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Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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24 November, 2007

Thank you, Forry… for Everything.

Like many of my contemporaries, the treasures and pleasures of my formative years were a mix of horror movies, comic books, model airplanes, baseball cards, and monster magazines. Of the last, the most notable when I was a child was Famous Monsters of Filmland, published by James Warren, and edited by the Godfather of Horror fandom, Forry Ackerman.

Born Forrest James Ackerman on the 24th of November, 1916, Forry’s life-long love of Fantasy, Science-Fiction, and Horror films began at an early age with, according to his web-site biography, a viewing of the Fantasy film ONE GLORIOUS DAY when he was 5½ years old. That love affair has now lasted nearly eighty-six years, and along the way, he has inspired thousands, if not millions, of fans of genre films with his quick wit, vivid writing, and, most of all, his accessibility.

For decades, at his home dubbed the Acker-Mansion, in Horror-Wood, Karloff-ornia, visitors could just drop by, and with little more than a polite knock on the door and friendly hello, receive a tour of the Ackermonster’s incredible museum of Movie treasures, everything from the original Stegosaurus miniature from the 1933 classic KING KONG, to the golden idol from the beginning of RAIDERS FROM THE LOST ARK. Thousands of movie posters, photographs, props, costumes, scripts, books… all laid out for viewing, just for the asking.

Occasionally, Forry's openness and generosity have resulted in loss; the list of items that have been stolen from his collection would do many museums proud—the head from the Zuni fetish doll from the 1975 TV classic TRILOGY OF TERROR; the medallion worn by Bela Lugosi in 1931’s DRACULA; a pair of Mr. Spock’s ears from the original Star Trek series. These and many more items from his tremendous collection have disappeared through the years, primarily because the man who owned them wanted the world to share in and enjoy his love of the genre, rather than locking the pieces up where only he could enjoy them.

Still, visitors to the Ackermansion seldom left disappointed, and often were treated to what amounted to a history lesson on the world of Horror, Sci-Fi, (a word that Forry himself coined…) and Fantasy films, from one who was present almost from the beginning.

In 1958, Forry made what is perhaps his greatest contribution to Horror and Sci-Fi fandom, when he joined with publisher James Warren to create what would become the most influential Horror magazine ever: Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Famous Monsters was THE magazine when I was a kid. I’m not sure how old I was when I got my first issue of FM, but I can vividly remember the cover to this day, more than three-and-a-half decades later: The grinning visage of Barnabas Collins, fangs bared, glared out at the reader in bold vibrant color. I can’t remember the articles, and I have no idea when I got it or how much it cost. But that cover never left me. For most of the next eight to ten years, FM was a part of my life. From the fun, easy-to-read articles that seemed written with youngsters in mind, to the prolific photos, to the gorgeous artwork that adorned every cover, the magazine was designed to be kid-friendly, as open and accessible as Forry himself. Even the few ads that were allowed into the mag were aimed at us kids, ads for such diverse treasures as Don Post masks, (expensive even then…) life-sized Frankenstein’s Monsters, (little did we know that they were just posters…) 8mm prints of the great Universal Horror Films, (sure, they were edited down to about fifteen minutes of footage, and there was no sound, but in those pre-VCR days, I dreamed of having my own projector and a collection of my favorite movies…) and, of course, ads for all the other Warren magazines.

I think that the ads were always my favorite part of FM. Though I doubt I ever ordered anything from them, I loved looking at them and dreaming. Dreaming of having my room filled with the masks, toys, posters, and other memorabilia of the genre. Dreaming of the day when I would be old enough to have my own house, decorated top to bottom, front to back with monster movie posters and monster masks. Sadly, I haven’t quite achieved my childhood dreams… but I’m still working on it.

But it was the articles that fired my desire to see as many of these great films as I could. It was in these pages that I first learned of Hammer films, of George Pal and Ray Harryhausen, Julian’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and Mamoulian’s DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Though it would be years, even decades, before I would see some of these films, my search for them began at the meta-forry-cal feet of the Ackermonster.

As the ‘70’s passed into the ‘80’s, I began to lose touch with FM, and the Horror genre in general. Though I still loved to go see Horror Films, my teen years began to draw me to other interests. The Monsters, though still there, slipped into the background of my life, much like extended family; I would occasionally think of them, and realize how much I missed them, but just didn’t have time to visit. By the time I started college, in 1982, FM had slid quietly into the same recess in my mind as my Comic books and baseball cards. Thus it failed to register entirely when, in 1983, Forry was removed as Editor, and the magazine ceased publication.

While Jim Warren and Forry had never been best of friends, their relationship in the final years of FM had grown increasingly strained, and reached the breaking point when Warren tried to take control of FM away from Forry, naming him Editor Emeritus, but stripping him of his day-to-day duties. Forry balked at this and, when the smoke had cleared, Famous Monsters of Filmland was no more.

But I was blissfully unaware of all this intrigue until years later. As I gradually re-entered the genre in the late ‘90’s, I slowly became aware of the story behind the demise of the magazine that played such a huge role in my love of horror. I also learned of a new Famous Monsters that was being published, and of the perfidy of the person trying to usurp the reputation and position held by my childhood hero. Though Forry eventually won the court battle over this issue, the effort left him, no longer a young man, physically exhausted and financially bereft. In 2002 Forry moved out of the 18-room Ackermansion, into a small, one-bedroom bungalow he’s christened the Son of Ackermansion. In the process, he was forced to sell off the preponderance of his vast collection.

How did he do this, you ask? At one of the great auction houses like Christie’s, or Sotheby’s? In a quiet sale to a museum or private collector? No. Forry had a yard sale.

Ask any horror film-maker of the ‘80’s and 90’s, and most of them will tell you that Forry Ackerman, and Famous Monsters of Filmland, was a pivotal influence in their lives and careers. Spielberg, Jackson, Landis, Dante… all credit, to varying degrees, those early issues of FM with growing and guiding their love of genre films. Add to that the sheer millions of ordinary kids whose natural love of fantasy and imagination found a friend in Forry, and it’s easy to see that Modern horror wouldn’t exist without his contributions, nor would we still have the respect and admiration for the classics of yesterday that he instilled in us.

In his long life, Forrest J. Ackerman has been many things: Author, actor, agent, editor, even, according to his own web-site biography, the first lesbian President of the United States. (There’s no way I can explain it, just go there and read it for yourself…) But most of all, Forry’s been two things: A fan, and a friend.

Thank you, Forry, for being both.

DVD Review: THE DESCENT

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Title: THE DESCENT

Year of Release—Film: 2005

Year of Release—DVD: 2006

DVD Label: Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment



THE MOVIE

Neil Marshall’s follow up to DOG SOLDIERS, one of the best Horror Films of this decade, is THE DESCENT, possibly the best-reviewed Horror Film of 2005, and one about which fans seemed to agree with the reviewers. It did well at the box office, as well as in DVD release, and led off a mini-wave of subterranean Horror.

Marshall, who definitely knows how to please Horror fans, doesn’t stray too far from the formula that worked so well in DOG SOLDIERS… a small, close-knit group, in an unfamiliar environment, confined, cut-off, and disoriented, doing battle against creatures who view them simply as their next meal.

The difference here is that where the British soldiers in his previous film grew even tighter as a unit through their struggle, the six women in THE DESCENT begin to fracture apart thanks to the arrogance and errors of their nominal leader. The six unknowns in the cast do a credible job with the material, though I think that the addition of an experienced hand would’ve improved the level of the performances greatly, much as Sean Pertwee elevated the performances in DOG SOLDIERS.

There’s very little I can say about the movie itself for fear of ruining it for those yet to see it. The first half, maybe the first two-thirds, is slow-moving and, quite frankly, boring… unless spelunking videos are your thing. But, as with DOG SOLDIERS, once the action starts there’s hardly a let up until the end. Not all of it makes sense, but there’s no time to consider the plot holes in detail.

Marshall, as he did with DS, demonstrates a skillful use of the darkness inherent in the location, never revealing too much of his creatures to the light. I will say that the creature design, while hardly original, is very effective, and the make-up and special effects are as well done as they were on his previous film.



THE DISC

Lion’s Gate makes a habit of pleasing genre fans, and it starts with a sharp, attractive package design. When you have dozens of new DVD’s hitting the shelves every Tuesday, the cover of your movie has to reach out and grab the uninformed consumers, make them want your product. For fans of Horror Films, you can’t go wrong with girls, and you can’t go wrong with gore. Combine the two in a properly dramatic scene, you’ve got a winner. The disc inside is as well-designed, with several choices for audio and subtitles, and excellent picture and sound quality.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

One thing that Lion’s Gate has realized is that serious movie fans like extras on their DVD’s. We want deleted scenes, and alternate endings, and behind-the-scenes documentaries. We want the movie, yes… but for us the movie is just the crust, sauce, and mozzarella cheese. The special features are the pepperoni and green peppers, and Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment serves their discs fully loaded.

There are several Deleted / Alternate scenes presented, none of which would have improved the final product and were worthy of being cut; a “gag” reel that is really quite entertaining; an interesting and informative Making-Of featurette; an interview with Marshall; and multiple commentaries.





IN CONCLUSION

While DESCENT isn’t the equal of his previous film, Neil Marshall does demonstrate with it that he’s no one-hit wonder. He’s a talented director, one that understands the genre and its fans, and that should translate into a great career. This may not be a great movie, and it certainly falls short of its hype, but it’s still a very entertaining, enjoyable Horror Film, especially for Gorehounds. With a $19.95 list price, it’s affordable enough to belong in any good Horror collection, though those unused to gore might want to work up to it. It can be found even cheaper, but it does belong on your buy list.


17 November, 2007

1957—Horror’s Greatest Year?

As with almost everything else under the sun, the cinema’s love affair with Horror movies runs in cycles, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Currently, I feel that we’ve been in a very “up” cycle for several years, with no real sign of a downturn yet.

There have been other “up” cycles, of course… The early thirties, Hollywood’s “Golden Age” of Horror; the early forties, the heyday of Universal’s franchise horror; the late sixties-early seventies, as two dying venues, the Drive-In and the Grindhouse converged to funnel grittingly realistic, spectacularly gory, deliciously exploitative fare directly to eager movie-goers. But in terms of a single year, one 12-month period when the Horror gods truly smiled, I don’t think there’s ever been one as good as 1957.

There are those who would argue that 1931 was the greatest year for Horror. They would have a valid argument that it was certainly the most significant, with the premiere of Browning’s DRACULA in February; the greatest Horror Film of all, James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, in November; and Rueben Mamoulian’s definitive version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, which opened on New Year’s Eve 1931.

Others might lean towards 1968, when one low-budget movie became the demarcation line to show when Modern Horror began. George Romero’s landmark NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was, without a doubt, a seminal moment in the history of the Horror cinema, but it was far from the only one that year. From Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, to Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY, there’s no doubt that 1968 was a tremendously important year for Horror.

But in terms of sheer volume and enjoyability, it’s difficult to deny 1957 its place in the Horror Hall of Fame. Here’s just a partial listing of the titles that premiered that year: 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH; THE BLACK SCORPION; THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN; THE DEADLY MANTIS; I WAS A TEEN-AGE WEREWOLF; and THE MONOLITH MONSTERS. Are these great movies? No, not for the most part. But they’re fun movies; the kind of movies that kids my age grew up watching on the various Hosted Horror shows that were hallmarks of our youth.

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH? A Ray Harryhausen triumph of Special Effects Animation, it stands perhaps as his third best work, eclipsed only by THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN must certainly be considered one of the most significant films of the 1950’s, as the one that began Hammer Films climb to the top, as well as serving to introduce American audiences to Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, the greatest Horror Icons of their generation.

Though not as popular or as well received as some other Giant Bug movies, such as THEM! or TARANTULA, THE DEADLY MANTIS is in my opinion the best of them all. It has all the elements that make the Sci-Fi horrors of the 1950’s so much fun… The monster, one of the best looking creature designs of the period; decent acting; strong heroes; good plot; the “American people bonding together in times of adversity” attitude; and the generous use of stock footage. All of these factors combine to make one of the most enjoyable movies of the ‘50’s.

And of course, I WAS A TEEN-AGE WEREWOLF (along with it’s less well-known companion piece I WAS A TEEN-AGE FRANKENSTEIN…) was the movie that established American Independent Productions, the brainchild of producers Samuel Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson, as a major player in genre films of the ‘50’s, ‘60’s, and early ‘70’s. It also launched the career of Michael “Little Joe Cartwright” Landon.

All of these movies have two things in common… they are some of the most fondly remembered classics of that era, and they all premiered in 1957. Why was this year such a remarkable one for Genre films?

We were a prosperous, happy nation in 1957. We had just re-elected a popular President; we were at peace; the Baby Boom was well underway; more people than ever before owned their own homes, sent their kids to college, started their own businesses.

However, there was an undercurrent of dread all the same… fear of Atomic War, which seemed a constant presence in the American psyche of the time. The same people who had finally purchased a home of their own soon were improving on it, with a bomb shelter in the basement or backyard. Along with readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic, schoolchildren were also learning to “Duck and Cover…” at the first sign of a thermonuclear flash. And Iodine tablets, to prevent uptake of radioactive isotopes in the event of fallout, soon found their way into American medicine cabinets, right next to the aspirins and Bromo-Seltzer. This level of, well… not paranoia, for after all there was a real, distinct possibility of such an event… perhaps awareness might be the best way to describe it, had to be reflected in the popular culture and art of the time. Moreover, nowhere was it better represented than in the Horror & Sci-Fi films so popular at this time.

Perhaps this convergence of prosperity, contentment, and the overhanging sense of impending peril combined to create a perfect climate for these movies. Perhaps the public was just in the right mood for some simple scares. Or perhaps the pendulum of cinematic trends was just swinging back in the direction of Genre movies, after reaching a low point in the years immediately following the end of World War II.

But, as we wind down the celebration of the fiftieth anniversaries of these wonderful films, we can be grateful that, for whatever the reason, 1957 remains one of the greatest years in Horror.







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DVD Review: THE BLACK DAHLIA

Title: THE BLACK DAHLIA

Year of Release—Film: 2006

Year of Release—DVD: 2006

DVD Label: Universal Studios Home Entertainment





THE MOVIE

On the morning of January 15th, 1947, a young mother taking her child out for a stroll saw what she at first took to be a discarded mannequin lying just off the sidewalk, in a vacant lot on Norton Ave. in Los Angeles. It was unfortunately no mannequin, but the horribly mutilated body of Elizabeth Short, a 23-year old wannabe actress from Medford, Massachusetts. Beth Short was the quintessential nobody, one of thousands of young women drawn to Southern California by dreams of becoming the next Rita Hayworth, the next Betty Grable. Almost all disappeared into obscurity, but Beth achieved in death what she so desired in life: Fame and immortality. She would from that day on be remembered as the Black Dahlia, one of the most famous unsolved murders in history.

Those expecting a serious, in-depth examination of the case will be disappointed with this fictionalized adaptation of the James Ellroy best-selling novel. The murder itself is treated almost as background, becoming a catalyst in the bizarre relationship between two LAPD detectives and the woman they both love. But they shouldn’t let the lack of historical accuracy deter them from delving into this convoluted tale reminiscent of another Ellroy film, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.

Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart are tremendously well-cast as the two detectives who become inextricably tied to the Dahlia, and Scarlett Johansson does an acceptable job as Kay, the female corner of their triangular relationship. You’re never quite sure just who loves whom, or who wants whom, and the oddness of the friendship draws you into the story, making you want answers to those questions. Brian De Palma, no stranger to the genre, brings his distinctive style to the production. As with most of his films, it’s hit-and-miss, but generally works very well here.

One aspect of the film that doesn’t work is Hilary Swank as Madeline Linscott, a mysterious ‘femme fatale’ that draws Hartnett’s character deeper into the intrigue he’s trying to avoid. In my opinion, Swank is one of the least attractive, least capable actresses in Hollywood, and this performance does nothing to change that opinion. Overall, however, the cast is one of the strengths of this film, as it should be in such a character-driven work.

The script, by Josh Friedman, differs significantly from Ellroy’s novel; something to be expected considering the 20-year gestation period it had. But the changes are necessary, condensing the novel into a coherent two-hour story, even if it does tend to drag in sections. Ellroy’s novel is really a hybridization of two unsolved murders: Beth Short’s, and the author’s own mother, who was found raped and murdered in 1958, when Ellroy was 10. This led to his life-long fascination with crime, especially crime in Los Angeles, and he incorporated many facets of his own life into the characters of the book. Most of those aspects survive into the film, and the combination of good cast, director, and story produce a satisfying, if not great, movie.



THE DISC

Universal almost always puts out a good product, and this DVD is no exception. The audio and video quality is superior, and as always the subtitles are greatly appreciated by this Unimonster. The overall design and quality of this disc is Universal’s usual standard, and that’s good enough.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

While there’s not an abundance of extras on the disc, the three special featurettes are worth a look, especially the first. REALITY AND FICTION: THE STORY OF THE BLACK DAHLIA takes a look at the reality of the murder, contrasting it with the movie’s stylized vision of the crime. It also gives the viewer a contextual perspective of Los Angeles in the mid-1940s, and a Police Force that was widely considered to be one of the nation’s most corrupt and violent.

CASE FILES, the second featurette, is a fairly standard behind-the-scenes, making-of documentary. Interesting enough, but hardly engrossing.

The final special featurette, THE DE PALMA TOUCH, is a look at De Palma, and his vision of the film. Nice for those who are fans of the director, but not very engaging for those who aren’t. I place myself in the second group.



IN CONCLUSION

As you might have gathered, this reviewer has more than a passing interest in the Black Dahlia case. And I, like most of those who consider themselves serious students of the murder, have long waited for a high-quality, historically and criminologically accurate, thoroughly serious examination of the case to be produced on film, and as I said before, this isn’t that movie.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad film, and despite some rather obvious flaws, it’s a film that works more than it doesn’t. The movie plays a lot longer than it’s 2 hour and 2 minute runtime, and in my opinion a solid 25 minutes could be cut from it with no great loss. But the last 20 minutes more than makes up for the set-up, the end result is enjoyable.

I found my copy in a bargain bin for $5, and, truth to tell, that’s a fair price. I doubt I would’ve paid anywhere near list for it, and even a ten dollar price tag would’ve made me think twice. But I’ll go a fiver on just about anything, and, given the subject, I was reasonably certain it was going to be a safe bet. As for my recommendation… it’s a solid rental, but don’t buy it unless you really get a bargain.









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10 November, 2007

DVD Review: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING


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Title: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING
Year of Release—Film: 2006

Year of Release—DVD: 2007

DVD Label: New Line Home Entertainment

THE MOVIE

Marcus Nispel’s 2003 remake of the classic TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE surprised many fans, including myself, by being a pretty decent little horror film. True, it had more than a few problems… but it also had some impressively large clodhoppers to fill, and it did a credible job of it. If anything, this sequel, directed by Jonathan Liebesman, is even better due to it’s ability to stand alone, without a direct comparison to an iconic original.

In the remake, R. Lee Ermey stole the show as the Sheriff, the head of the Hewitt clan of cannibals and psychopaths. This time, it’s his movie start-to-finish, as we learn the origins of Leatherface and his family. This outing once again finds an unlucky group of teens traveling the dry dusty roads of Texas near the Hewitt family residence. Though it’s tempting to say that this plot device is getting rather treadworn, we should remember that those sequels to the original that diverted from it were less than memorable. Suffice it to say that it works here, and works well.

The cast is decent, though for the most part unrecognizable. The girls are beautiful, the guys handsome, yada, yada, yada. It leads me to believe that there is a stable of maybe ten or twelve twenty-somethings that are waiting around Hollywood to be cast as “Interchangeable Youth #2.” They all look the same, dress the same, talk the same, and, unfortunately, act the same. But no matter… As I said before, this is Ermey’s picture, and he’s in firm control of it.

As to the director… yes, this is the same Jonathan Liebesman who vomited up the absolutely horrendous DARKNESS FALLS, garnering the single-worst review of a film I have ever written. This, his first feature since then, needed to be spectacularly good in order to redeem him in my eyes. I can’t say it completely makes up for those 86 minutes of my life I’ll never regain… but it does come close.



THE DISC

The offering from New Line is what you’d expect from a major player in the Home Entertainment world… slick packaging, top quality, subtitled… in short, a first-class offering.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

Though the usual specials are here, i.e. the commentary tracks, the deleted scenes, outtakes, and the like, I found it somewhat wanting in this regard… especially in comparison to the superb Platinum Edition DVD that New Line put out for the TCM remake.

Still, there are a few interesting bits here. The behind-the-scenes documentary, DOWN TO THE BONE, is particularly interesting; and at 45 minutes in length, is able to go into sufficient detail to make a worthwhile documentary.

I do hope, however, that New Line chooses to revisit the Platinum Edition format in the future, if not on this film, then on others in their Horror library. While not inexpensive, certainly too pricey for me to consider as an impulse buy, the 2003 TCM Platinum Edition was well worth the cost, and would be in the future, given the right movie.



IN CONCLUSION

Though I expected little from this prequel, I must admit that I was very pleasantly surprised. Don’t get me wrong… Jonathan Liebesman still ranks just a notch or two above Uwe Boll on my list of directors, and I want to see more than one good film from him before that changes. But this movie worked for me, and that’s good enough for now.
With a list price of $28.95, it’s certainly not something I’d say rush right out and buy. But both Amazon and DeepDiscount have it priced significantly lower, and it’s been out long enough to start appearing in Bargain Bins and Used DVD racks. My recommendation is snatch it up… when you find it at a bargain price.

What is our Continuing Fascination with 112 Ocean Avenue?

The facts in the case are well-known and deceptively simple: On November 13th, 1974, a young man named Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. murdered his father, mother, two sisters, and two brothers in their sleep. Whether or not he acted alone, whether or not there were demonic voices urging him to act, whether or not he was sane at the time, all are matters of conjecture and dispute. What can’t be disputed is that these events led to something that has had a grip on the imagination of horror fans for nearly thirty years. While the DeFeo name, or even the address of the home in which the family perished (originally 112 Ocean Avenue, since changed...) might not shed any light, the name of the small town in which they lived and died will instantly bring it into sharp focus: Amityville, New York.

The transformation of the 1925 three-story Dutch Colonial house, from family home / crime scene, to one of the most recognizable “characters” in Horror, began in December, 1975, when George and Kathy Lutz, with their children, moved into the DeFeo home. Within a month they had abandoned it, and two years later had written a book with Jay Anson purporting to recount their experiences in the home.

Though the book was later dismissed as an admitted hoax, it spawned a movie franchise that, to date, has given us more sequels than either Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers, and almost as many as Jason Voorhees. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, released in 1979 starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder as the Lutz’s, was enormously successful, ultimately earning over $86 Million at the box-office.

Three years later, AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION took a closer look at the DeFeo murders, though fictionalized to the point of being unrecognizable. This was followed by a third theatrical release in 1983, and a string of forgettable, Straight-to-Video sequels that gave us everything from a demonic dollhouse to a possessed clock. Finally, in 2005, the original was remade by Andrew Douglas, from an adaptation of the Anson novel by Scott Kosar.

Why are we still fascinated by this house and the fictional events associated with it, thirty-three years after the far more shocking and horrifying murders that first brought it to national attention? Why is the original still considered one of the most important Horror Films of the 1970’s? And why, after nine separate film iterations of the basic Amityville story has the truly fascinating, truly frightening story of the DeFeo family received such short shrift? I have no idea.

The 1979 original, directed by Stuart Rosenberg from a script by Sandor Stern, is an interesting look at the events that were later demonstrated to be a hoax, but as a Horror Film, it was weak and ineffective, totally failing to capture the psychological impact of Jay Anson’s book.

And as for the sequels, they deserve scant mention. While “Two” wasn’t terrible, neither was it a good movie. And the remainder of the series was execrable. Possessed clocks, mirrors, and dollhouses were foisted on the movie-going (actually “-renting”…) public, all bearing no relation whatsoever to the original film, and even less to the truth behind Anson’s novel.

The true story of the DeFeo murders is a intriguing, disturbing look inside the All-American family, a family that, at it’s core, was in all probability deeply dysfunctional. The events of the 13th of November, 1974 weren’t the beginning of the DeFeo family’s troubles; they couldn’t have been. Rather, it was the end product of… something. Just what is still a matter of debate, but it’s difficult to believe that any young man, even one addicted to drugs, would viciously slaughter his entire family without some prior history of abuse, without some motivation other than simply being “pissed off…”

Though several books, most recently Ric Osuna’s “The Night the DeFeos Died”, have put forth various theories about the murders, including Anson’s recounting of the “possession” defense used at Butch DeFeo’s trial, none are totally satisfactory, and all have holes that provide fuel to the growing controversy over the deaths. In my opinion, this would be much more fertile ground for a movie than yet another AMITYVILLE sequel. What would be next, AMITYVILLE 9: SATAN’S MICROWAVE??

What happened on that night, thirty-three years ago? What could drive Butch DeFeo to murder six people; not strangers, but his intimate family? How could one individual shoot six people, in four separate bedrooms, with a high-powered rifle without any evidence that they were aware that they were being murdered? I don’t know. But I would very much like to.
I’d like to know just what occurred to push the home of an “All-American” family from obscurity into the national spotlight. I’d like to know what made Butch decide that he had had enough of whatever dysfunction must have permeated that house. I want to know why Ronald, Louise, Dawn, Allison, John, and Marc had to die. Keep the haunted clocks and mirrors; the truth is far more frightening.
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03 November, 2007

Love the Art, Hate the Artist?

Some time ago, I was asked, along with others, if we had any ideas for a piece on the film JEEPERS CREEPERS. At first I was reluctant; though I love the movie, and think that it’s one of the best recent Horror Films out there, to say that I am ambivalent about the director is putting it way too mildly. To be blunt, I can’t stand Victor Salva, and it quite frankly bothers me to watch anything with which he’s connected.

Now, I’ve stated before that I refuse to watch films or listen to music from certain performers, people like Susan Sarandon, George Clooney, or Janene Garafalo. It’s not simply the fact that their political viewpoints are diametrically opposed to my own. I’m not na├»ve, nor am I an absolutist; if I only watched films from actors whose political philosophies were in agreement with my own, then I’d pretty much be limited to constant marathons of John Wayne, Chuck Norris, and Ronald Reagan films. Seriously, I loved the man as President, I wept when he died, but there’s only so much I can take of BEDTIME FOR BONZO.

But certain artists are so outspoken in their beliefs that it overshadows their careers as entertainers, making it impossible for me to separate out their public personas from their on-screen roles. It’s difficult to enjoy a movie that stars someone who’s every off-screen breath is spent ridiculing and insulting the things you hold most dear. But those are political differences; they have a right to voice their opinions, just as I have a right to ignore their projects.

My difficulty with Salva, as well as with another, more prominent director, Roman Polanski, has nothing to do with politics, and they are not the least bit outspoken about it. In fact, it’s safe to say that most of their fans know nothing of it. What’s the reason I have problems with both directors? Simple—both are convicted sex offenders.

Salva confessed to, and was convicted of, multiple crimes against the then twelve-year old star of CLOWNHOUSE, a 1989 Horror Film that was his feature debut. He served fifteen months of a three-year sentence, and upon his release registered as a sex offender in Los Angeles County. This fact probably would’ve been ignored, save for the protests that the victim, Nathan Winters, staged upon the announcement that a subsidiary of Walt Disney films had signed Salva to direct the 1995 film POWDER. Even that was quickly forgotten, and Salva has gone on to have a moderately profitable career, with the 2001 JEEPERS CREEPERS narrowly beating out it’s sequel for his most commercially successful venture to date.

Polanski, on the other hand, fled the country following his 1977 conviction for the drugging and rape of a thirteen-year old girl in a home owned by Jack Nicholson. He had pled guilty to the charge of Statutory Rape, in hopes of avoiding a prison sentence; however, when it appeared the judge was unlikely to uphold the plea agreement, Polanski fled to France.

So, what difference is there between these two “artists?” Not much. Except for the fact that Salva paid for his crime, and as far as anyone is aware, has not re-offended. Polanski fled his punishment, and has been avoiding his fate for nearly thirty years now. One is regarded as a great director, even having a Best Director Oscar on his mantle, hand-delivered by his friend Harrison Ford. The other is a mediocre director, with three commercially viable films under his belt. Is it fair for me to lump them both together in the “Do Not Watch” category? Perhaps not… but I nonetheless do. And were I to differentiate, on what would I base it? Should I lean towards the fugitive-from-justice Oscar winner, or the average hack who paid for his crimes?

Now, I will freely admit that I own films from both men, four of Polanski’s and three of Salva’s. Even minus the personal issues, I’m not a fan of Polanski’s work, and watch those movies seldom, if ever. And my opinion of Salva’s work isn’t much better, with one exception: JEEPERS CREEPERS.

One of the most original ideas to come from Hollywood in a long time, JEEPERS CREEPERS broke out of the typical “Dawson’s Creek meets Charles Manson” style of Horror that Kevin Williamson gave birth to with SCREAM, which so dominated the genre from the late ‘90’s through the first years of this decade. JEEPERS… condensed the action down to two people, a brother and sister, being pursued by a supernatural entity on a twenty-three day feeding frenzy. No feel-good romantic crap, no red herrings, no “hook-handed-slasher-falling-off-the-boat” happy ending. Just the two kids, and the thing that is hunting them. And it works, very well. The story is unrelenting, the characterizations of Trish and Darry are natural and involving, the design of the Creeper is superb, and the ending is anything but happy. In short, it’s everything that SCREAM and it’s inexhaustible supply of clones was not. And yes, I love the movie.

JEEPERS CREEPERS was a very bright spot in a year that was replete with bright spots in the genre. FRAILTY; JOY RIDE; SESSION 9; FROM HELL; THIRTEEN GHOSTS; THE OTHERS… all were released in 2001, and JEEPERS CREEPERS stands out among them as one of the year’s best, at least in my opinion.

But as good as the film is… as much as I enjoy it… I still can’t forget that the man responsible for it is a convicted child molester. Though he may stand head and shoulders above Polanski for accepting the responsibility, and the punishment, for his actions, that doesn’t change what he did. Nor should it.

Do I still watch JEEPERS CREEPERS? Yes, every time the mood hits, and I see it sitting on the shelf. Do I still enjoy it as much? Yes, every time. Do I feel badly for enjoying it?

Yes, a little… every time. But what really bothers me is that I don’t feel worse than I do.

DVD Review: THE WICKER MAN (2006)

Year of Release—Film: 2006

Year of Release—DVD: 2007

DVD Label: Warner Home Video



THE MOVIE

Christopher Lee, possessed of no small body of work with which to compare it, has stated that his portrayal of Lord Summerisle in the 1973 film THE WICKER MAN was his favorite role. I doubt very seriously if anyone will be making a similar claim regarding this chunk of cinematic excrement, the horrendously unnecessary remake from the uninspired Neil LaBute.

Robin Hardy’s 1973 version of the film, written by Anthony Shaffer, was one of the best Horror Films of the ‘70’s and remains one of my favorite British Horrors. It’s a literate, intelligent, beautifully filmed story of an isolated island village with pagan beliefs, and the devout Christian policeman sent to investigate a young girl’s disappearance. The remake bears only a superficial resemblance to that classic, and the differences are not endearing.

Nicholas Cage is a fine actor; he can, when called upon, perform well in a wide variety of roles. Comedy; drama; romance; action… all are film genres at which Cage has succeeded. Horror, however, has not yet been added to that list. He is singularly unimpressive in the role of Edward Malus, a California Police Officer summoned to aid an old girlfriend (Kate Beahan in an emotionless, lifeless job of acting…) in a search for her missing daughter. He finds an isolated community in Puget Sound following ancient Celtic practices, led by Sister Summersilse, played by the usually talented Ellen Burstyn. No one shines in this mish-mash of bad characterization, illogical plotting, and horrible dialogue, especially when compared to the exceptional performances of Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, and Elke Sommer in the original.

Nor is the acting the only area of deficiency in this remake. The script, by director LaBute, is in a word, terrible. Everything that made the original film unique and impressive has been stripped out, replaced by special effects and dream sequences. The slow, steady build-up to a dramatic, frightening, satisfying conclusion has been supplanted by jump-cuts and sudden scares. When the end does arrive, you’re well past the point of caring any longer.



THE DISC

The Double-Sided disc is about what you would expect for a major new release, even an inferior one. The quality is excellent, with subtitles and multiple language tracks. It seems like putting lipstick on a pig to this reviewer, but WHV maintains its high standards on this DVD.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

Warner Home Video, usually the one of the best DVD distributors out there, at least in terms of the bonus features, really skimped on this dog. Perhaps this reflects the generally poor reception the movie received in theatrical release, or maybe there simply wasn’t enough interest in doing something special for the DVD. Whatever the reason, there is an absolute dearth of features here.

The main “special feature” is the extended version present on Side A of the disc, promising scenes “too shocking…” for theatrical release. Don’t bother. It sucks just as much as the theatrical version, only for a longer period of time… 102 minutes of my life, to be exact. I’m certain, as I someday lay on my deathbed and my life passes before my eyes, I’ll be forced to relive each and every one of those 102 minutes in slow motion, in partial expurgation of my past sins.
The only other features on the disc are the theatrical trailer and a commentary track, featuring the director, cast member Leelee Sobieski, (who has maybe four lines in the movie…) and the costume designer. I guess the craft services guy and Best Boy were too busy to make it in. As much as I enjoy looking at Sobieski on film, listening to her drone on about a movie she barely appears in is not my idea of entertaining; nor am I interested in hearing how LaBute got the idea to bastardize one of my favorite films. It is telling that none of the leads saw fit to record commentary for this project, however.



IN CONCLUSION

There is usually a price-point at which I consider a movie a good buy, even one that I may not find as entertaining as it could be. This disc does not have such a price. I got mine out of a $5 discount bin, and I feel ripped off. Please take whatever money you might have planned to spend on this refuse, and instead hunt for the superb 1973 original. If you do insist on watching this, then please, wait for it to hit TV… at least that way, all you’ve lost is time.