Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cinematic Trick or Treat- Part 1.

October is here, and that means my favorite holiday is quickly approaching. There’s nothing better than to get all nice and cozy in the TV room as the temperatures and leaves fall, and watch some spooky films. Over the years there have been literally thousands of horror films, ranging from Abbot and Costello features to the latest “slasher-doll” direct-to-video monstrosity. With the vast quantity of choices, how does one make a choice? I’ve seen hundreds of these movies and I’ve researched countless more, so indulge me in my efforts to present a short list of recommendations.

1. Session 9 – (2001. dir. Brad Anderson) Before going on to make the higher profile Machinist, the director made this straight-to-video gem starring David Caruso, Steven Gevedon and the very underrated Peter Mullan. It’s the story of a group of asbestos removal contractors who are tasked with cleaning up an old abandoned mental institution. The building itself is a character in the plot, and it is absolutely creepy. This is the type of film that delivers its scares in a subtle way, so that you are not quite sure what you are looking at. The film isn’t jam-packed with gore, but I would keep the younger members of the family away. It’s nightmare-inducing.

2. The Sentinel – (1977. dir. Michael Winner) Something is calling to Alison Parker (Cristina Raines), a fashion model aiming to seize a measure of independence before getting engaged. This flick takes place in NYC, and features some pimped out clothing designs and a jarring film score. There’s a bit of a detective subplot, as the boyfriend (Chris Sarandon) tries to figure out what is wrong with Alison. File this one in with the religious horror genre (Exorcist, Roesemary’s Baby). Look for cameos by Tom Berenger, Christopher Walken, and Jeff Goldblum. But be prepared for a harrowing ending employing some of the most unique faces you’ve ever seen.

3. Messiah of Evil- (1973. dir. Willard Huyck) I’m not usually a fan of zombie films. But there is just so much 70’s-era pimpin’ style floating out of this low budget art flick that I simply can’t resist. Also referred to as Dead People, this was made by the creative team that would contribute their efforts to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Howard the Duck. You’d never know it by some of the inventive set pieces in this work. I guarantee that certain images will recur in your mind after seeing Messiah of Evil- especially in a grocery store or theater. You’ll probably want to watch this multiple times, in order to properly enjoy all the macabre details that were so lovingly included.

4. The Thing – (1982. dir. John Carpenter) No doubt some purists blanched when they heard the plans Carpenter had for a remake of the 1951-classic, The Thing From Another World. But the young director had already weaved horror gold with Halloween (1978), so those in the know waited with anticipation. They weren’t disappointed when Carpenter’s study of extreme paranoia at the South Pole was released. Amazingly gory animatronics merely accentuated the true genius of the plot. There are only so many men on the isolated base, and someone is making folks dead- who could it be? Kurt Russell and Wilfred Brimley are among the cast, trying to figure it out.

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – (1974. dir. Tobe Hooper) Certainly I’m talking about the original here. There was never any need to remake this masterpiece. It’s an obvious choice for its terrifying mix of threatening backwoods cretins and sheer insanity. From the set-up scene where the kids pick up what turns out to be the most normal member of the family… to the dinner table scene that clearly demonstrates the old adage (the family that plays together, stays together), this film is absolutely relentless. It’s said that the story is based upon the life of notorious killer Ed Gein, and while the resemblance is only minimal- the hint that such a homestead awaits you the next time you get lost in the backcountry is frightening. My personal highlight is a long close-up shot of a victim’s tormented eyes. The abrasive soundtrack deserves accolades as well.

To be continued...

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