[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 31 – Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Cast: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Michael Pataki

Screenplay: Alan B. McElroy

88 mins. Rated R.

 

Well, here we are again. The end of the month and another installment in the Halloween franchise. As we come to an end of 31 Days of Horror, I just want to thank you all again for another awesome month, and as always I am open to your amazing feedback, so let me know what you want to see for future events here. As sad as I am that this is the last day of The Final Chapter, it is important to note that, in horror, the final chapter is never usually final for very long. Now, let’s look at Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.

It’s been ten years since he came home on Halloween night, and now Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris, See No Evil 2, TV’s The Wild Thornberrys) is living with a foster family after Laurie was killed in an accident. Jamie has been terrified of visions of a man with a white mask standing outside at night, but this is the first year she really wants to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, so she enlists sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell, House of the Dead, Reconciliation) to take her. There’s only one problem: Michael Myers has escaped from his holding and is returning to Haddonfield, and only Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence, The Great Escape, Prince of Darkness), Michael’s old psychiatrist, can stop him.

Halloween 4 is a lot better than most people give it credit for. Sure, Jamie Lee Curtis does not return, but enlisting the young and very talented Danielle Harris to take the lead is an inspired choice. Director Dwight H. Little (Murder at 1600, TV’s Bones) researched Halloween in-depth to give it the full harvest feeling, and it radiates from the film. Halloween 4 feels like the continuation of Halloween II’s Samhain imagery just more fleshed out.

The issues in the film are apparent, though, in the many supporting roles that feel incomplete and poorly acted. At its core, there are fine performances, but there are far too many people that cannot hold their own scenes.

Then there are the issue of the film’s occasional reliance to fall back on its formula. It isn’t surprising at this point in a franchise to be losing the spark or originality, and Halloween 4 does suffer because of it.

Plotting aside, there are things to like in Halloween 4. It’s not a great film, but it is more watchable than other fourth installments. This is strictly for fans of the series, though, as Halloween 4 will be de-canonized next year with an upcoming reboot to the series. We fans have survived this before, and we will survive it again, but sadly, the Halloween franchise will take a hit. Enjoy this one while it’s still kind of canon.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, click here.

For my review of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, click here.

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 30 – Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

Director: Brian Yuzna

Cast: Bruce Abbott, Claude Earl Jones, Fabiana Udenio, David Gale, Kathleen Kinmont, Jeffrey Combs

Screenplay: Rick Fry, Woody Keith, Brian Yuzna

96 mins. Rated R.

 

It took me some time to find a copy of Re-Animator. When I saw it, I loved it. It took me even longer to find a copy of Bride of Re-Animator, so maybe I’ll love it more?

Bride of Re-Animator picks up eight months after its predecessor as doctors Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott, The Prophecy II, Dillinger) and Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, The Frighteners, Beethoven’s Treasure Tail) are continuing their re-animation experiments. West discovers that he can re-animate individual body parts and begins creating horrifying monstrosities. When he comes across the heart of Dan’s dead fiancée Megan, West convinces him to help craft a new body for her out of parts from the hospital’s morgue. On their trail, though, is Lt. Leslie Chapman (Claude Earl Jones, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story). Dan himself is torn as well when he becomes enamored by Francesca (Fabiana Udenio, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, The Wedding Planner), a journalist he met in Peru, but he finds it near-impossible to stop West’s madness and obsession over the reagent as dangers close in all around.

Bride of Re-Animator is zany and weird and horrific and funny and very enjoyable, although to a lesser extent than the original. It’s weird that the cult following for this trilogy isn’t as strong as, say, The Evil Dead, as they both embody many of the same trademark horror comedy. Now, this is a continuation of the H.P. Lovecraft tale, although many changes were made. It focuses on what follows with West’s experiments, and they do increase in their disturbing madness. The only issue is that Bride of Re-Animator is essentially the same story. They learn what not to do, they do it, they bring back a bunch of dead things that all come for them. I loved watching it all the same, but it is in the shadow of the original.

That’s not to say there aren’t original pieces to this puzzle. Director Brian Yuzna (Rottweiler, The Dentist 2) has a keen eye for taking a franchise and mythology and twisting it on a new path, and he does again here. The film is trying to be its own thing, but it keeps falling back on the original for better or worse.

At least it’s fun. Abbott and Combs have great chemistry as they are pulled further and further apart by West’s insane addition to his reagent. Bringing back David Gale (The Guyver, The Brain) as Doctor Carl Hill, the disembodied dead-but-not-dead creature from the first, was a welcome addition, even if it was unneeded.

Bride of Re-Animator isn’t trying to make new friends. It’s purely in existence because people love the first film. And this one is a lot of fun. Mind you, it isn’t as good as the original, but if you are one of the fans of Re-Animator, you should find some love in this horror/comedy sequel.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 29 – Absentia (2011)

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Dave Levine, Morgan Peter Brown, Justin Gordon, James Flanagan, Scott Graham, Doug Jones

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan

87 mins. Rated R for language and some disturbing images.

 

I actually attended the premiere of Absentia back in 2011. It was the first premiere I’d been to and it was quite fun. I had a chance to meet director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Gerald’s Game) and actor Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, TV’s Star Trek: Discovery). I was very aware of Jones but it’s been very interesting to follow Flanagan’s career since then. The director has made some high-profile horror films and he continues to climb.

Absentia is about sisters Callie (Katie Parker, The Binding, The Last Alleycat) and Tricia (Courtney Bell, Before I Wake, The Puzzle). It’s been seven years since Tricia’s husband went missing, and now she’s ready to declare him dead in absentia. Callie, a recovering addict, has come to live with her and help her through the process. Tricia is having dreams and hallucinations of Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown, Contracted: Phase 2, Trip House) and where he might be if he were alive. Callie herself is seeing strange occurrences during her morning runs when, in a nearby tunnel, she sees a man calling himself Walter (Doug Jones) and asking for her son. Walter soon also disappears, and it’s clear that the tunnel holds a few secrets for both women.

Absentia has an interesting concept. Not many know about the emotional toll that declaring a missing person to be dead has on someone, and tying that to a horror film works very well. Flanagan’s film is light on actual scares, but his use of mood and interesting fleshed-out characters works well enough that the lack of scares don’t really matter in the through line of the narrative.

Flanagan’s lead actresses have an emotional core to them that ties the narrative together nicely, and the mysteries of the film don’t feel too easy except in hindsight. Absentia has time to breathe and focus on its characters and thankfully Parker and Bell hold the frame with their performances. Supporting actors Dave Levine (Namour, Chasing Happiness) and Justin Gordon (Gehenna: Where Death Lives, Fun Size Horror: Volume 2) do come across as slightly cliché and formulaic as the detectives working on the case, but this isn’t their story.

Absentia is proof that Kickstarter can do great things. The film is dark, ominous, foreboding, and accessible. I would have liked to have felt more dread as I understand it to be what the film was really wanting but missing. At least it is enjoyable enough as a horror film that relies on character action and doesn’t fall back on jump scares. It is an engaging and original early work for an up-and-coming director.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, click here.

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, click here.

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 28 – Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Director: Lambert Hillyer

Cast: Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Marguerite Churchill, Edward van Sloan, Irving Pichel, Nan Gray

Screenplay: Garrett Ford

71 mins. Approved.

 

Set directly after the events of Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter starts with the arrest of Professor Von Helsing (Edward van Sloan, Sealed Verdict, Betty Co-Ed) over the deaths of Renfield and Dracula. He requests the help of Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger, High Noon, Saboteur) in proving his sanity. Meanwhile, a new vampire, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden, The Life of Emile Zola, This Happy Feeling), and her familiar Sandor (Irving Pichel, Destination Moon, Martin Luther) have stolen Dracula’s body in order to free her of the curse he has over her, but she quickly learns that the curse has not yet broken, and she still craves blood.

Dracula’s Daughter is very nicely paced and holds up nicely as a direct continuation with one glaring issue. While the original film is set in the 19th century, this follow-up is in the 1930s. This is a major plot hole that is thankfully not given enough time to breathe so that the audience doesn’t notice as much. Gloria Holden does a fine job portraying the daughter of Lugosi’s Dracula as does Otto Kruger, but his role is written for the time and it doesn’t age very well. The best parts of the film, though, include Edward van Sloan’s Von Helsing as he very quickly reminds us of the horrors he has faced before.

Dracula’s Daughter is oft-forgotten because it stands in the shadow of its predecessor and rightfully so, but it is a fine continuation of the story in the Universal Monster canon. Holden’s deeply-flawed and emotionally-broken Countess works as a villainess with motives and layers. This is one to check out if you enjoyed the first, even if it can’t stand up to it.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tod Browning’s Dracula, click here.

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 27 – The Innkeepers (2011)

Director: Ti West

Cast: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis

Screenplay: Ti West

101 mins. Rated R for some bloody images and language.

 

Just about every time I watch a Ti West (V/H/S, In a Valley of Violence) film, I end up falling asleep the first time and having to rewatch. It isn’t that I find his films boring, but I tend to watch them late in the night. So for my second attempt at The Innkeepers, I watched it in the afternoon.

The Innkeepers is the story of the Yankee Pedlar Inn and its last weekend open. Clerks Claire (Sara Paxton, Aquamarine, Cheap Thrills) and Luke (Pat Healy, Compliance, Small Crimes) are both into the paranormal and would like one last chance to prove the existence of Madeline O’Malley, a rumored spirit who may or may not reside within the hotel.

The Innkeepers is very…meh. I feel like the film has no direction, it kind of meanders about, and some of the “plot” can be torn up rather easily. The characters are somewhat engaging but they just don’t have anything to do and there isn’t enough given to them to chew on. Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, We Are What We Are) is rather wasted, though, as her character is written very one-note and uninteresting.

The biggest problem with the film is that it feels like two halves that have been stitched together, and neither half is successful. The first half has comedic bits that fall flat, and the last half fails to scare.

Ti West’s The Innkeepers just doesn’t work all that well. I wanted to like it, but sadly, this is a film for falling asleep.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ti West’s The House of the Devil, click here.

For my review of the anthology film The ABCs of Death, click here.

For my review of Ti West’s The Sacrament, click here.

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 26 – Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989)

Director: Monte Hellman

Cast: Richard Beymer, Bill Moseley, Samantha Scully, Eric DaRe, Laura Harring, Elizabeth Hoffman, Robert Culp, Richard C. Adams

Screenplay: Rex Weiner

90 mins. Rated R.

 

I’m probably going to get some shit for a Christmas movie right now. Whatever, I just wanted to see this one.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! continues the B-Movie horror franchise with Ricky Caldwell (Bill Moseley, The Devil’s Rejects, Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival) in a coma. Overseeing his health is Dr. Newbury (Richard Beymer, West Side Story, TV’s Twin Peaks), who has been using blind psychic Laura (Samantha Scully, Best of the Best, Bloodsuckers) to access Ricky’s mind for…reasons. Laura is successful at awakening Ricky, though she doesn’t know, and she leaves to celebrate Christmas with her brother Chris (Eric DaRe, Starship Troopers, Ted Bundy) and their Granny (Elizabeth Hoffman, Dante’s Peak, TV’s Sisters). But Ricky is soon on her tail, and Dr. Newbury is on his. And…yeah, you know, it really does get very convoluted for a shit sequel.

Of the first three films in this franchise, Better Watch Out is the worst. It doesn’t really make sense. There’s this whole thing with Ricky where his brain is encased in a dome outside his head and he kind of reminds me of Chop Top mixed with Krang. The inclusion of a blind psychic is weird, especially because her powers kind of work but then don’t work, and his motive for chasing her down is altogether absent.

In fact, this third entry feels so wasted for the kind of talent involved. You have three David Lynch faves in Beymer, DaRe, and Laura Harring (Mulholland Dr., Inside), who plays Chris’s girlfriend Jerri. Robert Culp (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, TV’s I Spy) appears as Lt. Connely, a cop on the case with Dr. Beymer. And I cannot forget the wonderfully talented Bill Moseley (who is famed far too little for his genre work) as Ricky. This film had the talent in front of the camera. It just didn’t have it behind nor on the written page.

Better Watch Out is fun for its kitsch but the movie is quite bad, but going into this franchise, you also know what you are getting into, so at least it isn’t surprisingly bad. If you sat with it this long, I guess the third installment is still worth your time, but this is one Christmas gift worth regifting.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Charles E. Sellier Jr’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, click here.

For my review of Lee Harry’s Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, click here.

For my review of Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night, click here.

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 25 – The Ring (2002)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

115 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, language and some drug references.

 

I don’t know if you remember (I sure didn’t), but fifteen years back, The Ring was one of the first big films to explore viral marketing. In fact, the first “trailer” for The Ring was just the cursed tape from the movie with no credits or title card. Viewers had to look online for insight or wait with anticipation for a month to find out what the hell was going on.

Seattle journalist Rachel (Naomi Watts, King Kong, TV’s Gypsy) is tasked with uncovering the truth involving her niece’s death. When her investigation brings her to an old shack and a strange videotape with disturbing images, she receives a phone call telling her she is going to die in seven days. Now, in a race against the clock, Rachel and ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson, Everest, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) must find the origin of the tape and learn how to keep themselves alive as time slowly runs out.

The Ring is the first in a long string of Western remakes of Asian horror films, and it is arguably the best one. This writer has found that it isn’t really a classic of the genre, but director Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, A Cure for Wellness) weaving an expertly crafted experience and Ehren Kruger (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ghost in the Shell) turning in a well-written albeit severely bloated screenplay, The Ring holds well.

I think, in addition to the gorgeously-striking visuals on the screen, Verbinski is blessed with a force of nature in lead actress Naomi Watts, who elevates this genre film with a nuanced, layered performance as Rachel. Rachel is flawed, instinctive, smart, and cunning.

My biggest frustration with the film is the ending. I think The Ring ends on a confusing and unexplained note. It doesn’t really tell you what’s going on, and if forces a lot of inference. There was a bookend of scenes with actor Chris Cooper that sounds like it would have helped here, but test audiences didn’t respond well to it, but I think that was a mistake.

The Ring is fine genre horror and very creepy when taking its PG-13 rating into consideration. It’s an entertaining but somewhat crowded narrative and its characters are interesting and engaging. Overall, it’s a staple for many even if I found its ending to be heavily flawed.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of F. Javier Gutierrez’s Rings, click here.

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 24 – Day of the Dead (1985)

Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty

Screenplay: George A. Romero

96 mins. Not Rated.

 

We lost a great one this year. Director George A. Romero (Bruiser, The Dark Half) was an innovative and topical storyteller who forever changed movies, both as a genre filmmaker and an independent one. Romero was most notable for his Living Dead franchise, and today we will be looking at the third film in that series, Day of the Dead.

The world has ended. Society has crumbled. The living dead have taken the world. What’s left of the government is in hiding in military bases, trying to solve the undead crisis. Doctor Logan (Richard Liberty, Flight of the Navigator, The Crazies), known as Frankenstein around the Everglades-based military outpost, is trying to cure the disease. On the other side, the military man Rhodes (Joe Pilato, Pulp Fiction, Digimon: The Movie) is trying to maintain order under his command in a dictatorial rule, and stuck in the middle is Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille, No Pets, Dead and Alive: The Race for Gus Farace). As egos clash and weapons are drawn, it becomes clear that the living might be more dangerous than the dead.

I love Day of the Dead. In the six-film series, I think Day of the Dead is the best installment. A lot of my colleagues can’t stop praising Dawn of the Dead, and I love Dawn of the Dead, but for me, Day takes the finale of Dawn of the Dead and makes an entire movie out of it, and it works so well.

The performances aren’t all perfectly tuned, especially from the tertiary characters, but the tension that builds with every interaction involving Rhodes or Logan just amps it up. I won’t say that Day of the Dead is as satirical as its predecessor, and it isn’t a fun time for viewers, but the realism is disturbing and I love it.

Day of the Dead is worthy of any zombie fans praise. I think it’s Romero’s best film in a great career. If you love modern zombie works like The Walking Dead, you have to look back and see where this all came from, and Day of the Dead is the zombie genre at its most perfected.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 23 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Director: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Cast: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

Screenplay: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

81 mins. Rated R for language.

 

The Blair Witch Project cast quite the shadow upon release. I remember being much younger and everyone asking me, “Have you seen it yet?” Of course I hadn’t, but everyone else had. Even my brother, who never went to movies, saw The Blair Witch Project. The guy in front of him got sick, then asked a theater attendant for a mop to clean it up. It was pandemonium. I saw it after the hype and hated it. This wasn’t the greatest piece of horror cinema of all time like I’d heard. Naturally, I avoided the film for the next 17 years until the sequel Blair Witch arrived. This year, I thought I’d revisit The Blair Witch Project to see if my reaction has changed.

The Blair Witch Project projects itself as found-footage (one of the first films ever to fully sell itself as such) of three people: Heather (Heather Donahue, Boys and Girls, The Morgue), Mike (Michael C. Williams, Altered, Four Corners of Fear), and Josh (Joshua Leonard, If I Stay, Teenage Cocktail). Heather is a filmmaker chronicling the legend of the Blair Witch, a legend that exists in parts of Maryland. They vanished, leaving only this footage behind.

So, I didn’t hate The Blair Witch Project on this second go-around, but I still don’t think it’s a good movie. The film has a very interesting flavor and story, but it drags far too much for such a short feature. The three characters are neither likeable nor interesting, and I didn’t find myself all that worried about their survival. Modern found-footage has learned a lot from The Blair Witch Project, but as this was a relatively new subgenre, mistakes are made that hamper the whole experience.

I can’t deny the film’s impact, though. It held a Guinness World Record for Box Office Ratio by making back almost 11,000 times its budget. The cultural impact of the film was massive and actually convinced many viewers that the film was real (strange because the credits are quite apparent whereas other films like Paranormal Activity tried to hide it better). Fans flocked to Maryland to learn that they were indeed wrong. All three actors stayed in character for the entirety of the eight-day shoot unless one had to utter the safety word, taco. Altogether, this must have been a grueling eight days.

The Blair Witch Project deserves more recognition that I’ve given it, but it still isn’t a good movie. An amazing idea doesn’t automatically ensure a great film, and poor character development is the cardinal sin of this horror classic. Worth watching if you’ve never seen it, but I think I’m good for the next 17 years.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, click here.

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 22 – Night of the Demons (1988)

Director: Kevin Tenney

Cast: William Gallo, Hal Havins, Amelia Kinkade, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley, Alvin Alexis

Screenplay: Joe Augustyn

90 mins. Rated R.

 

There are so many “Night of” films. Night of the Living Dead, The Night of the Iguana, The Night of the Hunter, Night of the Creeps, Night of the Comet. It can get confusing trying to remember which night we are all in. Night of the Demons slipped by me for some time because of it. Now, here we are.

Night of the Demons is classic 80s rock horror from director Kevin Tenney (Witchboard, Bigfoot). In it, several friends and acquaintances gather at an abandoned funeral parlor on Halloween to party with host Angela (Amelia Kinkade, My Best Friend is a Vampire, Girls Just Want to Have Fun). But when evil and demonic forces begin possessing some of the teens, it is clear that there will be some serious fatalities and not all of them will make it to November.

As before, this is prime time cheese 80s horror. It is easy to tell with Linnea Quigley (The Return of the Living Dead, The Barn) appearing, but director Tenney and screenwriter Joe Augustyn (Exit, Night Angel) crafted a seriously goofy and strange horror film. There’s an odd framing subplot involving an old man purchasing apples and razor blades that feels oddly out of place, and the enjoyment level is very hit or miss throughout.

Night of the Demons was enjoyable enough, but it wasn’t really all that good. Genre fans may find something to love, but this movie doesn’t have a lot of appeal and hasn’t aged as well as other similar fare. Maybe the sequel is better, but I doubt it.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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