Children Of The Corn

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I can’t be specific on dates, but Children Of The Corn was one of the first horror movies I remember discovering. Like I mentioned in my Creepshow 2 review, posters can have a powerful effect on a growing, inquisitive, impressionable mind. Over time I somehow gained information about the story and the movie and began to form my own version of it in my head, but I didn’t get to see it until years later. There’s a danger of being let down after consciously or subconsciously hyping a movie, but where Children Of The Corn is concerned, the mystery and tone conveyed in the opening portions of the movie aligned with the picture I’d created in my mind. Watching again years later, it’s clear that there are better King adaptations and it that it has plenty of shortcomings. I still feel that it captures the essence of the unknown which juvenile and growing horror fans find so alluring, even if it doesn’t have enough bite to hold an adult audience in its thrall.

Adapted from King’s 1978 Night Shift short, Children Of The Corn is the first of (somehow) ten movies in a series which I can only assume grows increasingly <corny> as it progresses. King wrote the original screenplay, but as was normal for the time another writer would come in to usurp the script and focus more on violence than drama. The original story is a simple one – a bickering couple are driving through the US heartland, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, only to become lost and encounter a savage backwater. The key difference here being that the savages are a bunch of kids, creepy religious zealot kids who follow an unseen God known as ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’. The movie keeps the basics in check, albeit offering less in the way of marital distress and more in the way of heroic dads and wholesome family dynamics.

We open in pleasingly creepy fashion, as Isaac – moon-faced pre-teen leader of the group sends the crazed Malachi and friends on a poison and murder spree through their hometown, Gatlin. It’s a simple farming town, and the crops have been failing, which Isaac takes to mean their God is not pleased. And we all know how to appease an angry, malevolent God. Cut to a few years later and a ‘just about to be famous for Terminator’ Linda Hamilton (Vicky) and boyfriend Peter Horton (But) heading up river to start a new life. Driving through endless miles of nothing, their subdued fears about the future are disturbed by the sudden appearance of a child bouncing under the wheels of their car. After initially thinking they hit and killed him, they come to understand that he was already dead. The boy was trying to escape Isaac and his murderous ways, but ended up being sacrificed to the God of Buick. Should they leave him and go on their way? Should they drop the body off in a local town? Should they take him to a big city hospital, or the Police Station in local Gatlin? This being a horror movie, the pair make the wrong choice and quickly find themselves in a world of pitchforks and pasty teens.

The film isn’t as shlocky as some early King adaptations, surprising perhaps given the subject matter. Likewise, it isn’t anywhere near the level of his biggest films of the period – Carrie or The Shining. To its credit, it isn’t all silly surface scares – that sense of the unknown and of being lost permeates the atmosphere in the opening scenes and its an atmosphere which works for me personally having been a child with a heightened fear of being lost or left behind in a new place. Outside of personal feelings, the film is an obvious parable for religious fundamentalism and the dangers of allowing any cult to take power. I like this angle, as ham-fisted as it may be delivered here, and I’m sure a more dedicated experienced director and writer combo could do something stronger with the material viewed in this way. There are of course numerous departures from the source material, fleshing out the cult and delivering a less downbeat ending for example. It’s well enough shot, using the open and wide landscape to decent effect, and by and large the cast serve their purpose – all the more impressive given that many of them are kids. Hamilton doesn’t get to show off her later chops, but is more than the withering lead lady of the piece you might expect from such a film, and gets just as much screen time and action as Horton. They work well as a couple and spend much of the film apart dealing with various factions within Gatlin, again equipping themselves admirably.

Is it top tier King? No, but that’s generally reserved for his more classy material or when a classy director gets a hold of his work. But it’s serviceable enough for most viewers to get something out of it, and good enough that many King and horror fans might rank it as a second tier adaptation. In any case, in this strange time of locked doors and empty streets we find ourselves in it’s worth a watch to remind ourselves what the outdoors look like – and that what’s out there may want us for lunch.

Let us know what you think of Children Of The Corn in the comments!

The Stuff

The Stuff is another one of those movies which was just out of my reach in childhood. I was born in 1983, so many of the classic VHS titles of the 80s were familiar to me, but I couldn’t get near them until the DVD boom or today’s streaming. Thanks to a bunch of older friends and relatives, and older siblings of my friends, and thanks to be frequent jaunts into the video stores in my town, there was always a list of titles floating around my head as movies I absolutely had to see at all costs. In many cases these were movies which those acquaintances spoke of in hushed tones – everything from Basic Instinct to Evil Dead.  In mot cases it was the VHS artwork which caught my eye and solidified the movie’s position in my hallowed list. The Stuff had a great cover – some dude’s melting face, writhing in agony and despair as some sort of white gunk spilled from his empty eye sockets and mouth. Surely it was the greatest film of all time?

The Stuff  isn’t the greatest film ever made, but it is one of Larry Cohen’s best. Before I knew who he was, and before I’d seen The Stuff I was already familiar with his work. Q The Winged Serpent was a personal favourite of my youth and Return To Salem’s Lot was a curious sequel. Once I became more savvy towards film it became obvious that Cohen was somewhat of a political filmmaker – his often not too subtle satire veiled under the shlock of the time and other B Movie delights. The Stuff is no different, a clear attack on big business, advertising, consumerism, and the herd mentality of created needs and addiction. Surprisingly, it’s not the goriest film in the world – The Stuff (is it wrong that it looks delicious and I want to try it?) does frequently spurt from people but more often than not you simply see it slushing and slithering around like a gelatinous mass or worm, as it does a Body Snatchers number on whoever tastes it. Interestingly, Cohen would go on to write the story for Abel Ferrara’s 90s Body Snatchers movie.

So if it’s not overly gory, and if it has all this overt political stuff in its plot, why should the less discerning Horror viewer want to watch? Well, because Michael Moriarty. Here he is at his most smug, smarmy best – all Wall Street suits and ties, a walking ballbag of quips and testosterone who doesn’t appear to have thrown a punch in his life yet is just as efficient in a fight to the death as James Bond. His character is hired by a bunch of unsavoury Ice Cream moguls, seriously, to investigate the makers of The Stuff and find out what it is to either shut it down or share a slice of the pie. As he investigates he learns a lot more and finds his dubious allegiances tested. Along the way he meets a kid escaping from his Stuff-obsessed family, a hot executive, an old friend/rival, and a gun totin ex-military maniac. It’s like The A-Team, but weird. It’s also quite funny, and all the more amusing in retrospect thanks to the effects and how advertising works today.

As much as 80s Satires go, The Stuff is right up there with the most outlandish but effective. Cohen always makes an interesting movie and Moriarty always does whatever the hell he wants. Don’t go in, like 8 year old me did, expecting a bloody, scary, melt-fest. Go in expecting a few chuckles and some charming nostalgia and weirdness, and it gets the job done.

The Girl With All The Gifts

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The Girl With All The Gifts feels like the sort of film Sean Bean was meant to be in. The hardened, gruff military man whose heart will soften over the course of the film thanks to a precocious youth and a saucy minx. But he’s probably going to die in the end, maybe sacrificing himself along the way. At its heart though, it’s not about some burly man – it’s a film about a dying world, a mutating world, in which the surviving humans find themselves no longer relevant, much in the same way as I Am Legend suggests, except the focus in more uniquely on the relationship between a girl and her teacher.

As with most YA fiction and apocalyptic movies, there’s is a certain amount of world building and exposition to wade through before we get to the meat of the story and characters. We learn early on that a fungal based disease has wiped out most humans, with those infected being 28 Days Later type creatures. The central twist is that a group of kids who were born half infected are able to somewhat control their monstrous natures and retain portions of their humanity. Scientists have learned from these kids and are in the process of finding a cure and working on ways to further restrain the mutation from taking hold in the children. Gemma Arterton stars as the teacher, Glenn Close is the lead scientist, Paddy Considine is the Sean Bean, and Sennia Nanua is (insert title… maybe). There are varying degrees of distrust and desires between these leads and their factions but when an attack on their safe space makes them outcasts in a dangerous world, they need to find away to work together to survive.

The Girl With All The Gifts is that rare YA adaptation which almost entirely dispenses with notions of romance – there’s no tacked on boy meets girl here which is refreshing in a genre so devoted to pining teens and brooding hunks. While the world and the scenario isn’t exactly unique, there’s enough dedication to design to make this Britain feel believable, and enough quirks in the story and plot devices to keep it distinct. With the cast above you know it’s going to be a well acted affair, and I was surprised by how cold it is throughout – there are difficult decisions and moral dilemmas and characters seem troubled by these as well as the actions of others, while still seeking to meet their own needs or wishes. It’s pleasingly dry and bleak too when it comes down to the wire, and doesn’t allow for any surprise twist or heroic shock to save the day. It’s pretty clear from the opening minutes that humanity is fucked, but it takes until the closing minutes just to realize how much.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Girl With All THe Gifts!

Wake Wood

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Wake Wood is somewhat of a downer. There have been quite a few horror films in recent years dealing with how parents cope after the death of a child, some dealing with the psychological trauma, others taking a more visceral approach following the lengths some parents will go to either to get on with their lives or bring their child back. It’s a tradition going back most famously to Pet Sematary, but naturally it’s a fear as old as time with numerous fairy tales, myths, and stories from antiquity using this unimaginable tragedy and the associated grief as a starting point. Wake Wood lies somewhere in between the visceral and the psychological, not truly succeeding at either, but not truly failing either.

Make no mistake – Wake Wood is a Serious Horror Film – Caps all the way. It wants to hurt, and it wants to remind you of folksy tales like The Wicker Man and drama like Don’t Look Now. It doesn’t have the money or the directing chops of either of those, but it also doesn’t want to scrimp on the gore. It’s difficult to see who the film is really for then because, while plenty of people will want to see a film like this if you heavily market it towards one crowd they’re likely going to be pissed of by the blood or by the artistry. As mentioned – the artistry is more akin to someone just learning the ropes by mimicking their forefathers, while the blood is limited by budget and, well, good taste.

We open with the fairly upsetting mauling of a child by a dog – the girl, Alice, does not survive. Her mother and father – Louise and Patrick – move to a rural village called Wakewood and try to get on with their lives. The people of Wakewood seem friendly enough, though like any of these off the grid towns, there’s something a little off about them. Turns out they have a history of resurrecting the dead via a ritual with a series of rules. This is where some of the more interesting parts of the film come in, hinting at a sprawling history. There are various ancient trinkets and tools and rules employed, but they’re not really discussed or explained. These sorts of things are always interesting to me and I’d like to have known more about their purpose or origin. The main guts of the rules are straightforward enough – to raise the dead, you need another corpse. The person you want to raise must have been dead for less than a year. The person can only return for three days, and the person cannot go beyond the borders of the town. Naturally, as Patrick and Louise makes their decision, each of these rules comes in to play.

Everything about the film is cold, sullen, the muddy brown of a forgotten English graveyard – the performances (featuring Aidan Gillen and Timothy Spall), the direction, the look of the thing right down to the costumes. It’s mournful and bleak, even in its happiest moments and anyone looking for a slice of quirky horror or a hint of joy should shuffle by. It’s not without it’s charms – watching it reminded me of many a gloomy painting or Doom Metal album cover. It’s played out with conviction and its sense of grit and foreboding feels real – if there is a town out there which can bring people back from the dead, this certainly feels like it – insular, brow-beaten, and with the look of a tweed clothed farmer nonchalantly pistoning a bolt through a bull’s skull.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Wake Wood!

Radius

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I want to gorge on films with a fanciful, intriguing premise, something unique, rather than the next multi-million dollar blockbuster. That’s what draws me to little known and little seen films such as this, and why I give a blank stare if someone asks if I’ve seen The Avengers IV: Iron Ass. The premise here, which expands outwards like a ripple the more we learn, is that a man wakes up from a car crash with memory loss, but anyone who comes within a certain distance of him drops dead. So we have the tried and tested memory loss mystery unraveling – something seen in plenty of movies – confounded by a new and deadly ability which he needs to understand.

Radius scratches the low-fi Sci-fi itch I get after seeing too many generic action movies or Sci-fi films which cover their cracks and ideas void with millions of dollars and famous faces. It’s nice to reset, be challenged, and be introduced to new faces and ideas. It can be tricky because, while there are a lot of filmmakers out there striving to bring their passion projects to the screen, many of them simply aren’t very good or are either too obtuse or amateurish for most viewers. Radius deserves to be seen – it’s not the most outlandish, it is generally well acted, shot, directed, and has a solid score – but it plays maybe one or two twists too many and sometimes fails when both trying to explain matters and when leaving things open ended. I got the sense that, while I enjoyed it, many viewers would be frustrated by the lack of guidance, the lack of answers, or indeed by the lack of really pushing any boundaries.

Written and directed by Caroline Lebreche and Steeve Leonard, Radius stars Diego Klattenhoff and Charlotte Sullivan as the man who inadvertently kills anything he comes near, and the woman who finds him but seems immune to his power. Don’t worry subtitle-phobes, the names may sound French, but the movie is all in English. The film ticks plenty of boxes for me – unusual set up and mystery, small primary cast, it’s as much a road movie as it is a Sci-fi, and it’s little known so you can get a little dopamine rush when you tell your friends about it. Horror fans will get a kick out of this – it’s not exactly supposed to be scary, but just the notion of being able to kill people by being near them sounds like a horror movie setup. There are a bunch of kills, but they’re rarely bloody and more of the ‘dude walks forwards then falls down dead’ style, and one of the twists late in the film hints at more horrific beginnings.

I had plenty of fun with Radius although I didn’t always like the directions the story wanted to go. It always felt like one step away from falling into absurdity or needless complexity. There is enough restraint in the storytelling that we are afforded the respect to fill in the gaps ourselves, but a few leaps of faith are required too. I can’t say I was ever drawn in by the characters on any meaningful emotion level and the script doesn’t leave a lot of room for ruminating or romance or outbursts, yet I was happy to follow these characters until the end of their journey. It’s not going to be for everyone, but for anybody else who enjoys imaginative setups such as this, or who want to reset after one too many blockbusters, you might get a kick out of this.

Let us know what you thought of Radius in the comments!

Scream 2 and Scream 3

*Originally written in 2003. I must go back and write some real reviews on these, because everything below is shite.

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Scream 2 is not as good as the original, let’s get that out of the way. It is part of a trilogy, and sequels are for the most part inferior. Wes Craven knows this, lets get that out of the way. But when the fans want more, and when the story isn’t finished, sequels are inevitably made. It is still a good movie, still better than any of the other teen slasher movies of the period, and retains many of the elements which made the original so good.

Now that we understand that Wes Craven knew exactly what he was doing, we can discuss the good and bad points. Bad – too many unnecessary characters (though strangely many of them are not killed or even put in danger), and most of them do not do much, the twists are too unpredictable to work well, and it is maybe too short. Now the good stuff – each central performance is good, though the Killer (s) is (are) too over the top. Neve is excellent again and has grown as an actress after coping with the fame Scream brought her, ironically mirroring the fame Sydney gets from what happened in Woodsboro. The Arquettes are both very good, Randy is very funny again, and the scares are reasonably effective. The police car scene stands out.

Again the film deals with mistrust and uncertainty, like most of Craven’s films, and we sympathize with Sydney’s struggles – it seems inevitable that she will never put these events behind her, and that it will be a great struggle for her to get close to anyone – her relationship with her new boyfriend shows this (played by Jerry O’Connell). The script is sharp, and there are many in-jokes and meta fun.

Overall it is a good film, and it’s nice to have the continuation of Sydney’s story because the impact the characters of the first film had on me was so great. It cannot be as original or fresh as the first film, but that does not matter, that’s not the point.

Scream 3

aaah Neve… while it’s probably the least satisfying, well, worst of the series, I think it is the fastest paced, and knowing that it is the final part of the trilogy it tries to be a crowd-pleaser. It is meant to over the top, answering any remaining questions from the previous films, and you can tell Craven was having fun making it.

As always, for me at least, Neve gives a fine performance, doing that thing she does with her eyes and lips at every chance, and although she does seem a bit tired of the whole role, she will go out fighting. The survivors, and Randy, from the other movies, all perform well again, while most of the new additions are simply there to be slaughtered. The guesswork is still there, but it is not a primary part of the film, and there are plenty of gory, funny deaths to keep us amused. I saw an advance screening of this when it first came out, and had a row of girls behind me, screaming and booting me in the back at the slightest opportunity. No, it wasn’t as scary as they made it out to be, but it has its moments: Mother coming up the path, was one I found quite disturbing first time round, and the opening scene is pretty good too. For me, the highlights are not the in-jokes, (Carrie Fisher’s appearance etc), which are good, but the scenes which go for pity and sadness. Randy’s video tape always brings a tear, as does Neve’s discovery at the end. Strange for a horror movie, even more strange for one which is 35% spoof, to have that kind of emotion, but it’s what always set the Scream series apart from the countless other teen slashers of the time. We, or at least I, felt for the characters, especially Sydney, and in the end, I suppose it is a fitting end to the most important horror trilogy of the decade. 

Sorry about that… the quality of these old reviews isn’t great, but I’m too lazy to rewrite them for now. Don’t worry, there are plenty more old and new ones to come. Let us know in the comments what you thought about Scream 2 and 3!

It Comes At Night

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I’m sure it has been said before, but I’ll take the bait – ‘what comes at night’? The cynical part of me wants to say that the name was crafted carefully to cash in on a resurgent horror market, and certainly the backlash the film received by the horror community supports this theory. The realist in me acknowledges that this feeling is a symptom of a larger problem; the growing disparity between fan and critical consensus as exemplified by the juvenile antics on such adolescent sites such as Rotten Tomatoes. This insidious ownership of a product you have zero claim in, this growing distrust of critics by the public concerning things which don’t really matter, is like a disease swarming from city apartment blocks to backwoods retreats where the custodians of opinions board up their windows to prevent unwarranted discussion with the outside world and the comfort of a hazmat suited confirmation bias is the only thing blocking your own enlightenment.

I’ve written before about the subjects of fanboyism, the role of the critic, and the toxic entitlement as consumers feel to the point that we feel like we have to protect the movies or music or videogames or books we love. I get it; we’ve all had that pang of thinking what the hell does this guy know – he doesn’t like (insert favourite thing), what a moron. I know! I’ll go and review bomb everything he’s ever written – that’ll teach him! And it will teach him – that you’re the moron. We like different things – Critics just tend to be able to speak more knowledgeably and with greater experience about these things than most. Maybe they come to a film with a certain approach. Maybe they come with a certain bias. You’re lying if you say you don’t, or an even bigger moron than you already appear. With the explosion of the internet, every twat with an internet connection and an interest in movies can call himself a critic. I’ve written thousands of reviews and I in no way consider myself to be a critic. I just like watching, talking, and writing about movies.

While there are few certainties when it comes to opinion or something as intangible as movies and criticism, there are instances when a critic just simply gets it wrong. There are plenty of critics, or just plain fans and reviewers like myself who I more often than not disagree with, and there are plenty who I by and large agree with, or at least respect. Am I going to quiver and mewl like a newborn lamb with its throat caught in the jaws of a wolf, because someone gave a movie I rated a 91, a mere 76? No, because I’m not an asshole. At the time of writing, It Comes At Night has a Critical score of 87, and an Audience Score of 44 on RT. Look at any popular Horror release of the last few years, and in almost every case you’ll see something similar. The Witch, The Babadook, and the newly released The Joker all have a large gap between audience and critical feeling. Do I care? No – I barely find it interesting, but I acknowledge it’s a talking point. I know people get deep into the impact these scores have – advertisers using the higher score in trailers, audiences in turn being hyped up for something they later hate or getting up in arms because something they consider to be better gets buried because of the lack of critical interest. It’s all valid. But in this day and age, it’s all pointless. My advice? Take a step away from it all. Sites like RT exist only to get money. Critics are paid for their work. You simply sit and watch. Just ignore the reviews – the movie still exists, as do you, so let the two of you be the only relationship that matters.

It Comes At Night is a horror movie. It attempts to scare and disturb the viewer, and it attempts to make the viewer think by loosely placing us in the secluded house our protagonists eek out their final days in. As the film opens, we know the world has gone to hell due to the spread of some killer disease. It’s a premise we’ve seen since the dawn of time and a fear we all have, because it is a real, valid threat. Old gramps has somehow contracted the thing, so it’s out to the yard for a bit of marshmallow and OAP cooking. That leaves Mum, Dad, and pervy teenage son who live with no clear purpose beyond trying to not get sick. Oh, there’s a dog too – because there’s always a dog. One night they catch another survivor breaking into their house, tie him to a tree, and beat some good old fashioned truth out of him. Seeing he isn’t sick and cautiously believing he’s legit, they allow him and his wife and son to move in. As time progresses, they help each other out, yet the mutual distrust is still bubbling under the surface.

And that’s it really. Something happens near the end which propels us towards the bleak conclusion. The scenes of the pervy son seem shoe-horned in, his nightmares edited in such a way that they realized they wouldn’t be able to sell the movie without some actual generic horror. If they are supposed to be ambiguous or prophetic or suggestive, they’re not, and horror fans will be more than familiar with each stunt pulled. It’s still interesting – none of the performances are outstanding beyond some screaming in the final moments, but the coldness does add to the overall tone of hopelessness. As much as I hate to use the term ‘elevated horror’ because as far as I can tell that term simply means horror without humour, that’s what they’ve gone for here. The house is suitably shadowy and the director does manage to squeeze out some memorable shots and some low-level tension, but for me it neither scares nor does anything particularly new or well. The characters feel as empty as the first victim in a slasher movie and with no end game in mind the film simply drifts towards its inevitable conclusion. Credit for ending it the way they did, rather than leaving a glimmer of light. Did I like it? I didn’t hate it? It didn’t make me care enough to go and check out how anyone else felt about it. Put most simply – in my opinion, it’s neither 44% bad, nor 87% good.

But let me know how you felt about it in the comment – are you more on the critics’ side or the fans?

TTT – Top Ten Stephen King Movies

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Greetings, Glancers! As you’ve no doubt witnessed over the last few years, uber-author and all round good guy Stephen King has been in the midst of a cinematic resurgence. While not the extended universe I was hoping for, we have been treated to a tonne of movies and series based on novels, shorts, and napkin scribbles by the master of horror. Since the release of Carrie in the late 70s, there has been roughly, roughly, fifty eight billion adaptations of his work and neither he, nor those who wish to put his work on the screen, are showing signs of slowing down. Which is terrific for me because he has been my favourite writer for most of my life, great for you because you get to read my lists on the subject, and wonderful for everyone because we are treated to some fun and frightening viewing experiences.

I’ll be writing two posts on King adaptations – this one is purely for movies, and the next one will be for TV shows and mini-series. Within minutes of me posting them, they will probably be out of date as another 10 adaptations will have been made. Here we go then – my favourite Stephen King movies – released on the big screen, straight to video, or through streaming services. I’m going with alphabetical order because I can’t be arsed ranking these. Get busy readin’, or get busy dyin’!

Apt Pupil

I was originally going to include thirteen movies here – with The Dead Zone and The Green Mile making up the numbers. I cut those two, which left me with Eleven. I decided to cut Carrie over Apt Pupil, because everyone picks Carrie. I love Carrie, as well as the other two I cut, but I feel like Apt Pupil deserves more recognition. The film should have been a hit at release, considering it was Bryan Singer’s follow-up to Who Is Keyser Soze The Movie, but it didn’t land. Now, when it should be getting re-evaluated, the accusations against Bryan Singer have ensured that most people are keeping at a distance from the film. It’s that rare King adaptation which doesn’t feature any supernatural activity. What it does have, is an interest in the heart of evil as young Brad Renfro becomes obsessed with the brutality of World War II and strikes up a relationship with an elderly man in his neighbourhood who he believes to be a Nazi. The short is one of King’s darkest, most riveting reads and the film feeds off this malevolent energy thanks to Singer’s sure hand and two superlative, committed performances from Ian McKellen and the late, great Brad Renfro. Like the best of Horror, it’s an uncomfortable watch.

Creepshow

I covered Creepshow recently in my TTT George Romero movies, so go check that out. Great movie, great anthology.

It

One of my favourite books, and with the 90s mini-series being a firm favourite, the hype for a big screen It was real. The movie went through a few incarnations before Muschetti came on and finished Chapter One. I’m including Chapters One and Two together as it really is two halves of the same story. Both films are similar enough that you could watch the whole thing in one numb-arsed sitting, even though most fans and critics seem to prefer the first chapter. I’m old enough to remember the same arguments going one when the mini-series first came out – that the kids section was better. In all honesty love them both and would happily have watched four more hours. Sure the de-aging effects are dicey, the CG is at times a let down, Mike is reduced to a quivering weirdo as an adult, and it does feel somewhat repetitive, but I found the charm and banter between the adults just as endearing as the kids. In essence, it’s a scary and efficient horror story featuring a near perfect villain which preys on kids and which adults can’t see. Skarsgard is a great Pennywise – the performances all around are excellent – but it gets the most important pieces of the source material correct – the tone and that sense of binding, unbreakable friendship.

Misery

The only King adaptation to win an Oscar – not overly strange if you consider his shlock, but very strange when you consider his ‘more literary’ pieces. When a talented director and cast takes a King text and treats it with reverence, it will strike gold. Misery is a prime example of this and it could so easily have become just another crazy white woman movie. With Rob Reiner on an incredible run, he takes two seasoned performers and allows the film to be almost entirely by their command. The game of wits becomes a game of cat and mouse until the tables are eventually flipped. Bates and Caan have rarely been better and Reiner doesn’t shy away from some good old fashioned, ankle-snapping violence. It has no business being as good as this.

Pet Sematary

Hands down King’s most devastating and horrifying work, thanks to personal experience it’s not one I would recommend reading while pregnant or with a young child. We all know ‘dead is better’ and we know the film does have a certain reliance on gore and grisly effects, but there are numerous chilling moments and an honestly unnerving performance from young Miko Hughes. What could be worse than losing a child? Pet Sematary delves deep into this question and poses several horrible answers.

Stand By Me

Reiner’s first effort is many fans’ personal favourite. Like It, it features that Band Of Outsiders vibe which is always appealing and a nostalgic quality which reminds us of our own youthful adventures, loves, fears, and mistakes, and how time has a way of glossing over the cracks yet leaving a bittersweet taste of regret. We get older, we change, and we sometimes forget, but once in a while something makes us remember a time we can’t quite return to. It’s so much more than the tale of four friends on a trek to see a dead body – while The Body is not exactly a Maguffin – it’s more about the journey, the relationships, and what the discovery of that body represents to each of them. It’s about growing up, losing innocence, remembering, and it all plays through the eyes of a great cast – Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard Dreyfuss, Jerry O’Connell, Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, John Cusack.

The Mist

Another ensemble, this time dealing with a more direct and present horror. The Mist is one horror, the creatures of varying sizes and types in the mist are another, and the opposing voices in the store they hold up in is another. Another successful film based on a short, the film follows primarily a father and son shopping after a storm when a sudden all encompassing Mist swarms over their town. The store is packed with workers and other townsfolk, and eventually the military, and once the monsters show up and begin attacking and killing, it seems to some that the end is nigh. And when push comes to shove, it turns out they’re right. It’s a great ensemble piece at times let down by the effects, but in terms of efficiently telling a story about society’s breakdown against a horrific backdrop, and an ending which has gone in film lore, it’s one of the best.

The Running Man

They’ve been trying to get a remake of The Running Man up and, ahem, running for decades now. I say remake, but in most cases it sounds like they want to make a film more akin to the source material. Because make no mistake, The Running Man is more of an Arnie movie than a Stephen King movie. Still, he wrote the original and however loose of an adaptation this is, it still is. You can call it silly or smart, it certainly ticks boxes in both categories, but in the end it’s one the better end of the scale of Arnie mowing down bad guys and quipping. There are some bizarre casting choices and some legit great performances – I only wish we could send a few celebs onto this show for real.

The Shawshank Redemption

What else needs to be said about The Shawshank Redemption? It’s already frequently named as one of the best films ever, and it’s one of those rare instances where almost everyone agrees that it’s great. It is.

The Shining

You know it, I know it. Say what you like about the differences between book and movie – we all know King’s comments on Kubrick’s work over the years. I look at them as the separate things they are – both men are legends and both deserve to do whatever the hell they like when creating. It’s one of my favourite King books, it’s one of my favourite King movies, and both are classics in their respective mediums. I remember the first time I saw this, I was babysitting for some kids a few houses down the road. Free fridge, free house, the dark, and The Shining, and a creepy walk home around Midnight as I pondered over what I’d just seen and what might be creeping up behind me.

Let us know in the comments what your favourite Stephen King movies are, and stay tuned for my favourite Stephen King TV and Mini-Series adaptations!

 

Creepshow 2

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Creepshow is a mainstay of Halloween viewing for me. It’s that combination of ghoulish fun and macabre humour which makes it endlessly rewatchable and a perfect gateway movie for younger fiends. Plus, the fact that it’s an anthology means you can step away to grab more snacks without pausing, or check that the lady you have tied up in the basement hasn’t escaped; you’ll need her for later.

Creepshow 2 is, obviously, the follow-up and features more grisly tales penned by Stephen King. George Romero steps down from the Director’s Chair and writes the screenplay instead, while his frequent cinematographer Michael Gornick directs. While certain elements remain – the use of effects, the authentic comic book style, the film is not near the same level as the first. The stories, the cast and performances, the humour, and the thrills all suffer, meaning Creepshow 2 is merely a watchable, not essential anthology.

The wraparound is one of the more notable aspects of Creepshow 2, acting like more of a standalone segment than what the first delivers. We follow a boy who eagerly awaits the next edition of the Creepshow comic. It is delivered by The Creep himself and the film switches neatly from live action to animation. This is fairly well done, although now the actual animation is looks dated and cheap. Also, The Creep’s head is clearly nothing more than a giant cock and balls. These animated sequences return between each main segment as we follow the boy’s quest to pick up his venus fly-trap and get home without being attacked by bullies. Added together, these pieces form a long enough segment, but I can’t shake the feeling that this was padding given that two further planned stories by King were removed from production and inclusion.

Out first story eases us in, with a languid, over-long intro to tell of a couple of old-timers living in a ruined shell of a town who are terrorized by local hoodlums. The old-timers are played by the film’s big-hitters – Dorothy Lamour (in her final film) and George Kennedy. They add a touch of class, but it’s a pity the story is a non-mover. The couple are friendly with the local Native Americans, but when the hoodlums cause havoc in their store, the Old Chief Woodenhead statue who adorns the store-front comes to live and hunts down the bad guys. There are some genuinely cool facial effects here, but the story takes too long to get moving.

Next up is the best segment, sadly let down by being shorter and more amateurish than it should have been. The Raft is a favourite among Constant Readers, but the adaptation is another case of ‘what works on page doesn’t work on screen’. It’s still the best segment in the movie, but with a longer running time and better cast it could have rivaled the best offerings from the first movie. Four college aged kids are heading to a secluded lake for a day of drink and debauchery – the major selling point being that there is a large floating raft in the middle of the lake. The only way to get there is to swim, so they strip off, leave their clothes and food behind, and swim over. As they reach the raft, they notice something else floating in the water and it soon becomes clear that the thing is attracted to them. Not long after, one of the group is gruesomely pulled into the water and devoured by the foreign lifeform. The rest of the segment is mostly screaming and not a lot of thinking as the survivors are picked off. The segment lacks the thought and tension of the original story, and it’s one which deserves a modern retelling. Although imagining four modern day kids leaving their phones on the shore takes too much suspension of belief.

The final story almost works – having Lois Chiles talk to herself would be all fine and well if the dialogue was interesting, and ,the idea of an undead hitch-hiker is nifty. The set up is too long and a more ambiguous character would have lent some depth rather than the ‘here’s a self-interested lady who’s having an affair so she’s clearly evil – I hope she gets some ironic comeuppance’. Again, a little more thought, and this could have been a stronger segment. I get the feeling that this one would creep out younger viewers – the thought and the sight of the hitch-hiker, his body getting progressively more battered and deformed, relentlessly chasing Lois is something appealing – both funny and nightmarish, but it feels a little flat. We do get another classic Stephen King cameo as a mumbling trucker which is almost worth the price of admission alone.

I’m not sure what is missing from Creepshow 2 beyond more care and experience behind the scenes. The first and last segment are overlong and the middle is too short – another story could have balanced things, Lord knows there are still plenty of unfilmed King shorts. It’s middling tier Horror Anthology fare, and if it wasn’t for the title and the fact that King and Romero were involved, it’s likely this would have been swept under the rug long ago. There are good ideas here, and potential for a stronger installment, but as it stands it’s really only one for die-hard anthologists, King, and Romero fans. One final personal note – I always loved the poster for Creepshow 2; it was one which stayed with me for the years between seeing the poster and seeing the film.

Trilogy Of Terror

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As a horror movie fan, I’m a member of various groups on Facebook. Those groups feature the same movies, actors, and arguments over and over again as you may expect. One type of post which comes along every so often is ‘what scared you as a kid’ and one image which is typically given in response is the image at the top of this post. Yes, that cute little fella apparently spawned millions of nightmares in the bedrooms of millions of kids all around the world – but it was from a movie I had never seen. Somehow I had made it into my thirties without ever seeing Trilogy Of Terror – one of the most famous horror anthologies. It’s time to right that wrong.

It’s difficult to understate the loss the movie world suffered when Karen Black died a few years ago. From appearances in cult movies such as Easy Rider and Dogtown, to mainstream hits like Nashville and Five Easy Pieces, the horror world quickly claimed her as one of their own. With Burnt Offerings near the start of her career to House Of 1000 Corpses near the end, she was an icon of the genre. Trilogy Of Terror is a masterclass from Karen Black, appearing as no less than four wildly differing characters over the three stories we are told. Dan Curtis directs, himself no stranger to the horror genre having crafted cult series Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, and many others. The three stories here are each solid, offering different ideas – some of which seem ahead of the curve, even if one is the obvious standout. Based on stories by Richard Matheson, it’s hardly surprising the tales have credibility and twists.

In Julie, Karen stars as a college professor who receives unwanted advances from one of her students – Chad. The story covers obsession, perversion, voyeurism, and date rape, with Chad pursuing Julie for sexually sadistic purposes. Julie meanwhile, has her own plans. In the second story Black plays two sisters – Millicent And Therese – one being dour and repressed, the other direct and adventurous. Even with voodoo and rivalry and psychoanalysis, it’s the weakest of the bunch – raised by Black’s performance. The finaly story is the one I hear mentioned regularly on the horror pages and forums – Amelia. Following on from the other stories, the title is the name of the main character. I feel this has been to the detriment of the story because no-one even remembers the name, only calling it ‘that one with the creepy African doll which comes to life’. That’s a pretty apt title.

Presumably a lot of people saw this in their youth and it stayed with them. Fair enough – it does a job of portraying the doll in a creepy light, it’s certainly a freaky looking wee bastard, and Black’s performance convincingly conveys the peril. One thing keeps coming back to me though – it’s a doll. Doll horror movies, or even movies with smaller creatures in the vein of Critters, Ghoulies etc, are one step past ridiculous for me. If people are genuinely afraid of these things when they’re young, it’s a fear that passed me by. I can’t take them seriously and I almost take them as a full blown comedy. I do’t know about you, but when I was young I viewed my toys – my He-Man, Transformers, MUSCLE men etc, as my protectors – coming alive to stand guard against nightly threats and terrors. If they happened to turn evil? Well then I’d kick them over and casually walk out of the room.

So even though the scares don’t work for me, I appreciate that they do for others and Curtis manages to create both creeping dread and efficient jump-scares. It’s the most straight tale of terror in the bunch, the most visceral even if it doesn’t rely on gore. Indeed, none of the stories are bloody and most are psychological in nature. It’s a brief watch, both fun and interesting, and if anything it’s a must due to the pedigree involved. The fact that none of the segments are weak will make it a seasonal favourite for horror fans – this horror fan just isn’t creeped out by dolls.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Trilogy Of Terror!