Rating: The Good – 64.8 Genre: Horror Duration: 92 mins Director: Paul Lynch Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen, Casey Stevens
Jamie Lee Curtis stars as the prom queen whose friends have been hiding a dark secret concerning the death of her younger sister years earlier. And now on her big night, it’s all going to boil over in nightmarish style. With its low production values and somewhat derivative story, prom night has been misjudged and unfairly criticised over the years. Yes, those two criticisms are fair but there is a strong screenplay driving this movie (kudos William Gray) which employs some clever structuring and original scenarios. Moreover, Paul Lynch’s taught direction gives it the room and time to breathe before unleashing the axe-wielding maniac. When the violence does begin, it must be said that Lynch captures much of it in memorable and innovative fashion.
There are of course some problems with Prom Night. Jamie Lee is competent in the lead but her character could’ve been given a little more to do (particularly during the final act) and the movie certainly does attempt to copy too many movies which were popular at the time (worst of which includes that cringe-worthy Saturday Night Fever inspired dance sequence). However, if watched with a forgiving eye there are plenty of strengths also to be appreciated.
Rating: The Good – 77.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 98 mins Director: Bob Clark Stars: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder
This was the movie that picked up where Psycho left off and in doing so started a sub-genre of horror flicks that would continue strongly to this day. A sorority house is terrorised by an unseen maniac who escalates his strange and deeply disturbing phone calls to a series of gruesome murders. Director Bob Clark brings a heavy atmosphere to the movie and fashions some truly frightening sequences each more original than the next. Roy Moore’s mature script gives each of the characters just the right pitch and Olivia Hussey as the most serious of the young women and Margot Kidder as the most free-spirited do an excellent job in bringing the different moods to the script to life. There’s a real edge to many of the relationships in the group and it provides Clark with an effective means to ratchet up the pre-slaughtering tension. Kier Dullea as the intense music scholar and John Saxon as the sheriff provide strong and interesting support and, even though this is a darker and sterner slasher movie than the Halloween and post-Halloween species, there are some genuine moments of humour many of them centering on Marian Waldman’s booze-swilling house mistress. That said, Black Christmas has been best remembered for its chill factor and in that respect it’s often (and with good reason) regarded as the very best of the genre.
Rating: The Good – 75.3 Genre: Horror, Thriller Duration: 90 mins Director: George Mihalka Stars: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck
This cult favourite gives the slasher genre a slight twist and some well-(err…)fleshed out characters, resulting in a top notch gore fest. Swapping the typical middle class setting for a working class one, My Bloody Valentine focuses on a mining town which years earlier was terrorised by a vengeful killer every Valentine’s Day until the townspeople agreed to stop holding their annual dance on that day. Two decades later, after all lessons are forgotten, the younger generation prepare to bring back the tradition only to bring the killer back with it. The generally unknown cast are fairly wooden and one suspects at the very least, they needed better notes. That said, John Beaird’s patient and well developed screenplay carries them through the movie despite these shortcomings, while on the more technical side of things, director George Mihalka exploits both the mining and Valentine’s context to generate a hat-full of original murder sequences. The result is an atmospheric and highly memorable slasher movie that’s as fun as it is gruesome.
A scarred stuntman stalks parties of young women by night and then mows them down in his reinforced stunt car. Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof really is a visionary triumph of action comedy. A film that defies its grainy perspectives, low-budget cast and sets and becomes more slick and pulse-thumping than most big budget actioners. Tarantino took on the DP duties and in some ways, this is visually his most impressive film. Many of those visuals are also wonderfully humorous such as the deep staging of the bobble head and the running-to-the-bathroom tracking shot of the opening scene or the Kill Bill-esque black-&-white-to-colour transition. The dialogue is hip, engaging, and sharply real and despite the majority of it revolving around typically female conversational topics, it’s no less appealing if you’re male.
Of course, the movie’s appeal to males is helped by the presence of the perennial man’s man Kurt Russell as the instantly iconic “Stuntman Mike”. Russell is tremendous as the disturbingly charming yet cowardly psychopath and it’s he who links both halves of the movie by being the only character to feature in both. The first half focuses on your typical college gang as they party the night away in Austin only to inadvertently welcome Stuntman Mike into their midst. The second half focuses on an older, more mature, and ultimately tougher gang who also get Mike’s attention. Tarantino has lots of fun in separating the two stories (Michael Parks cameo as the familiar sheriff is a howl) and contrasting the two groups (check out his very subtle tongue in cheek morality lesson) and despite each story having its own feel and plot, they never feel like two different films. The numerous female characters are all terrifically played by a host of top young actresses with Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, and real life stunt woman Zoe Bell (playing herself) doing especially well.
Ever the student and expert crafter of his characters’ movement, Death Proof is one of Tarantino’s most sensationally choreographed movies and strangely enough, the most memorable sequence in that respect is not one of the driving scenes but the gently and seductively framed lap-dance sequence which is the coolest thing we’ve seen since Hayek took to the stage in From Dusk til Dawn (and there are some nice parallels between those two scenes such as the women dancing in the background). The action driving sequences are nothing short of stunning in both their choreography and cinematography and they beat most of the car-chase films which inspired this feature with the possible exception of the 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds.
Death Proof is a celebration of cinematic freedom and adventure that will have you looking forward in time as much as backwards. It nods affectionately to its influences from the indie road films of the 70′s, the cinema of John Carpenter and Brian DePalma, to the TV shows that made the car chase its most important staple. Whether you’re a fan of those films/shows or simply an appreciator of the hip conversational films of the 1990′s, this film hits all the right notes and will have you coming back again and again.
Rating: The Good – 74.8 Genre: Horror Duration: 95 mins Director: Sean S. Cunningham Stars: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor
One of the original slasher films follows a group of young fun-loving camp counsellors as they prepare to re-open a lakeside summer camp that was the scene of some grizzly murders years beforehand. This is still to this day a genuinely creepy film as one by one the counsellors are picked off by an unseen stalker. Director Sean Cunningham paces the film extremely well and makes the interesting decision to skirt the boundaries of the supernatural as well as the natural.
Rating: The Good – 77.9 Genre: Horror Duration: 91 mins Director: John Carpenter Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Tony Moran
The teen slasher movie which (along with the earlier Black Christmas) defined the genre, sees Jamie Lee Curtis fleeing for her life against knife-wielding maniac Michael Myers. Donald Pleasence scores well as the psychiatrist who takes it upon himself to track down the escaped mental patient who he believes is an incarnation of pure evil. In Halloween, John Carpenter expands on what Black Christmas gave us to establish the formula for most (if not all) of the 80’s slasher films and in reality those imitations never came close to the quality of this film. Carpenter was also intelligent enough to give the horror a tint of the supernatural with the resulting ambiguity significantly heightening the sense of terror. And not content with creating one of the all time great horror stories, he goes and gives us one of the genre’s best and most distinctive scores. A genuine classic.
Rating: The Good – 72 Genre: Satire, Thriller Duration: 102 mins Director: Mary Harron Stars: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Willem Dafoe
Brilliantly twisted film that captures the frenzied irreverence of the book in all its shades of humour and satire. Patrick Bateman is a wealthy corporate vice president who spends his days grooming himself immersed in fetid anxiety, and his nights engaged in inane social ritual that is becoming ever more numbing to him. As he states himself “Though there is an idea of Patrick Bateman….I’m just not there”. This naturally lays the groundwork to a major psychotic meltdown and that’s when all mayhem breaks lose. Though Harron’s direction is almost faultless, everything falls in the shadow of Christian Bale’s searingly funny yet deeply unhinged portrayal of the lead. You gladly hitch along for the ride as his character slips ever deeper into the abyss and when combined with Harron’s excellent timing the result is a riot of satire and wit. Just check out that ‘Phil Collins’ scene.
Rating: The Good – 90.8 Genre: Horror Duration: 109 mins Director: Alfred Hitchcock Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam
In many ways, Psycho is Alfred Hitchcock’s most audacious film. Not content with the controversial shower scene, he gloriously defies two major cinematic conventions with one fell swoop. One involves the switching of leads and the other, the switching of genres right at the end of the first act. The film starts off with Janet Leigh hightailing it out of the city with her boss’ money to start a new life with her man. Weather interrupts her journey and she takes shelter in the isolated Bates Motel tended by good old boy Norman Bates. Whether you’ve seen the rest or not, you know what happens but in getting there, Hitchcock brings us on a completely enthralling and original trip. Janet Leigh is perfect as the decent but desperate criminal on the run. There was always an alluring maturity to the way she carried herself on screen and it adds real substance to her character’s sudden capitulation to whimsy. Anthony Perkins does an outstanding job as the quietly charming motel attendant with a dark streak about a mile long. There’s a chilling believability to his character’s personality swings and of all the crazed murderers we’ve seen on screen, it’s fair to say his seems one of the most realistic. Martin Balsam pops up as he does in nearly every classic from around that time while Vera miles and John Gavin round off the cast nicely. Ultimately, however, Psycho is all about Hitchcock’s understanding of film, his innovation, and one of cinema’s most memorable scores courtesy of the equally legendary Bernard Herrmann.
Rating: The Good – 65.9 Genre: Horror Duration: 97mins Director: Roger Spottiswoode Stars: Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner
Starring in three slasher films in one year, all of which went on to become cult favourites, earned the already star of Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis, the deserved tag of “scream queen”. One was an outright classic (The Fog), the other two (Terror Train and Prom Night) were proper b-movie material but with plenty of high points and even made with touches of skill. Terror Train is certainly less cheesy than Prom Night and with Roger Spottiswoode directing it’s relatively slickly made compared to most other b-grade slashers too.
Curtis stars as one of six college kids whose New Year’s Eve party on board a party train is crashed by a fellow student left deranged by one of their previous pranks. As one of the only sober bodies on board, Ben Johnson’s seasoned old train conductor is burdened with the task of tracking down the maniac before his murderous revenge is complete. Terror Train has a nice polished feel to it. It moves smoothly through the gears building the pretext to the killings and establishing the characters reasonably well as it does so. There are some nice ideas threaded into the story like the presence of a pre-megastardom David Copperfield playing a disgruntled and sinister magician hired for the party. Better still is the party’s fancy dress theme which allows the killer to walk among his prey and also assume the identity of his most recent victims. This last device is particularly effective because the creepiness of some of the costumes adds to the killers’ overall menace.
The acting is above par for the sub-genre too with Curtis proving even more comfortable with the role than in any of the aforementioned appearances, with the exception of The Fog. Johnson is sturdy in his duties too and provides a terrific foil to the wild partying kids he’s minding. Hart Bochner (eight years before he found action cult status as Ellis) also throws in with a deliciously nasty performance as the gang’s arrogant ringleader.
Unfortunately, despite all this, Terror Train falls rather flat in the scares department. The closed atmosphere of the train is used to good effect and the set design provides many a decent setting for solid potential thrills but they just never seem to click. Perhaps the relative lack of gore is at fault but it’s probably more tied to the pacing which though nicely maintained for the majority of the film, fails to accelerate during the scarier moments. Therefore, Terror Train just misses out on classic b-movie status but due to the nice vibe it gives off, it retains a solid appeal.
Rating: The Good – 64.4 Genre: Horror Duration: 96mins Director: Tobe Hooper Stars: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin
Four teens decide to spend the night in a carnival funhouse only for things to take a terrifying turn when they fall prey to a deformed killer and his protective father. Tobe Hooper’s career progressed in a strange manner throughout the 1980’s with a series of low-key horrors none of which were spectacular but all had some merit even if one had to dig deep to discover it. Perhaps the most overlooked is this loosely constructed but curiously atmospheric slasher which had many of the hallmarks of the classic “teen horrors” that were emerging at that time. Four interesting teen characters, two couples, a strong female lead, and a pesky younger brother hitching along for the ride. There’s a nice patience to the build up, during which, Hooper and writer Lawrence Block are clearly having a lot of fun with the expectations of the audience. There are smiles a plenty to be had while the kids make their way through the various attractions and Kevin Conway puts in some early show-stealing as Hooper sets the tone for what’s to come with a couple of clever devices. The acting from the main players is less spectacular but still quite acceptable and Elizabeth Berridge puts in a decent turn in the central role.
Once the scares begin for real, they take place in one fantastic set after another as the funhouse itself takes centre stage. Unfortunately, the scares come off a little flat which is a crucial blow to a movie that spent so much time building up to that point (and building up rather well too). Rather than using the close confines of the funhouse to generate a stifling and claustrophobic atmosphere, Hooper’s grip on the audience seems to increasingly slip. For all the quality in the set construction, he probably could have done more to familiarise us with this terrain in the early stages so that the transition from fun to terror felt more personal to the audience. Despite never quite reaching its potential, The Funhouse is an interesting if neglected atmospheric chiller marked by some tasty flourishes and worth a look by all fans of the 80’s slasher.
Rating: The Good – 67.8 Genre: Horror Duration: 111mins Director: Wes Craven Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
The only one of Wes Craven’s Scream trilogy that’s really worth a look is this first instalment. It has all the fun of the early self-referential/postmodern horror movies with plenty of catchy lines and watchable characters to boot. Neve Campbell plays the would-be victim of a knife-wielding masked stalker that has been picking off her classmates one by one. She’s plenty tough for the role in a convincingly feminine way and she is surrounded by some of the era’s quirkiest young actors (e.g., Rose McGowan, Mathew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy) who give the proceedings a very fresh and energised feel. The movie references come thick and fast but Craven plays with them well while still managing to maintain the shock and thrill factor of many of the movie techniques he’s lampooning.