Directed by: Werner Herzog
Category: Drama

One of the things I've yet to do is immerse myself in Werner Herzog's filmography. While I have seen a very slight few of his films, I must admit that I have not seen a good majority of his work. In his vast catalog of films, Fitzcarraldo always seems to be at the top. When I recently watched William Friedkin's excellent Sorcerer for the first time, Fernando over at The Film Connoisseur suggested this film, saying that it was similar in tone and theme. After a few months I finally sat my ass down in what I knew would be a long Sunday afternoon essential Herzog viewing, and I was right.

I'm just going to come right out and say it. I didn't really care too much for this film. Gasp! Don't kill me! I can definitely understand the appeal; crazy story and even crazier star, but none of it really gelled with me. Performances aside, Herzog can certainly put a film together rather well, but judging solely on his work in this film alone, I wouldn't necessarily call him a stylish director. A few scenes indeed stand out, but I found the majority of his visual aesthetic to be humdrum at most. Often times I found myself commenting on how much he shoots things in close-up, where I really thought the scenes could have benefited in a wide shot. But that's just me. I've seen the pictures, the trailer and the promotional material and so naturally, my excitement is in wanting to get to the "scene". You know, the "moving the huge boat over the mountain" sequence. Unfortunately it takes nearly 2 hours for this sequence to come to fruition. In the meantime we are treated to drastically slow tale of a mans passion for the opera, his brash and unorthodox behavior, and his relentless pursuit of the seemingly unattainable. I know some love this film to death, and as I said before, I can certainly understand why for cinephiles. For me personally, I found it all rather dull and incredibly uninteresting. I could bet that a good 30 minutes at least could have easily been cut without losing any of the films integrity.

But I will admit that when the film does eventually reach that third act, it's an astonishing display of Grade A filmmaking at it's finest. This is where the film really shines, and considering all the logistics that go into pulling something like this off, it's mind-bogglingly awesome. With that being said, it wasn't nearly enough to save the experience for me. It's quite fascinating to see something this grande physically happening in an authentic way. If this film was made today, I can guarantee you that it would most likely be done using a healthy dose of CGI to do the things that Herzog and his production team were able to accomplish using practical ingenuity. On that end, it's a stunning accomplishment. But that's where my praise for this film ultimately ends.

I have yet to see Burden of Dreams, the full length documentary based on the harrowing ordeal of making this film and Herzog's tumultuous relationship with his often leading man Klaus Kinski, but I hear it's pretty good. I do own it and plan to watch it soon, and maybe it will help me appreciate this film a little more. For my personal tastes, I feel Sorcerer is a far superior film in almost every way. Different genre's altogether, yes, but both displaying a titular character set out to do the seemingly impossible against all odds. Until then.....


Saw II

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Category: Horror

Released just a year after the original, Darren Lynn Bousman takes over directing duties this time out, with Leigh Whannell again returning as co-writer (along with Bousman), and begins to resemble more of the type of film the franchise is known for. Instead of just 2 people like in the first film, this time out a whole group of unwitting participants are forced to endure a series of unimaginable tests and traps, with each character having a common link.

I rather enjoyed this film a lot more than the first one. Though Bousman's direction isn't any stronger than James Wan's in the original, there are a lot more kills, gore, and all around it's a better film because it's the start of what the franchise is to become and what it's known for. Structurally, it's a bit different than the first film; a welcome change in my opinion. This entry also has the added benefit of having Donnie Wahlberg (The best thing about Dead Silence) playing another cop, though a completely different type than his role in that film. Wouldn't it have been amazing if it was the same cheesy character from Dead Silence?! But his addition to the cast is a welcome surprise because he's definitely a better actor than most people give him credit for.

There's nothing terribly interesting in this entry, other than the more elaborate kills and torture devices. So in that department, I guess you can say it's a bit more original. But as I look back on it, I can't really think of a single scene that really stood out more than any of the others. Perhaps the pit needle scene? There are more cringe-inducing scenes for sure, but none that really make this stand out in my book. One of the added benefits this time around is that it's a much faster pace than the first one. Instead of building up to a conclusion, this entry basically throws you into the story right in the beginning and it's essentially a series of traps and set-ups for every character forced to participate, while simultaneously try to figure out what the common link they all share is. It's breakneck pace is refreshing though, for that I give them props.

Overall a refreshing addition to the franchise for a number of reasons; Wahlberg's character being incorporated into the storyline, some fresh inventive kills, a faster more hectic pace, and the gore department delivers the goods. I liked it more than I was expecting to, and coupled with Darren Lynn Bousman's "safe" direction, Saw II ultimately plays out like a solid horror film, the kind I was hoping for. On that note, it delivers the goods. Unfortunately I'm finding it hard to get excited about it or to be enthusiastic with this review. I liked it, but nothing about it really got me pumped up. I definitely enjoyed it more than the first one, with the effects and gore department delivering some outstanding work. But it just didn't blow me away. Overall a solid torture porn film where the participants make the stupidest decisions imaginable, much to both our delight and frustration, Saw II elevates all the ideas and concepts conceived in the first film and dials it up several notches. Now on to Saw III!
To be continued...


The Taking of Deborah Logan

Directed by: Adam Robitol
Category: Horror

It goes without saying that I detest "found footage" films. I hate them. After Oren Peli re-ignited the sub-genre back in 2007 with the vomit-inducing Paranormal Activity, it seems every wannabe director used this concept as a way of breaking into the business and exploiting a concept to death. They're not all terrible though. While a good 95% of them just flat out suck, there are a few gems in the crowd that help you forget that most of these films are simply made because they are cheap to produce, and pretty much anyone can direct them since running around with a camera and spinning it back and forth as much as possible doesn't require any real talent. The Taking of Deborah Logan is an excellent example of doing a "found footage" film right, and bless them for that.

I had never heard of this film before, until a reviewer I follow mentioned how great it was around the same time it premiered for streaming on Netlix. Needless to say, that night we had our sights set on what to watch and The Taking of Deborah Logan did not disappoint.

A team of students decide to chronicle a woman who seems to be suffering from Alzheimer's as part of a study for their school. Though reluctant, the woman agrees and soon things become much worse for everyone involved as it seems that Alzheimer's may not be the culprit after all, but rather something much, much worse. 

 What I loved about this film is that while most found footage filmmakers (I use that term loosely) think they know what it takes to make a low-budget film successful, writer/director/editor Adam Robitel does. Having worked with Bryan Singer for a number of years, he knows exactly what it takes to build tension and suspense, and none of that involves throwing the camera around like you're high on crack. Using a variety of different techniques to tell the story such as video footage, surveillance footage and news reports, he effortlessly blends them all together to tell a compelling and cohesive story that slowly builds itself to a stunning climax. Sure, a lot of what you see in here you've seen before, but I can guarantee you that there's also a lot that you haven't, and for that, TToDL takes a few large leaps above average in this sub-genre.

I feel that I need to mention, and I can't stress this enough, that the BEST thing about this film is it's lead, Jill Larson, who plays the titular Deborah Logan. Her psychological and physical descent, all with the power of acting, is breathtaking. Watching her take on a transformation with no help of special effects or CGI is nothing short of astonishing. Had Larson not been the lead in this, I seriously doubt that the events of the film, and the film in general, would or could have been as effective or successful. She was fantastic and I'm sure anyone who's seen this will agree with me.

Found Footage is an easy type of film to make. So much so that we get at least half a dozen new ones every year. The problem is that most of them aren't successful just because you think you can pick up a home video camera and record some crazy shit and try to "jump scare" us. Thankfully TToDL and it's team does everything right and knows exactly what it takes to tell a story, build tension, offer outstanding performances, and delivers the goods in an otherwise severely saturated field. *Hint: It doesn't involve running around with a camera and making us nauseous. I'm not going to go out on a limb and say this film reinvents the wheel or anything, but for a solid, well-made low-budget horror film with outstanding qualities both in front of and behind the camera, it doesn't get any better than this.


The Shadow

Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Category: Action/Adventure

Russell Mulcahy is a baffling director, and I can't stress that enough. When the guy is firing on all cylinders, he can knock out some pretty stellar work. Unfortunately these moments are few and far between in his long and vast directing career that spans over 3 decades. Let me put it this way. The same director released both one of his best films and one of his worst films the same year with Ricochet (one of his best) and Highlander II: The Quickening (one of his worst). And if you didn't already know beforehand, you'd never guess the same guy made both of these films as aesthetically, they couldn't be anymore different. Whereas Ricochet is undoubtedly one of his most visually impressive works to date, infusing every single frame of film with so much style that it's almost too good for this type of film, Highlander II comes off as one of the most visually bland and uninspired messes in recent memory, and that's coming from a guy who actually loves his original Highlander (despite it's problems) to death, while most do not. Even I agree that Highlander II is an un-savable mess, no matter how many ways you cut it.

Aside from the excellent Ricochet, let's not forget that Mulcahy is also responsible for other great pieces of work like the original Highlander and Razorback in the plus department. I can now easily count The Shadow among them. Let's forget for a moment that Russell Mulcahy has directed so many humdrum direct-to-video misfires and an endless barrage of television and music video work and focus more on the few gigs worth noting, the few bright spots in his eclectic filmography. Films like The Shadow.

I'm not going to say that this was a great film, but it's a good one, and a notable effort in his mixed bag of varying degrees of success. Watching The Shadow brought back fond memories and more similarities of Dick Tracy than I remember. Both have great production value, design and ambition. Both have an impeccable visual brilliance and casting, but they also suffer from the same problems that keep them both from achieving greatness.

One of the things that this film, along with Dick Tracy, suffers from is that it teeters on both serious and playful, not ever really finding that right balance. And that's not necessarily Mulcahy's fault. David Koepp's script often spends too much time having to explain things, and not really enough time entertaining us. There's a lot of exposition, but none of it is terribly interesting. We get a lot of Lamont Cranston's/The Shadow backstory and a plot regarding an atomic bomb being set off in the city, but what we don't get is a lot of cool scenes of The Shadow running around fighting crime in that cool-ass cape. Baffingly, those sequences are few and far between and for a movie called The Shadow, we see very little of that character. If I had to guess, I'd say maybe 15% of the time? Which honestly just isn't that much time at all. It's like having Michael Keaton in the Batman suit for only 20 minutes of the movie!

Completely unaware that Shout! Factory released this at some point in the last couple of years, I refused to watch Universal's 1997 DVD release because it was in dreaded Full Frame. So I was able to track down a Letterboxed Laserdisc for next to nothing and it also gave me an excuse to dust off the ol' player. While not in true widescreen, it's definitely the next best thing and far superior to Full Frame, though as we all know, Laserdisc just isn't up to snuff with DVD in terms of quality. But whatever. The point I'm getting at is that I'm glad I waited for the Laserdisc to check this out because visually, The Shadow is lush with vibrant imagery and an aesthetic that displays Mulcahy's knack for directing. None of this would be apparent had I watched this in it's most common form, the dreaded pan and scan/full frame edition from Universal back in '97. If this stuff matters to you, like it does me, it's worth the effort and extra bills to track down Shout! Factory's more recent release, or grab it's Laserdisc for fairly cheap on eBay.

Overall I actually quite liked this film a lot, if anything for it's impressive style. The production and design of everything in this in terms of the decor, sets, cityscape, wardrobe, and camera work is very impressive. The cast, led by Alec Baldwin (back when he was starring in films) is pretty fantastic as well. Penelope Ann Miller is criminally hot in this, and if you can look past John Lone's silly fake beard, he pulls off villain mode rather well. Ian McKellan, unfortunately, is a waste in this. He plays a scientist that's forced to create and activate the bomb and I'm not entirely sure, but I believe he was going for an American accent in this, but it's honestly hard to tell. Most of his scenes though are carried out while he's in a subconscious fog having been hypnotized by Shiwan Khan (John Lone), the descendant of Genghis Khan, to build and deploy this atomic bomb for him. So he's kind of just there in body, but he's not really all there in spirit and it just seems like such a waste for an actor of his caliber.

It feels like it needed to be a little more fun with a lot more action, so in that department The Shadow fails, but only marginally. I do have one question though. Why is it that when Lamont Cranston is in Shadow mode, he looks almost exactly like his brother Billy Baldwin? Part of the deal is that when he dons the cape and mask, his face physically changes. But I wonder if they purposely tried to make him look like his brother? I can't be alone in this thought.



Directed by: James Wan
Category: Horror

I think most of you will be surprised to learn that I've never actually seen any of the Saw films before. Well, that's not true. I had only seen this film once before, and honestly couldn't remember much about it other than the basic storyline. When I look back on it, I find it almost shocking to realize that James Wan is half responsible for creating the Torture Porn sub-genre. Why? Well because he's been more known for making spooky ghost stories more than anything. I'm not sure if co-writer/director James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) and co-writer/actor Leigh Whannell had their sights set on a franchise right from the get-go, but with a limited budget and some sheer raw talent, they ultimately created one of the most successful horror franchises in film history, in a time when the genre was saturated with tired formulas and weak uninspired slasher sequels that couldn't hold a torch to anything produced in the 80's. But then Saw comes along, seemingly out of nowhere, and creates a totally new horror icon, a new sub-genre, and most importantly, the need for horror fans to get their asses back into those theater seats.

It's been 10 years since this films original release, and while this new genre of horror or these films in particular are nothing to get excited about anymore, October of 2004 was a totally different story. While the films (7 as of this date) have changed dramatically in tone and substance since it's original inception, the core of the story and the mythology is here in the first one, just not over the top and in your face like the rest of them have grown to be. Being as I'd never gotten around to watching these, when Lionsgate recently released the entire set in a rather cheap Blu-ray set (3 films per disc?), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally do so.

Saw was surprising to me for a number of different reasons. First off, it's strikingly apparent that James Wan has grown considerably as a visual director since this film (his 2nd as director). While most of it is decent, a few amateurish sequences (like the car sequence) here and there surprised me quite a bit. But that's really just nitpicking, because overall, it was a solid effort. 3 years later he would give us Dead Silence, his most visually impressive film to date, and I wonder if that has more to do with him or his DoP? In either case, while not terribly inventive in the visual department, he tries his best to give it a Seven vibe; dark and gritty. The problem is that it's just not always successful. I was also surprised to see that the gore content was considerably lower than what I was expecting, and the kills, which the franchise in general has been known for, were few and far between. I guess the history and reputation of this series had me expecting something grande, but again, it's just nitpicking on my part. I don't know if writer/actor/co-creator Leigh Whannell already had the vision of the franchise set in his head or not at this point, but I never would have guessed the direction it would eventually take simply based on this film alone. With that being said, it's an impressive start, and a good standalone film in it's own right. Dark, gritty, violent (at times) with both a shocking and satisfying conclusion. It takes it's time setting things up, and it's more concerned with telling a fleshed out story rather than shocking you with it's gore content, which is where I think the series eventually leads to.

One of the things I found that helped the film was it's low budget. Being under the constraints of a limited budget allowed Wan and his crew to experiment with different ideas and technical know-how to produce something creative and unique. Most of the film takes place in a single room, which you'd think would be difficult to keep interesting, yet they find a way by changing up styles and frequently keeping things tight. The constant sense of claustrophobia lends itself to a constant uneasiness that keeps driving the film forward to it's dramatic conclusion. Not a bad start for a young filmmaker who'd only had one other film released before this. I should also add that Charlie Clouser's riveting and catchy score only adds to the films overall intense vibe, and Saw is all the better for it. It's a great theme and one that I hope continues on through the subsequent films.

I'm not going to say that I loved it, but I'm glad I saw it. I feel it's a start if I'm to try and understand the appeal of this long running series that seemed to knock them out literally every year. Now on to Part 2! To be continued...


Legend: The Director's Cut

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Category: Fantasy

I have fond memories of being enamored by this fantasy film going back to my mid teen's when this first came out. The design, the look, the lush visuals, and most of all, fucking Tim Curry's knockout performance as Darkness. Funny thing though is that I don't actually remember if it was a good movie or not, just that the design of the whole thing always impressed the hell out of me.

Somehow in some way this film popped inside my head recently and I realized that it had been ages since I revisited it. Without a moments hesitation I got online and snagged the Ultimate Edition, which includes both the Theatrical Cut with the Tangerine Dream score, and the Director's Cut, which includes about 8 minutes of new footage as well as re-inserting Jerry Goldsmith's original score. Of course I went straight with the Director's Cut in my first outing, with plans to revisit the Theatrical version shortly. I was curious to see if this new version would be so dramatically different that I'll have a greater appreciation for it, or if my feelings would generally remain the same.

Essentially, my feelings remain the same. The Director's Cut, with added footage and a different, more magical score than what I was used to, didn't really bring anything new to the experience for me. There's a lot to love aesthetically about Legend; the set design, Scott's brilliant visuals, Rob Bottin's stunning makeup work - especially when it comes to Darkness - basically the whole production. That's what people have and will always walk away from with Legend. But Legend is definitely lacking in several departments that hinder it's ability to become just flat out awesome. I was gonna use Legendary, but the fact of the matter is that it is indeed legendary. Though a box office dud during it's initial theatrical run, it's certainly amassed a healthy cult status since and remains one of the most visually impressive fantasy films ever made. But it's not without it's problems.

Both versions of the film suffer from the same issues, too dull for the majority of the running time, and not nearly enough action/adventure or excitement as there should be. Sure it's a fantasy/fable, but you've also got to keep us invested and entertained, especially when it's nearly impossible to understand what any of the actors are saying, other than Cruise, Mia Sara and Tim Curry, without using subtitles due to the specific way the elves and fairies speak. So much of the film relies on visuals that they often forget to keep things exciting. It's pretty to look at, sure, but when it's an endless trek for the protagonist (Tom Cruise) as he searches for his love, along with his elf friends, you're kind of left just waiting and waiting for Darkness to show up, which he does, but not until the very last 30 minutes! Then the film resembles more of what you expect going in in the first place. But having to sit through an entire hour of whimsical just to get to 30 minutes of awesome is a little bothersome.

Of course, it's with these last 30 minutes where Legend really shines, and it's what most will remember. Darkness is front and center, and Ridley Scott's visual flair is on full display. Everything about this third act, except maybe for Darkness's flimsy horns while he's running, are expertly executed for a more darker and sinister finale. This is what I'm sure everyone was hoping for in terms of how Legend would play out. Too bad it's not until the very end. In an interview contained in the special features, Scott himself has gone on record as saying that there were a few things he would change given the chance, like adding more action and adventure into the story, and not succumbing to pressure by severely cutting it down from his original vision. Apparently, a stoned moviegoer at a screening that Scott also attended made a few comments, which ultimately threw Scott into panic mode and resulted in his cutting the film down considerably. Because a guy who was stoned had a big mouth.

Makeup effects master Rob Bottin has been in the business since the mid '70's. The man is responsible for some truly stellar makeup work such as John Carpenters The Thing, The Howling, Total Recall, and most importantly, designing Robocop's iconic suit. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but my feelings are that easily the best thing about this film is Rob Bottin's stunning makeup job creating Darkness, arguably the best interpretation of the devil I've ever seen on film. Most of Bottin's work has been iconic to say the least, none more important than his work on Robocop and Darkness, but I have one question; Why is it that he hasn't worked on anything since 2002?

I don't hate it, but I don't love it either. It falls a few steps short of brilliant for a number of reasons, but remarkably, it's still entertaining because of it's audacious production and a clear indication of Ridley Scott's impeccable attention to detail and his brilliant eye. It's absolutely worth a purchase because for a mere $10-$15 you get 2 versions of the film, along with a great documentary and a healthy dose of other special features. It's pure eye candy, plain and simple. Nothing more.


Best Underrated Horror Sequels

When it comes to sequels, it's safe to say that the majority of them are not very good. It's a hard thing to tackle, to take a fresh take on a story that was pretty stellar with it's original inception, though it does happen from time to time with amazing results. Aliens, Superman II, Godfather II, The Empire Strikes Back, The Road Warrior, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spider-Man 2 (2004), Terminator 2, and so on. Horror sequels are even harder. The majority of original horror films are pretty great, and most are hard to top. But there are some great horror sequels out there. Some top the original in almost every way, while others are just flat out great as a sequel on their own merit, not meaning or needing to top their predecessor. Here is a list of my favorite horror sequels that should be given some more consideration.

Exorcist III: Legion
I remember seeing this in the theater as a teenager and being bored to tears. So much so that I blocked the entire experience from my memory, remembering nothing but a single frame of film that has always stuck with me. It's the scene of Kinderman (George C. Scott) being thrown up against a padded cell wall and staying there, suspended with the power of the possessed patient he's there to question.

I don't remember why exactly, but I decided to give this film another go recently, and the result was one of the best film experiences and surprises I can remember. Exorcist III plays out more like a really dark and terrifying detective thriller more than anything, but it's execution is flawless. Superior camera work from original Exorcist novelist William Peter Blatty (who did writing and directing duties on this one), a taught and extremely well written script with some witty dialogue, and some moments of pure adrenaline filled suspense that make it easily one of the best, most underrated horror films in the last 30 years. The cast is fantastic, with Brad Dourif (who I forgot was even in this) giving one helluva intense performance. For a more in-depth review of this great film, you can read my review HERE. This has also recently been released on Blu ray for the first time by Warner Home Video for fairly cheap. I'd snag that baby up pronto if I were you.

Psycho II
Hitchcock's original Psycho is regarded as one of the best horror/thriller's ever made, and for good reason. His direction is razor sharp, and the performances are flawless. But rarely are any of the sequels ever mentioned. I'd heard good things about this one throughout the years, but never really gave it or any of the following sequels a whirl because the original was never one of my favorite films in the first place, or one of my favorite horror films in general.

Back in June I decided to change all that by finally attempting to watch Psycho II for the first time, and I have to say, I found it to be a smart, clever, engaging, fun and all around better film than the original. What did he just say? I know, I may be in the minority on this one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it so much that I just fell in love with it. Overall, I feel that it captures a certain vibe that was missing from the first one, and the fact that it was made in the early 80's only adds to it's charm. Director Richard Franklin (Patrick, Road Games, Cloak & Dagger), a protege of Hitchcock, and writer Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child's Play) both offer up some stellar work in their respective departments. It's a solid film through and through and for my money, better than the first one in almost every way. Sure there's no "shocking" sequence that can top the shower sequence or the "big reveal" of the original, but it's out-of-left-field surprising twist ending even had me picking my jaw up off the floor. Scream Factory has released a pretty great Blu ray of this about a year ago that is arguably the best release to purchase. You can check out my review of this film HERE.

The Collection
Few modern horror films have impressed me as much as this single film has. I'd only vaguely heard about the first film in the series, The Collector, but never really had an opportunity to come across it. I'd read that it was better than you'd expect it to be, and the cover art always intrigued me. But still, I never made any effort to seek it out. When the sequel The Collection hit Netflix streaming, I thought I'd give it shot regardless of the fact that I never actually saw the first film.

While I was somewhat lost for the first few minutes, my girlfriend filled in the blanks for me since she had actually seen the first one. I can honestly say without hesitation that The Collection is arguably one of the best modern horror films out today. Marcus Dunstan, who cut his teeth writing the Feast films, the Piranha remakes, as well as Saw 4, 5 & 6 made his directorial debut with the first Collector, a sort of home invasion/Saw hybrid where a guy wearing a killer mask invades a home, and systematically sets up some impressive traps for the people living inside of it - and it seems that he did some serious homework because he grew considerably as a director from that film to this one and the results are outstanding. The Collection stands as a stellar example of a slasher film, with Dunstan displaying some considerable talent behind the camera. The Collection is a vast improvement aesthetically and thematically over the first film, and one of the best examples of a modern slasher film in recent memory. Now comes word that their are plans in the work for a third installment (FINALLY!!) and I couldn't be more excited. You can check out my original review of this excellent slasher HERE.

Halloween II (1981)
Believe it or not, I only ever saw this film literally just this past year for the first time. Gasp! I have no excuses. It's just one of those films that always slipped through the cracks for me. Released 3 years after the mega success of John Carpenter's original, Carpenter and writing/producing partner Debra Hill returned for this sequel, only this time as the films writers and producers, leaving the directing duties to Rick Rosenthal. While Rosenthal's use of the steadicam is in no way near as effective or creative as Carpenter's, he does a pretty bang up job following in Carpenter's footsteps, doing his best to duplicate both the look and feel of that seminal film. It doesn't always work, but even when it doesn't, it's oozing a solid structure, style and sense of constant dread that makes it easily one of the best sequels out there, even outside of the horror genre. Not to mention it's time period (early 80's), which adds that extra bit of flavor.

The slasher genre has always been one of my favorites, but the Halloween franchise has never been a favorite of mine. Let's face it, the first three are the only good ones. Anything after Season of the Witch has been either uninspired, rushed, lame, or just flat-out awful. Most of the Halloween films suck, and that's kind of embarrassing. But what we have here is essential viewing for any slasher fanatic, because though it's been over 30 years since this entry, it's stood the test of time.

Halloween II (2009)
Rob Zombie really doesn't get the credit he deserves for reviving a dead in the water franchise and giving the slasher genre some life. Really. I'll admit, it took me 5 years after it's initial release to finally bring myself to watch this because up until this point, I hadn't been much of a fan of his particular style of filmmaking. But all that changed when I gave this a whirl and proceeded to have my mind blown. Rob Zombie's unrated version of H2 is undoubtedly one of the most brutal slasher films ever made. This thing is just downright savage, ruthless and unrelenting. It was also the first time I noticed that Zombie could possess a keen visual eye for directing. This was of course before I saw his Kubrikian opus Lords of Salem. But here, his visuals are far more attractive than most of what he accomplished with his first Halloween remake. I've since learned he had a method for what he did with his previous Halloween film, but that didn't make it any more enjoyable for me. But here it's pretty solid from beginning to end, without changing up styles like he did with the first one, and for that, I just automatically like it much more. But while he tried to implore a reason and a backstory with the first one, here he just goes all out in slasher mode and I have to tell you, it's fucking fantastic. Brutality at it's best.

It's quite surprising to hear that this film was Zombie's worst experience making a film. As is often the case, studio meddling made it pretty much a nightmare for him this time out, but you'd never know it. H2 is one of the best and most brutal slasher sequels ever made, and the second best film in Zombie's career, after The Devils Rejects. You can check out my original review HERE.

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End
I've never given the Wrong Turn films a second thought. After the first film starred actors the likes of Eliza Dushku, I immediately dismissed it. I know every sequel since has gone straight to video, which gave me all the more reason to not bother with them. That is until I came upon an article a few months back. I don't remember what the specific list that the article was about, but I remember this being mentioned in the highest regards and knowing Henry Rollins was the star made it all the more appealing. One night for movie night, we threw this on with some friends and holy shit did we have our socks blown off.

There's nothing new or special about this Direct-to-Video sequel that makes it any different than the endless ones that flood the DTV market. However, what WR2 displays is a knack for knowing what makes a horror film so memorable, and in that department, WR2 delivers the goods. It's the same story that's been told countless times; a group of people are in the woods - in this case, filming a reality survival show led by drill instructor Henry Rollins (a total badass) - and end up getting hunted one by one by a hungry incestuous cannibal family. It's really as simple as that, yet the use of outstanding practical effects work, kinetic, yet inventive camera work by Joe Lynch, and a solid cast make this one far better and enjoyable than it has any right being. It's old school horror done right, by people that have an insane passion for it. Don't let it's low-budget aura fool you, for a straight up slasher film with some over-the-top kills, WR2 has most of these other knockoffs beat. If you've never given these films a shot, I implore you to at least try this one. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3
If there was ever a horror sequel that's been severely overlooked, it's this one. Though almost everyone outright dismisses the terrible Next Generation, most also seem to never even mention this one when discussing Chainsaw films, which is a shame because it's a pretty solid slasher and one of the better Chainsaw films in my opinion.

Despite it's nearly complete lack of gore (Thanks MPAA assholes), I've always loved this film. It's a pleasant reminder of old school horror. It's bleak, dark, and full of dread. At the time, Jeff Burr was an up and coming director who had just given us a few cult classics like The Offspring and The Stepfather 2. He was brought in as a last minute replacement for this film and I personally think he did an outstanding job considering. Visually, I consider it one of the best looking Chainsaw films in the franchise. The MPAA butchered it to shreds, but even so, it's a darker take on the material and a breath of fresh air after Part 2 left a sour taste in my mouth. By no means a great or perfect film, it's charm lies heavily on it's ability to both look and feel like a true blue Texas Chainsaw film. The Unrated Version does offer a different ending, and a few scenes here and there that were originally cut down, but in no way would I call it an "Unrated" version. All the shit you hear about from director Jeff Bur and makeup artist Greg Nicotero is still missing and sadly, we may never see some of the crazy effects and gore that's become the stuff of legend. You can check out my original review for this classic HERE.

Fright Night Part 2 (1988)
Never have I come across a film as divided as this in the horror community. Even today, as I discuss films regularly on different Facebook horror groups, Fright Night Part 2 is always a topic of contention. Why? I honestly don't know. My guess is that so many people hold the original dear to their hearts, for good reason. I mean, who doesn't love Fright Night, right? But Part 2 is so easily dismissed way too often and honestly, I think people are seriously missing out. Maybe they're not getting it? Or maybe they just don't want to like it? While it's a completely different type of film than the original, there is soooo much to love about this sequel, if you give it a chance.

Beginning with the cast, Roddy McDowell and William Ragsdale return in the leads, but it's the supporting cast that's a standout this time around with new additions Jon Gries, Tracy Lind and Brian Thompson adding a healthy bit of flavor to the mix. Personally I wasn't a fan of Julie Carmen as Regine Dandridge, the sister of the now deceased Jerry Dandridge. I don't see her as being sexy enough for the role, but that's just me. Halloween III: Season of the Witch director Tommy Lee Wallace helms this time around and the film is all the better for it. When Wallace is firing on all cylinders, he's able to infuse his films with enough of a Carpenter-esque vibe that it's clear he's a severely underrated director. That's not always the case, as we all know, but he has turned out some great work in the past. What I felt he contributed to this film in spades is style, a rich atmosphere and energy that's not easily found in horror sequels, and most importantly, substance. Fright Night Part 2 has a lot going for it that's easily overlooked for some odd reason.

Though this has only ever gotten a single bare bones full frame DVD release outside of VHS and Laserdisc (none of which are in widescreen), a new Blu ray is only imminent. Scream Factory, do you hear me? I'm talking to you. You can find it in widescreen online if you look hard enough. When Showtime aired it on their cable channel in widescreen, it's safe to assume that is where most got their widescreen transfer from, which has been sold all over the internet. If you're anal about that kind of stuff as I am, I urge you to watch it in widescreen. It's a better film in general for it. You can check out my original review HERE.

And this is where I take a bow. When I took some time and thought about "my" favorite underrated horror sequels, these were the first ones that came to mind. I know a lot of others won't agree with this list, but that's the fun part; discussion. I'm sure there are others that slipped my mind that I'm sure I'll think of after I've posted this, but for the time being, I'm happy with it. I could go on and on, but I need to put a cutoff point somewhere, so I figure 8 is as good a number as any to stop at.


Spontaneous Combustion

Image courtesy of moviepostershop.com

Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Category: Horror

Austin, TX bred director Tobe Hooper has had a long and interesting career directing films and television shows in the horror genre. Of course we all know he's the man responsible for creating/co-writing/directing the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre waaaaay back in 1974, but the guy's been working regularly in the business ever since then. As with most directors, he's had varying degrees of success. After Chainsaw he gave us a couple of cult classics like Eaten Alive, the Stephen King made-for-TV movie Salem's Lot and The Funhouse. But his most prolific and most popular output is most definitely the 80's, where after directing the blockbuster Poltergeist he was given a 3 Picture Deal with Cannon films, which resulted in Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. Sadly, none of these were hits, thus ending his streak of having films released theatrically. In the following years he did nothing but television work, with 1990's Spontaneous Combustion being his only feature film until 1993's Night Terrors, both of which went straight to home video.

I have to say, I quite liked Spontaneous Combustion. It's more of a thriller than anything, and while it tends to be on the slow side a little too often, it has a lot to admire for many reasons. If anything, it proves that Hooper indeed has a knack for visuals and practical effects work, and the fact that it was made in the late 80's going into the 90's is a plus. There's just something about movies having a specific look when they were made around this time. 1990 has and always will be my favorite year of cinema, and to learn that this came out that same year only drives that point further.

Sam is a product of the atomic age. When his parents volunteer for an experiment that would test the effects of radiation, their experiment results in an unplanned pregnancy. Both of the parents die during childbirth in a horrific fire, but Sam (Brad Dourif), grows up to be a well adjusted teacher. When the usually meek Sam begins to experience some unexplained phenomena, other things begin to take on a whole new meaning, and Sam soon learns that his entire life is not what it seemed, resulting in a climax that has been building up his entire life.

When people discuss Tobe Hooper's filmography, Spontaneous Combustion is never mentioned, and I'm actually quite surprised. It's by no means a perfect film, but considering most of his output since the 80's has been rubbish, I consider SC to be a solid film that fares far better thematically than pretty much anything he's done since 1986. On a visual level, SC is pure Tobe Hooper at the top of his game. Even with the dated practical effects work, considering it was all in-camera and practical effects, it's impressive to think of how much work went into creating them. By 2014 standards, the fire effects are generally sub-par to the average moviegoer, but when you consider that this was 1989 when it was made, I find it all rather impressive. Sure, it's mostly composite shots, but at least it's not bad CGI in it's infancy, which was just around this time. So for that, I commend them for not going the easy route, and let's be honest, there's a lot to say about practical effects work, even if it is dated.

From what I've read, most people seem to have a problem with it never reaching it's full potential. I disagree, but only partly. While it is somewhat of a slow-burn kind of experience, the payoff is exactly what I was expecting and it's slow buildup to it's intense conclusion left me satisfied. Right from the beginning you get the sense that this is not going to be a horror film, and it's not. But for what it is, it exudes a certain charm that makes it hard for me to hate on its shortcomings. With that being said, it's slow approach culminates in a series of events that lead Sam (Brad Dourif) to slowly begin to unhinge, resulting in arguably one of Brad Dourif's most intense performances. If you've always loved to hear him scream like I do, then you'll be happy to know that he does plenty of that in the final act.

This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for fans of Tobe Hooper, Brad Dourif, daring practical effects work and just of 90's horror/thriller's in general, there's a lot to like about Spontaneous Combustion. I don't remember anything of his Toolbox Murders remake, so I'll have to revisit that soon to refresh my memory. But as it stands now, I'd consider this to be the last good Tobe Hooper film.