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Sleeper Hollow: A Guide to the Other Great Horror Movies

Be careful...she just might break your heart.
by Collin Souter

Who would have guessed Erik The Movieman and I would be working on similar articles at the same time? If you haven't read his yet, check it out. My article, also a horror movie recommendation list, starts with a poem, so an opening paragraph wouldn't work here. Enjoy, and have a great Halloween.

‘Tis the night of Halloween
In a suburb near yours
Temperatures drop
As the cold rain pours

Halloween in Chicago
A frustrating day
No trickers and treaters
To scare us away

The streets lay barren
So you go rent a movie
Something scary preferred
Or as Ash would say, ‘Groovy!’

You’ve seen ‘The Exorcist’
‘Texas Chainsaw’ as well
And the films starring Pinhead:
Wacky Raiser of Hell

Jason and Freddy
Mike Meyers and Chucky
All have 10 sequels
Don’t you feel lucky?

So you go for less obvious
A title you missed
A film even scarier
Than ‘Never Been Kissed’

I suggest to you these
Fine films made to fright
To watch in the darkness
On Halloween night


(In alphabetical order)

ARACHNOPHOBIA Director Frank Marshall showed he learned a thing or two from Jaws director Steven Spielberg. Marshall’s tale of poisonous spiders invading a small town will make anybody with the titular phobia cling to their can of Raid. Be sure to tickle the back of your fellow viewers neck with a feather during a moment of suspense.
Starring Jeff Daniels, Harley Jane Kozak, Julien Sands and a scene-stealing John Goodman as the local exterminator. (***)

BUBBA HO-TEP Don Coscarelli--director of the great Phantasm--has fashioned one of the best and most unlikely kinds of horror films. It stars Bruce Campbell as Elvis, who has not died, but instead resides in a nursing home. He and another resident, John F, Kennedy (Ossie Davis...yes, Ossie Davis), learn that a mummy named "Bubba" has been killing off the old folks and sucking their souls out of their rectums. Elvis and JFK hatch a plan to take the mummy out before he kills more. The movie smartly plays the material straight, never once apologizing for it. Campbell and Davis make a great team in a movie that can be described all at once as a wonderfully conceived horror film, a hilarious and touching comedy, a statement on pop culture iconography and the best send-off The King could hope for. (***1/2)

CHRISTINE I’ve had nothing but car problems for the past couple weeks, so I have to throw this one in here. Stephen King’s tale of a killer ’58 Plymouth and its geeky owner scared the hell out of me when I saw it in the theater 18 years ago (I was 11), and although it doesn’t have the same impact on me today as, say, the credit card bill I’m expecting, it does make for a wonderfully entertaining distraction. Director John Carpenter’s uses classic 50’s rock and roll to build suspense as the car closes in on its prey, with just the right results. I can no longer hear the lyrics, “I’m-a-gonna-tell ya how it’s gonna be/ Mm-bop, bop, bop-bop/ You’re gonna give-a-your love to me…” without feeling a slight chill. (***1/2)

DEAD-ALIVE For some people, scary means gory. The sight of intestines spilling out onto the hardwood floor or a brain slipping out of someone’s cranium makes for a wild cinematic roller-coaster ride. If this best describes your sensibilities, look no further than Peter Jackson’s ode to bad taste and the Oedipus complex. Timothy Balme plays a man who has to look after his ailing mother after she receives a bite from a Simian Rat Monkey at the local zoo, turning her into an even more hideous zombie. This eventually leads to the entire town becoming zombies, the kind that like to fornicate on the dining room table and give birth to baby zombies. The final hour of this film pushes the limits of cinematic gore coming up with new and inventive ways to do away with those zombiefied pests. Ever try mowing a few down with a Black and Decker lawnmower? How about decapitating one and putting its head in a blender? This movie will skillfully show you the dos-and-don’ts of caring for your living-dead community. Take notes.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Be sure you get the UN-RATED version, which Blockbuster Video does NOT carry. If it says R-RATED, put it back and rent your movies from a store that doesn’t care what you watch. (***1/2)

THE INNOCENTS Alejandro Amenabar’s current film “The Others” has often been compared to this brilliant haunted house suspense thriller based on Henry James’ “Turn Of The Screw,” and for good reason. It has the same atmospheric quality (this one is in black and white), a female protagonist and it demonstrates a craft that has been proven flawless by those who study and execute it: Don’t show, imply. This goes double for the original 1963 version of The Haunting (not the horrible 1999 re-make). (***1/2)

LADY IN WHITE Frank LaLoggia’s spooky ghost story makes for perfect viewing for parents looking for scary movies their kids can watch. Lucas Haas (11-years old here) plays Frankie, a boy who gets locked in a school closet on Halloween and witnesses the murder of a little girl…that happened a year ago. Danny Glover has nothing to do with it this time. This atmospheric sleeper beautifully conveys the feeling of being young at Halloween time, with plenty of scares along the way. In other words, this movie feels like Halloween. (***1/2)

MAY Without question, the best horror film I’ve seen in the last 10 years or so. A genuinely creepy character study of a girl whose only friend is a doll encased in glass. The girl, May, has grown up and works in an animal hospital. She gets the hots for a filmmaker and creeps him out to the point where he never wants to see her again. Then, the horror begins. Director Lucky McGee hit one right out of the ballpark on his first time out by casting an amazing actress named Angela Bettis as May and for simply telling a stalker story from the stalker’s point of view. It makes for a far more unsettling and scarier experience. Bettis’ final moments of desperation in the movie truly earns the praise “blood curdling.” It does what few horror movies ever do: It haunts the viewer for weeks (maybe even longer). (****)

MOTEL HELL “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.” The immortal slogan of Farmer Vincent, the hero and doomed meat-smoking protagonist of this great horror comedy that has its tongue planted firmly in cheek. Farmer Vincent and his sister, Ida, own Motel Hello, where they keep a secret garden of corpses-to-be. The relationship between these two will remind you of the delicate nuances of chemistry found between Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn in “On Golden Pond.” Other highlights: Incest, the world’s cheapest date, chicks going tubing, the philosophy of meat smoking, cannibalism, bondage, Wolfman Jack, Cliff Clavin, and pigs with chainsaws. Oh, what, you want more? Fine. Maybe you should just go rent “On Golden Pond.” (I can guarantee you that Katherine Hepburn won’t get punched in the stomach for talking too much) (***1/2)

NEAR DARK Forget those drug-addled Corey kids. Director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days) brings us the real Lost Boys with the story of a cowboy (Adrien Pasdar) who gets bitten by a mystery vamp (Jenny Wright). Soon, he joins her gang of outlaw vampires who love to reminisce about their days in the Civil War. A brilliant vampire film with no gore, no fangs and hardly any special effects. It seamlessly mixes film noir and western, abandoning the horror movie aspect altogether, making it one of the great anti-horror films. The score by 80’s icons Tangerine Dream add to the tension, and Bill Paxton, in one of his earlier films, showcases his comedic talents with the immortal line, “Finger-lickin’ good!” (****)

PARENTS My favorite David Lynch film that David Lynch had nothing to do with. Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt star as two loving parents living in a perfect 1950’s suburbia who try to instill good clean moral lessons on their perpetually suspicious and frightened young child. Some kids walk in on their parents having sex, some walk in during a heated argument… this kid walks in on his parents gorging on human remains. I think we can all relate to that. Sample dialogue:
BOY: Mom, what are we eating?
MOM: Leftovers.
BOY: What were they before they were leftovers?
MOM: Before they were leftovers, they were…Leftovers to be. (***)

RE-ANIMATOR Dr. Herbert West has discovered an agent used to re-animate dead tissue. He tests it on his roommate’s cat and, low and behold, it works! This cult-favorite has been enjoying a resurgence of popularity since Kevin Spacey and Wes Bentley got stoned and spoke of it in American Beauty. Yes, this movie has a dude whose head gets chopped off and uses it to…Well, you’ll just have to rent it and see. The film came out in 1985. Its wicked sense of humor and inventive use of gore holds up beautifully today, rendering it a true classic. It spawned a surprisingly good sequel, Bride Of The Re-Animator, starring most of the same cast members. You’ll never throw away dead tissue again. (****)

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD Okay, I’ll spare you the confusion. Stay with me here. George Romero directed Night Of The Living Dead. It spawned two sequels: Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. No more. This film has nothing to do with Romero’s mostly brilliant trilogy of terror. Nor does its sequel, Return of the Living Dead, Part 2…or 3, 4 and 5 for that matter. Nevertheless, this funny and entertaining take on the zombie genre bares endless similarities to Romero’s classic, it borders on spoof. If the filmmakers meant it to be an homage, they went above and beyond the call of duty. Its clever use of punk rock and talking zombies (“More brains!”) makes it a stand-out from other punk rock/talking zombie movies. And you’ll never want to dance naked in a graveyard ever again. (***1/2)

SANTE SANGRE This 1989 Italian/American oddity from director Alejandro Jodorowski concerns a duo of circus performers: One, an armless woman and the other, her son who acts as her arms. Eventually, he becomes an unwilling murderer. I loved this movie and I’m not quite sure why. I couldn’t take my eyes off its stunning art direction and I couldn’t wait to see where it would take me next. On top of that, it has one of the funniest final punchlines of any movie I have ever seen. Multiple viewings may be required to fully understand this one, but I’m up for it. (***1/2)

SISTERS Typical DePalma, but I still liked it. Sex and violence galore combined with themes of dual personality, voyeurism, sexual identity and/or repression and, of course, murder. DePalma has a tendency to annoy me with his obvious salutes and I often wonder if he can ever not emulate another director and just he himself. Yet, when he does, I still find him annoying (Bonfire of the Vanities, Raising Cain, Mission To Mars, Snake Eyes, etc.). Though a master craftsman, he seems to be still trying to provoke a strong reaction, but his tricks have become more tired the older he gets. Still, Sisters is compulsively entertaining, especially when it goes for humor (that prat-fall is classic). But my favorite DePalma flick is still Phantom of the Paradise. (***1/2)

SHIVERS I love Cronenberg. Always have, always will. I saw this for the first time about a year ago and was struck by how much it had to say about the AIDS epidemic, especially since Cronenberg made it in 1975. Consider the story: The residents of a high rise apartment building fall victim to a bunch of disgusting little parasites that kill off their victims through human sexual contact. Also titled “They Came From Within,” this one is for horror students and fans of Cronenberg only. (***1/2)

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES
This would make a perfect double feature with Lady In White. A mysterious carnival comes and grants wishes to the citizens of a small town. Two young boys get curious and find that the wishes come at a hefty price. From a story by Ray Bradbury, this shares the same atmospheric qualities of Lady, and also benefits from fine performances from Jonathan Pryce, as the foreboding ringmaster/genie and Jason Robards as the father of one of the young boys. Perfect for the kids as well. (***1/2)

TWILIGHT ZONE – THE MOVIE Fast-forward through the first two and watch the last two stories of this 1983 anthology film based on the log-running TV show. John Landis’ story of a bigot who gets his just desserts has the dark cloud of Vic Morrow’s accidental decapitation during filming hanging over it. The two kids in the kitchen had also been killed by the helicopter crash. Steven Spielberg’s Kick The Can episode overdoses on cutesiness and bad child actors. The film kicks into gear, though, with Joe Dante’s masterpiece It’s A Good Life, about a boy who can have anything he wants. He likes to have televisions in every corner, potato chips and ice cream for dinner and wishing his sister into cartoonland, the most dangerous zone of all. Dante’s wonderfully deranged vision pre-dates Tim Burton by a few years. The anthology comes to a thrilling climax with George Miller’s take on the classic episode Terror at 50,000 Feet, starring John Lithgow as a nervous airline passenger who can’t help but notice a slimy gremlin on the wing of the airplane. Treat these last two episodes as short films before your feature attraction.
First two stories: **
Last two: **** (Dante) and ***1/2 (Miller)


TETSUO: THE IRON MAN I don’t really recommend this unless you absolutely crave experimental filmmaking of the highest order. I brought it up to prove a point. This Japanese black-and-white nightmare of a film tells the story (I suppose) of a guy slowly mutating into a machine. You can rent it at Blockbuster Video. Now, while Blockbuster objects to you watching the unedited versions of Dead-Alive and Re-Animator-—two harmless movies with good morals—-they seem overly delighted when you visit their store and bring home with you a movie where a man’s penis turns into a power drill while he has sex with his girlfriend. Wow! What a difference! Thanks, Blockbuster! Followed by a sequel, Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer.
(No star rating…too weird)

WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE I recently re-watched this at a horror/sci-fi convention here in Chicago and found myself completely taken aback by how far ahead of its time this movie was. A commentary and satire on horror before Craven’s Scream franchise; a young boy who sees death almost in the same way little Osment did in The Sixth Sense; the writer writes the movie we’re watching, much in the same way Charlie Kaufman did with Adaptation. You certainly don’t have to be a Nightmare on Elm Street fan to appreciate the intelligence and originality on display here. If it’s been a while, give this a second or third look. (***1/2)

PATCH ADAMS One of the most disgusting and revolting horror shows of all time. I’m getting sick just thinking about it. Robin Williams plays a doctor who threatens his patients with more jokes unless they start laughing. Creepy, disturbing and just plain wrong. A platinum-gold Infini-version double collector's DVD pack has just been released from Universal.
(ZERO STARS)

Finally, my Top 10 favorite horror movies of all time:
1.Near Dark
2.Night of the Living Dead (the original)
3.Re-Animator
4.The Exorcist
5.The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
6.May
7.Poltergeist
8.Dawn of the Dead
9.Scream 2
10.Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

You can also check out Matinee Monsters and Media Mayhem: The Films of Joe Dante.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=445
originally posted: 10/27/01 04:16:29
last updated: 10/29/04 23:46:19
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