The barrage of teen scream flicks in the 80s were a real mixed bag in my opinion. Well I can’t fault them for having fun, not many of them were what I’d call well-made. While Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, and Sleepaway Camp have their own certain insanity charm, I’d much prefer Hell Night, a silly shriekfest about four freshmen college students locked in a haunted castle for the night.
What makes Hell Night stand out from the rest is that it’s filled with honestly likeable characters. While Linda Blair (honestly, these movies don’t really have characters so what’s the point of remembering their names) plays a run-of-the-mill Survivor Girl, she has a warmth and intelligence about her, much like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. Her love interest, Generic Brunette Dude, shows an unnatural bravado, choosing to turn back into the castle to search for a kidnapped girl when he has the chance to escape, even though he hardly knows her. Also, the Standard Sex-Crazed Jock characters has an entertaining b-story where he manages to escape the castle, only to search down a gun and return to blow away the badguys.
It’s these little touches, along with a great nod to the “CAR WON’T START!!!” horror movie cliche, that make this flick fun and engaging, even though it never generates any real scares.
This is Stuart Gordon’s follow-up to the surprisingly great Re-Animator, and while it boasts the same lead actor and is also based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, it’s just a pale shadow of that movie’s brilliant vibe. It also plays out like a lame Hellraiser rip-off, even though it came out a full year before.
While it does feature some awesome floating inter-dimensional eels and the best use of goopy body-morphing special effects since The Thing, ultimately it’s a lame attempt at dark humor with no thrills, chills, or genuine heart. It’s not awful, it’s just lackluster and ultimately forgettable, a true horror considering the potential.
If this movie is currently playing at your local art house theater:
GO SEE IT AND PAY THEM EXTRA MONEY AS A THANK YOU
While this is really a pure suspense film rather than a straight horror film, a few scenes borrow heavily (and effectively) from certain horror tropes. It’s a simple Noah’s Ark tale where Curtis (Michael Shannon) begins building a storm shelter in his backyard because he’s plagued by brutal, realistic nightmares about a violent storm which causes his loved ones to attack him. Sinking the family into debt, he battles with the fact that he might be suffering from the same schizophrenia that institutionalized his mother.
While the whole “is it real or not?” formula is ultimately a crutch, writer/director Jeff Nichols has the guts to answer the question properly (I’m looking at you, Chris Nolan), thereby respecting the genre elements without undermining the rich family drama which is the real driving force of this film. The performances, special effects, art direction, music, and cinematography are at once subtle, beautiful, and absolutely perfect. This is a real blue-collar world, not a pathetic Hollywood replica, creating such a grounded sense of reality that the terrifying dream sequences seem that much more horrifying.
This is one to watch in theaters and own on Blu-Ray, see it as soon as you can.
The Baby’s Room
Baby monitors are the most terrifying man-made device besides nuclear bombs. And while they may be an overused horror cliche, there’s something terrifying about spying on a sleeping child, about what might happen while your kid is alone.
While The Baby’s Room isn’t a great film (or even a good film), it boasts two utterly terrifying moments and a fantastic second-act twist. Unfortunately, the clever premise cannot overcome the bad acting, annoying characters, and painful dialog, but it’s worth a watch late at night if the sound of your own screams helps you sleep.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
Despite the delightful misogyny and ultra-low budget, The Creature from the Black Lagoon holds up surprisingly well. The creature design is ground-breaking and a few parts, mostly the underwater scenes, are very suspenseful. Also the creature is wonderfully sympathetic (far more than the main characters) and it’s fun to see the Universal backlot substitute for the Amazon River.