Tag Archives: The Doctor’s Prognosis

Phantasm (1979)

0review-phantasm1b

THE PATIENTS

Director: Don Coscarelli
Writers: Don Coscarelli
Starring: A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Reggie Bannister, Kathy Lester, Bill Cone, Mary Ellen Shaw, Terrie Kalbus, and Angus Scrimm!

THE PATHOLOGY

Young Mike (Baldwin) is convinced that something strange is going on at the local mortuary, where the enigmatic and decidedly creepy Tall Man (Scrimm) can lift coffins entirely by himself. Investigating with the help of older brother Jody (Thornbury) and ice cream man Reggie (Bannister), Mike soon uncovers a sinister plot to turn dead humans into zombie dwarf slaves for transport back to the Tall Man’s alien dimension. Or it’s all just a dream; either way, it’s pretty weird.

THE PROGNOSIS

Forget for a moment that this film went on to spawn four sequels and that it led to further elaboration on the history of the Tall Man (although not much and all of it pretty ambiguous). Just think of it as a one-off experience, which indeed it was when it first came out. Evaluating it purely on its own terms, it’s one of the most effective dramatizations of a grief-induced nightmare ever made. Nothing that happens in the movie is necessarily real, but all of it is certainly creepy and a superb example of low-budget horror cinema. With the recent Remastered restoration in particular, it’s a stunning way to revisit ’70s film making at its most evocative, and that distinctive soundscape – including the incredibly hummable theme song – has never sounded more (ironically enough) real. Even the visuals, which look more vibrant than they ever did when the movie first came out, retain enough of the texture and feel that serves the material very well indeed.

By picking through the clues strewn throughout the movie, we can gather that Mike’s older brother Jody has just died. Suffering from the immense loss, Mike descends into a convoluted series of feverish dreams that mix elements evidently drawn from reality – the graveside service, the funeral parlor, life with Jody and their friend Reggie before the accident – and throws in a few bizarre additions – the dwarves, the dimensional gateway, the flying bug-thing – to create a dark landscape of the mind in which Mike and the audience are trapped.

It’s one of the most effective dramatizations of a grief-induced nightmare ever made.

It’s a nifty piece of work when interpreted in that light, but even if you want to watch it as a straight-forward if surreal story about an alien posing as a funeral director and ensnaring a local boy in a web of intrigue and mind-bending horror – and who wouldn’t when you put it that way? – then by all means feel free. It works on both levels. But really: crushing down and re-animating human corpses, canning them, and then sending them through a dimensional rip in order to provide slave labor for a distant desert world? Doesn’t really sound too cost effective, does it? And don’t you love how quickly our heroes just accept the sheer insanity of the premise with little more than a shrug?

The Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm, is one of those men whose physical presence is so innately unsettling that he could only have been put on this Earth to become one of our undying icons of sheer terror. The rest of the cast tries very hard, but it may be to Scrimm’s benefit that he has little dialogue and only has to glower menacingly. The others have to tackle actually speaking, and occasionally their acting is rough around the edges. But earnestness counts, and everyone is doing their best to be “in the moment.” Special kudos to Baldwin, who cries on cue, convincingly conveys anger and frustration, and makes me genuinely believe he’s figuring out how to put together his makeshift shotgun shell hammer device in the moment.

But never mind a bit of uneven acting. What makes this movie a classic is its suitably languid pace and visual style, enveloping you in the nightmare world of the Tall Man while one of the eeriest musical scores ever written (by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave) chills your very bones. The otherworldly hum of the gateway hidden in the funeral parlor is also cause for goose bumps, and there are numerous inexplicable bits and pieces that enhance the dreamscape, like the Jawa-esque dwarf zombies and the cackling psychic lady in shades. Does she know more than she’s telling when she gives Mike a test of bravery that foreshadows Luke Skywalker’s own in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK one year later? Could she even be a long-time nemesis of the Tall Man? No answers are forthcoming, at least not yet, and that’s also part of PHANTASM‘s eternal charm. It hints at the edges of a grander saga, a bizarre mash-up of horror, science fiction, action adventure, and family drama, and it manages to keep all those balls in the air (had to, sorry) while never quite focusing in on any single one of them to the detriment of the others.

[This] bizarre mash-up of horror, science fiction, action adventure, and family drama…manages to keep all those balls in the air.

And then there’s the scene I used to consider annoying but now find genuinely warm and pleasant, and that’s Jody and Reggie’s brief jam session on the porch. Sure, they may not quite be “hot as love,” but Phans surely think so. And besides, Reggie’s need to tune up provides a cool if sledgehammer subtle bit of foreshadowing about how to temporarily interfere with the Tall Man’s plans. If you want still more of “Sittin’ Here at Midnight,” you can track down Bill Thornbury’s complete 1995 recording on various DVD releases, as well as the disco version of the theme tune!

PHANTASM is a delightfully dreamy slab of early modern horror with tableaux that stay with you forever, particularly if you saw it first as a child. Could there be anything more terrifying than the sight of the Tall Man standing menacingly at the end of a long corridor with the whine of a silver sphere close behind? After all, you can run all you like, but the game is over boy, and now you die!

RATING

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Little Dead Rotting Hood (2016)

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THE PATIENTS

Director: Jared Cohn
Writer: Gabriel Campisi
Starring: Eric Balfour, Bianca A. Santos, Romeo Miller (Lil’ Romeo), Patrick Muldoon, Heather Tom, Marina Sirtis, Brendan Wayne

THE PATHOLOGY

The town of Stillwater is ground zero for an age-old battle between the forces of good and evil. A ferocious and bloody attack on the eve of a major changing of the guard in werewolf world also heralds the passing of the torch (or Arthurian sword and cape) from one fearless protector of humanity to another, but the transition does not go smoothly. As the embattled Sheriff (Eric Balfour of BUFFY and HAVEN) tries to hold things together, a resurrected “crexy” zombie girl (Bianca Santos of THE FOSTERS) with the power to defeat the werewolves is the only hope when the horde of hairy beasts lays siege to the community.

THE PROGNOSIS

From The Asylum that brought you SHARKNADO and Z NATION comes a new kind of hero and the perfect mash-up for a time when the superhero genre has dominated our media. This is most definitely an origin story and the first chapter in what could be a fun saga; the character was even developed, appropriately enough, via comic book artwork, so the DNA is definitely there. And yes, although we tend to focus on zombies around here, all horror is fair game and our titular titan is in fact a species of zombie – a really cute, sentient, and troubled sort akin to iZOMBIE‘s Liv Moore. So it’s all good!

It’s refreshing not to have Samantha leap in and pummel werewolves without any trouble. Her ultimate nemesis, the new Den Mother, is an imposing foe and not one that’s easily dispatched; this is going to take work, and before victory there is heartrending loss. As for the villain’s visual appearance, Mother may not be up to blockbuster CGI standards, but that’s to be expected.

The perfect mash-up for a time when the superhero genre has dominated our media; an origin story and the first chapter in what could be a fun saga.

Speaking of which, when a movie like this has obvious limitations, it has to rely on aspects of production like writing and performance to buoy the proceedings, and with a mix of earnest acting and nice quips, there’s no problem there. Balfour – whose hair product is a stellar co-star – provides a solid central presence and has nice rapport with the pint-size co-stars playing his kids; I also have to respect a man that runs on coffee. His participation is also appropriate given the movie’s BUFFY-esque nods. Patrick Muldoon has some funny moments (guess that brain sucking in STARSHIP TROOPERS didn’t affect him too badly), and Romeo Miller offers strong support as Samantha’s devoted boyfriend; he also gets one of the best meta lines when he notes that being in a “scary movie…doesn’t work out for me.”

There are effective and even dizzying camera moves, atmospheric forest and cavern settings that suit the tale’s folklorish origins, and propulsive opening and closing themes by composer Chris Cano that sell the superheroic motif. If I had one criticism, it’s that Samantha is a cipher; we never see what she was like before her resurrection. A bit of her normal life prior to her transformation – her life at school and with Danny – would have grounded her character that much more and given her transformation the extra touch of tragedy that usually accompanies the rise of a hero. However, once things get hairy (sorry), she’s more than capable of keeping you interested in her exploits.

There are effective and even dizzying camera moves, atmospheric forest and cavern settings, and propulsive opening and closing themes.

The movie also does a nice job of hitting all the familiar ’50s sci-fi beats – a small town under attack by a scourge from the (super)natural world, a dash of environmental commentary, local law enforcement discussing science and analyzing maps, and plucky young heroes. The fun and furry mayhem of LITTLE DEAD ROTTING HOOD is best summed up by star Bianca Santos herself, who in a behind-the-scenes interview refers to it as “zombie apocalypse slash werewolf fighting amazingness.” So where do we go next? Might I suggest a trip to the big city in LITTLE DEAD ROTTING HOOD 2: MOON OVER MANHATTAN? And while I can’t offer any proof, I’m happy that I pegged the identity of the main monster near the beginning. So watch for clues!

RATING

06brains

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Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

0review-halloween8b

THE PATIENTS

Director: Rick Rosenthal
Writers: Larry Brand, Sean Hood
Starring: Busta Rhymes, Jamie Lee Curtis, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Ryan Merriman, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tyra Banks, Bianca Kajlich

THE PATHOLOGY

After a prologue that provides a final, epic farewell to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode, we move on to Haddonfield, where Freddie Harris (Rhymes) is about to present a new Internet-based reality program dubbed “Dangertainment.” Lock the usual assortment of attractive young people in the Myers house, strap webcams to their heads, and let the fun begin. Oh, did I mention Michael has come home again? Oops. Bet nobody had him sign off on this production.

THE PROGNOSIS

I won the scorn of many colleagues when I confessed to actually enjoying this 2002 installment in the slasher franchise. Yes, the Michael Myers seen here is a pale shadow of the Shape we once knew; yes, it makes Busta Rhymes a more imposing presence than Myers, to the detriment of Michael’s stature as the series’ indestructible juggernaut; and yes, it won’t win any awards for plotting or performance quality. It’s a less than ambitious entry in the series and middle-of-the-road horror fare for a more conservative era.

It’s a less than ambitious entry in the series and middle-of-the-road horror fare for a more conservative era.

But hell, it’s also a pretty decent HALLOWEEN sequel when your expectations are suitably lowered, and sometimes you have to evaluate a film within its own narrow category rather than relative to the vast universe of cinema in general. When compared with the lethargic 20th anniversary entry, RESURRECTION at least gets down to business with some old-style Myers murders (Tyra Banks’ demise, regrettably, happens off-screen), a decent level of suspense, and even some welcome continuity touches that have been absent from the series for a long time. Anyone remembering the sudden reality shift in HALLOWEEN 5 when the old Myers house became a Gothic-style cathedral-like edifice should have no problems here. The Myers home not only serves as the central location for most of the action, but it looks almost exactly as it did back in 1978. Good show, set designers.

The premise is marginally clever as well, taking advantage of the slew of reality-based shows on TV then (and now) and incorporating aspects of the growing Internet culture and the “found footage” genre. True, some fans might question why Michael is driven to continue his rampage at all now that his last remaining relative is gone in the first fifteen minutes, but to hell with logic. For a series with two distinct continuity threads, who needs consistency? At least Michael, played here by Brad Loree, recaptures a bit of his trademark body language, and the mask is not at all bad. Michael even shows a wry sense of humor by presenting his bloody knife as a collectible trophy to a mental patient obsessed with serial killers. What a nice Shape he is sometimes.

Our new Laurie stand-in, Sara (Kajlich), is pretty flat, but then so was Laurie. Come on now – the HALLOWEEN movies were never about brilliant acting anyway. The rest of the cast dies well enough, and Busta emerges as one half of a heroic team – the other being Sara’s Internet and Palm Pilot chat pal ‘Deckard’ (Ryan Merriman) – that gives Michael a definite run for his money. And once again this brings us to the issue of the HALLOWEEN series’ recurring problem with endings.

At least Michael, played here by Brad Loree, recaptures a bit of his trademark body language, and the mask is not at all bad.

In the theatrical cut of the film, it’s Busta that wipes up the floor with the Shape. This is director Rick Rosenthal’s second shot at a HALLOWEEN film after the legendary near-disaster that was HALLOWEEN II, and once again he was subject to a lot of last-minute tinkering in the editing room. In the original ending, it was Merriman’s character that arrived to save the day, but test audiences demanded that Busta survive and save the damsel in distress instead.

Either way, we all know damn well that Evil never dies, but this is the end for the original HALLOWEEN series. After eight films and two storylines, the decision was made to hand the character to filmmaker and musician Rob Zombie to reimagine for a new era. But perhaps some night soon, the one true Shape will come home again…

RATING

05brains

HELP US BY ORDERING THE MOVIE VIA THIS LINK!

ALL THE OTHER FILMS IN THE SERIES:
HALLOWEEN

HALLOWEEN II

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH

HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN H20: TWENTY YEARS LATER

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)

0review-halloween7b

THE PATIENTS

Director: Steve Miner
Writers: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Chris Durand

THE PATHOLOGY

Twenty years after the Night He Came Home, Keri Tate (Jamie Lee Curtis), alcoholic school marm and dead ringer for a girl who was terrorized one horrible Haddonfield Halloween night, must face her demons in the form of her brother-turned-demonic killer. Can Keri – sorry, Laurie Strode – save herself and her son (Josh Hartnett) as well as his friends when a ghostly Shape from her past returns to kill again?

THE PROGNOSIS

We never thought it would happen. Jamie Lee Curtis – screamer turned star – returned to the series that made her a modern horror star just in time for the twentieth anniversary. Perhaps it was fate that Curtis would be back – yes, fate definitely caught up with her here. Fate never changes.

H20 was a laudable attempt to bring some mainstream gloss to the B-movie slasher series, and Curtis’ return garnered this seventh installment considerable media coverage. Sadly, Donald Pleasence had since departed this mortal realm, so Curtis’ rematch with Michael would happen without the sorely missed presence of Dr. Sam Loomis.

Of course, the previous three movies had established Laurie as dead and mired themselves in a convoluted continuity of their own that nearly buried the series. The creators decided to take a chance with fan sensibilities and jettison everything that happened in HALLOWEEN 4-6. Although the resulting anniversary sequel plays like a love letter to fans of the original two films, there are problems. Why was the opening voice-over, a word-for-word re-enactment of a speech first performed by the late, lamented Pleasence, re-recorded with a younger man trying to replicate Pleasence’s distinctive tones. Surely they could have extracted the audio. Rights issues? Too much background noise or interfering music?

Although this anniversary sequel plays like a love letter to fans of the original two films, there are problems.

Some might get a rush out of hearing the classic Carpenter-penned HALLOWEEN theme rendered with a full orchestral sound, but after the initial excitement of this mainstreaming installment dies down, rewatching exposes all the flaws. In a move towards broader audience acceptance, the gorier aspects of the earlier films were toned down, but so too went much of the suspense and tone. The movie feels more like a generic action thriller than a horror/slasher movie. At best, it’s an uncomfortable marriage of two approaches, and while the killings aren’t as intense, they do seem more tragic and almost unbearably sad in the style of HALLOWEEN homage series SCREAM, in particular when one girl is savagely stabbed multiple times while pinned to the ground, and in another when a really nice guy gets the knife-in-the-back-elevator-ride that Michael once gave a nurse in HALLOWEEN II.

While none of the new kids are particularly impressive, they scream when they need to and run when they have to. You might stifle a giggle when Curtis stands menacingly in shadow and screams Michael’s name at the top of her lungs in challenge as the theme kicks into high gear; it’s a bit too over the top. Curtis’ overwrought performance as the alcoholic Strode grates on the nerves after a while, and by the end you may be hard-pressed to decide which sibling you want to root for. Let’s see – who’s the likeliest one to come back in several more HALLOWEEN movies? I know where I’m putting my money…

By the end you may be hard-pressed to decide which sibling you want to root for.

As for the eternal mask issue, the filmmakers were unhappy with their new mask after shooting had already begun. The replacement, while an improvement that comes as close to the original as we’ve seen so far, still shares screen time with the crappy first version due to ham-fisted editing.

Finally, there’s that ending calculated to elicit a huge audience cheer, but it only holds up if this is truly the final HALLOWEEN. Since we know it’s not, it just becomes a matter of figuring out how they plan to get around the seemingly inescapable conclusion. Fans who had read an earlier script for that last scene, circulated around the ‘net, were already ahead of the game. We all knew the Shape would return…but would Laurie be back to face him again?

RATING

06brains

HELP US BY ORDERING THE MOVIE VIA THIS LINK!

ALL THE OTHER FILMS IN THE SERIES:
HALLOWEEN

HALLOWEEN II

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH

HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

0review-halloween6b

THE PATIENTS

Director: Joe Chappelle
Writers: Daniel Farrands
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan, Mitchell Ryan, J.C. Brandy, George Wilbur

THE PATHOLOGY

We learn that the night the Man in Black rescued the Shape, they also took Jamie with them! When she turns up again, she’s older (J.C. Brandy), pregnant by her uncle Michael (!), and on the run from a sinister cult that may have been behind Michael’s rampage since the beginning. As the movie implodes before your eyes, an aging Dr. Loomis (farewell, Donald Pleasence) meets Laurie stand-in Kara Strode (Marianne Hagan) and the original HALLOWEEN’s Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd). The Thorn tattoos are explained – sort of – and the origins of the Shape and the Celtic cult that controls him are laid out in confusing partial detail. When the Man in Black is revealed to be a character from the original film with absolutely no logic to back it up, even the most die-hard fans will be hoping for another sequel to wipe away this hopelessly labyrinthine story and get back to basics. Fortunately…

THE PROGNOSIS

Although the filmmakers didn’t know it, this installment was the end of the road for the increasingly convoluted but occasionally intriguing mythology built into the series beginning with HALLOWEEN 4. When this movie finally limped into theaters after some truly brutal editing, most moviegoers agreed that Michael desperately needed a very long rest, perhaps even a permanent one. He had already been absent from the silver screen for six years while the producers wrestled with the problem of digging themselves out of the hole they’d dug with HALLOWEEN 5, but this surely wasn’t the solution. Yet oddly enough, even as this represents the absolute nadir of the HALLOWEEN series, CURSE also contains some of the most touching tributes to the original film and a poignant though ultimately squandered final performance by Donald Pleasence.

Even as this represents the nadir of the series, CURSE contains touching tributes to the original film and a poignant though squandered final performance by Donald Pleasence.

At the time, I was looking forward to learning the secret of Michael’s evil, but sometimes you shouldn’t get what you want, and CURSE is a perfect case in point. While there are affectionate nods to earlier installments, including a beautiful bit with Tommy reliving a ’smashing pumpkin’ moment from his childhood and even a monologue from the elderly Mrs. Blankenship that recalls similar material from the otherwise unconnected HALLOWEEN III, the scientific basis for Michael Myers’ escapades rings hollow and cheapens everything that came before. Ultimately, the Thorn cult is an intriguing but woefully misguided addition to the mythos. And after all of this, viewers are still left with a plethora of unanswered questions and an ending so vague, surreal, and poorly edited that “ambiguous” doesn’t begin to cover the level of exasperation and rage audiences felt when Loomis moaned in agony and the closing credits rolled.

George Wilbur returns to play the Shape a second time, but since HALLOWEEN 4 he’s packed on a few pounds. And since Myers becomes an afterthought in his own series while everyone else runs around playing X-FILES, he gets very little to do. As for the mask – eh, not the worst it’s been, but not exactly a stunning re-creation either.

No matter what version you watch, HALLOWEEN 6 is a frustrating experience that promises much but delivers little.

Shortly after the film’s release, a “Producer’s Cut” surfaced via bootleg VHS copies circulated by fans, and while this curio was by no means a masterpiece, it was a much improved cut that not only enhanced the movie’s ties to the older installments but featured an entirely different final fifteen minutes that set up an even more bizarre cliffhanger that would never be resolved. It did manage to illuminate some of the theatrical cut’s ambiguity by pushing the conspiracy storyline toward a slightly more satisfying Celtic/magic explanation rather than a scientific one, and it also replaced Rudd’s opening narration with a more pleasing version recorded by Pleasence. The “Producer’s Cut” also clearly came down on the side of “less is more” by featuring far less gruesome murders than those seen in the theatrical version.

No matter what version you watch, HALLOWEEN 6 is a frustrating experience that promises much but delivers little. Most tragically, it serves as our less than dignified final encounter with the great Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis.

RATING: THEATRICAL CUT

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RATING: PRODUCER’S CUT

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HELP US BY ORDERING THE MOVIE VIA THIS LINK!

ALL THE OTHER FILMS IN THE SERIES:
HALLOWEEN

HALLOWEEN II

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH

HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN H20: TWENTY YEARS LATER

HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION