Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Opera (1987, Dario Argento)


In the grand tradition of murder and mayhem Opera stands out, even if it isn’t Argento’s best film-although I’ll take it over his animal trilogy, Inferno, and Phenomena. The main heroine, Betty (Cristina Marsillach) remains tormented during the entire movie by the famous Argento cliche: the mysterious psycho killer rampaging, horribly murdering people in unique and creative ways. Only in this case poor Betty suffers a fate worse than death: the killer takes needles and tapes them under her eyelids so that she is forced to watch the murders the killer commits. This adds to the main Argento motif of the potential victim being tortured one way or another, hunted and unable to escape.

The soundtrack is also interesting, as since the movie centers on an opera there is mostly opera music, save for jarring heavy metal songs, which are used to great effect, particularly in moments when Betty is trying to save herself from the killer. Despite this being a well crafted, freaky and haunting movie it has some limitations that prevent it from being more than just near great/very good. First, I was able guess the killer and I have not been able to do that in any of the Argento movies I’ve viewed so far. That sucks the fun out of the movie a little, although maybe its my own fault for being a lucky guesser. Second, the movie loses something in the last act and a bit of the tension falls away. Sometimes Argento’s movies don’t sustain momentum, and in a few cases the last act isn’t as strong as the first act or the middle act.

However the majority of this film is a walking nightmare, a dark journey into madness, one that relies on eerie dreams of the past and centers on a crazed murderer’s obsession with Betty, who was able to seize an opportunity at stardom. In a way this is another film where Argento deals with his career, although the meta aspects are not half as strong as they were in his best film, Tenebre. The kills in this one are also horrifying and nasty, which is another of his trademarks and which is the hallmark of his 70s and 80s films based on what I’ve seen so far, which is almost all of his work before the 1990s. Regardless no one can craft a beautiful and awful death scene like Dario Argento.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Perfect Blue (1997, Satoshi Kon)


Deciding to go from being a successful pop singer to an up and coming actress, Mima thinks that she has made the right decision, although an insane stalker doesn’t seem to think so. In fact this person is not only watching and following her, but has also created an online diary where they pretend to be Mima. Still Mima goes ahead with her plans, even though this results in the stalker escalating and even killing people, all in a plan to drive Mima insane. There is a moment where the audience is almost tricked into thinking that Mima has gone crazy, and it’s executed beautifully in a horrific and violent way. This film’s animation is fluid and stunning, another prime example of how the Japanese have quite possibly surpassed the Americans, although both have their own unique styles and contribute greatly to animation and cinema.

Another thing I love about this film is how it proceeds two other great films about talented people going crazy in Black Swan and Mullholland Drive, although Mullholland is more complex and better than either Swan or Perfect. Regardless this film builds up Mima’s descent into madness very slowly, coming to a fever pitch and at times leaving the viewer unsure of her state of mind. The last act is a walking nightmare, and what occurs is both creepy and stunning. Plus this whole business starts when Mima chooses to be a part of a moment on the TV show she’s on that leaves her disturbed and haunted, as the film showcases in close ups that reveal that her mind is damaged by the experience, even though what she went through was pretend, not real. However it also causes her stalker to drive to new heights of rage, and in a way some of this film also reminded me of Opera, too, another film where an actress is in grave danger from a homicidal admirer. Not to mention the nods to Hitchcock, as he previously featured films where the protagonist-be they male or female-thought they were going crazy.

The last act is particularly captivating, as reality and fantasy blend together in a way that is rather unhealthy. I rather liked how the film ended, and this is one of the best horror films of the 90s. The score for this also is rather great, going from the fake pop music ballads of the group Mima leaves to creepier, more horror movie style scores that underline the film’s darker moments. Perfect Blue by the final shot is a memorable and excellent experience, a kaleidoscope of colors and moments in time. In a way it also is a social commentary on how people worship celebrities, obsessing over them in unhealthy ways and not realizing that they are not myths, but actual people, flesh and blood just like anyone else.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Body Bags (1993, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis)


Lately I’ve been viewing more anthologies and enjoying them, particularly horror film ones, simply because the horror genre is often at its best in the short form. Edgar Allen Poe certainly thought so and he gave us some of the best short horror fiction. Stephen King’s Night Shift and other anthologies he’s written over the years have been mined for full length horror films based off of his creepy, much shorter tales. Body Bags is such an anthology, however it was originally meant to be a TV series on Showtime-unfortunately for us all, that never happened and all we are left with is this film, which has a typical wrap around plot and of course three ghoulish tales of murder and mayhem. Overall this is a pretty good, enjoyable feature, and considering that it involved John Carpenter (also playing the sinister narrator) and Tobe Hooper, two horror movie legends, its a shame that we only have the three stories and the one film from the project.

Emerging from hiding in a morgue, the weird looking corner stops and notices us, the viewer. He then proceeds to find body bags, obviously, and uses them to spin tales. The first such one is called “The Gas Station,” and it is the best one of the bunch. Directed by John Carpenter as is the second tale, this one centers on poor Anne (Alex Datcher), a college student who takes a job at a gas station on a lonely stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere. With a killer on the loose, no less, which makes her the typical final girl/not particularly bright heroine found in so many horror movies. What really makes this tale eerie and suspenseful is the killer, who I will not reveal here because it is a delightful twist, one that turns this story into an urban legend of sorts. You have Robert Carradine being his usual cheerful self, Wes Craven acting all odd and frumpy, and Sam Raimi in a cameo that is well, rather shocking. Also Carpenter cannot resist throwing in a reference to his 1978 classic Halloween. See if you can find the reference.

Next up is the also Carpenter directed “Hair,” which I found to be the weakest of the bunch although still decent/solid overall. This one has the best cast, with Stacy Keach as a vain man desperate to grow hair so that he can please his long suffering girlfriend, played by Sheena Easton. David Warner and Deborah Harry show up as people who offer to help, and of course they are not who they seem. The twist ending is actually rather frightening, and as a man going bald I have to wonder if maybe losing my hair instead of becoming a slave to something alive is perhaps the wiser choice. Although I’m not sure how this one fits into what the Corner says before the story…

Finally you have “Eye,” which is a frightening and tragic episode, directed by Tobe Hooper and starring Mark Hamill as a baseball player who descends into madness after receiving an eye transplant. Although some objected to this episode’s religious overtones, I rather enjoyed “Eye,” finding it to be both rather freaky and also sad, especially with how it ends. Besides one can argue that the episode was not condemning religion, although I cannot go into this further without spoiling the conclusion. Oh and look for great cameos from famous icons John Agar and Roger Corman, who play the doctors that operate on Hamill. I guess I should have recognized Twiggy as Hamill’s poor wife, too, and for some reason I didn’t.

As for the wrap around story, I am amused by how it concludes, and what it really entails. Particularly since it stars Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper and has a really good singular joke. Body Bags may or may not have resulted in a decent TV show, but perhaps it works best as a singular anthology film. Many thanks goes to my local public library and Scream Factory for the DVD release I was able to get my hands on.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Red State (2011, Kevin Smith)


Although half of this film is an action/suspense filled politically charged film, overall it is a horror movie. The film begins with a trio of young men being tricked by a religious fanatical cult in a scene that is terrifying and harrowing to witness. Michael Parks takes over this film as Reverend Abin Cooper, who preaches to a group of people that do not believe in reason or logic. Having to watch a friend of yours die because a bunch of people decided it was God’s will. Things only escalate from there, as the cult kills a local cop and draws the ire of the ATF, led by Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman). Things simply descend into chaos from there, as the ATF and the cult fight each other in a violent struggle that mirrors the violence that occurred at Ruby Ridge and Waco back in the 90s.

Despite being rather obvious with his political commentary Kevin Smith crafts another well made picture, one that in some ways is different from his other movies. This is the first horror movie he has made, and its a good one, right up with his best films and full of surprises. The ending is a bit of a letdown and not all that funny, yet the rest of the movie has some dark humor and the part where one of the boys that was kidnapped attempts to escape is tense and thrilling. Red State condemns both sides in this film, as the ATF ends up bumbling their way through the situation while the Five Points Trinity Church cult gets many of their members killed instead of surrendering in the first place and avoiding the bloodshed. Michael Parks gives a commanding performance and Goodman delivers something quieter and more insightful, especially near the end with his mediation upon the dark nature of humanity. Oh and the actual ending that Smith decided not to go with would have been far more interesting if even more outlandish than how the movie actually concluded. Huh.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Amicus Double Bill-Tales From The Crypt (1972, Freddie Francis) and The Vault of Horror (1973, Roy Ward Baker)


In the 1970s the Amicus Studio emerged as a rival to Hammer Studios, although they featured more anthology movies than Hammer Studios ever did. Thanks to my public library I was able to view two films from them in a double bill package, as these films were the result of EC Comics, although Tales From The Crypt (1972) only had two stories from those comics. Both films are quite good and really entertaining, although I prefer Tales From The Crypt over Vault Of Horror (1973), even though Vault has the better cast. Each film has ghoulish tales that focus on wicked people paying for their sins in horrible ways, all powered by the supernatural or at least suggested as being the work of some evil power. Tales From The Crypt was directed by Freddie Francis, while Vault of Horror was directed by Roy Ward Barker. Both men also did work for Hammer Studios, and Francis also famously worked on the horror classic The Innocents (1961).

Just like many anthology movies Tales From The Crypt opens with a group of people brought to a certain place by a mysterious person for reasons unclear until the end of the film. The Crypt Keeper is such a person in this case, and he tells each of the people in the group how they died. The first tale is .”..And All Through The House,” which was later featured in the Tales From The Crypt TV series and is one of the best segments in the film. The killer Santa is really creepy, and this tale is well crafted and very freaky. Easily the stuff of nightmares, and starring famous actress Joan Collins as a woman trapped by her crime and deserving of her awful punishment. “Reflections of Death” on the other hand is a tad dull, even though the twist is a good payoff. Still after following the first great segment this episode left a little to be desired.

Now “Poetic Justice” on the other hand is the top episode, and is also my favorite as well, especially since it stars legendary horror actor Peter Cushing as a nice sad old man who is ruined by a pair of horrible rich neighbors. What occurs in the end is chilling and rather gory, and a reminder that revenge is a dish best served cold. And being dead is rather cold indeed. This episode and “Reflection of Death” were both taken from the EC Tales From The Crypt comics, while “…And All Through The House” was from The Vault of Horror, another EC Comics release.

Now “Wish You Were Here” is nice and proper creepy, taking from the classic story of The Monkey’s Paw and featuring a gruesome and nasty conclusion. I rather enjoyed this one as well as “Blind Alleys,” each which featured horrible endings. “Blind Alleys” covers the cruel major who runs a home for the blind and discovers what happens when you anger the blind by cutting off their resources and driving them to seek retribution. How they manage to construct a maze of razor blade lined corridors, which reminded me of a trap from the Saw series is a tad curious, yet I suppose when one drives people to rage and anger they are capable of anything. And that a starving dog has no true master….

Overall Tales From The Crypt is a nice addition to the collection of anthologies, and makes me want to view more such films. As does The Vault of Horror, which I also liked and which I will now discuss. Unlike Freddie Francis I am currently unfamiliar with Roy Ward Baker’s work, although I imagine that its more workmanlike and less interesting than Francis’ movies. Still The Vault of Horror is another fun and well made anthology movie, although this one as noted earlier has a much better cast, particularly Tom Baker, who famously portrayed The Forth Doctor on the classic TV series Doctor Who. Also present is Curd Jurgens, who was a Bond villain in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

Unlike Tales, Vault takes place in an sub basement that five strangers have been forced to go down to, even though none of them choose it. There is no way out, and so the men drink and mention strange dreams each one has been having. Instead of a figure that brings them together these men end up in the same place all by themselves. Most of the film’s tales are from the Tales From The Crypt EC comic save for the second story, “The Neat Job”. None of the stories here are as good as the top two in Tales, although a few come rather close and overall Vault is more consistent in tone and style.

Opening with “Midnight Mess,” Vault begins as strongly as Tales did with an unsettling and eerie story. Harold tracks down his sister over an inheritance, only to discover too late that there is a reason the people do not go out at night in a quiet yet weird little town. This story has some bite to it, if you know what I mean. Followed up by the semi-weak yet still humorous “The Neat Job,” where Terry-Thomas marries a young woman and proceeds to find out that marriage is not all its really cracked up to be. Unfortunately for him, this realization happens only after he’s driven his poor wife beyond mad.

“This Trick’ll Kill You” is a bloody tale of why one does not mess with things they do not understand, as Sebastian (Curd Jurgens) and his wife played by Dawn Addams only figure out to their own horror. The morality of these tales and how people who pay the price for their misdeeds is a strong element of the EC Comics, and is present in every episode. Particularly also in “Bargain In Death,” where Michael Craig’s Maitland’s supposedly foolproof scheme results in treachery, death, and more death. Sometimes money is not worth losing one’s life, or one’s head for that matter.

Closing out the film is “Drawn and Quartered,” which stars Mr. Baker as Moore, a painter that is forced to seek revenge on three men who wronged him, one of them being played by Indiana Jones actor Denholm Elliot. Although he achieves what he set out to do, Moore forgets that there in the world of voodoo magic you must be careful that it doesn’t come back to harm you in the process. Something that the painter forgets to his detriment. The Vault of Horror is another good anthology film, and since Amicus created other anthology horror films I’m looking forward to seeing others that they have to offer. Hopefully they are as good as the two I viewed back in August.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)


Finally after a decade Wes Craven returned to the A Nightmare On Elm Street series, which he created. It resulted arguably the best film in the series in my opinion and it also served as a dress rehearsal for his popular Scream franchise. This film also saw the return of Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, only this time they played themselves in what is a meta style film about Freddy Krueger attempting to enter the real world.

Gone is the campy jokes and corny one liners-in this one Freddy is made scary again, which is a good thing. I never cared for joking Freddy and the menace that the character posses was almost ruined by some of the sequels. Plus the opening is properly gory and creepy, setting the mood for the rest of the film. Having Robert Englund play himself was also nice and there is an eerie scene where after he pops up dressed as Freddy people cheer for him. That’s a bit weird and even ghoulish to Heather as she fears the prospect of a new Freddy movie is driving her crazy.

Pushed into a final battle with an evil that is represented by Freddy, Heather deals with her son being under attack. One of the freakiest moments in this film is when Heather thinks she is witnessing multiple Freddy’s coming towards her in a busy city street. This film is the most interesting out of the series because of how it blurs the lines between reality and fiction in a strong meta sense. Despite some dated special effects and a few cheesy moments New Nightmare is a creepy and well crafted film that also did not end up being the last chapter either. That last scene did make it seem that way curiously enough. Evil is only stops when the box office grosses go down.

2014 Horrorfest Presents: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, Rachel Talalay)


This title is a lie although at the time of the film’s release it was the truth. After two decades and six movies the successful Freddy Krueger series was coming to an end. It’s strange because you don’t expect something like this to end and still you know that this is the end. Of course that turned out to not be the case. Which is a good thing since Freddy’s Dead sucks.

Too bad this was the worst installment in the series as the concept was decent. Freddy has succeeded in killing off all of the children in Springfield save for one, which is supposed to free him to kill children everywhere. This leads him to a crumbling institute for troubled kids, and a long guarded secret that finally shows up only in this movie. A secret that I really didn’t end up caring about, and which was poorly disguised for most of the movie. Worked at by the sister of Billy Zane, Lisa Zane, which is a fun bit of trivia I guess.

The creepy childless town is not properly utilized and the characters in this film are largely boring. Save for the great Yaphet Kotto who is not used enough, although I did like some of the cameos and it also stars a really young Breckin Meyer. Also the flashbacks are unnecessary since previous films covered Freddy’s backstory. Luckily for us fans this was not the last entry in the series and in my opinion it’s the only poor film out of the entire bunch.