Scary Movie? Sure. Halloween Movie? Not Necessarily.

•October 23, 2017 • 1 Comment

It’s that time of year again, when dry leaves lose their grip on the extended fingers of tired trees, a dry crispness replaces summer’s last humidity, and underpaid retail workers everywhere get the command, “Put the scary movies over there.” Of This Is What I Will Speak.

See, scary movies can come all year long. Silent Night, Deadly Night proves the attempt. HOWEVER—just because something is scary, does it make it right for the Halloween season? Just because something’s for the Halloween season, does it have to be scary is a Snoopy-led discussion for another post.

So, what IS all this Halloween stuff? For the uninitiated, Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year. A Celtic celebration of harvest time and the worlds of the dead touching the worlds of the living. To quote Tommy, “It’s when we get candy.” BUT–to the devotee of the cinema, Halloween is so much more. What, then, in your learned author’s opinion, makes a Halloween movie? There are several things, but perhaps it’d be easier to define what a Halloween movie ISN’T.

Many of my dearest friends are Kaiju Fans. They go nuts about the big, sometimes Asian, well, USUALLY Asian, monsters. Some of them are legitimately frightening. The thing that isolates them from the Annals Of Halloween Movies is the scale–and not just of the models. Usually, there are dozens, if not hundreds of characters involved. Well, at least running away with destined-to-be-mockingly-dubbed screams. You get a sense that This Thing Could Eat The City. Urban renewal aside, Halloween stories and movies tend more toward the intimate. For a Kaiju flick to really capture Halloween, Godzilla would have to shrink down in a dryer and apply himself to the old SNL Land Shark routine at your door.

Okay, I’ve referred to urban renewal. That could be a launch for zombie movies. Can zombie movies be Halloween movies? Depends on a few things. First, like I said, the scale. Compare Night of the Living Dead with 1963’s The Haunted Palace. Smallish casts. Isolated environs by an large. More importantly, atmospheric settings that lend itself to the FEEL of Halloween. NOTLD has the haunted house feel, kinda like if Tom Poston got booted out of The Old, Dark House and the Venus probe stopped by for tea.

When a lot of people think of Halloween movies, the Universal Bigs come to mind. The Wolf Man. Frankenstein. Big D. What do all of these have thematically in common? Personal danger and risk. Semi-Gothic Olde Worlde settings. A lingering sense of dread. Other classic Universal horror movies have some or all of these, but do they count as Halloween movies? Not for me. The Wolf Man and The Creature From The Black Lagoon are two of my all-time favorites. The Creature, though, feels more like a summer movie because of all the swimming, bathing suits, and setting. The Wolf Man? Halloween all the way. What, you may ask, about the Invisible Man?

Well, what ABOUT the Invisible Man? Or The Fly, either the original or the remake? They’re sorta nebulous, and not just because they’re both occasionally hard to see. There are certainly scary scenes, but it seems more with these and others of their ilk it’s more science run amok than true horror. Splitting hairs? Yeah, probably. But the supernatural is a big part of the Halloween feel.

Okay, let’s go supernatural. What about The Amityville Horror? That was always played around Halloween, and my family in Jersey lived close enough TO Amityville that I always heard about it around Halloween. Now, you wanna split hairs? I think the original could be a Halloween movie. The remake? I don’t think so. It’s just a different feel. In a similar vein, the Poltergeist pair, original and new. The original has an awful lot going for Halloween-ness. The new one? It’s CLOSE. It tries really hard. There are some definite Halloween touches, but the jury in my head is still out.

What about (The Legend of) Sleepy Hollow? The Depp/Burton version, the Goldblum version from 1980, the Disney one, any of them, Halloween all the way. The story is nearly the epitome of the Halloween tale. The same could be said of The Fog. Hauntings, curses, revenge–throw in some fencing and Mandy Patinkin and you’ve got a Rob Reiner Halloween. The first Night of the Demons works for Halloween, too, but not just because it’s SET on Halloween. There’s mystery, there’s occult, there’s Linnea Quigley–but I digress.

Now, the undead elephant in the room. Franchises. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Friday the 13th. Alien. Scream. Wait, what was that other one–wait, it’ll come to me, tall guy wearing a Captain Kirk mask–crap, WHAT was that? is THAT a Halloween movie? I jest.

The first three Halloweens are Halloween movies because, well, they’re set on Halloween. The night is almost a character in and of itself for all three. Despite the Pasadena locations, there’s a nouveau autumnal feel for them. Some of the Friday the 13th movies could be Halloween movies, despite the marathon play every year. Ever since Shakespeare had the three witches in the Scottish Play in the woods, the woods have been creepy in productions. The Evil Dead takes that idea and goes all the way with it, branching out into uncharted territory along the way.

No, I don’t regret that turn of phrase.

What about Freddy Krueger? When he’s written to be scary, it works. When he’s written like a game show host in need of Bactine, it works–but not as Halloween fare.

Let’s talk about Scream. They’re well done. A few jump scares. But they’re a little too meta for Halloween. They’re like when you talk your big brother into dressing up or taking you to the haunted hayride two towns over. Yeah, it’s Halloween-esque, but too self aware for the full effect.

So, whattaya think? Am I nuts? Is this off base? Any ones I missed? I barely touched on any of the classic Vincent Price movies, but that’s mostly because I didn’t wanna type until Thanksgiving.

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It compared to It and Other Things Which Is Mostly Spoiler Free

•September 16, 2017 • Leave a Comment

We went and saw It this afternoon after a LOOOOONG time anticipating, well, It. I may not use a lot of pronouns in this post because it, not It, but it will cause a crapload of confusion. ANYHOO—

I first read the book when Pathmark–remember Pathmark?–had a few different Stephen King hard covers on clearance. The second time I read it–crap, the second time I read THE BOOK–was in my backyard, floating in the pool for most of the day and I got pretty much all the way through that day. I’ve always been a fast reader.

Then, amongst all the other things that happened in 1990, ABC showed the mini-series. Well, they called what they showed a mini-series, but the thing was only two parts. I always thought there was a rule for a mini series that they had to be more than two parts. I’ve worked for 17 years in TV, and never found that inscribed in gold foil beta tape anywhere, so I’ve no idea where THAT nugget came from.

The mini-series could be a cousin to the novel for The Princess Bride in that both are assembled to be The Good Parts Versions. There were a few things that were missing, and the ending wasn’t nearly as mystical as it could have been, but the assemblage of Venus Flytrap, John Boy Walton, Jack Tripper and Judge Harry T. Stone fighting a giant spider is not to be missed. Harry Anderson has several of the best lines in this or any other horror film. “No offense, pal. It ain’t working.” Genius.

I thought I knew what to expect from this version. I figured going in we’d be dealing with another Good Parts Version. The story starts–I’m going with the assumption here that those reading this have read the book or seen the mini-series–in the Traditional Way. Bill’s sick, makes a p-p-p-paraffin paper boat for Georgie, who goes out in the rain, has a Disaster With A Sewer when the S. S. Georgie does as All Good Things must and goes down the drain. Enter Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Bill Skarsgaard is clearly different in interpretation than The Great Tim Curry, All Hail His Sacred Frank N Furter Darkness Name, right from the get go. This new Pennywise is clearly not to be trusted, turned you back on, or left alone with your cat. No, wait, that was Henry Bowers and his gang–but I get ahead of myself. The entire George’s Entrapment Sequence, from the sound of the rain to the way that the neighbor woman on her porch sees NOTHING although her cat stares like “What the FRIG?” This is the first time that the production takes full advantage of the not-on-TVness of Feature Filmdom. While trying to stay spoiler free, I think I can say this next with out TOO much ruined when I say that the way Georgie’s blood spreads across the rainy road as he not only becomes the next victim but is absorbed into the town’s Badtimeness is more subtle than it would have been ten years ago, but is more effective for it.

Past this piece of familiarity, the story moves differently. Our setting is during the Loser’s Club youth, here in 1988 rather than the 1950’s. Still, for the most part, our main characters are still fairly unchanged. Bill’s stutter is not as well-defined as in the book or mini-series, but is still present. The stutter. and the Ghost phrase used to combat same, are present but in a way that shows he has been working on them–or such was my thought at first.

The thing with the Loser’s Club was they all had something Defining. Eddie was the medically and oxygenically challenged M ama’s Boy. Richie was the Class Clown who always had a smart-ass comeback and never shut up. Stan was the Rationalist Boy Scout Ornithologist who happened to be Jewish. Mike was the black kid outsider with a history fascination. Ben was the chunky kid with the dead father. Beverly was the girl with the dead mother. Bill stuttered and boated his brother to death to his thinking. With the exception of the B’s–being Bill, Ben, and Beverly and apologies for the alliteration–in this version a lot of characterization has gone by the wayside. Missing is Richie’s constant smart assitude–and almost totally gone is the beep beep. Stan is not a boy scout ornithologist here, but a kid with a slightly overbearing Rabbi father about to have his Bar Mitzvah. Eddie’s mother appears but once, and the Mr. Keane placebo scene is altered–but in a way that works. Now, these missing characterizations that made the book feel so natural, may show up in the inevitable Expanded Edition–but for those who know the book well there’s enough happening so that they’re only missed for freaks like me. The final confrontation is different, as is Pennywise’s domicile–but again, the changes work.  Considering the setting, I expected a lot more late ’80’s music, but the touches that are there don’t distract, and there are enough Easter Eggie-type things that can be caught even casually.

There were a couple touches that I picked up–a dropped frame here, a duplicated frame slightly later–that gave some parts an added sense of disquiet–but they’re almost superfluous, a rose sculpture in the chocolate icing of a near perfect cake.

The question is what they’ll call the second part–which I hope we get unlike what happened with The Hitchhiker’s Guide and Buckaroo Banzai, films begging for a sequel that will likely never come.

 

So, can I go back to using “It” as a pronoun, now?

The Diplomacy Story

•February 4, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A small bead of condensation, a tiny damp world of its own, slid down the glass toward the spongy coaster beneath.  For a moment, it was the only thing in the universe of any import.  With near breathless anticipation he watched, curious as to wear it would finally land.  Once it did, he recognized that the other person in the room deserved some attention, also.  Or instead.  Or…something.

“…you’ll have the full amenities afforded to you.”   then, a moment later, Mrs. Martinez, his supervisor, possibly seeing that he needed a refresher on what she had just said, added, “Are there any questions, Chris?”

He racked his brain for something intelligent to say, something that would make it appear that he wasn’t as clueless as a blind groundhog looking for a hole in the linoleum to bury itself in.  Sigihing, he finally said, “Well, why me?”

Secret Identities

•February 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

For a while now, there’s been an argument/discussion going on about Superman, whether or not Clark Kent or Superman is the real version of the character, and how no matter what he’s wearing, he is still Superman.

Really, though, for most heroes with a secret identity, the same could be said. So, Bruce Wayne wasn’t born the great detective crime fighter, and Peter Parker had his illuminated arachnid encounter. I’ll grant that–but when he’s not in costume, is Bruce Wayne actually the playboy fop he pretends to be? Is Spider-Man any less the man he is in jeans and a sweatshirt?

Heroism doesn’t depend on a costume. Nor does villainy. Actually, a real villain usually doesn’t want the attention because A)attention would prevent them being able to move forward with The Plan, and B) if they realize what they’re up to makes them The Bad Guy they don’t want to be NOTICED being the bad guy, just at most an innocent bystander. Heroism, though–certainly, there are some heroics that need identities and indentification. Doctors come to mind. Police officers. Fire people. But what about the person who works to make sure people are fed? What about the person who sees a homeless person and gets them food?

What about politics? That’s the realm of the most secret of identities, it seems. A politician in the old days had to appeal to the base, work for their causes, and not be seen to be all that controversial. Now, it seems they welcome the controversy and want to turn it on its head to play themselves as the victims.

It’s a weird time.

A Few Words About Freddie

•November 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The first time I became acquainted with his work was when my sister took me to see Flash Gordon in 1980. I’d heard Another One Bites The Dust and We Will Rock You a few hundred times without ever really connecting that someone was actually singing those songs. But there, sitting in the theater, Roger’s drums and John’s bass line come up and then THAT voice came up. Ironic that one of the lines in the song is “He stands for every one of us,” because that’s what Freddie Mercury specialized in.

There are a few performers that elevate singing in a way that makes you feel like they’re singing the song only for and only to you. When you hear I’m In Love With My Car, there’s a part of your soul that aches that you didn’t come off a Detroit assembly line. I don’t know if it was his vocal range (8 octaves–JEEZ!) of the fire beneath him or what precisely it was that made him able to speak to so many, but I know at least my life would be poorer with his Kind Of Magic, for he was in a clear way Made In Heaven.

Thanks, Freddie.

More Weird Date Coinkydinks

•April 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The Wolf Man started filming exactly 31 years to the day before I was born.

2016 So Far Has Been Hard On The Heroes

•February 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

And now Edgar Mitchell has gone to rest.