Archive for john carpenter

Film Review: SOUTHBOUND

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

Anthology films are notoriously difficult. Balancing the tone, theme, characters, and transitions can overwhelm any director, let alone four at once. When done well, though, these works are brilliantly entertaining – especially in horror. We’re lucky to have another classic in 2016. Take a ride to Hell in this year’s SOUTHBOUND.

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Fresh from Toronto’s Midnight Madness section and helmed by four different directors (most veterans from 2012’s VHS), this collection of stories is all set on a mysterious road deep in the Southwest. Each of the tales revolves around this strange netherworld, and their characters all find themselves trapped there – two men on the run from wraiths, a rock band who ask for help from the wrong family, a man who has to save a woman’s life in an abandoned hospital, a crazed man searching for his lost sister. These unwitting souls confront all manner of demons, monsters and madness, just off the map.

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The world of this film is astoundingly creepy and fun. It’s a deformed lovechild of Rod Serling, John Carpenter, and perhaps a dash of Flannery O’Connor – brewed in a pot of metaphysical, weird-fiction terror. “Carnival of Souls” plays on several screens throughout the stories, which gives a hint of the rules in this world – there are none. It’s unapologetically weird, and it oozes uncomfortable dread, something most horror films can’t claim. The filmmakers know how to make the viewer feel just a little bit off. So you’re scared before the mayhem even begins.

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It helps, too, that each of the stories features a character who we care about (at least, I did). The writers create authentic humans with flaws and quirks, and they develop them with rapid skill. Cliches are also hard to find. That is part of the weirdness – whatever a ‘normal’ film would do, this one blatantly swerves around, or does with such bravado that it’s shocking anyway. Horror cinema rarely sees such a unique, insane universe.

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I am not surprised to find out that the folks at Dark Sky Films, who brought us modern classics like “The House of the Devil” and “We Are Still Here,” are involved in this release. Larry Fessenden himself voices a sinister radio host who introduces each segment a la Mr. Serling. Like many of their offerings, this one feels retro, but it’s also rooted in our modern world, cleverly using cell phones (that actually work) and avoiding gender stereotypes. The characters are contemporary, but the nightmare is an amalgamation of 70s strangeness, 50s music and 40s wardrobe. It fits into the Dark Sky canon beautifully – and we can only hope that company will continue to make such brilliant genre pieces.

Though it is a limited release, if you can’t find it in a theater, get to it through the Internet – it’s a must-see for fans of classic horror from any decade. It’s bizarre, funny, ultra-bloody, and legitimately frightening. Turn on the ignition and drive down this dark road.

7 Horror Films to Ruin your Christmas

Posted in Best Of, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2015 by smuckyproductions

 

It’s the holiday season – as the nights lengthen and the weather turns vicious, we turn to warm fires, bright lights, and wishes of wellbeing. At least, some of us do. For those who like their holidays with a dose of darkness, here is a list of films that capture the wickedness of winter.

  1. BLACK CHRISTMAS

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What other movie scores a murder scene with “O Holy Night”? Oft credited as the first ‘slasher’ film, this one takes place in a sorority house on the brink of winter break – but someone does not intend for the sisters to go home. Featuring a truly creepy villain (BILLY!) and one hell of a creepy ending, “Black Christmas” is great spirited terror. (Stay away from the gory remake – the 1974 version is where it’s at.)

  1. CRIMSON PEAK

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The director himself claims that this is not a horror film, and to a point I agree – but this traditional Gothic yarn is perfect for a cold winter night. The visuals are stunning, the performances are spot-on; and the titular house, embedded in drifts of red snow, is sure to become an icon. Best watched by a fire while the wind howls outside.

  1. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

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Encased in the bitter snows of Sweden, this understated masterpiece is one of the best vampire films ever made. Its exploration of innocence, loneliness, and intimacy are beautiful, but also deeply chilling. This is no Twilight – there is true evil at work here. Gorgeously shot, too, this is ideal for lonely winter viewing.

  1. RAVENOUS

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No winter is complete without a visit from the Wendigo! As discussed in a previous post, this film is brutally original and also true to its source legend. Set in the icy climes of frontier-era California, the story gives us our fair share of viscera, blood, and snowy spirits. Take some pointers for Christmas dinner, too.

  1. DEAD OF NIGHT

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While only one segment of this anthology relates to Christmas, the overall film has an atmosphere of fireside ghost stories gone horribly wrong. What begins as cozy becomes claustrophobic – but I won’t give too much away. No film delivers old-fashioned chills more darkly and stylishly.

  1. THE THING (1982)

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What better setting for a horror film than a snowed-in station in Antartica? Sticking closer to the source story than the original, and taking some cues from “At the Mountains of Madness,” John Carpenter’s classic is paranoid and claustrophobic – also sporting some of the grossest monsters in horror history. You think getting stuck with your relatives at Christmas is bad? Try spending December with the Thing.

  1. THE SHINING

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An obvious choice, but too perfect to ever exclude. Stanley Kubrick adapts Stephen King’s ghost story and turns it into a cosmic nightmare. The snowbound waste of the Overlook is pervaded by a sense of dread that only Blackwood can conjure – a massive force watching over. Part ghost thriller, part domestic drama, but ultimately a surreal assault of the senses, there is no better film for a dark snowy night.

Did we overlook anything particularly chilly? Let us know! And happy dark days, fellow ghouls.

Films That Haunt Me: “The Fog” (1980)

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , on July 22, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, and Jamie Lee Curtis

This may be an unusual choice, especially from the endlessly terrific filmography of John Carpenter. But there’s something about this film that I’ve never forgotten, and will always love.

“The Fog” is Carpenter’s followup to his 1978 indie megabeast, “Halloween,” which everyone and their grandmother has seen. I love that film for not only its incredibly disturbing villain, but also for the thick-as-blood atmosphere that begins oozing into you in during the opening credits. So, I thought, what can it hurt to seek out his next film? 

In many ways, “The Fog” is a more complex film, and a more old-fashioned horror story. It follows the disconnected lives of several townsfolk preparing to celebrate the 100th birthday of their little seaside village… just as strange things begin to happen. In a gleefully spooky opener, we learn the dark history of the town – that it was built on the gold of murdered men – and that this history is doomed to repeat itself. It’s your usual campfire tale fare, a group of dead souls return from their watery grave to get revenge on those who wronged them. Add Carpenter’s genius for soundtrack and creeping atmosphere, and you’ve got this film.

There are plenty of opportunities for this film to become just another ghost-zombie-kill movie. And to a lot of people, I’m sure it is. But this film played ruthlessly on my childhood love for a good spook story, and even worse, on many of my primal fears. I’m a huge sucker for movies that have the aura of Halloween around them, and Carpenter seems to nail that atmosphere perfectly. Pile on to that the wonderful depiction of a quiet small town on the brink of supernatural horror, and you’ve got me hooked.

I can’t ignore the cast, either. Any film that has both Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis, plus a few veterans from Halloween, can’t lose. And that is yet another thing that elevates this film above the standard fare for me – its characters are simple but fully realized, and played well by the cast. That’s rare in horror, especially in the 80s. 

“The Fog,” like I said, also plays on so many basic terrors. The titular fog always conceals more than it reveals, rolling in slowly around houses and followed by slow knocking on doors and windows. The ghouls are also great – simply designed and never fully seen, but classic in their rotting-seaweed design. These elements all sizzle together, met with Carpenter’s score (rivaling his first in my opinion), and explode into a suspense-ridden nightmare that is as fun as it is terrifying. This is one of the only films to make me verbally express fear. I hold that in high regard.

All of these things – score, imagery, classic story, setting – add up to the perfect horror experience for me. There is no attempt to be flashy or wild in this film; Carpenter allows his story to speak its own language and express its quiet terror without interference. It’s a pure and simple horror, something nearly impossible to find now, and because of this it works beautifully. This is the perfect film for an October night, when you’re looking for something that touches on the otherworldly. 

So, is it Carpenter’s best? Not by any means. But this is the one that comes to my mind most often, when the air is just calm enough that you could imagine a fog rolling in.

For the previous installment of “Films That Haunt Me,” CLICK HERE.