With Halloween just a day away, Starpulse writer Kris King is reaching the final stages of his horror movie marathon. This week Kris gets cozy with a Good Guy doll with a "Child's Play" double feature, stands guard at the gates of Hell
in "The Sentinel," and fights off a mental assault from Nazi Alien Grasshoppers in "Quatermass and the Pit."
There are a staggering amount of famous people in "The Sentinel," and nary a one of them has a major role. When starting the movie, seeing Beverly D'Angelo impulsively masturbate towards the camera was probably the last thing I expected to see. D'Angelo's lingerie clad, oft-nude lesbian demon character is a beautiful example of "you have to start somewhere," and this movie is full of such instances. Famous faces litter the background of the film. Aside from D'Angelo, there's Jeff Goldblum, Jerry Orbach, John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger, Ava Gardner, Nana Visitor, and, of course, Richard Dreyfuss in his memorable portrayal of "Uncredited Man on Sidewalk Talking to Girl in Red Sweater."
In "The Sentinel" successful supermodel Alison (Cristina Raines) moves into a new Brooklyn Heights waterfront apartment (at $400 a month) that's owned by the Catholic Church. The church maintains the property because aside from providing stunningly affordable river-side housing, the ornate little apartment also doubles for the gateway to Hell--why they rent out rooms in that apartment defies explanation. A single blind, invalid priest has been assigned guard duty over the gate, and seems to be doing a pretty poor job considering the house is overrun by demons.
There's only one especially frightening scene in the movie. When Alison ventures into an empty apartment to investigate footsteps, a ghastly white figure with clouded, white eyes and an alien gait appears from behind a door and scurries across the apartment. I also appreciate director Michael Winner's gumption in using actual mutilated and disfigured people to stand in for demons in the film's climax. Because when I think of a demon, I think of a guy with Microcephaly.
Tom Savini's 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead doesn't depart too heavily from the source material. At its core, Savini's "Living Dead" tells the same story as the original but with major flourishes in characterization to set itself apart. The entire cast feels cranked up to 10. Ben, the mild mannered black hero from the original, is now confrontational and imposing, hapless rednecks Tom and Judy's stupidity goes through the roof, and the flustered pragmatist Cooper huffs and puffs so much that you half expect cartoon steam to start spewing out of his ears.
The biggest departure for this remake of "Living Dead" is the character Barbara (here played by Patricia Tallman). In Romero's original, Barbara practically disappears after the appearance of Ben, and becomes so scared that she renders herself invalid--hardly a paradigm of feminine fortitude. Here, Barbara does a complete 180. Not only does she become the strong headed one of the bunch ("They're so slow. We could just walk right past them"), by the end of the movie she morphs into a steely-eyed zombie killing machine. It's such an extreme reaction to the late 80s boom of gender feminism that it borders on hilarious.
Rupert Everett stars in this odd little Italian zombie comedy playing Francesco Dellamorte, a woefully bored cemetery caretaker. Dellamorte and his dense assistant deal with the daily grind of working in a creepy old cemetery. There are graves to be dug, shrubs to be cut back, and don't get him started on all those damn zombies he has to kill every night. For some unexplained reason, the dead that get buried in his cemetery have a problem staying dead, and it's up to him to make sure they don't escape and start stinking up the town.
The film picks up well into Dellamorte's tenure as caretaker, and treats capping zombies as just another dull part of every day life. Devoid of any real overarching plot, Cemetery Man feels more like a series of stand-alone vignettes. A bus full of boy scouts drives off a cliff causes a night of capping the undead little tykes, his assistant falls in love with a young girl's decapitated head, and at one point Death himself shows up and tells Dellamorte to start killing people. The plots are all over the place and all delightfully weird. Still, a lot of the humor is lost in translation. Dellamorte's assistant Gnaghi feels like he's supposed to be funny, but is more unsettling if anything. He eats with food dribbling down his chin and pukes on girls he likes. Maybe it's an Italian thing?
The importance of the character of Bernard Quatermass is routinely overlooked when it comes to British horror. Originating from early 50s BBC television serials, Quatermass played an important part in turning Hammer Pictures over to a horror production company. Without the success of Hammer's first Quatermass adaptation, "The Quatermass Xperiment" (1955), it's doubtful the company would have gone on to make the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing features "The Curse of Frankenstein," "Horror of Dracula," and the rest of Hammer's gigantic catalog of edgy horror pictures.
"Quatermass and the Pit" is the last of Hammer's Quatermass pictures, and is based on the most popular of the character's television serials. When a group of construction workers stumble upon ancient humanoid fossils and what appears to be an unexploded German bomb, Professor Quatermass is called in to investigate the strange object. Intrigued by the area's history of paranormal activity, Quatermass discovers that the object, and its alien origin, is not only the root for all of the spooky apparitions in the area, but also contains the secret for the genesis of the human race.
You see, it turns out that we're the product of a genetic experiment conducted by Evil Nazi Grasshoppers from Mars. When their world became ravaged by war and genocide, the Evil Nazi Grasshoppers from Mars began abducting early primates from the nascent Earth and altered their genes to make them smarter and more apt to evolve. Our Martian insect creators also imbedded in us their legacy of hatred, violence and tendency for race hate that ruined their civilization.
As silly as it sounds (and looks, British sci-fi isn't well known for its cutting edge special effects), "Quatermass and the Pit" makes for pretty interesting horror-tinged sci-fi. The idea that the Holocaust and every other human created tragedy that occurred throughout history stems from an extinct civilization of morally challenged insects has an odd sort of depth to it. It roots supernatural phenomenon, psychic visions and even the iconic image of the horned devil all back to the psychic imprint left by the insects' mental meddling. In the end, though, it all gets to be a bit too much. By the time a giant silhouette of the insect devil appears over London and gets defeated by a construction crane, it's easy to lose track of just what the hell is going on.
Argento's early giallo movies rely just as much on mystery as they do shock and horror. They're a combination of a pulp novel and a particularly nasty slasher film. Argento, as well as Mario Bava and Lucio Fulchi, defined this subgenre in the mid-seventies before moving on to more traditional horror fair. Whispers of Argento's ability to build nightmarish visions using bizarre camerawork, vibrant colors and prominent score, like in his masterpiece "Suspiria," are evident in "Deep Red." But despite the grizzly murders and a swaggeringly funky score by frequent Argento collaborator Goblin, "Deep Red" suffers from being, well, really boring.
The mystery in "Deep Red" lacks coherence and most of the time is spent tracing down clues that turn out to be nothing more than red herrings. Since the movie only offers up a few concrete clues (the killer wears a lot of eye liner!), after a while you just start to suspect everyone that wears eye-liner. The lack of clues gives the movie a drifting quality, as if it doesn't know what to do between the murder scenes--which is odd considering lead actor David Hemmings does just as much aimless wandering in Michelangelo Antonioni's murder mystery "Blow Up" to no ill effect.
The best bit of intrigue in the movie comes after the killer boils a woman's face in the bathtub (I said it was violent), and as she's dying, writes a message in the condensation on the wall. In typical fashion with the rest of the movie, when the woman's clue finally gets revealed, it turns out she only got a chance to write "The Killer is…" before dying. Thanks for that, movie.
"The Stepfather" is the rare slasher film that actually gets under critics' skins. Like George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," "The Stepfather" skirts by critical radars by offering up a sharp social commentary. Released just months after the Iran-Contra affair shook Reagan's America to its core; "The Stepfather" takes jabs at the era's unattainable ideals on the family. The film follows Jerry Blake (Terry O'Quinn, looking remarkably un-Locke-from-"Lost"-like sporting a full head of hair) and his homicidal quest to find the perfect home life. Blake spends his life hopping from one marriage to the next, eagerly setting up a new life and family only to brutally bring it crashing down when his new family inevitably disappoints his "Father Knows Best" ideals.
The film opens during the aftermath of Blake's last attempt at a family in his identity of Henry Morrsison, an innocuous bearded flannel-wearer. Morrison walks into the bathroom drenched in blood and coolly strips off his clothes, showers and trims his shabby hair. When he clears the steam from the mirror, Morrison has undergone a complete transformation and clean-cut, suit wearing real estate agent Blake stands in his place.
NSFW on account of Terry O'Quinn's junk:
While the movie ultimately falls into generic slasher trends, with Blake chasing his barely-clothed teenage step-daughter around the house with a kitchen knife, the film is at its best, and most affecting, when quietly dealing with Blake's shattered psyche. He's transformed himself so many times that he hardly seems able to keep track of who he is anymore, and this bubbles to the surface in a chilling scene when his current wife (former Charlie's Angel Shelly Hack) starts asking too many questions. The questions throw him off and he becomes confused, calling himself the wrong name, forcing him to pause to ask himself "Wait a minute, who am I here?"
Then he beats his wife with a telephone and throws her down the stairs.
The relationship between "Child's Play" and "Child's Play 2" follows the established trend for horror franchises note for note. The first film is the relatively slow, modest film with creepy scenes that genuinely tries to trick the audience into thinking the little boy is crazy. The second is the funny one with all the ridiculous violence and one-liners. It's almost as if the writers of the first film thought "Hey, a killer doll, that's scary!" and then, two years later changed their minds with a "Jesus Christ, a killer doll? What were we thinking?" "Child's Play 2" doesn't reach the self-referential lows of "Bride" and "Seed of Chucky," but there's a distinct departure in tone in the sequel which, while not as unsettling as the first, makes for a decent, if not terribly stupid splatter film.
One common trait the two films do share is their hilariously protracted endings. Most horror movies rely on a trick ending where the KILLER ISN'T REALLY DEAD, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, but the "Child's Play" movies play this card two or three a piece. It's as if the filmmakers couldn't decide the best way to kill Chucky, so they took their three best ideas and just did all of them. In the first Chucky gets burned, shot to pieces, and shot through the heart, and in the sequel, he's melted, covered in molten plastic and then blown up. It almost makes you wonder if you can make an entire movie out of false climaxes. "Phew, glad that's over with, NOOOO, *repeat for 80 minutes*"