Quick Takes: The House by the Cemetery, Christmas Evil, Game Over

housebythecemeteryThe House by the Cemetery [Quella villa accanto al cimitero] (1981)
AKA The House Outside the Cemetery, Zombie Hell House

threestar

Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava
Directed by Lucio Fulci

My favorite and the most easily accessible of the three Fulci movies I watched recently (the others being City of the Living Dead & The Beyond). Like the others, the plot is a definite weak point, but the atmosphere and the gore make up for it immensely. The gore is also a lot less “fun” in this one, instead going for much more realistic, brutal violence with gallons of blood flowing. Well, it’s not all realistic, there’s a bat attack that’s hilariously wild and ridiculous, but that’s probably unintentional. And just make sure the bat scene is the height of absurd weirdness, the bat provides more squirting blood than virtually all the other scenes combined. This moment is insane in the best way possible, as are all the other horrific bits (although those are insane for the sheer audacity to even attempt to get something this brutal past the censors). Good stuff.

Christmas_EvilChristmas Evil (1980)
AKA You Better Watch Out, Terror in Toyland

threehalfstar

Starring Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Brian Neville, Joe Jamrog, Wally Moran, Gus Salud
Directed by Lewis Jackson

Harry was never the same after he saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus! The event scarred him deeply, developing into a fixation on everything Christmas and Santa-related. Harry’s now in his 40s and working at Jolly Dreams, a toy manufacturer. Christmas Evil is a slow-burn horror movie that’s more character study than traditional horror movie. Yes, Santa murders people, but this isn’t a Santa slasher movie. We see Harry’s psychosis evolve from simply caring about making quality toys for the holidays, to being driven to the point of shoving a toy soldier’s sword through a dude’s eye. But because we see the whole run up to the murder spree, the victims are not faceless and nameless. They are enemies to the spirit of Christmas, so in a weird way Harry is a hero of sorts, in his own mind at least. This is brought home beautifully in the ending of the film, which is equal parts touching, joyous and symbolic. Director Lewis Jackson twists the knife of psychosis at will by utilizing well-known hallmarks of the season, be it Harry maniacally calling out reindeer names while he’s driving away from the scene of the crime, or a cassette tape of a Christmas song warping and distorting as we see the aftermath Harry leaves in his wake. With each reference, Harry seems to slip deeper into his twisted Santa persona, further subverting the Christmas music and general mythology. Christmas Evil may be a low-budget film, but it is very well-crafted and the lead performance by Brandon Maggart is fantastic.

3615codeperenoelGame Over [3615 code Père Noël] (1989)
AKA Deadly Games, Dial Code Santa Claus

twohalfstar

Starring Alain Lalanne, Patrick Floersheim, Louis Ducreux, Brigitte Fossey, François-Eric Gendron, Stéphane Legros
Directed by René Manzor

Game Over is the result when you combine the ’80s kids’ affinity for muscular, gun-laden action heroes, a psycho in a Santa suit, and Home Alone. It’s not as great as that might sound, but it delivers more than enough laughs and genuine peril to make for a fine experience. Our lead is Thomas, a computer whiz kid who questions the existence of Santa Claus. He sets up cameras to record Santa in the act (which he can watch via his forearm-sized TV/camera controller), but his mother warns that if Santa sees him watching, Santa will turn into an ogre. Thomas also decides instead of writing a letter to Santa this year, he’ll just use a computer program called “3615 code Père Noël” (also the original title of the film). There is a Santa on the other end, but it’s a crazed lunatic out for young blood! What struck me the most about this movie was how brutal it was at times, and how much different it felt from American films with kids in peril. Thomas is actually harmed, ending the film bloody, exhausted and shell-shocked (to the point of resembling a pint-sized John McClane). It’s a little crusty and slow moving in parts, but overall it’s a good watch if you can hunt it down.

The Hitcher (1986)

Starring Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey DeMunn, John M. Jackson, Billy Green Bush, Jack Thibeau, Armin Shimerman, Gene Davis

Directed by Robert Harmon

Expectations: High.


Calling The Hitcher a horror film is a stretch, but as it mostly trades in tension and suspense, and it features an ample amount of gore FX, I think it’s horrific enough to qualify. And let’s not forget all the wonderful explosions and car crashes, of which there are many. Yeah, The Hitcher is just as dope as everyone has led me to believe. Some stupid story elements hold it back from being pure gold, but these moments were never enough to quiet my love for the film. It’s a tense ride, and my predominant reaction to the film was, “Oh shit!” Seriously, every time I thought the main character was getting the upper hand there would come a glorious “Oh shit!” moment, and then Rutger Hauer would assert himself as the true badass of the film.

C. Thomas Howell is driving down a desert road late at night and is finding it hard to stay awake. Thinking it will help him remain conscious, he picks up a hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer) who quickly goes from nice to sadistic asshole. When Howell finds an opportunity to ditch Hauer, he takes it, and it starts a movie-long feud between the two that lasts until the bitter end. Hitchhiking fell out of favor a while ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this film had something to do with that, much like Jaws deterred people from the ocean waters.

Continue reading The Hitcher (1986) →

Mini-Review: The Blob (1988)

Starring Kevin Dillon, Shawnee Smith, Donovan Leitch, Jeffrey DeMunn, Candy Clark, Joe Seneca, Del Close, Paul McCrane, Sharon Spelman, Beau Billingslea, Art LaFleur

Directed by Chuck Russell

Expectations: Low. This one never interested me for some reason, but here I am watching it.


Oh wow, I love it when this happens. I’ve watched horror movies for years now and sometimes I get to thinking I’ve seen all the fun ones already. The Blob is not only one of the most fun horror movies I’ve seen in a while, it’s one of the most fun I’ve ever seen. They truly go for broke on this one, with lots of good 80s clichés and absolutely amazing physical FX. I went into this one with pretty low expectations for some reason, but I came out hootin’, hollerin’ and havin’ an absolute blast.

The film starts out very ominously as the credits fade in over quiet, well-composed shots of the barren, small town where The Blob takes place. Eventually we get to the high school football game where apparently everyone in town is rooting on their team. Here we meet our first couple of main characters (a player and a cheerleader), but before this scene can play out completely, director Chuck Russell crosscuts the cheering crowd with the leather jacket wearin’, motorcycle drivin’, bad boy Brian as he tries to jump a washed out bridge on his bike. These opening scenes perfectly set up the town we’ll be inhabiting for the next ninety minutes, as well as foreshadowing a key moment that I wouldn’t dare spoil here. Trust me, it’s awesome in the way that only an 80s movie can be awesome.

In addition to story tropes that only 80s movies can pull off effectively (but that shouldn’t stop modern filmmakers from trying!), The Blob is notable for its kick-fucking-ass special FX by the impressive Tony Gardner. He’s worked within many genres over the course of almost thirty years, and recently was responsible for the realistic prosthetic arm that James Franco cut off in 127 Hours. I’m a huge fan of physical FX and even I am speechless at how great the FX look in The Blob. The kills are nothing short of incredible and ridiculously inventive, ranging from phone booth crushings to a dude that literally gets sucked down a sink drain. It’s a smorgasbord of awesome and this film should be required viewing for anyone looking to make a modern horror film. Horror has lost so much of the fun it once had. Where modern horror focuses almost exclusively on realism and torture porn squirm scares, the 80s had a sense of heightened reality that allowed the films to go above and beyond what realism can offer, resulting in films that are relentlessly fun.

On top of all that goodness, director Chuck Russell actually knows how to shoot and edit a movie! Imagine that! The cinematography is rich and colorful, perfectly complementing the beautifully composed shots and FX. I really can’t believe more people aren’t talking about this one, as it is so well made and so very much fun. If you like 80s horror, you simply must watch The Blob.

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