Thursday, October 30, 2014

Alien (1979)

Alien (USA/UK, 1979) - Color, Director(s): Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 15]
Approx. 117 min.

Z-rating: 4 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

What the hell are all those lights for?

When talking about the Alien franchise, most people think of Aliens, the action-packed sequel by James Cameron. Most of the video games based on the franchise have been shooting games, so it's easy to see where the association comes from. The original is much more of a slow, atmospheric horror that takes its time building up tension. Set designs and special effects are mind-numbingly detailed and look fantastic, even by today's standards. Much of the look is due to the work of H.R. Giger who designed, among many other things, the alien creature. Anyone who's seen enough Roger Corman pictures can tell you that a set can be quickly and cheaply built to look like the interior of a space ship, but they look so realistic here that it's easy to forget you're watching a movie.

We start with the Nostromo, a commercial towing vehicle with a crew of seven people, on its way back to Earth. The crew is awakened from stasis by the ship's computer after it intercepts a transmission of unknown origin from a nearby planetoid. They're ordered by the company to investigate the source of the signal, so they land on the planetoid. A member of the team accidentally gets a face-hugger attached to his... well, face that they can't remove. Every time they try, the tail wraps tighter around his throat. When they try to cut one of its legs off, it bleeds acid that burns through 3 levels of the ship. The crew is stumped about what to do when the thing just falls off and dies. The guy whose face it was on just gets up like nothing happened, so everyone just forgets about it and they have their last meal before returning to stasis. During the meal, something bursts out of his chest and runs off. The crew goes after it but it rapidly grows to over 6 ft. tall and starts killing off the crew one after another.

This movie is often referred to as a slasher in space because the alien creature, eventually dubbed "xenomorphs" in the the sequels, stalks the crew around the spaceship like Jason stalks teenagers through the woods. There are also some false scares like when they think they found the xenomorph using a motion tracker but it turns out to be the cat. Ripley, as the final girl, is the only one who wants to follow protocol when the face-hugger is attached to the guy's face. Ultimately, she's the one who figures out that the company wanted the xenomorph, a "perfect organism" they want to weaponize, brought back even at the expense of the entire crew. 

Hug me, dammit!

Nudity: At the end of the movie, we see Ripley strip down to her panties and an undershirt. The panties are so skimpy that we see some plumber's crack when she leans forward.

Gore: There's the famous chest bursting scene, which is probably the most famous scene of the entire movie. There are also splatters of blood each time someone is killed by the creature. The part where they beat the crap out of the android and all that white, milky stuff comes out doesn't really count.

Awesome: Very. The confined setting creates a suspenseful atmosphere and the crew being so helpless is what makes it terrifying. They aren't prepared to fight this thing and can't use conventional weapons because it bleeds acid. I think this movie is a masterpiece but the action-packed sequel is what really put this franchise on the map. I have to admit that I've always preferred Aliens because it's more exciting and has more than one alien. Even though it's more of an Action/Sci-Fi film, it's still scary as shit to know they were actually prepared to fight these things and still got their ass handed to them. Alien 3 had Ripley on a prison planet where another alien is running amok, killing inmates. Also, she finds out that she has an Alien Queen growing inside of her. Alien Resurrection takes place 200 years later with a Ripley clone. Obviously, they were trying to breed the aliens and end up letting them escape. Eventually, we got two Alien Versus Predator movies that were really lackluster. Much like Freddy vs. Jason, we were promised a crossover between the two franchises for many years. There was a comic book crossover way back in 1989-1990, a bunch of toys were released during the mid-90's, but we didn't get a movie until 2004! Unlike Freddy vs. Jason though, the AVP movies did not live up to expectations and many fans were disappointed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hellrasier (1987)

Hellrasier (UK, 1987) - Color, Director(s): Clive Barker
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 94 min.

Z-rating: 5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

The Lament Configuration

Clive Barker directs this adaptation of his own novel entitled, "The Hellbound Heart." From the very beginning of the film, you know you're in for a hell of ride! A man is shown paying someone off to get his hands on a cube that turns out to be some kind of puzzle box. In the next scene, he's kneeling in a dark room lit only by the candles arranged around him in a ritualistic manner. Once opened, chains with hooks shoot out from the box and tear into his flesh as he cries out in pain. The room is suddenly transformed into a nightmarish torture chamber with chains dangling from the ceiling as creepy, gothic S&M monsters dig through his remains. A mysterious figure picks up and closes the puzzle box and all of it disappears. The entire sequence sets a creepy atmosphere for the rest of the film and is incredibly violent. There's no dialogue except for the exchange over the puzzle box but the visuals paint a powerful picture.

Frank, the man that was killed, has traveled the world in search of the ultimate sensual experience. After having experienced every sexual pleasure known to man, Frank has become jaded and seeks more extreme stimulation. During his travels, he hears rumors about something called the Lament Configuration (the puzzle box) that opens a portal to a dimension of limitless pleasures. The monsters that come through the portal, called Cenobites, are so extreme that they don't differentiate between pain and pleasure. Larry and his wife, Julia, are moving into his mother's old house. During the move, Larry cuts his hand on a nail and bleeds onto the floor of the attic. The blood revives Frank, who was killed at the beginning of the film, but he's not whole yet.

I've talked about regeneration scenes before when I reviewed Child's Play 3 and Jason Voorhees has a good one in Freddy vs. Jason but this may be the best one yet. The blood seeps through the floorboards and we see Frank's heart starts beating underneath the floor. Bones push up through the floor and his brain reforms from a pile of goo, it's one of the most disgusting regeneration scenes ever witnessed. Frank slowly regenerates over time and gets his skin last, so he's walking around with his muscles and intestines exposed. Larry's daughter, Kirsty, manages to get ahold of the puzzle box and releases the Cenobites. Frank has killed her father and taken his skin but Kirsty must now prove that Frank escaped the Cenobites and get out of the house before she is taken herself.

Nudity: We see Julia and Frank fully naked in bed together but no gentials are shown.

Gore: Some of the best I've ever seen. The scenes with the Cenobites are so gruesome, people are torn apart by their hooked chains. The Cenobites are sadomasochistic monsters that modified their bodies in horrific ways to achieve some sick level of pleasure. A lot of the effects still hold up today.

Awesome: to the MAX! This is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, it perfectly blends creepy supernatural elements with being violently gruesome gorefest. This film spawned a series that would eventually become a direct-to-video franchise. The sequel was still decent but the rest of the series strays way off course, eventually going into space and a cyber world within a video game. Doug Bradley's Cenobite is now known as Pinhead and he reprises his role in all of the sequels with the exception of the remake. Most of these sequels do not live up to the original, in fact, the remake was released just to retain the rights to the franchise. Ignoring the sequels, the original is still one of the most truly terrifying and twisted horror movies ever made.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead (Italy/USA, 1978) - Color, Director(s): George A. Romero
MPAA Rating: UR
[UK: 18]
Approx. 127 min.

Z-rating: 5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

Dawn of the Dead? Why Dawn and not Night of the Living Dead? There's absolutely no denying the monumental influence of George A. Romero's classic, Night was the birth of the modern day zombie. Before that, cinemas only featured voodoo zombies but George Romero made them undead flesh eaters. Well, I'm saving Night for something else I'm doing, so I decided to review Dawn instead.

The second film in Romero's legendary Living Dead series, Dawn of the Dead was also a hugely influential film. This was first one in the series to be in color and the first to feature special effects by Tom Savini, this movie became an international sensation. In Italy, where it was released until the alternative title Zombi, it spawned its own Italian spin-off series of zombie movies beginning with Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2. Not to mention influencing a slew of knock offs like Hong Kong's Bio-Zombie and a ton of Italian-made zombie films like Hell of the Living Dead.

Following the outbreak of undead flesh eating corpses in Night of the Living Dead, it has now become a nation-wide epidemic. A couple that works for a TV station plan to escape using the network's helicopter, meanwhile a SWAT team is raiding an apartment building where the tenants are hoarding their dead. Two members of different SWAT teams decide to join the news couple in their escape and the four are off. They fly around for awhile before finding a shopping mall to hole up in while they gather supplies. Some people have interpreted the mall setting as social satire on consumerism but it makes a great setting for a zombie movie. They eventually find a way around the mall through the heating ducts and start the painstaking process of blocking off the entrances. Once everything is finally set up, that's when the real fun begins! They get to run around the mall trying on clothes, playing games at the arcade, and going on an endless shopping spree. For awhile, it seems like the ideal situation, until a biker gang shows up to loot the place and turn everything upside down. Everything the original group worked so hard to build is left in shambles after a matter of minutes.

Nudity: None that I can think of

Gore: This movie features the early work on Tom Savini but any time that Savini is involved, you're pretty much guaranteed a ton of gore. From the very beginning of the movie, you can see how awesome the bite effects look when a zombie bites a woman in the apartment building. There's also an awesome headsplosion effect when one of the SWAT guys goes apeshit and blasts a tenant with his shotgun. Tom Savini is actually in the movie as one of the bikers, he's the one that puts the machete into the zombie's head during the mall raid.

Awesome: to the MAX! George Romero's original Living Dead trilogy are some of the best zombie movies around. You can still see the influence of these movies today. Dead Rising was a game for the Xbox 360 that paid homage specifically to Dawn of the Dead, taking place entirely in a mall during a zombie outbreak. Call of Duty: Black Ops was a first-person shooter that featured a Nazi Zombie mode. In an expansion map pack, George A. Romero himself was featured as a non-playable enemy boss character. Dawn of the Dead is also the only one of the original trilogy to be made successfully remade. The original was followed by Day of the Dead, which also featured Tom Savini's special effects. In fact, it arguably has the best special effects of any zombie movie to date. Zombies have become extremely popular in mainstream with comics, video games, movies, TV shows, events, and merchandise of all kinds devoted to them. All owing George Romero and his original Living Dead movies for inspiring what has become a sub-culture all its own.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (USA, 1982) - Color, Director(s): Tobe Hooper
MPAA Rating: PG
[UK: 15]
Approx. 114 min.

Z-rating: 5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 2 stars out of 5

Fun fact: Did you know the PG-13 rating wasn't introduced until July 1984? That would explain how this movie gets away with a PG rating despite some pretty graphic and intensely frightening scenes. Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is at the helm of this movie that's co-written and co-produced by Steven Spielberg. Due the fact that real skeletons were used as props, it is believed there is a curse associated with these films because a few people involved with this film died prematurely. There's no denying how significant this film's influence has been. The first ever Simpson's Treehouse of Horror ("Bad Dream House") episode makes a couple references to this film, the house was built on an Indian burial ground and the house implodes at the end like the one in this movie. Family Guy had an entire episode dedicated to parodying this movie (Season 4 Episode 26 - "Petergeist"). Troma Entertainment produced a movie called Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead that obviously references this movie, a fast food restaurant is built on top of an Indian burial ground that causes the spirits to manifest as chicken zombies. Scary Movie 2 also makes a few references to this movie.

Craig T. Nelson plays Steven Freeling, a real estate agent whose house was built on top of a cemetery. Now the spirits of the desecrated graves are pissed off. The disturbances start out small like chairs stacking on their own and things moving around by themselves. They actually seem pretty excited about it at first, that is until a tree breaks through the window and takes their son! While the family is busy getting the son down from the tree, their youngest daughter (Carol Anne) is sucked into another dimension through the closet. A team of parapsychologists are called in to investigate. You can tell the movie has a sense of humor when one of them is bragging about how he captured a hot wheels car moving across the floor over a span of seven hours. Craig Nelson opens the door to Carol Anne's room and everything in the room is levitating through the air. Those funny moments lull you into a false sense of security because the next thing you know, a fucking steak is crawls across the kitchen counter and a drumstick that someone was eating is suddenly infested with maggots.

Nudity: None

Gore: There's a scene where one of the paranormal investigators starts ripping his face off and we see chunks of flesh fall into the sink. Even though it's a quick scene, it's pretty disturbing.

Awesome: Very. From what I understand, the premise for this movie was based on the history of Cheesman Park in Denver, Colorado. Originally a cemetery where vagrants and criminals were buried, a crooked undertaker landed a government contract to relocate the graves when they decided to turn it into a park. Instead of ordering new coffins for the bodies, he was ordering child-sized coffins and chopping the bodies into pieces to fit. Sometimes it would take up to three child-sized coffins to fit a body. After the undertaker fled with the money, a lot of bodies were left behind. There are an estimated 2,000 bodies still buried beneath the park. Supernatural occurrences have been reported every since. This is one of the most terrifying supernatural horror movies ever made. I know someone who still refuses to watch this movie to this day because of how much it scared them as a child. Zelda Rubinstein was fantastic as the paranormal medium, she will be greatly missed. There were two sequels and a TV series that followed, none of which were as successful as the original. There's also a reboot in the works, slated for a 2015 release.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (USA, 1974) - Color, Director(s): Tobe Hooper
MPAA Rating: R
[UK: 18]
Approx. 83 min.

Z-rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5

Theaters called Grindhouses, that played mostly exploitation and violent horror movies, were becoming very popular in the 1960's and 70's. Even amongst these low budget films that emphasized sex and violence, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was considered controversial and banned in several countries following its release. Falsely promoted as a true story, this film's raw and gritty look made it feel like you were watching a crime documentary. The lack of music only helps lend realism to the horrors you're witnessing on screen. From what I understand, filming was particularly difficult because of how hot and humid it was. The crew decorated the walls of the house with drops of real animal blood from a local slaughterhouse and the floors were littered animal remains in varying levels of decomposition. Due to a lack of ventilation and the heat, the house supposedly stunk of death.

Loosely based on the murders of Ed Gein, this movie is about a group of five teenagers on a drive through Texas. More specifically the movie focuses on Sally Hardesty and her handicapped brother Franklin, who were on their way to visit their grandfather's grave. On the way, they pick up a strange hitchhiker who starts cutting himself and cutting Franklin's arm. Thinking the worst was over, they continue on their way until they accidentally stumble upon the scene of "one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history." After the slaughterhouse was shut down, one family apparently went crazy and started killing people. In one of the more disturbing scenes, Sally is tied to a chair and forced to sit at the dinner table with the family of lunatics. They taunt her and laugh sadistically at how terrified she is. All while Leatherface is wearing make up on his mask made of skin and howling like an animal.

Leatherface would go on to become one of the most popular horror icons, often credited as being one of the first masked killers in horror cinema. This film spawned four sequels and a remake that would go on to have its own sequels. The sequels would fail to capture the same level of disturbing and macabre imagery that the original had. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, also directed by Tobe Hooper over a decade later, featured some freaky new characters to fill out the crazy family. Also, Leatherface has the most batshit insane chainsaw battle with the late, great Dennis Hopper at the end. The next couple sequels weren't great but Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, which is supposed to be a sequel to the original but many consider to be a remake, did feature Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey before they were mainstream stars. There wouldn't be another movie for almost another decade until a remake breathed new life into the franchise. The remake was successful enough that a prequel to the entire franchise was made. The last film to date, Texas Chainsaw 3D, was also a direct sequel to the original.

Nudity: None

Gore: Despite not being the bloodbath the title would have you believe it is, this movie still manages to be really disturbing. Only one person is killed with a chainsaw, hardly what I consider a massacre. There is one part where they cut Sally's finger (played by Marilyn Burns) and let their decrepit old grandfather suck the blood from her finger. Supposedly, they had an effect set up that wasn't working or something, so they ended up having to cut her finger for real.

Awesome: This film is surprisingly effective despite not having a ton of gore. There are a lot of dried out corpses and bones that give the movie an eerie atmosphere. The feel of the first film is different from every other one in the franchise, the rest feel more like conventional movies. The grainy film quality and generic sounding narrator that reads the introductory text really adds to the documentary feel of the movie. This movie is really tame compared to the horror movies of today, it's hard to believe that footage had to be cut out to avoid an X rating. Tobe Hooper had originally hoped for a PG rating due to the lack of explicit gore. Still, there's no denying the influence this movie had on the horror genre, laying the foundation for slasher films like Halloween and many others. As with many of these classic franchises, there is another movie already in the works. The next one is supposed to be another prequel that will tell of Leatherface's origins.

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