The Fog (1980)

The Fog

Directed by John Carpenter [Other horror films: Halloween (1978), Someone’s Watching Me! (1978), The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), Body Bags (1993, segments ‘The Gas Station’ & ‘Hair’), In the Mouth of Madness (1994), Village of the Damned (1995), Vampires (1998), Ghosts of Mars (2001), The Ward (2010)]

John Carpenter’s Halloween is a true classic, and one of my favorite horror flicks of all time. The Fog is not far behind.

An almost flawless movie, there’s very little to gripe about when talking about The Fog. The score is fantastic, there’s a plethora of great actors and actresses, you get a fun story, great visuals, and often a feeling of claustrophobic suspense.

It’s amazing how well-done some of Carpenter’s early horror work is (Halloween being his first horror movie, and The Fog being his third, the television film Someone’s Watching Me! popping up between them). This film had an atmosphere to kill for, and the score ranks up there with the Halloween theme as one of the creepiest scores around.

Of course, the highest awards, as far as the cast goes, are awarded to Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Tom Atkins. Barbeau hadn’t really done horror before this (she was in two television horror films, one being the aforementioned Someone’s Watching Me! and the other being The Darker Side of Terror), but she does wonderfully here. Her silky voice is certainly soothing and memorable, and just as memorable, her line, “There’s something in the fog.” Always a chilling scene.

Curtis, of course, was in Halloween (and in 1980, not only was she in this movie, but also appeared in both Prom Night and Terror Train), and does pretty fair here, though it’s worth noting her character doesn’t really have that much to do. Still, she’s a nice presence. As for Atkins (aside from this one, his biggest additions to the genre are Halloween III, Night of the Creeps, and Maniac Cop), his persona is fun, and again, while he’s not all that consequential to the plot, it’s still enjoyable seeing him run around trying to save people from the fog.

Even some of the smaller actors and actresses stand out, though. Janet Leigh (from, of course, Psycho) did her character extremely well, and despite never having much screen-time, was always a pleasure to behold. Nancy Loomis (also from the first three Halloween’s) got some good lines in, playing Leigh’s sardonic assistant. And Hal Holbrook (who I recognize most from the fantastic, yet underrated, Rituals from 1977, along with a few appearances in The West Wing) does beautifully as the often-drunk Father Malone.

Much like Halloween, gore wasn’t this movie’s strong point, but then again, it really didn’t need it. The atmosphere alone is worth much applause. The slow, creeping fog covering the whole of Antonio Bay is always good fun to view. Combine that with the score, and the lack of gore goes by pretty much unnoticed.

Really, aside from a few of the characters not having much to do, I’m having difficulty finding flaws to this movie. From the atmosphere to the acting, most everything about this movie is solid. Even the story is decently fun. Seen this plenty of times before, and I’ll see it plenty of times in the future.

9.5/10

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Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009)

Cabin Fever 2

Directed by Ti West [Other horror films: The Roost (2005), Trigger Man (2007), The House of the Devil (2009), The Innkeepers (2011), V/H/S (2012, segment ‘Second Honeymoon’), The ABCs of Death (2012, segment ‘M is for Miscarriage’), The Sacrament (2013)]

I sort of wanted to like this movie, if for no other reason, to erase the taste of the first from my mouth. But while this movie had some pretty decent effects and disgustingly heavy gore, I felt extraordinarily lukewarm toward it as the credits began to roll.

Let’s get the good out of the way, which won’t take too long. I liked both Noah Segan and Alexi Wasser in their roles. I thought they played a cute couple, despite not really being a couple until perhaps the end. Neither one has been in much I’ve particularly seen, but they did well here with what they had. The idea behind the film, in which contaminated water spreads the skin-eating disease past the perimeters of the original, was fun. I just don’t think it was executed well.

Lastly, the gore was moderately top-notch. There were too scenes that were frankly difficult to stomach (keywords being “fingernail” and “dick”), and though I felt repulsed, I can’t deny those scenes’ efficacy. The problem is, I expected a bit more during the prom sequence. Sure, every other person was throwing up blood, but come on, that’s it? No body parts falling off? No grisly face melts? It just felt toned down, which could probably be explained by the fact they hadn’t been exposed to the disease long enough for those extreme effects to be seen, but even so, it was disappointing.

Also disappointing was the pretty unexciting first half of the movie. I don’t mind a little high school drama, but come on, get to something good. Occasionally showing us the party cop from the first movie investigating doesn’t do it for me. And while we’re at it, I was pretty disappointed in Giuseppe Andrews’ story-line in the movie. I was hoping for some type of redemption from his actions in the first, but instead, he sort of goes nowhere.

Speaking of useless sequences, though, the final ten minutes, starting in the strip club, didn’t strike me as necessary at all. What did we learn from that? The disease is spreading still? As if that was supposed to take us by surprise…

The animated beginning and ending was sort of interesting, but this movie didn’t do much at all for me. I was hoping (though not seriously expecting) a more serious tone, but again, it wasn’t to be. Did I enjoy Spring Fever more than the first movie? Probably, yes, but it’s not by much, and much like the first movie, I really can’t see myself deciding to give this one a re-watch for the enjoyment of it.

5/10

The Devil’s Candy (2015)

Devils Candy

Directed by Sean Byrne [Other horror films: The Loved Ones (2009)]

This is a simple, digestible, yet highly intense and enjoyable, horror flick.

Directed by Sean Byrne (his first full-length movie being 2009’s The Loved Ones, another very solid movie), The Devil’s Candy is pretty straight and to the point, with a moderately short run-time and not all that many characters to play around with. Luckily, this low-fi approach doesn’t much hinder the movie, and in fact, makes the whole thing play out much more intense than I suspect it otherwise would have.

Music, be it heavy metal or deafening ambient, is used to fantastic effect throughout the film. Early on, the metal that daughter Zooey (played by Kiara Glasco) and her father, Jesse (Ethan Embry) bond over really humanizes them as characters, and who can’t help but smile at the mother’s (Shiri Appleby) amusement at the scene? It’s a good way to introduce the main characters of the film, and I think it gives them strong characterization from the off-set. Heavy ambiance is used to additional fantastic effect, especially toward the end – a loud boom, a few seconds pause, another loud boom. That alone assisted in ratcheting up the intensity.

And make no mistake, this movie is intense. While not all that gory, The Devil’s Candy certainly possesses a brutality to it, but also isn’t afraid to throw in some subtle, uncomfortable scenes. Much of the success of this is due to the actor’s fantastic performances.

Ethan Embry and Shiri Appleby both do a really good job, especially Embry during his more intense scenes when he’s spaced out. While both are solid, though, despite not having played all that many noteworthy roles, the true stars are both Kiara Glasco and Pruitt Taylor Vince. Glasco has had some roles in a few television shows (Bitten and Copper, though I’ve seen neither one), and does amazingly here, as we feel her urgency and desperation toward the end. She’s a lovable kid, her love of metal fun, and is a very memorable character. Glasco did very well with her portrayal. Vince is a known quantity, perhaps best known for his role in 2003’s Identity, and here, he’s appropriately creepy, menacing, and brutal.

What helps The Devil’s Candy out the most is the solid cast, and because that cast does so well, what on the surface might seem a simple movie is really an intense ride from start to finish. Because it’s a bit on the shorter side, nothing seems out of place or slow, and everything is paced well. Like I said, it’s a digestible movie that deserves all the praise it can get. One of the best horror movies I’ve seen from the last five years or so.

9/10

The Man Who Laughs (1928)

man laugh

Directed by Paul Leni [Other horror films: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924), The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Last Warning (1929)]

Directed by Paul Leni, The Man Who Laughs is a masterfully moody, occasionally tragic, piece of melodrama, with a few spices of horror thrown in.

The historical nature of the plot did the movie well, as the set pieces and costumes all looked rather authentic. The brooding nature of the story was well-done too, helped by the score, which, while not perfect, felt as though it could have been the score when first this movie came out, over ninety years ago.

It’s the actors who should get the most accolades, though; Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin, Brandon Hurst, Cesare Gravina, and George Siegmann all make this movie a film well worth watching.

Veidt, by this point, may need no introduction. He was in a plethora of silent horror classics, including Furcht (or Fear, from 1917), Unheimliche Geschichten (Eerie Tales, 1919), Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac, 1924), Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks, 1924), Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, 1926), and The Last Performance (from 1929). That’s not even counting the unfortunately-lost Der Januskopf (The Head of Janus, 1920), which was an unauthorized version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (much like Nosferatu was to Dracula).

Conrad Veidt got around, and it’s clear, from this movie, to see how. He possessed an extraordinarily emotional range, and his character, the tragic figure of Gwynplaine, was very well-acted. Throughout the film, Veidt’s performance is truly a treat to watch.

Philbin wasn’t in all that many films, but she did co-star in the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, with Lon Chaney, and again, with Veidt, in the 1929 The Last Performance. Here, she plays a beautiful blind woman, named Dea, who is deeply in love with Gwynplaine, despite never having seen his disfigured face. Playing her role convincingly, Philbin stood out strong.

Brandon Hurst, who had small roles in various early horror flicks (such as 1932’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1920’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and 1932’s White Zombie) gets credit for playing one of the slimiest silent characters with his portrayal of Barkilphedro. Sinister, yet suave, Hurst did well in showing the sleaziness of his character throughout the whole of the film, and from his very first scene, you can’t help but hold Barkilphedro in abhorrence.

Gravina isn’t much known outside of this movie. He had a few uncredited roles in classics like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera (1923 and 1925), and mainly dabbled in early Italian shorts. Here, he doesn’t get a whole lot of screen-time, but during one scene in particular, his performance broke my heart. Such sad, moving scene generally aren’t what I’d expect from silent films, but that one just killed me.

Siegmann, who I spoke about also in my review for The Cat and the Canary, isn’t that big a name insofar as horror is concerned, though he did appear in the 1909 short The Sealed Room and 1914’s The Avenging Conscience. Here, he played Dr. Hardquanonne, a rather sadistic individual who disfigured Gwynplaine. I wish that he got more screen-time than he did, because like Hurst, he was a dark force to be reckoned with, but still, this being his final role before his early death, Siegmann did quite well.

The cast of this movie is amazing, and the film, as a whole, is an atmospheric, moody piece of art. While it would be unfair to call it a horror film in the purest definition, The Man Who Laughs is a dark classic, and while the ending is not nearly as tragic as one might expect, there are plenty of sad scenes throughout. I didn’t really appreciate this when I first saw it, and even now, it makes a better drama film than a horror film, without a doubt, but even so, this Leni classic is one that any movie fan should look out for.

8.5/10

Satan’s School for Girls (2000)

Satan's School for Girls

Directed by Christopher Leitch [Other horror films: I’ve Been Waiting for You (1998), Secrets in the Walls (2010)]

This television movie is a remake of a 1973 television movie of the same name. In fact, the Dean of the college in this movie is played by Kate Jackson, who played a girl in the original version. I’m suspecting, by-and-large, that the only reason they chose to remake a Satanic 70’s television movie was due to the moderate then-recent success of The Craft (which came out in 1996). I’ve not seen the 70’s movie myself, so I can’t compare them, but I can attest to my feelings that this one is sort of fun.

Now, make no mistake – this is not a good movie. But perhaps due to the lower-quality (if you’ve seen one early 2000’s television movie, you know what I’m talking about), or the utter silliness of some of the special effects (wolves turning into humans, killer lightning bolts striking and lighting girls on fire, and crows/ravens with glowing red eyes), I found that Satan’s School for Girls has some charm.

The cast was okay for a television production. Shannen Doherty did fine as the main character, I guess. I sort of got the sense her heart wasn’t in the movie, but given what the movie is, I think that is moderately forgivable. Daniel Cosgrove (who has appeared frequently in soap operas in the past) played his character a bit generically, but still had a surprise up his sleeves. The aforementioned Kate Jackson did decently well until the end, when she had to deliver some rather cheesy dialogue during the *cue dramatic music* ultimate showdown.

Perhaps my favorite actor was Richard Joseph Paul, who played a sleazy college professor. I mean, this guy dated multiple students (in an all-girl school), and more so, did it openly. He would literally go to parties the students throw and show up with his student squeeze, not even trying to hide it. Paul’s character was a hoot and a half, and if you watch this movie, keep your eye on him, because he’s good fun.

Many aspects of this movie aren’t great. The music is exceptionally weak, the special effects were horrendous (as you’d expect from most TV movies), and very little suspense is ever really felt. Still, though I’ve seen this movie before (I suspect it’s been at least ten years), a few things caught me pleasantly by surprise, and a twist or two took me for a ride. Nothing spectacular, but when I finally figured out where the movie was going (a testament to how much I remembered about it), I thought to myself, “Damn, that’s cool.”

This remake is a goofy, cheesy movie. The epilogue was laugh-your-ass-off awful. But it still had some charm to it, so while I definitely think it’s a bit below average, I do think it’s close. Satan’s School for Girls is far from perfect, but damn it, I still had fun. Take that to the bank.

6.5/10

Nightmare Sisters (1988)

Nightmare Sisters

Directed by David DeCoteau [Other horror films: Dreamaniac (1986), Creepozoids (1987), Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988), Murder Weapon (1989), Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991), Blonde Heaven (1995), Skeletons (1997), Shrieker (1998), Curse of the Puppet Master (1998), Talisman (1998), Frankenstein Reborn! (1998), The Killey Eye (1999), Witchouse (1999), Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy (1999), Totem (1999), Retro Puppet Master (1999), Voodoo Academy (2000), Prison of the Dead (2000), The Brotherhood (2001), Final Stab (2001), The Brotherhood 2: Young Warlocks (2001), The Frightening (2002), Wolves of Wall Street (2002), The Brotherhood III: Young Demons (2003), Leeches! (2003), Speed Demon (2003), Ring of Darkness (2004), Tomb of Terror (2004, segment ‘Evil Never Dies’), The Sisterhood (2004), Possessed (2005), The Brotherhood IV: The Complex (2005), Killer Bash (2005), Witches of the Caribbean (2005), Frankenstein & the Werewolf Reborn! (2005), Beastly Boyz (2006), Grizzly Rage (2007), The Raven (2007), House of Usher (2008), The Brotherhood V: Alumni (2009), The Brotherhood VI: Initiation (2009), The Pit and the Pendulum (2009), Nightfall (2009), Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010), A Dream Within a Dream (2011), 1313: Wicked Stepbrother (2011), 1313: Actor Slash Model (2011), 1313: Boy Crazies (2011), 1313: Giant Killer Bees! (2011), 1313: Haunted Frat (2011), 1313: Bigfoot Island (2011), 1313: Cougar Cult (2012), Snow White: A Deadly Summer (2012), 1313: Night of the Widow (2012), 1313: Frankenqueen (2012), 2: Voodoo Academy (2012), Immortal Kiss: Queen of the Night (2012), Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (2013), The Dead Reborn (2013), 3 Wicked Witches (2014), 666: Kreepy Kerry (2014), Devilish Charm (2014), Knock ’em Dead (2014), Bigfoot vs. D.B. Cooper (2014), 90210 Shark Attack (2014), 3 Scream Queens (2014), Evil Exhumed (2016), Sorority Slaughterhouse (2016), Asian Ghost Story (2016), Bloody Blacksmith (2016), Swamp Freak (2017), Puppet Master: Blitzkrieg Massacre (2018), Bunker of Blood: Chapter 6: Zombie Lust: Night Flesh (2018), Bunker of Blood: Chapter 5: Psycho Sideshow: Demon Freaks (2018)]

This movie is wholly too goofy for me to get into. I’m not entirely averse to silly horror movies – when I saw Terror Toons (2002) perhaps five years back, I sort of liked it. But there’s a line to how much I can take, and Nightmare Sisters went far, far past it.

There’s some appeal to the movie, to be sure. Linnea Quigley’s a big name in horror, for good reason, having appeared in such classics as Graduation Day (1981), Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), The Return of the Living Dead (1985), and Night of the Demons (1988), and she’s a treat to see. Some of the other actors/actresses were decent, such as Brinke Stevens (perhaps the most attractive of the three girls) and William Dristas.

But Nightmare Sisters went overboard with it’s comedic style. The beginning fortune-teller portion overstays its welcome (“Hokey smokes, that’s a lot of ashes,” I admit, did get a slight chuckle), and then it takes something like fifty minutes until we’re given something resembling suspense. The somewhat famous bubble bath scene was okay, but again, after a few minutes, it doesn’t really add anything to the movie aside from more skin, which we really didn’t need.

I first saw this October 2017 during a horror movie challenge, and I was looking forward to it. What exactly I was expecting, I’m not sure, but I was disappointed then, and with a second viewing, I’m disappointed still. It may be a piece of 80’s cheese, and I know that it has it’s fans, but it’s far too cheesy for me.

4/10

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

Cat and the Canary

Directed by Paul Leni [Other horror films: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924), The Man Who Laughs (1928), The Last Warning (1929)]

A classic of silent cinema for a reason, The Cat and the Canary is a wonderfully-made dark house horror-comedy mix that stands up to this day.

Directed by Paul Leni (Waxworks, The Man Who Laughs, and The Last Warning being his greatest additions to horror besides this), The Cat and the Canary is a very well-done and atmospheric movie, which certainly feels as though it possesses the artistic flair of Leni’s previous Waxworks. The comedy isn’t too pervasive (though one gag does run a little long), and it’s even moderately welcomed at times (the line “I thought I had an appointment, now I’m sure of it” still got a kick out of me).

This silent flick has a lot of flair to it. The inter-titles are cleverly used to indicate mood (shaky text when one is scared, all caps when someone shouts, etc.), and the setting of an old, dark mansion was fun. As was the plot – who doesn’t like a good will-reading, old, dark house mystery, and a killer known as The Cat? Toward the end, when everyone was running around doing their own things, it amazed me how much action a silent movie was able to emulate. And I do mean silent. The print I happened to see this time around had no score, but unlike most silent films, that didn’t really seem to take anything away from the movie. It was still suspenseful when suspense was called for, so it worked out well.

The cast was pretty solid throughout. Laura La Plante (who is also in Leni’s 1929 The Last Warning) did fantastic as the main woman, who everyone thought was going insane. Creighton Hale (who starred also in Seven Footprints to Satan, 1929), who started off a comic relief character, slowly became the hero of the film, and held his own against the killer toward the end of the movie is a show of bravery. Though Tully Marshall wasn’t onscreen for that long a period of time, he also stood out positively.

Martha Mattox, who played a grim housekeeper to great effect, was another solid performance. Mattox, coincidentally, appeared in a couple of early 30’s films I really liked (Murder by the Clock from 1931 and The Monster Walks from 1932) before her early death at 53 in 1933. George Siegmann, like Marshall, only appeared a handful of times, but was also pretty solid. Siegmann, like many of the others I’ve mentioned, has a history with silent horror, not only appearing in Leni’s next movie, The Man Who Laughs from 1928, but also appeared back in 1914’s The Avenging Conscience. As it turns out, Siegmann died in 1928, so The Man Who Laughs would be his final movie.

Lastly, playing a seemingly-sinister doctor, Lucien Littlefield did fantastic. Unfortunately, he only appears toward the tail-end of the film, but it’s still solid enough to stand out.

The Cat and the Canary is a silent horror flick with style, and while I admit I didn’t care for it much the first time I saw it (many years ago, when I was something like 14 or 15), it certainly comes across a far more enjoyable movie now, and is a highlight of the 1920’s.

8.5/10