Hidey-ho neighborinos! Yeah, I know the Pup and I have been missing for *pauses to check calender* HOLY SHIT! It’s been over a month. Damn, real life is always trying to take away me and Pup’s fun. 😦 But that’s okay with a swift kick in our ass from our beloved blog mistress (okay, I know it was a reminder, but a kick is more dramatic) we sat down and dusted off one of our favorite cross-genre movies. *glares at the Pup* Don’t look at me like that. I said CROSS-GENRE not CROSS-DRESSER. No worries, Pup, your secret is safe with me. I think you look lovely in that glittery purple feather boa…damn…did I say that aloud? I did…didn’t I?
Okay, let’s all forget that conversation happened. Besides we’re here for the MOVIE REVIEW!! *tosses confetti*
The Frighteners (1996)
CAST: Michael J. Fox, Trina Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Dee Wallace Stone, Jeffrey Combs, Jake Busey, and Chi McBride
Ghostbusters was probably the first mainstream movie to mix comedy and the paranormal. Yeah, sure we had the Abbot and Costello black & white flicks of the 40’s involving the Mummy, Dracula, and even Frankenstein’s monster, but off the top of my head I can’t quite think of another movie that did it quite the same way that Ghostbusters did it. All this talk of Ghostbusters probably has you thinking you read the title of this post wrong—well, you didn’t folks.
Most days I have a tendency to babble, this post is indicative of how that usually goes. Have you ever had the distinct feeling that you’re going senile? Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, I decided to review a movie this time that is funny, weird, and has scares enough to make even me jump.
Long ago and far away in the verdant land of New Zealand there was a curly-haired jolly fellow known as Peter Jackson. Although, we know him quite well now for his epic trip through the land of Hobbits, in 1996 Mr. Jackson was just beginning to capture the world’s attention. In this case, he caught the attention of the legendary Robert Zemeckis with a story that rides a fine line between comedy and horror.
Michael J. Fox (Spin City, Back to the Future) plays industrious con-man Frank Bannister, psychic investigator and ghost buster for hire in the quaint seaside town of Fairwater. There’s one thing though that no one knows about Frank. His con cleansing houses of the ghosts—the ghosts actually work for him. Contrary to what the townspeople believe, Frank is an honest to God psychic that can see and communicate with the spirits of the dead. His cohorts in crime are Cyrus (Chi McBride, Human Target; Pushing Daisies) a militant African-American who died in the 1970’s with a taste for cigars; Stuart (Jim Fyfe, The X-Files; The Lone Gunmen) a geek from the 1950’s and The Judge (John Astin, The Addams Family; Brisco County, Jr.) a 19th century gunman followed in death by his beloved bloodhound.
Bannister lives along with his ghostly cohorts in what we soon learn was to be his dream house. The house though now sets unfinished, draped in plastic sheeting on the side of a lonely hill overlooking the town. There is more to Frank Bannister and the town of Fairwater than meets the eye.
It seems the town of Fairwater has an epidemic on their hands, a series of deaths with no scientific explanation. Healthy young people dropping dead from what appears to be heart attacks. There’s only one problem, an unseen force, not clogged arteries, crushed their hearts. Rattled by the series of deaths Frank and his ragtag team of ghosts play on the town’s grief earning him a place on the local paper’s target list.
During one of his ghost busting gigs, Frank meets Dr. Lucy Lynsky who works at the local clinic. Her husband Ray is snide self-centered pain who doesn’t believe a thing that Frank says or does. While wrapping up the job Frank sees a fiery number carved in Ray’s forehead that then fades away. At first, he believes it’s a prank created by one of his ghost buddies. Soon we learn why the number affects Frank the way it does. Three years before Frank was a successful architect, married, and a bit of a self-centered ass when he and his wife are in an accident, his wife dies, and he walks away with no memory of what happened and the sudden ability to communicate with the dead. A good portion of the town believes he killed his wife because her body when discovered yards away from the car had the number 13 engraved in her forehead.
After Lucy’s husband is the next to die, she and Frank find themselves caught up in a terrifying game of cat and mouse with the evil entity responsible for the deaths in Fairwater. Standing in their way are the local police and a nutty FBI agent Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs, The 4400; The House on Haunted Hill) who specializes in paranormal crimes (think Fox Mulder on crack with a huge helping of Renfield). Not only that, but the deaths seem to have a link to a hospital murder spree from the past involving the hospital administrators daughter (Dee Wallace-Stone). What they uncover is a plot that comes straight from the grave and Frank Barrister is the only one that can stop it.
As I’ve learned from watching Peter Jackson’s movies, the man is huge on visuals. Now, nearly fifteen years later, the special effects appear dated, but in 1996, they were state of the art. Jackson is not afraid of treading that line that makes the movie watcher nervous—the crossover of genres. In Hollywood where everything is forced to bagged, tagged, and categorized (thank you, again, Mulder) Jackson has the unerring ability to mix comedy, drama, and horror in a perfect balance that leaves the watcher feeling satisfied in the end. For those of you who are fans of the CW series Supernatural I can tell you that Jackson’s work on this movie is without a doubt on Eric Kripke’s list of inspirations.
Michael J. Fox puts in an intense turn as Frank Bannister, a man who believes he has nothing to live for until he’s forced to face the past he’s been running from. He has an edge that we rarely saw in his earlier rolls and yet he can still make you laugh in the middle of a darkness that permeates The Frighteners. The supporting cast is brilliant ranging from the psychotic to the hilarious and everything in between.
Looking for a fun movie with a dark, edge to it for the upcoming holiday weekend I suggest you get your hands on a copy of Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Final Rating: 4/5 Fox Pups
5 Fox Pups – Must See/Can’t Miss
4 Fox Pups – Excellent
3 Fox Pups – Good
2 Fox Pups – Passable
1 Fox Pups – Skip It
HBO has released a new 2 minute trailer for the much anticipated third season of True Blood! Premieres June 13th!
Be sure to visit the HBO website and check out the minisodes as well!
Well, hello there strangers! The Pup and I have been missing in action the past three weeks, but then real life unfortunately takes precedence over fun with movies time. Don’t you hate that? 😛 We’re back though and we come bearing a review of a classic early 70’s horror movie written by the incredible Richard Matheson–The Legend of Hell House! So without further ado…
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
CAST: Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicut, Roland Culver, Peter Bowles, Michael Gough (uncredited)
As many of you might know by now I harbor an obsession with the paranormal. Well, maybe obsession is a bit of an over statement (looks around with guilty eyes)—okay, I admit it I’m obsessed. I blame it on my mother and movies such as The Legend of Hell House that I watched as a kid. By today’s standards of horror this particular movie would be considered tame, but what passes today for horror is little more than torture porn.
Yep, I said it—TORTURE PORN.
Now by just bringing this up I may be opening a can of worms. Many fans of modern horror dislike this term due to the fact they misunderstand the true meaning of it. In particular the word porn which is a shortened form of pornography. Most people hear the word porn they automatically think of sex, but Merriam-Webster lists three separate definitions for the word pornography; the third being the one movie critics are referencing. It is as follows:
- the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction <the pornography of violence>
Although, violence is not new in horror it’s reached an all time peak within the last twenty-five years. Often violence will be elevated and plot tossed to the curb, which is the main reason critics coined the term. The Legend of Hell House, made during the popularization of exploitation films in the 60’s and 70’s, does contain aspects of both sex and violence, but the true focus lies in the personal experiences and education of four characters (two women and two men) who are out to find hard facts proving the existence of the life after death.
Based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson, well known as the thinking man’s paranormal writer (he also wrote the screenplay) The Legend of Hell House opens with a meeting between one of the world’s most renowned parapsychologists, physicist, Dr. Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill, Crime and Punishment; Feast of All Saints) and the wealthy, aged Rudolph Deutsch. Mr. Deutsch wastes no time telling Barrett up front that he wishes him to provide the facts of survival after death and he’s willing to pay him £100,000. Barrett is amused until Deutsch tells him where he can find these facts—Belasco House aka Hell House—the only place on earth where survival after death has yet to be refuted. He tells Barrett that two other people will accompany him on the investigation. A young girl, Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin, a staple of network television in the 70’s and 80’s) who is a mental medium and Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall, Fright Night; Remo Williams) who is a physical medium and the only one to make it out alive during the last investigation of the Belasco House. He then informs Barrett that they have precisely one week in which to accomplish the task.
After accepting the challenge, Barrett explains to his wife that this is not just any house. Belasco has a history, one as dark as hell itself with a body count to match. In the parapsychological community, Hell House is the Mt. Everest of haunted houses. After two failed attempts to investigate the house, leading to the deaths of eight investigators Fischer being the only survivor, the Belasco family sealed the house—until now. Barrett tries to convince his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt, Dallas) to stay behind due to the dangerous nature of the investigation. Of course, she’s having none of it and insists on going.
Introduced to Fischer first, a silent and intense man, and we get the impression right off the bat that he knows more about what’s going on in the house than anyone else. He was fifteen when he dragged himself out, the lone survivor of the last investigation twenty years prior. It’s obvious he’s no fool and he’s well aware that returning to the place of his nightmares may just destroy him completely this time. Florence, whom they pick up at a convent in the English countryside, is a mix of innocence, self-importance, and stubbornness. We learn later that she finds the idea of Barrett’s disbelief in existence after death ludicrous and close-minded. Not to mention she believes that what is labeled paranormal has an intimate connection to religion and spiritual belief.
On their arrival at Hell House, an imposing Victorian manor, surrounded by a gated fence, gargoyles, and undulating mists that seem to possess a life of their own, each of the group have different reactions. Its towering peaked roofs looming through the mist is what one would expect of a classic haunted house. The manor was literally sealed—even the windows bricked up so no natural light dare penetrate the shadows within. What adds to the atmosphere of our introduction is the deep booming electronic score created by Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire that resembles the beat of drums in the jungle or the rhythm of a human heart.
What is obvious about the characters is that the house openly affects the two women the most. Ann is in silent awe of the stature and size of the house. Florence on the other hand is quite vocal about her opinion referring to the house as hideous. When Barrett checks her at the front door by stating they are not inside yet, she informs him that she doesn’t have to be. As they enter, the viewer knows without doubt that the only one in the party who is awaiting a greeting of some sort is Fischer, who silently takes in everything, and whose expression speaks volumes. Roddy McDowall who breathes life into Fischer was one of the best character actors of his time, small in stature he might have been, but what he lacked in that department he made up for in his subtle yet mesmerizing performances. His performance as Fischer draws the viewer in and makes one wonder exactly what he is hiding behind those dark eyes.
Almost immediately, the impression is given that something lurks in the shadows watching and biding its time as the investigators settle in. As the movie progresses we begin to understand the darkness that lurks in Hell House is arrogant, and considers the group nothing more than mice in a maze. It also knows who it can manipulate and why. Dr. Barrett, for his unwillingness to believe in anything beyond his scientific theories, Ann because of her own insecurities within her marriage to Barrett, Florence because of her arrogance and immaturity, and finally Fischer because of the fear he refuses to reveal outwardly. One by one, each member of the team discovers themselves manipulated, using their flaws against themselves, and each other. The outbursts become more violent with each passing day until only the most foolish could deny that there truly is something not of this world inhabiting the halls of Hell House.
The Legend of Hell House relies more on mind games, minor special effects, and camera angles to inundate the story with a sense of horror than out and out violence. One of the most infamous moments from the film is when what appears to be a possessed cat physically attacks Florence (the scene was recreated for laughs in the Wayans’ Brothers film Scary Movie 2 in 2001). The atmosphere is claustrophobic, a sense of human depravity laced throughout, suggesting that even in death, the sickest appetites do not rest.
Final Rating: 4/5 Fox Pups
5 Fox Pups – Must See/Can’t Miss
4 Fox Pups – Excellent
3 Fox Pups – Good
2 Fox Pups – Passable
1 Fox Pups – Skip It