrayed by John Cho (Star Trek: Into Darkness); his daughter Margot, played in her film debut by Michelle La; and the wife and mother, Pamela (Sara Sohn), who has been diagnosed with cancer. She successfully fights it off and goes into remission for a period of time, only for it to return, and claim her life. (As an aside: The opening minutes of the film, is exactly how the remainder of “Searching” is shown to the viewer. Instead of a traditional approach to advancing the narrative, the filmmakers completely utilize digital – for example computers and Skype – to tell their story). 

When the film resumes in the present day, David and 16-year-old, Margot, are both busy people; David with his work, and Margot with school, piano lessons, and study groups. While it is made known to the viewer that the two watch the singing competition television series “The Voice” together, they mainly communicate through FaceTime and text messages.

One evening, after speaking with Margot, who informs David she is going to be at an all night study session for an important upcoming test, (I immediately didn’t think that was the case), David goes to bed. He understandably thinks he will see Margot at some point during the following day. In the morning, David awakes to discover that he has several missed FaceTime calls from Margot. He also is very displeased to learn that she has still not thrown away the trash, which is piled high in the kitchen. David had specifically reminded her, that she had forgotten to do so the previous day.

David attempts to reach Margot throughout the day, without success. While he begins to grow a bit anxious, he is not yet in full panic mode; that happens when he contacts Margot’s piano teacher, Mrs. Shahinian (Sylvia Minassian); the teacher is not shown, she only speaks off camera. Margot is supposed to be at a lesson with Mrs. Shahinian, but David, much to his utter disbelief, is informed that Margot, despite the fact that David leaves her $100 a week to pay the teacher, hasn’t attended lessons in months. From that moment forward, until the film’s conclusion, the film seeks to resolve the question: What happened to Margot Kim?

David enlists the help of the police, and an investigation is opened by the ambitious and decorated, Detective Vick, played by Emmy winner Debra Messing (Will & Grace). The investigation seemingly is going nowhere. As it turns out, David discovers that the daughter, who was residing with him under the same roof of their California home, who he believed to be well-adjusted, someone who, among other things, had friends, and was dedicated to learning the piano, and dedicated to her studies, is not at all the person he thought she was.

At wits end, after contacting people David believed to be friends with Margot, David has only begun to scratch the surface of where a traditional search can go. In the world in which we live, he turns his attention to the internet, and all of the various social media platforms it has to offer. David begins to meticulously search through each of Margot’s accounts, for example, her Facebook and Tumblr. He is desperately searching for clues, and while doing so, he keeps track of the vast amount of information that he learns from Margot’s various social media contacts, on a computer spreadsheet, which he shares with Detective Vick. David goes countless hours without sleep, with only his love for his daughter, providing the much needed adrenaline for him to continue his search. He is aided, in part, by his brother Peter (Joseph Lee). I want to stop getting into any sort of plot specifics at this point. This is the type of film, where the less that is revealed about how the film moves forward from this point on, the better it will be for those of you who haven’t seen it, and would like to.

Premiering on January 21, 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival, “Searching” is an effective, taut, and suspenseful movie. The film marks the feature directorial debut for Aneesh Chaganty. In addition, he co-wrote the screenplay with Sev Ohanian. The 102 minute film is comprised of the genres of drama, mystery, and thriller. “Searching” is the third movie to utilize a computer screen to tell the story; the two that preceded it were “Open Windows” (2014), and “Unfriended” (2014). (As an aside: “Searching” took approximately two weeks to shoot, but the entire production, due to the manner in which it was filmed, took two years to complete).

The main selling point of the film for me was the excellent performance of John Cho. He showcases a gamut of emotions: from a disconsolate widower; to a dogged investigator, not only helping the police in their investigation to find Margot, but in essence spearheading it; to an emotionally distraught and angry individual, who feels an unfathomable betrayal has been committed against him, which again, I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t yet seen the film. For those of you who like well executed thrillers, that will keep you guessing, and offer twists until its final reveal, this is a film you will most likely find highly entertaining.

 

                                                                                       

 

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“Halloween” (2018)

On October 25, 1978, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” premiered in Kansas City, Missouri. The movie has gone on to achieve iconic status within the annals of horror films. From what I’ve read, and from interviews that I’ve seen with cast members and crew involved with the original production, not one person thought the film would launch a franchise, but, that it did. Since the release of the original, and prior to “Halloween” (2018), there have been nine films produced for the franchise, eight of which feature the seemingly, indestructible killing machine known as Michael Myers. The filmmakers of “Halloween” (2018) ask viewers to forget all of the films that have been produced since the first, because their film is a direct sequel to what took place in the original.

The opening of “Halloween” (2018) centers on two podcasters, Aaron (Jefferson Hall), and Dana (Rhian Rees), as they wait to enter the mental health hospital that has been Michael Myers’ home for the past forty years. He has been under psychiatric care, not uttering, a single syllable, since he was arrested for the murders of his sister Judith, as well as a handful of teenagers. Michael is under the care of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer). Prior to Dr. Sartain, Michael had been studied and diagnosed as, nothing more than, evil incarnate by Dr. Sam Loomis. The character of Dr. Loomis, was brought to cinematic life, in Carpenter’s original film, by BAFTA award winner Donald Pleasence (The Great Escape). The pair of podcasters, whose show focuses on true crime, are hoping to get Michael to break his silence. In an attempt to get him to do just that, Aaron has been given, from his friend in the attorney general’s office, the mask that Michael was wearing when he killed. As you might have guessed, Michael has nothing to say. (As an aside: Two different actors, James Jude Courtney, and Nick Castle (The Last Starfighter), play ‘The Shape’ as Michael Myers is referred to in the credits. Castle was one of five actors to play Myers in the original “Halloween”).

After the opening scene, the film rolls the credits, and like the first two films in the franchise, as the credits play, the camera zooms in on a jack-o-lantern. This time, however, the jack-o-lantern has been destroyed, but, as the music continues to grow, the jack-o-lantern, begins to inflate, until it once again is fully formed. John Carpenter, along with his son Cody (Masters of Horror), and godson Daniel Davies (Condemned), composed the music for the film, which helps to heighten what is shown during its 106 minute runtime.

BAFTA and two time Golden Globe winner Jamie Lee Curtis (Trading Places), returns to portray Laurie Strode, her role from the original movie, and she completely embodies the character. Since the fateful night forty years earlier, when she did battle with Michael Myers and survived, Laurie’s life has been plagued by trauma. She still lives in the town of Haddonfield, Illinois, but has had two failed marriages, and lives, for the most part, as a recluse, at her home in the woods, which is more like a fortress. The house is situated behind an electronic gate, has a secret room, and there are security cameras everywhere, as well as spotlights that can light up the property in an instant. Furthermore, she has numerous weapons at her disposal. Laurie has been preparing for what she feels is Michael Myers’ inevitable return to finish what he started forty years earlier.

The way Laurie lives has put a strain on her relationship with her daughter Karen, played by Judy Greer  (13 going on 30).  While Karen was growing up, Laurie trained her daughter in self-defense, and how to use weapons; to Laurie’s way of thinking, if Karen likes her less because of it, she is willing to live with that price. The film, at its core, is about the long term effects trauma has, not only on the victim who has lived through a horrific ordeal, but those who are part of the victim’s life.

The way Laurie continues to live, despite Karen pleading with her to get help, has also impacted Laurie’s relationship with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Allyson, like Laurie’s character in the original, is a member of the National Honor Society, in school. Karen has not raised Allyson, at all, in the same manner, as she was brought up, therefore, Allyson is a normal well-adjusted teenager. She enjoys going out, and spending time with her boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold), as well as her friends, Vicky (Virginia Gardner), Dave (Miles Robbins), and Oscar (Drew Scheid).

Laurie, as it turns out, has every reason to fear Michael Myers’ return. While he is being transported with a number of other patients, from one facility to another, he causes the bus he is on to crash. The incident is not shown on screen, but the aftermath of his actions are. The only person he leaves alive, at the sight of the bus crash, besides his fellow patients, is Dr. Sartain. The crash takes place the night before Halloween. Of course, once securing his freedom, he heads home to Haddonfield, to try and finish what he started decades earlier.

Once Michael arrives in Haddonfield, leaving dead bodies and chaos in his wake while in route there, he seeks out Laurie. As he searches for her, he is shown dispatching innocent victims with ease, while walking the streets that are full of trick-or-treaters and their parents, seemingly unnoticed by all; but that won’t last long. The police have been alerted to his escape from custody, as has Laurie, who hears about the bus crash on the news. From that moment forward, the film becomes a race against time, for both law enforcement, led by Will Patton’s character Officer Hawkins, and more importantly, the combined forces of the women of the Strode family, to put an end to Michael Myers, once and for all.

“Halloween” (2018) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2018. David Gorden Green (Joe) directed, and co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down) and Jeff Fradley (Vice Principals) based on characters, from the original movie, that were created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill (The Fog). In addition to Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle, P.J. Soles (Carrie) is the only other cast member from the original to appear in the 2018 film. Soles plays a small role as a teacher. “Halloween” (2018), has become not only the biggest movie opening for the entire franchise, but the second biggest horror movie opening ever, as well as the biggest horror movie opening featuring a female lead.

“Halloween” (2018) respects the original, but deviates in a number of ways. The tension in both films is palpable, but the gore, and the brutality with which Michael Myers disposes of his victims, has been ratcheted up a great deal in the current film. The original was not bloody; this is not only bloody, but gory. There is humor in the film, which helps to alleviate the tension, but the Michael Myers shown in this film, is like none other that has come before him. Does Michael Myers live? Will he once again return to inflict death and mayhem on the residents of Haddonfield? Only time will tell, but as of the writing of this post, a sequel is rumored to be in the works.

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Wolf Man (1941) – A Classic Cinema Horror Icon”

“A disease of the mind in which human begins imagine they are wolf-men. According to an old legend which persists in certain localities, the victims actually assume the physical characteristics of the animal. There is a small village near Talbot Castle which still claims to have had gruesome experiences with this supernatural creature. The sign of the werewolf is a five pointed star, a pentagram, enclosing a…” 

The above, is a description of Lycanthropy (Werewolfism), as well as a brief set up, shown to the viewer, before the beginning of the film “The Wolf Man.” In the first scene, Larry Talbot, portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr. (High Noon), has returned to his ancestral home, Talbot Castle, in Llanwelly, Wales after spending the better part of two decades abroad in America. The reason for his return, is because his older brother has passed away. According to Larry’s father, Sir John Talbot, a role acted by four time Oscar nominee Claude Rains (Casablanca), he will one day function as the head of the Talbot estate. Larry’s relationship with his father, it is made known to the viewer, has been strained over the years. The two, however, immediately agree to put the past behind them, and move forward. The first thing the two men do is head upstairs to the conservatory, where Sir John has asked Larry, who is good with his hands and fixing things, to work on his telescope. While fixing the telescope, Larry spots the attractive Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) through the lens. He is drawn to her, and makes a trip into the local town, where her father, Charles (J.M. Kerrigan), owns a shop that buys and sells antiques.

While in the shop, Larry purchases a silver, wolf’s headed cane, that features a wolf inside a pentagram. Afterward, for the first time, the following poem, regarding the myth of the werewolf, which is repeated several times during the film’s 70 minute runtime, is said to him by Gwen: “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” Larry, however, is more interested in getting to know Gwen, but each time he asks her if she’ll spend time with him later that evening, she rejects him. What he doesn’t know, but will soon learn, is that Gwen is engaged to be married to Frank (Patric Knowles). Coinciding with Talbot’s arrival, is the annual appearance of a group of gypsies; they arrive every autumn, and hold a fair for the townspeople. Gwen and Larry spot them, when Gwen shows Larry out of the shop. One of the gypsies is played by Bela Lugosi (Dracula), who coincidently is named Bela in the film. His is a small but, as it will turn out, important role in the movie. The other gypsy, who receives an ample amount of screen time, is Bela’s mother, Maleva, who is portrayed by two time Oscar nominee Maria Ouspenskaya (Dodsworth).

Not taking no as an answer to his earlier requests, Larry waits for Gwen to lock up the store for the evening. She agrees to accompany him but, she will not go alone with him; her friend Jenny (Fay Helm), will be joining them. The three make their way to the gypsy camp. Once there, Jenny gets her palm read by Bela, and Larry asks Gwen to take a walk with him, and she agrees. While Jenny is having her palm read by Bela, he becomes very disturbed, when he sees a pentagram appear on her palm. Jenny can’t see it, but Bela can, because he is a werewolf, and he knows, according to legend that Jenny will become his next victim. He insists that she run away, but it does no good. He soon catches up to her, and kills her off screen. Larry and Gwen hear Jenny’s screams, and Larry rushes to help her, but he is too late. For his efforts, he is attacked by a wolf. Larry manages to kill the wolf with his cane, but in the process, he has been bitten.

Maleva and Gwen get Larry back to his home, surprising Sir John, and his friend Colonel Montford, played by Oscar winner Ralph Bellamy (War and Remembrance). Gwen starts to tell the men what happened, but is interrupted by Twiddle (Forrester Harvey), who informs Montford of Jenny’s murder. When he arrives at the crime scene, there is not one, but two dead bodies. Dr. Lloyd (Warren William) examines both bodies, and states that Jenny’s throat has been cut. In addition, Bela, who has turned back from a wolf into his human state, has been bludgeoned to death. The prime suspect is Larry, because his cane is found next to Bela’s body.

The next morning, Larry awakes to find Sir John, Dr. Lloyd, and Colonel Montford in his bedroom. Montford gives Larry his cane back, informing him that it was found at the crime scene. Larry doesn’t hesitate to state that he used his cane to kill the wolf. When Sir John lets him know that no wolf’s body was found, but instead Bela’s body, Larry is utterly confused. He offers to show the men the bite he sustained from the wolf, but the bite mark has mysteriously vanished. Larry goes to the gypsy camp to speak to Maleva, to find out what is going on. She informs him that he has been bitten, and now he has the werewolf curse. The only thing that can protect him, and those that he cares for is silver. From that moment forward, and for the rest of the film, Larry struggles with his new found existence, wanting desperately to keep his inner beast from harming anyone.

“The Wolf Man” was directed by George Waggner (77 Sunset Strip), with a screenplay written by Curt Siodmak (Invisible Agent). Siodmak wrote the screenplay, while keeping in mind the vile behavior carried out by the Nazis, that he had witnessed, in his native Germany, which he had fled several years earlier. The poem, that Larry Talbot first hears spoken by Gwen, in the antique shop, was made up by Siodmak, although it took a long time for him to receive the credit. Furthermore, unlike Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” published in 1823, and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” published in 1897, Siodmak didn’t have a particular piece of literature to draw from. He created, for example, the concept that only a silver bullet can kill a werewolf. The makeup, that helped to transform Lon Chaney Jr. into the werewolf, took six hours to put on, and an additional three hours to remove. The makeup was done by Jack P. Pierce (Frankenstein), a brilliant makeup artist, and a catalyst for those who would come after him. In addition to a rubber nose, in order to get the desired effect for the werewolf’s appearance, Pierce used yak hair which he singed with a curling iron, and then attached to Chaney’s arms and legs using gum. (As an aside: “The Wolf Man” premiered on December 12, 1941, in Los Angeles, California. Universal Pictures was apprehensive about releasing the film, because two days prior to its scheduled release, Pearl Harbor had been bombed).    

In closing, “The Wolf Man,” like a number of the Universal horror films from the 1930s and 40s, has an enduring charm to it, which is why it has stood the test of time. There is nothing remotely scary about it, and suffice it to say, the entire family can sit down to watch the film; parents won’t have to worry about anything objectionable being shown on screen. I think, however, that most children and young adults today would find it much too slow and tame, however, those who grow up to be movie buffs, once they’re older, will probably appreciate its historical place in cinema, and enjoy it much more. For those who love classic horror films this is worth revisiting.

          

 

 

 

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“House of 1000 Corpses”

“Howdy Folks! You like blood? Violence? Freaks of nature? Well then, come on down to Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Mad-Men. See the Alligator Boy, ride my famous Murder Ride. Most of all, don’t forget to take home some of my tasty fried chicken! Ha ha! It just tastes so damn good!”

                                                                             Captain Spaulding

“House of 1000 Corpses,” takes place on October 30, 1977. Two couples are traveling cross country, writing a book in which they are compiling information about interesting road side attractions. One of the stops they make, is at a gas station in, an off the beaten path town, in Texas, which has such an attraction – The Museum of Monsters & Madmen. The proprietor of the property is Captain Spaulding, who is shown replete with face paint and a clown suit; Spaulding is portrayed by Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects). Viewers will have already been introduced to Spaulding, a few minutes earlier, during the opening scene of the film; a short scene, that features a botched robbery, which showcases, that Spaulding is a person that should not be trifled with.

While hosting the ‘Murder Ride,’ as Spaulding calls it, which depicts monsters, as well as real and fictional killers, he imparts information to the travelers: Denise (Erin Daniels), Mary (Jennifer Jostyn), Bill played by three time Emmy nominee Rainn Wilson (The Office), and Jerry, a role acted by two time Emmy winner Chris Hardwick (@Midnight). The information Spaulding imparts during the ride, which especially peaks Jerry’s interest, is about S. Quentin Quale, referred to by the locals as Dr. Satan. According to legend, years earlier, when the townsfolk learned of the ungodly experiments Quale was performing at the asylum where he worked, they took it upon themselves to execute their own justice, and hung him from a tree. Spaulding tells the couples, that when some people returned the next day to retrieve Quale’s body, it was gone. After receiving driving directions from Spaulding, Jerry convinces his less than thrilled friends, and girlfriend, that they should drive out to the tree where Dr. Satan was purportedly hung.

In route to the location, the group spots a woman walking in the rain, and gives her a ride; her name is Vera-Ellen, but she refers to herself as Baby. The character is played by Sheri Moon Zombie (31), in her film debut. Baby informs the group, that she lives near the location they want to see. Unfortunately, shortly after resuming their trip, the car gets a flat tire. As luck would have it, bad luck in this instance, Baby’s brother is a tow truck driver. She tells the group, that he’ll come and tow the car, and while it is being fixed, everyone is welcome to stay at her house, where she lives with her family. The Firefly family consists of: Mother Firefly, played by two time Golden Globe winner Karen Black (Five Easy Pieces); her brothers, Otis portrayed by horror film veteran Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Tiny (Matthew McGrory), and Rufus (Robert Allen Mukes); and rounding out the family, her grandfather, Hugo, portrayed by long time character actor Dennis Fimple, in his final film role before he passed away from heart disease, on August 23, 2002. (As an aside: In the film, there are a number of characters named after characters that “The Marx Brothers,” played in their films from the 1930s and 40s which include, Captain Spaulding in “Animal Crackers” – Rufus T. Firefly from “Duck Soup” – Otis from “A Night at the Opera” – S. Quentin Quale from “Go West” – and Vera-Ellen from “Love Happy”).   

Once the couples accompany Baby back to the house, they join the Firefly family for dinner, which is followed by a play. The performances during the play, which is not shown in its entirety, is a mixture of vulgarity, with grandpa Hugo offering some foul-mouthed humor, and strange charm, as Baby performs the Marilyn Monroe song, I Wanna Be Loved By You.”  Mary, thinking that Baby is flirting with her boyfriend, vociferously objects, and the couples are promptly told to leave. This conveniently, although not really, coincides with their car being ready. While attempting to leave the sizeable grounds the Firefly family house is located on, the couples are attacked by costumed figures, and that is just the beginning of their problems.

Do any of the four escape the house of horrors they’ve been unwillingly thrust into? Is Dr. Satan alive? Does he make an appearance in the film? What if any are the motivations of the Firefly family? Are they just deranged, cold blooded killers? Is there more to them? What, if any, is Spaulding’s connection to the Firefly family?   

“House of 1000 Corpses” written and directed by musician Rob Zombie (real name Robert Bartleh Cummings), marks his directorial debut. The film was shot in 2000 but not released until 2003, when it premiered in Argentina, on March 13th at the Mar del Plata Film Festival.  Zombie followed up “House of 1000 Corpses” with the 2005 film “The Devil’s Rejects.” Furthermore, he has turned his attention once more to several of the characters from the two previous films, and will be releasing “3 From Hell” in 2019; as of the writing of this post, no date for its release has been set.

The film has garnered a reputation for being an intense, violent, blood soaked piece of cinema. There are moments that are unsettling, and definitely not for the squeamish, however, like a film that “House of 1000 Corpses” is often compared to, the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” (1974), I think more is envisioned by viewers as to what is transpiring on screen, as opposed to what is actually happening. There is an eeriness to it, and it can make you, as a viewer, feel uncomfortable one moment, but the next, have you laughing at some of its dark humor. The sound track is eclectic to say the least. For example, one moment Baby is dancing to the song “Brick House,” written by Oscar and two time Grammy award winner Lionel Richie (White Nights)a song he performed with “The Commodores” before embarking on his solo career – and in another scene the country song “I Remember You” by Slim Whitman is heard. In addition, the score, composed by Rob Zombie and Scott Humphrey, works well with what is taking place on screen.

In closing, I took the film for what it is, a horror film, made by a lover of horror movies, in his first attempt at filmmaking, outside of music videos. I’ll state right now that this film will not be for everyone. Those of you who don’t like horror movies, are more than likely going to have a deep dislike for the movie if you decide to watch it. For fans of Rob Zombie, who are used to, and like what he shows in his music videos, as well as those of you who like some of the actors in this movie who’ve appeared in numerous exploitation and horror films over the years, “House of 1000 Corpses,” will probably appeal to you.

 

 

 

 

                                             

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“Wes Craven’s Summer of Fear” (1978)

The narrative of the television movie, “Summer of Fear,” is told through the point-of-view of Rachel Bryant, portrayed by Golden Globe winner Linda Blair (The Exorcist).  She is a teenage girl, living in California, who loves her horse, Sundance, and enjoys spending time with her boyfriend, Mike (Jeff McCracken); he is also her riding instructor. At first, Rachel acts hospitable to her cousin, Julia Trent, played by two time Emmy nominee Lee Purcell (Long Road Home). She has come to live with the Bryant family which, in addition to Rachel, consists of Rachel’s father Tom (Jeremy Slate); her mother Leslie (Carol Lawrence); and her two brothers, Bobby (James Jarnigan) and Peter (Jeff East). Julia’s mother and father, along with their housekeeper, have died in a car accident near their home in the Ozarks. Rachel’s mother and Julia’s mother were sisters, and Julia will be staying with the Bryants until she returns to college, in Massachusetts, in the fall. (As an aside: The original title of the television movie was called “Stranger in Our House.” The name was changed to “Summer of Fear,” when it was theatrically released in Europe). 

Shortly after Julia arrives, Rachel’s life begins to take a turn for the worse. For example, she breaks out in a terrible rash, forcing her to cancel going to a dance she had been looking forward to. Additionally, her normally docile horse, which had been stabled at the family home, becomes irritated around Julia and attempts to hurt her. The horse’s behavior leads to Rachel’s father insisting that it be kept at a stable away from the home. Furthermore, Rachel’s parents, her older brother, and her boyfriend, begin to treat her differently. In the case of her boyfriend Mike, after he spends a brief period of time alone with Julia, he abruptly ends his relationship with Rachel, and begins dating Julia.

After discovering some unsettling items in the bedroom she shares with Julia, Rachel begins to look into Julia’s background. Rachel doesn’t buy the shy and sweet routine Julia is putting on for her friends and family. Prior to her coming to live with the Bryant family, none of them had ever met Julia, nor had Leslie, strange as it seems, ever received a photograph of her niece from her sister. When Rachel makes her suspicions known to her parents, they are not pleased with her, and over time, act increasingly hostile toward her while, at the same time, seemingly embracing Julia, and becoming closer to her with each passing day. The only adult who believes Rachel, is her neighbor, occult studies Professor Jarvis, a role acted by Emmy winner MacDonald Carey, who is most known for playing the role of Dr. Tom Horton, for twenty-nine years, on the soap opera “Days of our Lives.”  In addition to the aforementioned actors, “Summer of Fear” marked the television debut of two time Golden Globe nominee Fran Drescher (The Nanny); she plays Rachel’s friend, Carolyn Baker, who is a nurse in training.

Are Rachel’s suspicions legitimate? Is Julia up to something sinister? If so, what is she planning? Will Rachel be able to prove to her loved ones, that Julia does not have their best interest at heart? Has Rachel been right all along, but because no one believes her, except for Professor Jarvis, will it be too late to save her family, before Julia can carry out her plan? Those questions will be answered by the time the television movie concludes.

“Summer of Fear” first aired on NBC television (National Broadcasting Company), on Halloween night, 1978. The television movie was directed by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Based on the novel of the same name written by bestselling author Lois Duncan (I Know What you did Last Summer); the teleplay was written by Glenn M. Benest (Hungry Hearts), and Max A. Keller (Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8).

The television movie, which is part horror and thriller, will most likely be of interest to fans of Craven, who have never seen it; it might hold additional interest for fans of actress Linda Blair. For years, the movie was not available on DVD, or prior to that VHS. I think, overall, given the fact that the movie was on network television, and there were budgetary constraints in place, Craven did as good job as he could with what he had to work with. The cast, as a whole, worked well together, and did their best with the, at times, lame dialogue. In the interest of full disclosure, the horror is kept to a minimum, and more implied than shown. The climax, however, does provide a few jolting moments. All in all, I found “Summer of Fear” entertaining, despite some of the corniness showcased during its 100 minute runtime. I was glad I watched it, because I’ve now seen almost all of Craven’s work, but it is not something that I am going to purchase on DVD, nor am I going to watch it again in the near future.

                                                                       

 

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“Summer of 84”

The film “Summer of 84” centers on four teenage boys; their ostensible leader is Davey (Graham Verchere). He is an aspiring film director, who is seemingly obsessed with conspiracy theories, and secret government cover-ups involving the existence of extraterrestrial beings. Davey’s friends, who gather regularly in his tree-house, are as follows: Tommy ‘Eats’ Eaton (Judah Lewis), a foul-mouthed, female obsessed teen from a dysfunctional family; the kind-hearted Woody (Caleb Emery) who is shown tending to the well-being of his alcoholic mother (Susie Castillo); and, lastly, there is the bookish Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew). In addition, sometimes joining Davey and his friends, is Davey’s crush, who happens to also be his former babysitter, Nikki, played by Tiera Skovbye (Riverdale).

Davey’s latest interest involves a serial killer, The Cape May Slayer. The killer has claimed responsibility, in a letter sent to the police, for the deaths of fifteen boys, as well as two adults. The police confirm through the names the Cape May Slayer has provided them in his letter, as well as the dates he references, that the letter is real. Davey hears about the killer’s confession on the local news and is thrilled that, for once, there is some excitement in what he considers his sleepy, suburban town of Ipswich, Oregon.

While on his paper-route, collecting money, Davey has a relatively innocuous encounter with his neighbor, Wayne Mackey. He is a divorced police officer, portrayed by Rich Sommer (GLOW). Davey suspects that Officer Mackey is the killer; information which he eagerly shares with his friends. Davey has arrived at his conclusion with little to no evidence, other than his own remembrance of thinking he spotted a missing boy, Dusty Dewitt (Riley Jacob), through the window of Mackey’s house, while playing a game of Manhunt with his friends one evening. Davey becomes alarmed after seeing a missing person profile for Dusty along with his picture on the back of a milk carton.

Davey’s friends find his suspicions hard to swallow. After all, Mackey is the type of guy, who is shown to the viewer, handing out ice pops to the local kids on a hot-summer’s day. Furthermore, they are cognizant of how much Davey yearns for real adventure, but nevertheless, it being the summertime, they decide to help him get to the bottom of things. The boys begin surveillance of Mackey, taking notes on his daily routine, which for the most part, seems very normal, however, as they continue to investigate him, they discover a few of his habits that stand out. He takes nightly jogs beginning at 11:00 and is normally gone for well over an hour before returning home. Additionally, every weekend, he purchases large amounts of dirt from the local hardware store, more than the average person would need, and the flowerbed in his yard doesn’t look that wonderful considering he supposedly gardens on a regular basis.

A good portion of the film concerns itself with the question: Is Mackey or isn’t Mackey the Cape May Killer?  Hampering the teens investigation, is when Davey’s mother, Sheila (Shauna Johannesen), and his father, Randall (Jason Gray-Stanford), learn about what the friends have been up to. They are appalled by their son’s behavior. Randall makes Davey and his friends accompany him to Mackey’s house, in order to have them apologize. If Mackey isn’t the killer, then the teens owe him an apology for some of the things they have done. For example, they go through his trash looking for clues, and scatter it on his driveway, to make it look like raccoons did it. If Mackey is indeed the killer, Randall has just tipped a cunning murderer off, putting Davey and his friends’ lives in serious danger.

Who is the Cape May Slayer? Is Mackey really the killer? Does the circumstantial evidence the teens believe point to Mackey’s guilt turn out to be harmless coincidences? Could the killer be someone else the boys know, but would never suspect? If it does turn out to be Mackey, can he be caught before he strikes again? When the film concludes, all of those questions will be answered.

“Summer of 84” premiered on January 22, 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was directed by the trio of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, who co-wrote and directed “Turbo Kid.”  Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith, wrote the screenplay for “Summer of 84,” marking their screen writing debut. The film is a combination of the genres of drama – horror – mystery, and thriller. The score composed by Jean-Philippe Bernier, Jean-Nicolas Leupi, and Le Matos, synchs up well with what is transpiring on screen.

“Summer of 84” doesn’t break any new cinematic ground. The nostalgia for the time period is evident, but kudos to the filmmakers for not cramming in every possible pop-culture reference they could during the film’s 105 minute runtime. One of my issues with the film is the aforementioned runtime; it could have been well served by editing out at least fifteen minutes. There were certain scenes that didn’t advance the story. The third act, however, helps to rebound the film from some of the tedium that takes place during some of the scenes in the second act.

Before watching “Summer of 84,” I had heard and read people making comparisons to it and the Netflix series, “Stranger Things,” numerous times. I personally didn’t see the parallels for a number of reasons. Yes, in “Stranger Things” there are four male friends, and in the “Summer of 84” there are the same number of friends. Yes, both take place during the 1980s, but that, for me, is where the comparisons should end. For instance, Nikki is a character that unlike Eleven in “Stranger Things, has no special abilities, and is not a vital part of the film, whereas Eleven is exceptionally vital to the Netflix series. Furthermore, there are no alternative dimensions, secret government cover-ups, or super natural monsters in the film. The only monster showcased in “Summer of 84” is the realistic kind, that of the Cape May Slayer, whose type of killer unfortunately, as much as we would all like it to be otherwise, is not relegated to fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

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