The Silver Bullet ~ It (2017)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnCdOQsX5kc

Synopsis: In a small town of Derry, Maine, seven children come face to face with life problems, bullies and a monster that takes the shape of a clown called Pennywise.

Release Date:  September 8, 2017

Thoughts: Back in the day when adaptations of novels were all the rage on network television (RIP: The Mini-Series), I remember looking forward to the 1990 multi-night experience of watching Stephen King’s It.  Quickly becoming a popular nightmare calling card for clowns everywhere, the series was a smash but hasn’t exactly held up on repeated viewings.  Watching it just a few years ago, I was struck by just how far fond nostalgia can take you.  It was just…not great.

Flash forward 27 years and after numerous false starts and various directors, a big screen version of King’s classic is floating into your local cinema.  King’s novel bounces between the past and the present and rumor is that this film is only going to be focused on the story taking place in the past.  I’d always found that the most interesting part of the tale anyway and appreciate the filmmakers not biting off more than they can chew.

We all know that any crap movie can be edited to look like a winner but I’m hoping that It is truly as scary good as it looks.  Directed by Andy Muschietti (who helmed the nifty Mama), King has already given his blessing to the final product – an early stamp of approval from an important source.

31 Days to Scare ~ Carrie (1976)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young, abused and timid 17-year-old girl discovers she has telekinesis, and gets pushed to the limit on the night of her school’s prom by a humiliating prank.

Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta, Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, P.J. Soles

Director: Brian De Palma

Rated: R

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Original Release Date: November 3, 1976

Review: Carrie is one of those movies I think I’ve seen a whole lot more than I actually have. I know it’s on TV a lot and I’ve even started watching it on BluRay a few times only to get distracted fifteen minutes in, never to return. So when my scaredey-cat companion agreed to let me tutor him in the ways of horror I decided that Carrie was a good place to start. After all, though the film rests on the horror shelf in between Cabin in the Woods and The Changeling, it’s not your typical exploitation/slasher effort.

Watched as the second film of a prom themed evening (the first being, naturally, Prom Night which liberally borrows a few characters/scenes from Carrie) I finally saw the whole film again and was impressed that it’s held up so well almost 40 years after it was first released. Maybe that’s because the central theme of alienation still has an impact in this day and age of cyber bullying and everyone’s base desire to fit in with their peers.

Also, it’s damn frightening. Director Brian De Palma (Passion) was just starting to refine his filmmaking style, bridging the gap between black comedy and outright horror. From the icky mystery surrounding 1973’s Sisters to the whacked-out camp musical Phantom of the Paradise in 1974 and peaking with 1976’s very Hitchcock-y Obsession, Carrie represented a major step forward for the director. His split screens and distinct framing are all on display here, albeit less emphatically used than they would be in his later work.

Adapted from Stephen King’s novel published just two years prior, certain liberties with the plot were taken that remakes on TV and the big screen tried unsuccessfully to fix and I’m of the mind that De Palma’s Carrie remains the most bang for your buck-ish.

This is thanks in no small part to one of the best casts you’re likely to find in a horror film. From the wicked delights of mean girls Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, and P.J. Soles (Halloween) to the hunky boy toys of John Travolta (Savages) and William Katt, De Palma may not have filled his tale with actors that were believably in high school, but all leave a lasting impression on the viewer. Good too is Broadway belter Betty Buckley as a kindly gym teacher that becomes a mother figure to Carrie (Sissy Spacek) who is otherwise being cared for by her religious zealot mama (Piper Laurie) in their small quaint home.

Ah Spacek and Laurie. Rightfully Oscar-nominated for their roles the two actresses have several whopper scenes together with Laurie truly relishing in the chance to gnash her teeth on the handsome scenery. The film belongs to Spacek, though, and your heart aches for her when she’s humiliated at two of her most vulnerable moments. The product of a mother that seems to fear her own daughter as much as she fears God, the young girl with the power to move things with her mind recognizes she has a gift that needs to be controlled…but when she’s pushed over the edge on prom night all hell breaks loose.

The prom sequence is a textbook example of the perfect marriage of style, cinematography, performance, and sounds as De Palma stages an unfolding nightmare with nail-biting visuals. Aided by Pino Donaggio’s icy score, Mario Tosi’s rich lensing of a series of carefully timed events, and Spacek’s wide-eyed possession my socks were truly knocked off that after all these years and viewings I could still be so terrified. And it doesn’t stop there…after the prom the frights are still coming leading to two climaxes that I’m sure had audiences crawling up the walls in 1976.

It’s a truly effective film, one of the best the genre has to offer. If you’re like me and think you’ve seen Carrie before, fire it up again because you may have forgotten how good it really is.

Down From the Shelf ~ The Dead Zone

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A man awakens from a coma to discover he has a psychic detective ability.

Stars: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen, Herbert Lom

Director: David Cronenberg

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I find it difficult to think back to a time when films made from Stephen King novels weren’t saturating the cineplexes.  For a while, the author’s novels were brought to the screen with frightening regularity…even if more than a few of the books and short stories didn’t exactly lend themselves well to the big screen treatment.  Still, for every turkey like The Lawnmower Man and Thinner audiences struggled through there were a healthy dose of winners.  Even though it’s not exactly what you’d expect from a King novel, The Dead Zone remains a qualified success thirty years after it opened.

Released in 1983 (the same year as Cujo and Christine), The Dead Zone is more thriller than horror with a strangely episodic nature for a genre film.  It’s no wonder the source material was turned into a successful Canadian television series for several years because it’s easy to see how King’s general set-up (man wakes from a coma to discover he has psychic powers) could lend itself well to weekly self-contained storylines.

Opening with Michael Kamen’s haunting score over picturesque views of the small New England town the film takes place in, it’s not long before quiet schoolteacher John Smith (Christopher Walken, A View to a Kill) meets the business end of a runaway semi and winds up in a five year coma.  Awakening to a changed world, he has to adjust to a life that’s moved on from him.  His girlfriend (an underused Brooke Adams, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) has married and had a child so there’s not a lot John has to live for or look forward to even though he now possesses a powerful gift of second sight.

It’s in these first forty-five minutes that The Dead Zone really makes its mark on the audience.  There are several chilling scenes of John foreseeing danger coupled with his sadness knowing what awful things await his loved ones.  Director David Cronenberg (A Dangerous Method) isn’t afraid to take time with our introduction to the characters, only to rush through the final hour of the film with several storylines that feel like a mash-up of scripts intended for sequels.

These storylines involve John helping a local sheriff catch a rather benign serial killer, his tutoring of a young boy with a sinister father, and his crossing paths with a rising political candidate (Martin Sheen) John knows has dangerous ulterior motives.  Screenwriter Jeffrey Boam manages to overlap these threads believably but none of them wind up feeling fully thought out or adequately resolved.

Though it may not have the true horror aspects associated with King, The Dead Zone does manage to maintain its momentum, however fractured the narrative continues to become as the film progresses.  It’s not concerned with the blood and guts that make up the flashier later adaptations but wants to look more into the psyche of the characters.  For that, I find it one of the best adaptations of King’s work to date featuring fine performances and appealing production values.  Worth revisiting.

In Praise of Teasers ~ Misery (1990)

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I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately.  It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtely of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it alot.  So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them.  Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.


Misery (1990)

My dad was cool for many reasons, not the least of which was that he’d gladly take me to most any film as long as I’d steal, ahem, BORROW the salt from the concession stand so he wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the movie for a light re-dusting of his popcorn.  I vividly remember seeing Misery at Centennial Lakes 8 in Bloomington on a Wednesday evening and even as a 10 year old I knew it was the blackest of black comedies.

While a later trailer fell into the trap of providing perhaps too many details, this ultra brief teaser for Misery, like the teaser poster, gives you precious little information about the movie itself and instead focuses on the people behind the scenes.  Those familiar with Stephen King’s novel knew the dark tale of an obsessed fan imprisoning her favorite bestselling author would provide the thrills, but who could have predicted that Kathy Bates (Titanic) would win an Oscar for her role as a benign caregiver that slowly shows how unhinged she can become when crossed.  Don’t forget the important work of James Caan or director Rob Reiner (The Magic of Belle Isle) either…

Miss yesterday?  Check out my look at the teaser for Alien!

31 Days to Scare ~ Carrie (2013)

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The Facts:  

Synopsis: A reimagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White, a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother, who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom.

Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort

Director: Kimberly Peirce

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here & Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Here’s the cold bloody truth about this remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Stephen King’s book…it’s just totally unnecessary.  Now I’m not crazy about remakes in general, especially when they’re taking a film that was already well-respected to begin with – so the question must be “What will a new take on the film bring to the table?” 

When director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) was asked this question the answer seemed to be that her vision of King’s novel would follow the book more.  That’s a valid argument and we’ve certainly seen that King’s work can be interpreted different ways…one need only watch Stanley Kubrick’s big screen treatment of The Shining and compare it to the more faithful (but less interesting) television miniseries to see that the material lends itself to reinvention.

Knowing this, I still had reservations about seeing a new version of King’s famous story about a shy girl with a zealot for a mother that enacts a furious vengeance on her high school tormentors.  I just didn’t see any point to it…could Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass 2, Dark Shadows) have that same vulnerability Sissy Spacek so wonderfully tapped into?  Would Julianne Moore (Don Jon, Non-Stop) chow down on the role of Carrie’s fanatical mother with the same glee that Piper Laurie took?  And what of the final denouement at Carrie’s prom…without the benefit of De Palma’s use of split screen and Pino Donaggio’s tingling score could it have that same terrifying impact?

Sadly…this remake lives totally in the shadow of the original and doesn’t do itself any favors by not taking the kind of risks that Peirce seemed to promise.  While Moretz’s take on Carrie is less simpleton than Spacek’s, I have a continued desire to shout “Stop mumbling” whenever she’s on screen.  Kudos goes to Moore for going all the way with the crazed mama role, though Laurie ultimately remains the victor only because her mania was always simmering rather than boiling, though I have to say that Moore was probably the only choice for the role the way screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa have fashioned her.

Then again, I found myself at times wondering what I would have thought of the film if it hadn’t been a remake.  I’d have nothing to compare it to so it would have wound up being another high school set thriller with a decidedly interesting edge.  So it’s not so much that the film is bad, because with its unusually strong performances (including Portia Doubleday as queen bee Chris and Gabriella Wilde, Endless Love, as sensitive Sue) and controlled style it’s a perfectly decent, if uninspired, effort.

The other big problem is that the majority of the audiences know how it’s going to end.  That’s not just because they’ve  seen the original because I’d bet the majority of the young audiences won’t even know films existed before 1990, but because the trailers and posters have showed our young star bathed in blood and not enjoying her prom in the least.  In De Palma’s version, Carrie’s destruction of the prom was truly frightening as she has a mental break and uses her telekinetic powers to ensure no one gets lucky.  With Spacek’s wide-eyes peeking out from a blood streaked face, all she had to do was move her eyes and De Palma’s split screen showed the result.  No such invention is used here and that results in Carrie’s vengeance coming across as more calculated and decision-oriented.  Spacek simply lost it, Moretz is in control…and that changes our allegiances in some way.

In the grand scheme of things, this remake is not the worst that could befall an adaptation of a Stephen King novel (coughcoughTheLawnmowerMancoughcough) but I just wish that if they HAD to remake it…they had done it with a greater conviction and purpose.

Movie Review ~ Room 237

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A subjective documentary that explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  The film may be over 30 years old but it continues to inspire debate, speculation, and mystery.

Stars: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner

Director: Rodney Ascher

Rated: NR

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  At one point in the “subjective” documentary Room 237 one of the unseen commentators qualifies his theory regarding Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film The Shining by stating “I may be grasping at straws here” – a not so off the mark statement.

The majority of this entertainingly watchable but ultimately far-fetched examination of the various conspiracy theories surrounding the movie version of Stephen King’s novel is focused on obsessive minutiae that the casual movie-goer won’t notice.  That’s not to say you’re going to need a film degree to appreciate what director Ascher has complied here, but even the most dedicated Kubrick/Shining fan may have their work cut out for them as five points of view surrounding hidden meanings behind the carpet, costumes, setting, food cans, and so much more  that are used in the film are explored.

Released in 1980 to disappointingly mixed reviews considering the caliber of talent involved, The Shining has grown in popularity over the years and its with repeated viewings that some of the true genius of director Kubrick’s vision emerges.  What on the surface looks to be a standard horror yarn surrounding a family taking care of an isolated inn over a chilly winter and the various evils they encounter could really be about the genocide of the American Indians, or the holocaust, or a thinly veiled confession by its director that he helped fake the footage of the Apollo moon landings.

At least that’s a few of the ideas the five individual theorists put forth over the brisk running length of the documentary.  It’s a classic case of seeing what you want to see in the images displayed and I can’t disagree that some of what it presented makes a lot of sense when you ponder on who was behind it all.  Kubrick was notorious for his obsession with the smallest detail in his films so when its pointed out that props disappear or change color from one shot to the next it’s worth thinking it over because something so glaring is clearly intentional – but what does it all mean?

It’s when the movie goes into theories that involve looking at the film frame by frame that the documentary gets a bit thin in the supporting information.  True, some of the extra long dissolves from one scene to the next have definite cinematic clues in them but claiming that one freeze fame shot makes a file inbox look like a phallus may raise your eyebrow in a “give me a break” arch.

Agreeing or disagreeing with the theories aside, I can’t imagine anyone watching this documentary and not having a strong urge to revisit the source material again right away.  You won’t be able to view The Shining the same way again once you’ve learned about the set-up of the Overlook Inn (with its impossible windows and contradictory lay-out) or the poorly hidden (when pointed out) references to the Apollo 11 mission.

Ascher plays these carefully edited interviews over even more carefully edited footage from not only The Shining but every Stanley Kubrick film released (save for some of his short films) in addition to other Hollywood films that help the story. It’s a remarkable compilation of clips, animations, diagrams, models, and a few recreations that help tell the story and illustrate the theories presented.

The Shining is a film I’ve learned to appreciate as the years go by and Room 237 adds another layer of interest to viewers both new and old alike.  Though I thought a hefty portion of the theories read way too far into what Kubrick was presenting, it’s hard to deny that Room 237 is a fascinatingly obsessive look into a film crafted by a fascinatingly obsessive filmmaker.

31 Days to Scare ~ Cat’s Eye

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A stray cat is the linking element of three tales of suspense and horror.

Stars: Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Robert Hays, Candy Clark, James Naughton, Alan King

Director: Lewis Teague

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:

Stretching back to The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and even Alfred Hitchcock Presents, anthology series have been a popular medium for bigger name stars to lend their talents without making a huge commitment of a full length series.  As anthology horror moved from the small screen to the big screen, the rules didn’t change but the limitations did.  Now, free from network censors, these anthology series could be bloodier and bolder as they devised new ways of making us scream.

In 1985 there was no horror writer more popular than Stephen King and many of his novels had been turned into films.  For the rest of the decade and onward every inch of King’s horror tomes would be ransacked and produced as feature films, television movies, or the occasional mini-series.  What makes Cat’s Eye unique, then, is that it was written expressly for the screen by King himself.  No writer adapted King’s often complex source novel and made it fit into a traditional cinematic structure so it was up to King to craft tales that would scare us into submission.

The resulting film was not quite what most people had in mind but still is recommended as an interesting product of the time and talent involved.  While none of the tales are particularly scary, King has at least put forth three stories that are watchable and tied together in quaint and clever fashion.  Using a wiley (and well-trained!) cat to weave the various tales together, King and director Lewis Teague (who also helmed King’s Cujo) start things off with several clever nods to previous King films.  No less than five references are made in the opening moments alone and it’s a nice reward for King fans.

As for the tales of semi-terror themselves, well…they are a mixed bag.  The first tale involves Woods as a smoker that finds a new method of quitting isn’t quite what he (or his family) bargained for.  Woods and especially Alan King (no relation) are a hoot here and Woods is suited perfectly to his jittery role.  The second story follows that time-honored plotline of a jealous husband inflicting his rage on his adulterous wife and her lover.  I can’t quite look at Hays without thinking of Airplane!, though.  The last tale features Barrymore and the cat as they battle a nasty creature that lives in her wall.  Barrymore actually is featured in several recurring roles throughout the film…which, like the cat, makes for an unusual through-line.  All are pretty standard fare that is elevated by King’s nice use of wordplay and not relying on monsters and ghouls.  By being grounded in a semi-reality, the unnerving nature of several passages hit their mark and hit them well.

The main drawback to these types of films is that in their efficiency of storytelling, something can be lost.  I never felt truly invested in any story…at least I wasn’t given enough time to feel like I could be drawn in.  I knew the clock was ticking and that a wrap-up was just around the corner.  Nothing really was unexpected because I knew there was no time to throw any major twists in. 

Still, Cat’s Eye was a film I passed up for too long (like Wolfen) and am glad I finally had the chance to see.  It’s a compact movie that provides the entertainment to satiate a rainy day need for light scares but may not be the full meal that gore hounds or rabid King fans crave.