Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Cujo (1983)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Cujo (1983)

Amongst the slew of Stephen King film adaptations that were released in the 80s was the film version of his fantastic 1981 novel, Cujo.

Cujo is the St Bernard dog who is bit by a rabid bat whilst he chases a rabbit. Slowly but surely he transforms from a loveable family dog into a slobbering, rabid killer.

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There’s so much to love about the 1983 film that was based on one of King’s best books. Firstly, if Dee Wallace Stone is starring in a film, in my book, it instantly gets an extra star as her acting chops are superb. Her use of method acting especially within the horror movies she has starred in works very well indeed, even if the boring film purists would say that such a technique wouldn’t work with such a genre. As someone on the set of The Howling said ‘She actually believed that werewolves existed for the duration of her working on the movie!’ Which is exactly why she’s such a kick-ass actress. And her turn within Cujo is no different. Here she plays Donna Trenton, a woman who is having an affair with her high school old flame behind her advertising husband’s back.

Which brings us onto another reason why Cujo works so well. The film is faithful to the book (except for one MASSIVE plot point and I won’t be saying what it is. You need to watch this movie and read the book. You’ll thank me for this) and so King’s fantastic character arcs and the turmoil of their lives aren’t smoothed over or written out completely for this screen adaptation. And so we get adultery, domestic violence, alcoholism and someone’s career dying a death (in stark contrast to the 80’s Yuppie dream depicted in the adverts of the time).

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We also get an extraordinary sequence involving Donna’s son going to bed and the nightmarish circumstances that surround such an event. This sequence is like a Siouxsie and the Banshees song made flesh. It’s exquisite. Kudos to director Lewis Teague, although the entire film is testament to his directorial genius.

And then we get the sequence based solely in their malfunctioning car as Donna and her son are held under siege in their vehicle by the rabid dog. Not since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre have we as an audience experienced the sticky, clammy suffocation of such stifling weather conditions as Donna has to think of how to get out of this situation as her son starts to experience the effects of dehydration. These scenes are worth the price of admission alone. We see Donna go from rationally trying to get out of this nightmare to becoming a fearless warrior as her maternal instincts kick in and she is prepared to do anything to save her son.

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In fact, one of the things that amazes me the most about Cujo is how Wallace Stone didn’t get at least an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal. Yes, her performance is that good. In fact, I feel that within the sub-genre of Stephen Kind adaptations, Cujo is criminally underrated. It’s time for a proper reappraisal.

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Prick Up Your Ears (1987)

I’ve always been fascinated by the writing of, and indeed, the legend of playwright Joe Orton. It was so refreshing to discover someone who was, shock horror, a confident homosexual in the 60s rather than some simpering, guilt-ridden closet case. I remember when I arrived in London to study film, a friend told me about an organised tour entitled The Joe Orton Walk that went to the sites of public lavatories where Joe looked for casual sex. A worthy tribute as ever there was one.

Stephen Frears’ 1987 film adapts John Lahr’s fantastic biography of Joe with the working-class boy from Leicester venturing to London to join the RADA (darling) and pursue a career in acting. It’s here that he meets Kenneth Halliwell who becomes his partner and co-conspirator. But this union would come to a horrifying conclusion as the tutored (Orton) would eclipse his teacher (Halliwell) and accomplish everything he wanted to but that which was beyond his grasp (you could say it was ‘Beyond Our Ken’ haha).

We get a fantastic depiction of being gay in London in the 1960s where sex was everywhere with a knowing look or if you knew the relevant places to frequent. We also get a vivid depiction of the gay paradise of that era, Morocco.

Orton was ‘punk’ before ‘punk’. His plays poked fun at society’s hypocrisies through his amazing use of language and his fantastic, laser-sharp wit. The library books he altered the covers of and wrote new liner notes for were another example of his playful subversion. I love the fact that the existing examples of these books have now been preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. And to think that this act actually earned Orton and Halliwell six months holiday at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Outrageous.

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Frears’s directs amazingly aided and abetted by a screenplay by none other than Alan Bennett. The cast is also uniformly brilliant with Prick Up Your Ears being an example of perfect casting- Gary Oldman as Orton, Alfred Molina as Halliwell and Vanessa Redgrave as the regal but irreverent Peggy Ramsey.

I also loved the parallels between Kenneth Halliwell and Lahr’s wife that the film establishes. This is very perceptive indeed.

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And something else which is remarkable about the film is that it’s currently on YouTube for your delectation. Watch it before it gets taken down.

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The Exterminator (1980)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- The Exterminator (1980)

Ahh, the giddy days of home video. In the early days of this new and very exciting medium, there were loads of videos that featured the gaudiest and lurid cover artwork.

One film that had such artwork that I will always remember was The Exterminator. The box depicted a muscled man wearing what looked like a black motorcycle helmet whilst firing a machine gun. It suggested something grittier than your average action flick.

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When I finally saw the film I wasn’t disappointed.

Robert Ginty plays John Eastland who we see in the film’s opening scene as a soldier being captured by the Viet Cong. He escapes after being saved by his best friend Michael Jefferson (but not before he sees another friend being beheaded, a scene that would prove problematic for the BBFC. Stan Winston was the SFX whizz who designed the dummy for this scene, film fans).

The action then transfers to a jungle of another kind, New York. Eastland and Jefferson are working together in a warehouse. After seeing gang members stealing a shipment of beer, they are confronted by both men with Jefferson kicking their asses. However, the gang members track him down and leave him crippled (another graphic scene that would be excised in different countries).

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This propels Eastland into action as he becomes a one-man vigilante who tracks down the gang members and then the mob who have been making his employer pay protection money and even skimming the top off all of the employee’s wages.

The Exterminator is gritty, extreme, VERY gory and brilliant fun. Director James Glickenhaus knew exactly the audience he was aiming this film at. This was aimed squarely at the audiences who would go to see films in 42nd Street grindhouses (part of the film even takes place in some of the sleazier establishments of The Deuce), drive-ins and as part of midnight movie double-bills (The Exterminator played with The Postman Always Rings Twice (!) in the UK).

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But it was also made for the new medium of home video on which the genre of horror or exploitation wasn’t seen as a bad thing but instead as a major selling point. With so many shocking and lurid video artwork being on the shelves of the video shops I spent hours in, the artwork for The Exterminator still screamed out to me.

People have criticised Robert Ginty in the lead role as being devoid of the necessary charisma or leading role chops for such a film. I disagree. Ginty plays an everyman, someone who is sick of being pushed around when there appears to be no real justice by conventional routes of law and order. Of course, there are strong links between this film and Michael Winner’s masterpiece Death Wish but there are also links to Taxi Driver, Maniac and The New York Ripper because of the themes, locales and time frame.

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The Taxi Driver-esque similarities start here

Look out for the uncut version of The Exterminator as there are plenty of versions, especially in the UK, that are cut. I bought the DVD distributed by Synergy who had submitted the film to the BBFC a second time to try and get some of the previous cuts waived. They then proceeded to release the film uncut anyway and completely ignore the 22 secs of cuts the board had recommended. Hooray for Synergy!

One review of the film says that Glickenhaus knows nothing about framing, lighting or direction in general. Poppycock! When I saw the film in widescreen for the first time I noticed these very aspects and marvelled at them. The film is lit, directed and coloured like a very gory comic book. It’s beautiful to behold and reminds me of The Warriors.

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The comic book colour and framing of the film

You know you’re in for a good time when the death scenes within the film involve an industrial mincing machine, a flamethrower and an electric knife.

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The mincing machine scene

The Exterminator will always hold a special place in my black little heart.

Halloween 2 (1981)- A Sequel That Is Better Than It Has Any Right To Be

Halloween 2 (1981)- A Sequel That Is Better Than It Has Any Right To Be

John Carpenter’s Halloween had been a huge hit at the box office through the word of mouth of people who had seen it and were knocked out by the experience. In fact, the film was so successful that it became the most profitable independent film of all time, a title it held until it was overtaken by 1999’s The Blair Witch Project.

Producer Irwin Yablans wanted a sequel even though director John Carpenter didn’t. He instead decided to write and score the project but not direct it. Carpenter was in the midst of developing another project that he would go onto directly which was The Fog when he was approached by Yablans. He recommended Rick Rosenthal on the strength of a short film Rosenthal had made called The Toyer. Before Rosenthal, Carpenter had actually asked Tommy Lee Wallace who had been the art director on the original Halloween but he declined. He would go on to direct Halloween 3: Season of the Witch though.

Carpenter and his producer and co-writer Debra Hill had envisaged the idea of a sequel based several years later than the events that take place in the first Halloween movie with Michael tracking Laurie down to a high rise building that she has moved to. When I first read about this I immediately thought of the TV movie Carpenter had made around this time, Someone’s Watching Me! starring Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau which takes place primarily in a high rise complex. Maybe this would have been too similar and so Carpenter was forced to think of a new concept. He said that this involved drinking beer (for inspiration) whilst sitting at a typewriter and wondering what he was doing there.

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A murder mystery in a high rise. Carpenter’s excellent Someone’s Watching Me!

I was also surprised to learn that Debra Hill had looked into the possibility of shooting the film in 3D, a gimmick that was about to enjoy a renaissance around this time. Hill gave up on this possibility however as it was very costly. It was also very difficult to accomplish 3D effects in a film that would visually be dependent on darkness and shadows. This seems to make sense in relation to another sequel from another horror franchise. Friday the 13th Part 3 was shot in 3D the following year and altered its look from earlier films in the series because of it. The third instalment was brighter and more colourful than its preceding two films. Part 3 feels almost like some kind of demented horror comic come to life. This works very well indeed whilst ensuring that the 3D effects could be brilliantly effective and delivered with panache and style.

Whilst Halloween 2 wouldn’t be filmed in 3D, the cinematographer who went a long way to why the original was so memorable and looked so hauntingly beautiful would be returning to shoot the film. Dean Cundey also turned down the opportunity to work on the film Poltergeist to film Halloween 2. I think he made the right decision.

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An original Halloween 2 crew jacket

A funny thing happened between the release of the original and Halloween 2 and that is that another film tried to market itself as a sequel to the first film. Snapshot, an Ozploitation film retitled itself The Day After Halloween for its American release with posters and press ads utilising the font and style used for the original Halloween promotional material. The makers of H2 ordered the distributors of The Day After Halloween to add a disclaimer to their posters and ads that stated that this was in no way connected to Carpenter’s original film. This was done but when The Day After Halloween was coming to the end of its run anyway. When Halloween 2 was officially released the words ‘All New’ were added to its posters and ads so that people knew this was the real deal. Snapshot, by the way, is a fantastic oddity of a film that is now widely available and well worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of Prisoner Cell Block H as there are many cast members used.

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The film that would cause Halloween 2 to use the words ‘All New’ in their promotional material
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‘All New’. And what a double bill Halloween 2 would make with An American Werewolf in London

So, what is Halloween 2 actually like?

The first thing which is noteworthy about the sequel is that it continues straight after the events of the first movie. In fact, not just that but there is even an overlap with the first film (with Mr Sandman by The Chordettes playing over the soundtrack that bookends the movie as it also plays at the end) as we see the ending before the new narrative begins with Dr Loomis going downstairs to where the shot body of Myers should have been. We also see that Loomis’ dialogue has started to become even more exaggerated than it was in the original. A neighbour comes out and approaches Loomis remarking about the noise and exclaiming ‘I’ve been trick or treated to death tonight’ to which Loomis replies ‘You don’t know what death is!’ Yes, this first reply exemplifies a lot of Loomis’ lines in the sequel. Just a little bit more unhinged, fraught and oh so camp.

We then get the title sequence which is similar to that of the original film with the pumpkin but this time the camera glides into it as it opens to reveal a skull at its centre. With this sequence as with the recap of the end of the first film and the addendum as to what happens next, we get a sense of how audacious Halloween 2 is. It was made in 1981 a full three years after the original and enough time for the first film to be recognised and reviled as the masterpiece it truly is. For a sequel to pick up just after the original had ended was a massive risk as Carpenter’s original had a look and feel that was very unique to it. The sequel would have to try to replicate this to feel authentic. Halloween 2 almost succeeds. The word ‘almost’ isn’t an insult though. The first film was and is so iconic that ANY attempt to either equal or top its brilliance and innovation would be foolhardy at best. That Halloween 2 still comes across as a worthy attempt is the best that could be hoped for. If Halloween is an A+ movie, then Halloween 2 is a B+ film. That’s no mean feat.

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Halloween was so iconic that it spawned a whole subgenre of movies within horror, the slasher movie. In the three years since the original, this genre had been given birth to, had enough time to establish its conventions and also showed why audiences were flocking to see these movies. Carpenter realised this and so after seeing a rough cut of Rosenthal’s sequel suggested the film be beefed up with more kills, more blood and more edge of the seat suspense sequences that would satisfy the rabid slasher movie aficionados. He also commented that the rough cut he had seen was about as scary as an episode of Quincy! In fact, the sequences that could be seen to be (thankfully) quite restrained in the original, particularly the kills, were turned up to 11 for the sequel. The Fangoria crowd would get a film that looked great, felt eerie as hell (thank God for Cundey), but with kills that were more graphic, more innovative and more shocking than the other entries in the genre. Apparently, it was Carpenter who actually directed these sequences. He would do a similar thing on the next movie that he actually directed himself, The Fog as he would direct new kills to insert into the film merely days before the film was due to be released as he realised that it didn’t quite work.

And it wasn’t just the kills that were made more explicit within the film. Halloween 2 also ramps up the sexiness within the movie to keep in line with its competition. Hence, we get the nudity during the therapy room sequence and Bud’s rather unique (and cringeworthy) version of Amazing Grace.

Whilst watching the film again recently it seemed as if Myers was gleefully bumping off the only types of people he would have had dealings with during his incarceration- doctors, nurses and cops. Maybe this sequel really was a case of ‘This time it’s personal’ for our leading psychopath.

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Michael’s murder of another authority figure which feels strangely personal

The fact that there are people who Michael had a perfect opportunity to dispose of but didn’t shows that he isn’t just some killing machine, indiscriminately killing anyone who crosses his path. One example of this is poor old Mrs Elrod who is making a sandwich for her dozing husband (who’s sleeping through the classic Night of the Living Dead. Sacrilege!) when Myers sneaks in and grabs the knife that she was using. Myers knows the groups of people who he wants to butcher which is one of many reasons why Halloween from 2018 and its sequel seemed so inauthentic and fake. Of course, Michael also bumps off anyone who fits the same criteria as his sister Judith and Laurie Strode. The next person Myers encounters is Alice, the young woman who is within the same age category, is saying how great it is that she has the house to herself to her friend on the phone (she could invite a male over because of this. Michael doesn’t like potential horny hi-jinx) and so, hence, she meets some of the criteria for someone who would be killed by Michael. And he obliges.

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Alice’s murder

The hospital that Laurie finds herself at and which Michael follows her to is the perfect locale for gruesome but innovative kills involving implements that would ordinarily be used for more altruistic purposes. Hence we find that Michael carries a scalpel rather than his ordinarily preferred butcher knife. We also get hypodermic needles inserted in eyeballs and temples and an overheated therapy pool used to fatally scold a nurse (both of these sequences were cut in different versions).

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Hypodermic needle through the temple. Nasty.

The hospital also provides a great locale for Michael to make his own private slaughter ground. The shots of him walking (never running) down the dimly lit corridors is very effective indeed (I love the fact that a deleted scene that was shown as part of the TV version of the film shows that the electricity goes out for the building but an emergency generator kicks in that uses only some of the lights. Boom! Instant moody lighting that is perfect for a horror film).

In fact, there was a lot of additional footage that didn’t make it into the film but was then seen in the TV version of the film that excised a lot of the violence but padded out the running time with trimmings that didn’t make it into the final movie.

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The emergency generator makes for perfect lighting for a horror film

Another great device that is used within this location is the building’s CCTV. Not only does Myers look very scary when captured on the monitors looking for Laurie, but he even sees where Laurie is through seeing her on the CCTV screens. They help to direct him in the right direction when he’s looking for her. Also, the CCTV monitors act as a third eye for the audience. One scene shows where Myers is headed, but a moment later it shows a nurse heading in the same direction and possibly to her doom. The CCTV has just been utilised as another way of adding suspense and tension to a scene and has just placed the viewer on the edge of his or her seat.

Halloween 2 also has some perceptive things to say about the media and how corrupt and unscrupulous they are. We see a reporter who says to a colleague to get a statement from any witnesses to Myers’ crimes. She adds that if they’re underage they will need their parent’s permission. She also adds that if they can’t get that they should get a statement anyway! As a side note, there was apparently a deleted scene in which this reporter was murdered by Myers which was maybe Rosenthal’s two fingers up to what he thought of the media.

The film also brilliantly depicts a horrific incident that has nothing to do with Michael Myers. A mother and her small son rock up to the hospital as he has bitten into something that he was given whilst trick or treating which contained a razor blade which we see is still lodged in his mouth which has blood pouring out of it. The infamous urban myth is made flesh here and also shows that there are enough dangers in the world, with or without Myers.

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The young man with a razor blade lodged in his mouth. This urban myth is made flesh in Halloween 2

Another great aspect of the film is the soundtrack that Carpenter and the great Alan Howarth would compose and perform. The score is a major part of why Halloween 2 is wayyy better than it should have been. Whilst the music for the first film was primitive, simplistic and utterly brilliant because of it, the soundtrack for Halloween 2 is the same music but with more synth, more layers and with even more of an urgency to it. In fact, I remember after I saw the film for the first time, in an issue of Empire magazine around that time (89/90), I saw an article on the Top 50 Soundtracks of All Time. They had actually included Halloween 2 and it didn’t surprise me.

Add to this that both Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis are as excellent as ever in the film (check out the chase scene when Myers finally catches up with Laurie starting with the nurse being stabbed in the back by Michael. This is an AMAZING sequence. I love the fact that they made Laurie’s POV shots blurred because of the heavy meds she’s been placed on. Also, check out the shots of Myers strolling robotically after Strode and how genuinely unsettling it is, even when he’s tackling the stairs).

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An uplifting experience. The start of the Michael/Laurie chase scene which is stunning!

Jamie Lee Curtis wears a wig for the movie. This is blatantly obvious (sorry fanboys who thought they were the only ones to have noticed this). In fact, I love the fact that in the tenser scenes the wig seems to take on a life of its own and frizzes up. It’s like the wig is acting along with the person who’s wearing it.

We also get a cameo by Nancy Loomis as her own corpse with her Sheriff father (again played by Charles Cyphers) damning the doctor who he sees as letting him out after he has seen his murdered daughter. It’s great that both actors returned to reprise their roles in the sequel instead of different actors stepping in.

Dick Warlock is a good Michael Myers but doesn’t quite nail what came before. But he gets pretty close and his depiction of Myers inhumanly walking around the hospital corridors is very chilling indeed. I can’t think of anyone doing a better job other than Nick Castle.

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Dick Warlock on set with John Carpenter. Warlock also played a cop as well as Myers in the film hence his costume

There’s also a revelation regarding why Michael might be so insistent on coming after Laurie (I’m not going to ruin things here).

All in all, you have a fantastic film. Halloween 2 isn’t as good as the original. But for a film that has the balls not just to be that film’s sequel but also to have the audacity to carry on events straight after the original has ended, it’s a damned good effort.

Whatever its shortcomings, Halloween 2 is still head and shoulders above most slasher fare and is a very dignified sequel to a horror masterpiece. In a franchise in which each new entry makes me facepalm even more and is an even bigger embarrassment to the original’s legacy, (yes I’m looking at you Halloween Kills), the entries closest to the source film are the best with only the first three films being of any interest to me or anyone who knows anything about good filmmaking. They have suspense generated brilliantly, atmosphere by the bucketload, cinematography to die for and amazing music scores to boot. Part 4 onwards are just cynically made cash cows to milk revenue from the fanboys. More kills, no suspense, nothing redeeming in any of them.

If only the Laurie and Michael plotline had ended with Halloween 2.

Halloween 2 is available now on Scream Factory. My essay on Halloween 3: Season of the Witch is here

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

I remember I actually had the poster for Halloween 4 which I seem to remember came free with either Fangoria or Gorezone which I used to buy religiously back in the day. This was way before the film would actually be released here in the UK. The poster looked so cool and I was intrigued to see what the film would be like with Mr Myers returning to the fold. The imagery of the poster was very evocative of the original film and so I was moist with anticipation.

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The first Halloween film I ever saw was Halloween 3: Season of the Witch which I loved and continue to love to this day. The fact that Myers wasn’t in the film never even occurred to me until I started to read angry fanboy reviews years later.

In fact, fans of the franchise were so incensed by Myers’ exclusion from H3 that it bombed at the box office even though it’s a great film. But this points out something very telling about horror sequels. Fanboys of the Halloween series are happy as long as a) Micheal is featured and b) he’s killings loads of people in really gory ways. And that’s it. The fanboys don’t care about a fantastic plot, a brilliant soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and amazing direction. They just want to see The Main Man killing anyone he crosses paths with.

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And this is exactly what the makers of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers sought to accomplish. And do they? Yes. The film is a series of kills with the odd reference both plotwise and through the soundtrack to the original.

But all of the dare I say, art and style of the first two films (the first especially) has been gotten rid of. Halloween 4 feels like a TV movie that feels nothing like the first two films and is instead an exercise in giving the fans what they want.

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The loose plot involves Myers being transferred to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium but disposing of the ambulance workers escorting him on his journey so that he can return to Haddonfield and wreak more havoc. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before…

The subject of his ire, in this case, is his niece Jamie who is the daughter of Laurie Strode and must be done away with because of this. And what an irritating character she is. In fact, she’s one of the most unlikeable characters I think I’ve ever had to endure in a horror film.

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Everything the Myers fans wanted from Halloween 4 was delivered on point. Everything that fans of decent, suspenseful horror movies wanted and expected after the first three Halloween movies were left disappointed.

But the film was a huge hit at the box office which is all that matters when it comes to cynical and stale filmmaking. The budget for the film was $5m (it looks like it had a budget of a fraction of that) and it made $17.8m at the box office. Kerching!

In a parallel universe, Halloween 3 made a ton of money at the box office and the Halloween franchise was reinvented as an anthology series with different stories, different and interesting characters and all of the brilliance of H3. Now, how do I get to this parallel universe?

The Halloween franchise died for me after Halloween 3. And with Halloween Kills being as abysmal as it was, it’s in rapid decline. But hey, it made lots of revenue at the box office!

Grade- E+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- Madman (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- Madman (1981)

This slasher movie starts in the most obvious seting for a film of this ilk- a campfire! We hear of Madman Marz who was a vile man by all accounts. Abusive to his family until he decides to kill them with an axe. He then casually goes to his local tavern to have a drink or ten but not before he’s placed the bloody axe on the bar. He’s then jumped by a posse of men who bury the axe in his face and attempt to hang him for his crimes. When they go to cut down his body the next day they find that it isn’t there anymore.

Three guesses where he is and that he’s still murdering people.

I watched this film on the same day that I watched another film I had heard plenty about- Pieces. How’s that for a double bill?

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My first thought on watching Madman was ‘Oh my God! That’s Gaylen Ross!’ Yes, Fran from Dawn of the Dead is one of the cast members. Why wasn’t she in more films? She’s a legend.

The other prevailing thought I had was that Madman kicks ass royally. This is far from your bland and cliched summer camp based slasher film. The kills are amazing, it’s gory as hell and the killer is fantastic.

Madman plays with the tropes of the early 80’s slasher film and feels like a breath of fresh air in much the same way as Jeff Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn. There is deft and innovative direction by Joe Giannone which places this head and shoulders above similar fare.

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Add to this an excellent and very effective electronic score by Steve Horelick and you have one hell of a ride.

Madman also went under the alternate title of Slaughterhouse.

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

Lauren Tewes stars as Jane, a Miami newsreader who suspects her neighbour of being a murderer who’s crimes she reports on with shocking regularity. She lives with her blind deaf-mute sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s first starring role).

This was another example of a film I had been meaning to watch for the longest time (since about 1989 when I read about the film in Kim Newman’s seminal book Nightmare Movies) and sought it out after one of my friends was talking about it online (see, Instagram isn’t all bad).

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And my! What a film it is! The film doesn’t shy away from the violence the women characters are subjected to. Rather than being titillating for the sicker audience members, it feels like it depicts realistic portrayals of the kind of abuse some women are subjected to. The camera doesn’t flinch away from these even though most audience members will do.

I liked how the film played with genre expectations regarding the violent episodes. The first victim Debbie asks her boyfriend to come over and this lulls viewers into thinking that this instantly makes her safe from the killer’s advances. This couldn’t be further from the truth as Stanley instead just dispatches of the boyfriend (Tom Savini carries out the special effects for this movie and as usual does an absolutely fantastic job. Debbie’s boyfriend is beheaded and his head placed in her fish tank) and then moves onto her.

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This sequence is also very perceptive as Debbie rings the police and complains about the awful abusive phone calls she has been getting from the killer. The policeman she speaks to is far from sympathetic and complains that whenever violence against women is reported and warned against on the news this creates a huge spike in abusive phone calls from other sickos. He then says he will send out a phone officer to see her but during the next day and when it’s too late! The police’s inactivity and scepticism are portrayed and are still an issue today towards women who report similar behaviour. There is a story in the news at the moment about a young woman who was being stalked and sent abusive messages which she sent to the police who failed to act. She was eventually killed by her stalker.

The film also shows how the telephone as an appliance can take on sinister connotations. A victim who is being telephoned in her office late at night can’t even get away from her stalker contacting her when she steps into a lift to go to her friend’s house for safety as there is a phone in the lift that he calls her on. The threat of the killer is shown to be omnipresent and inescapable.  Again, the film led us to believe that this would-be victim would be safe after she had arranged to leave her workplace and venture out to safety.

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A film that Eyes of a Stranger reminded me of was the TV movie written by John Carpenter in the ’70s, Someone’s Watching Me! starring Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau. Both take place in the same time period with the primary action taking place in apartment complexes. There’s an element of surveillance within both films, with Jane watching her accused’s apartment which is opposite hers and Hutton’s character doing the same in the TV movie.

One sequence that made me perch on the edge of my seat was when Jane enters Stanley’s apartment when he is out but is unaware that he is returning. The execution of this scene was expertly handled and the outcome handled with real aplomb and without any filler or unnecessary padding whatsoever.

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I also loved the scene whereby the killer meets Tracy for the first time and surmises correctly that she is deaf, blind and mute. The sequence in which he moves the objects she has placed down just out of reach is almost like some kind of gaslighting as if he wants her to question her actions and let her know that he is there. The rest of this scene is also stellar but to go into that would ruin the film’s ending which I’m not going to do!

Eyes of a Stranger is a fantastically powerful film that depicts the violence endured by women that never slips into being some kind of misogynistic or moralistic vehicle. Any woman could have fallen prey to Herbert and the full horror of this is shown even if these scenes are rightly uncomfortable to watch. A sobering thought is that as the film was being made The Yorkshire Ripper was still at large and blighting the lives of not just his female victims but ALL women as they had to adjust their lives accordingly because a woman-hating psychopath was at large and had been for several years.

Grade- B+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 24- No Place To Hide (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 24- No Place To Hide (1981)

Amy leaves her art class late at night and goes to her car. However, she then finds a man dressed all in black resplendent with a black balaclava and shades waiting for her in her backseat. She gets away but isn’t taken seriously by the police when she goes to report the incident. Apparently, the same man has been following her on previous occasions but has always gotten away. The police think she is a crank and that this mysterious man who is threatening and stalking her is a figment of her imagination.

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Soon afterwards she receives a funeral wreath from the same man. Realising that this is the first tangible piece of evidence that there is that in fact someone stalking her, she goes with her stepmother to the florists to ask who placed the order and what he looked like. The florist is amused as he says that it was her, Amy who walked in and placed the order just hours earlier.

Is Amy mad? Or is there really a man stalking and threatening to kill her?

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No Place To Hide is another example of an excellent made for TV horror movie. Tense, suspenseful and very well written not to mention perfectly acted.

In fact, it has so many twists and turns that it would make a great episode of either Tales of the Unexpected or Thriller.

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 23- The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 23- The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

A pretty faithful account of The Hillside Stranglers starring Dennis Farina as Angelo Buono and Billy Zane as Kenneth Bianchi. Richard Crenna is cop Bob Grogan who is hunting them. This made for TV movie is based on the book Two of a Kind: The Hillside Stranglers By Darcy O’Brien.

I love TV movies based on true crime cases especially those made in the 80’s ever after I saw The Deliberate Stranger starring Mark Harmon as Ted Bundy.

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This movie has chilling reverberations to the recent Sarah Everard case as it depicts the killers using a police badge to get their potential female victims’ attention so that they would go with them.

The film also has its fair share of tense moments such as Grogan’s girlfriend going to see Buono just to see what he’s like after she had discussed him with her cop boyfriend for so long. Obviously, this was a really foolhardy thing to do!

A solid TV movie.

Grade- C+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 21- The Last Shark (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 21- The Last Shark (1981)

The opening scene of this opus shows us what could almost be a kind of commercial of a windsurfer doing his thing on the water. However, suddenly he is attacked and killed by a shark. Following this, successful horror novelist Peter Benton teams up with wizened shark hunter Ron Hamer to try and find and kill the shark which could very well attack again now that it has gotten a taste for human flesh. They want to cancel the upcoming windsurfing regatta but the local mayor doesn’t want this as it may harm his election campaign for becoming the new state governor. 

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This is basically the plot of Jaws. And you’d be right for thinking that. This Italian film is a blatant Jaws copy made on a millionth of the budget of the original but herein lies something great about the film and about cult cinema in general. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss a film like this, it’s harder to dismiss that The Last Shark is also fantastic and very cheesy fun. There are great kills, a groovy soundtrack and a feel that is more reminiscent of an early 80’s Euro porn movie as well as a horror rip-off.

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In fact, the film seems to want to be a ‘homage’ (ahem) to not just Jaws but also its sequel judging by the ‘shark vs helicopter’ scene which is as genius as it is laughable. 

But whilst you may get mainstream Hollywood films that have budgets of millions of dollars and earn back much more at the box office, they may be completely soulless, forgettable and mediocre. And these are three words that could never be levelled against The Last Shark. It has character and charm coming out of every pore even if most audience members will choose to laugh at proceedings rather than fully suspending their disbelief at what is happening in the film’s running time.

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Give me this film over the myriad of boring, bland and beige Hollywood films made to run in any number of worldwide multiplexes any day of the week. 

Grade- B-