30 Days of Madness, Day 21 — Evil Dead II (1987)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

evildead2

“Fine. . . fine. . . .”
“I don’t think so. We just cut up our girlfriend with a chainsaw. Does that sound ‘fine’?”

Preface: The first Evil Dead film I ever saw was Army of Darkness, which was goofy, but I enjoyed it. I had peripheral knowledge of the first two films and their legacy, but it wasn’t until I rented it in college that I saw the first, and uncut, Evil Dead. I didn’t enjoy that one.

I just don’t get any enjoyment out of splatter films. I don’t glory in gore. I find it more disturbing than fun. So generally, I avoid this kind of thing. But I knew I wanted to see Evil Dead II at some point. It is generally considered the best of the trilogy and is highly regarded among cinephiles. And I’ll watch pretty much anything with Bruce Campbell. This being THE Bruce Campbell film, seeing it was inevitable for me. And it finally got voted through for this month.

There is a lot of really impressive and innovative camera work happening throughout this film. There are some shots that serve as nice throwbacks to some of the styles of the 50s B pictures, while at the same time pushing the craft forward. Sam Raimi’s work here should be studied. And it is really easy to see why Bruce Campbell became such a genre darling and his character Ash a cult hero. And some moments are genuinely funny. But that’s all I find groovy about it.

The acting in this film, Campbell’s perfectly over-the-top performance aside, is terrible. Like, really, really bad. But none so bad as that of the girl playing Annie. Holy Moses, that is one of the most unbelievably bad performances I’ve ever seen. Would it surprise you to learn this was basically her only film role? No? Me neither.

And as I said, I just don’t dig all the splatter and gore. It has its place, and can even be really clever and legitimately laughter-inducing (I’m think of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil in particular). But I’m not going to deride it for that. I knew what I was getting into, Raimi and company knew what they were making, and the people who love this film love it, and that’s fine. But the absolute worst thing about sitting through this was the awful sound mixing. I don’t know if this is an original problem, or just something that has happened over the years in the transfer between media, but this was one of the worst sound experiences I’ve ever had. One second I could barely hear let alone understand the dialogue and the next my eardrums are being shattered by roaring demons and screaming Annie.

Anyway, this a goofy movie that I appreciate on certain levels but don’t really enjoy but totally understand why people do.

Here are my final grades and Flickchart rankings for all three films in the trilogy:

The Evil Dead (1981): D / #2149 (out of 3264, a relative 34/100)

Evil Dead II (1987): C / #1610 (51/100)

Army of Darkness (1992): C / #1649 (50/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 20 — Halloween (1978)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

halloween

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I broke the rules a little bit here, as I had already seen John Carpenter’s Halloween. But I hadn’t seen it on the big screen, with surround sound!

What can I write about Halloween that hasn’t already been written? Only my personal experience with the film.

I’d seen Halloween only once, more than a decade ago, on full-screen VHS. I wasn’t allowed to watch slasher films as a kid. Which is fine, actually. I detest the genre in general. The first slasher film I ever sat down and watched from start to finish, if I remember right, was Scream, and it would’ve been on pay per view, so probably late 1996 or early 1997, so I would’ve been 15 years old. What’s funny about that is, I watched it with my mom. The same lady who wouldn’t let me watch slashers. (I also ended up watching both Event Horizon and Seven with her. Parental allowances can be weird.)

I loved Scream. I still love Scream. I’m a fan of the whole series. And though I hadn’t watched slasher films up till that point, I knew the tropes, because they had been assimilated into the pop culture collective consciousness. I knew basically who Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger and Leatherface were. And I watched Halloween: H20 sometime in the late 90s, so that was my introduction to a full-length Halloween film.

But it wasn’t until college that I started seeking out these OG slasher flicks–along with whatever else I could get my hands on. The dollar rental store down the street from my dorm became my mecca. And one of those I finally sat down and watched was Halloween. It knocked my socks off. I couldn’t believe how much I got into this movie, and how effective it was, in its suspense and its shock value.

Most of this movie had stuck with me, but especially the opening POV long take that introduces us to six-year-old Michael, the glasses guy getting pinned to the cupboard with the butcher knife, the hanger to the eye, and most especially, that one shot where you see Michael lying on his back behind Laurie, and he sits up. Of course that has been done a hundred times since. But here, in this film, it got me just right.

I’ve also in the intervening years developed a love for vintage John Carpenter. Though I haven’t seen his entire filmography yet, I’ve come to hold his body of work, at least from 1978 to 1986, in high regard, including Escape from New YorkThe ThingStarmanBig Trouble in Little China, and this, the film that put him on Hollywood’s map and launched a genre full of regrettable retreads, but with a gem here and there.

So when I found out Halloween was playing at my local cineplex, I had to go. I wanted the full experience. And I wanted to be in a crowd of people watching it, maybe some people who had never seen it before. I wanted to see how people would react to it as much as I wanted to experience it for myself. Alas, it was only me and one other guy in the theater. (This made me sad.)

Whatever that guy’s relationship with or response to the film was, I don’t know. But I know what my response was when that jack-o-lantern lit up and that iconic music started. Sheer delight. Carpenter’s Halloween score is one of the greatest and best horror film scores–hell, one of the greatest and best film scores, period. But before the film proper even began, I was treated to a retrospective look at Halloween‘s debut in 1978. The most financially successful independent film ever made, up to that point, making its mark in the early days of the Spielberg/Lucas blockbuster era. Even more a treat were the interview segments with John Carpenter (recorded, it seems, sometime in 2015). Carpenter’s films over the past couple of decades may not be up to the standard of his classic work, but the man is just as much of a badass and a rogue as ever. Listening to him talk about how he kept creative control over Halloween, both during production and in the maelstrom that followed–I just want to shake that man’s hand. Carpenter will remain a legend.

As for the film itself, I was surprised how hard my heart was pounding during that opening scene, even though I knew what was coming. I don’t know if it was the first great POV suspense scene, but it ranks among the best. And the build-up of Michael Myers’ fixation on Laurie Strode–genius. Sure, most of the acting is not great in this film–though of course Donald Pleasance stands out–but it’s still fun seeing Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut. And the character of Michael Myers is so larger than life. So many imitators, including within its own franchise, but few touch what Carpenter and his writing and producing partner Debra Hill accomplished with that character.

It hardly needs to be said, but Halloween is one of the all-time great horror films. Wake up, sleepy suburbia. Death has come to your little town.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: Started in the 500s, moved to #397 (out of 3263, a relative 88/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 19 — The Witch (2015)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

thewitch

“Corruption, thou art my father.”

Writer/director Robert Eggers has crafted one of the most immaculate horror films of all time, and certainly one of the most thematically complex. (Attach whatever level of irony you wish to my choice of the word “immaculate.”) The Witch is deeply unsettling, tapping into some of our most primal human fears, but also into some of the more specific horrors that are woven into the fabric of our American history–that of the witch hysteria of early the early New England settlers. It does this with subtlety and an almost academic understanding of the history and folklore of the time.

The Witch is somehow at once both a commentary on the corrupting influence of sin, how even the smallest lie or the most innocent burgeoning of lust can quickly snowball into distrust and violence; and on the even more brutally destructive influence of the religious zeal that seeks to repress or condemn the slightest perceived spiritual weakness in another. Such zeal can so easily turn into pride. And pride goeth before destruction.

Yes, there is evil in the woods. But the most frightening thing is how an external evil can perceive and then manipulate the smallest weakness in a person’s heart–loneliness, grief, pride, fear, adolescent yearning–until it takes full control.

As a person of the Christian faith, I find this film very challenging, both intellectually and spiritually. It’s not easy to sit through, but I think taking the time to digest and examine its themes will be rewarding. But as far as recommending it to others goes, this really does have some deeply disturbing content, though it’s never gratuitous or sensationalistic.

One last thing: Anya Taylor-Joy = instant star.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #329 (out 3263, a relative 90/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 18 — Eyes Without a Face (1960)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

eyesface4

Eyes Without a Face is easily the most horrific film I’ve yet watched this month simply because it is the only movie so far that I had a truly visceral reaction to. Most of the film plays more on suspense than horror. Director Georges Franju himself even described it as “a quieter mood than horror. . . It’s horror in homeopathic doses.” And for the most part that is true. But there is that scene, that one scene, and if you’ve seen it you know which scene I’m talking about; that one scene that had me holding my hands to my face in horror. (It is also possible that there was some whimpering.)

The story focuses on a girl whose face has been horribly disfigured in a car accident and her neurosurgeon/plastic surgeon/mad scientist father who, to put it lightly, keeps trying to find new faces for her. And that one scene is depicted in excruciating, almost clinical, detail. There are other scenes that horrify as well, to lesser extents. But when Eyes isn’t being utterly horrifying, it really is quite poetic. That’s a rare combination.

One of the character types in the dramatic arts that most infuriates me is that of the father who equates his own personal pride, and need to be in control, with love. One I detest even further is the man who preys upon women. Génessier (played by Pierre Brasseur) is both. Regardless of his motivation, he is a predator (and an abuser of dogs to boot). And his nurse/assistant/henchwoman (Alida Valli) is no less detestable, as she lures beautiful young women to his clutches.

One of the most impressive things about this film is the performace of Edith Scob as Christiane Génessier, the unfortunate victim of both the disfiguring car crash and her domineering, obsessed father. Even spending most of her screen time behind a mask, her emotion comes through so clearly: through her eyes especially, but also through her hands and the way she moves about a room. It’s an astounding performance.

This is a great film. I want to clearly state that before I list my issues with this film.

SPOILERS AHEAD

- The carnie waltz music really is nigh unbearable. And about a half hour into the film, I realized why it had such a familiarity to it: it reminds me of the theme from Curb Your Enthusiasm. That’s probably not a parallel I should be making, but there it is.

- The two women (the stalker and the stalkee) look so much alike that I actually thought one was the other in their first scene together. Like, they have the same exact eyes. (But with faces.)

- No closure for Jacques in the end. I was really invested in his quest for the truth paying off. I would like to have seen an examination of his reaction to finding Christiane, alive but disfigured. Would he still have loved her? Would he have been able to see past her disfigurement, but not past her involvement in the heinous acts committed by her father on her behalf?

- And now my biggest issue, the one that actually made me angry. These two police officers basically blackmail this poor shoplifter girl into helping them by using her as bait for Dr. Génessier. And then not only do they not keep on eye on her, but they have absolutely no concerns or suspicions when Génessier himself tells them that she simply checked out of his clinic and walked home?

All that said, the very ending of this film was really satisfying.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #389 (out of 3262, a relative 88/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 17 — Phantasm (1979)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

phantasm

Written, produced, edited, photographed & directed by Don Coscarelli.

Look, I know I may be about to break some hearts, but I didn’t really like this movie. I understand why it’s revered. It was a singular film in its time, full of ingenuity, cool effects (that flying death sphere is a trip, if seemingly out of place), an iconic villain in Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man (I’ll be quoting “BOOYYY!” any chance I get), a musical score that had me hooked from the opening note, and an interesting visual sense. It’s dramatic and narrative sense, however, left a lot to be desired.

The story is basically about a kid being raised by his brother in the wake of their parents’ deaths, who starts seeing some weird goings-on surrounding the neighborhood mortuary/cemetery and is then increasingly harassed by forces no one else sees, but of course his adult brother doesn’t believe him at first, until the kid finally risks his life to obtain some evidence. Things get continually freaky and nonsensical from there.

I get that it’s not meant to be a traditionally linear story. It’s all about the dream logic of an adolescent boy dealing with intense grief. But even knowing that (now that I’ve seen the whole film and understand it), it still feels too disjointed, too let’s-make-this-up-as-we-go.

I don’t really understand any of the characters or relationships, which is a bigger issue than the lack of a sensible “plot.” Least of all do I understand the relationship between the kid and his… brother’s prematurely balding friend, at the end? Like, why? I found it to be the creepiest thing in this film, but I don’t want to say too much about that because I’m not a fan of spoilers. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.

And not one character in this film reacts to anything in any believable way. Again, I know it’s all supposed to be surreal and dreamlike, but having characters not react with real emotions like fear, distaste, or shock to some really freaky stuff happening takes the dramatic punch out of what should be a deeply emotionally gut-wrenching story.

This snippet from Wikipedia sheds some light on some of my problems:

“The script changed often during production, and Bannister says that he never saw a completed copy of it; instead, they worked scene-by-scene and used improvisation. The script was characterized by Coscarelli as ‘barely linear.’ While it contained the basic concepts of the completed film, the script was unfocused and rewritten during filming.”

These script issues really show. I guess I think that even if your film is about dream logic, you should still have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish with your film. You should still solidify characters and relationships. Give me something human to hold onto while the world of the film is unstable. That’s not to say I don’t admire Coscarelli for putting this thing together. I admire the hell out of him for his ingenuity and sheer moxie in making this film. And I realize that sometimes films, over the course of their creation, become something different by the end than they were at the start. But the lack of focus here is apparent.

I guess I feel similarly as I did after watching Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu, though I have developed a great appreciation for that film in retrospect. What’s different with Phantasm? I’m not sure. Maybe Phantasm is a little too grounded in reality and linear storytelling. Like, it’s just real enough for its disjointedness to be problematic, whereas Hausu is so much a like a dream that its disjointed nature works. And Hausu has only the vaguest emotional through-line, whereas Phantasm hinges on the (poorly conveyed) emotional state of its main character, the boy. And, echoing what I’ve already said, Obayashi still seemed to have a clear vision for his film, whereas Coscarelli seemed only to have vague ideas.

Who knows, over time and maybe a second viewing, I might like Phantasm better, but the lack of good characterization (and acting) makes it difficult to feel invested in anything that’s happening.

Final grade: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1206 (out of 3261, a relative 63/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 16 — Phase IV (1974)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

phaseiv-1

Directed by Saul Bass. Written by Mayo Simon. Starring Nigel Davenport & Michael Murphy.

Where has this movie been hiding my entire life? Why is it not an established classic within the genre? Going into my viewing of Phase IV, I was fully expecting a heaping helping of 70s cheese. What I got instead is a patient, thoughtful, intelligent, creative, and visually intriguing film. In fact, it’s one of only two legitimately good sci-fi/horror films I’ve ever seen to focus on ants, the other being the 1954 classic Them!, which featured ants mutated to giant size by radioactive fallout.

No giant ants here, though. Just normal-sized southwestern ants that start forming inter-species coalitions in the wake of some cosmic event and taking over the Arizona desert in which they dwell. Two scientists (Davenport and Murphy) set up an outpost there to study the phenomenon and find out what has caused this sudden change in behavior. But it turns out the ants have plans of their own.

The ant cinematography and “performances” are the most impressive thing about this film. It somehow manages to establish characters and plotlines among the insects. The film cuts back and forth between the men and ants, and it really feels like there are two intelligent forces at work studying and battling each other. It’s brilliant stuff. I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it.

The title sequences to this film stands out as well, and that’s no surprise once you realize who the director is. This is the only feature film he ever directed, but Saul Bass is the designer of the title sequences for PsychoVertigoAnatomy of a MurderWest Side StoryGoodfellas, and Alien, to name only a few.

It seems Phase IV was featured during the KTMA “Season Zero” of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’m going to have to check that out. As far as I’m aware, this has to be the best film they’ve ever showcased on my favorite TV show of all time. Why this film fell into such obscurity over the next 15 years that it ended up in the back-room license-free collection of movies at a local TV station and became MST3K fodder is a mystery I intend to explore. Because I am now this movie’s most newly converted evangelist.

(For more on ant-themed horror, check out my previous article on Empire of the Ants as well Episode 248 of our podcast, Spiders & Insects & Shrinking Guys Named Scott, on which I am the only one in my right mind when talking about Them!)

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #751 (out of 3260, a relative 77/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 15 — Deathgasm (2015)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

deathgasm

Written & directed by Jason Lei Howden.

“Watch out for my aunt and uncle, because they hate you. And, also, they might be demons.”

Deathgasm started off so strong and had built up so much goodwill early on by focusing on unusual characters I cared about. An underdog metalhead whose story actually had emotional weight. The pretty girl he didn’t have to win over but who was drawn to him. The total anarchist of a best friend. A quirky supporting cast, decent acting and writing. One scene showed our hero in full band makeup sharing an ice cream cone with the girl of his dreams and introducing her to metal. Another scene showed him getting brutally attacked by bullies. These scenes and these character interactions had just the right tone. And actually, if this had just been a film about an awkward metalhead navigating life, it might have been good.

But then without so much as a segue it went into full-on apocalypse mode, to which none of the characters reacted in any way that made sense, and soon it was sacrificing character altogether in favor of tonally out of place jokes that did nothing more than up the gore. When the hero straight up murdered somebody just because the guy was an asshole, the movie lost whatever remaining goodwill I felt toward it. It turned into nothing more than another spatter flick with no sense of character or story. And then it tried to be emotionally resonant again. Too little too late.

So many filmmakers think they can do what Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg did with standard-bearer Shaun of the Dead–make a funny, gory, emotionally resonant film, where the humor is organic to the characters and the situations they find themselves in, and the moments that should horrify us do, and the weight of emotion is there because the characters and relationships, even that of the asshole of the group, are never sacrificed for cheap jokes, and all the disparate elements are weaved together so it all still feels like one tonally consistent film. It’s a hell of a trick to pull off, and most movies that try it, including Deathgasm, fail.

Final grade: D

My Flickchart ranking: #2863(out of 3261, a relative 12/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 14 — Cat People (1942)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

catpeople

Produced by Val Lewton. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Written by DeWitt Bodeen.

Starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph & Tom Conway.

Apologies to any Val Lewton devotees, but I didn’t enjoy this movie. I still consider myself a fan of the man’s productions, though a new one, as my only two previous experiences with his work occurred earlier this month; see my mostly favorable review of I Walked with a Zombie, also directed by Tourneur, as well as my gushing admiration for The Body Snatcher.

This is going to be one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” reviews. Tourneur and Lewton ably crafted this film, as they did with Zombie, into a moody, suspenseful film, and props to cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, editor Mark Robson, and Lewton regular composer Roy Webb. They all did a top-notch job.

I just didn’t care much about the story or the characters. People didn’t seem to act or react like real people. And I spent much of the movie distracted by the thick fog of cigarette smoke in almost every scene. But what really bothered me is the 1940s problem of how big cats in zoos were treated (and unfortunately still are in many cases).

Anyway, here are some random notes I took that will give you a idea of how I felt while watching this:

- Oh, those silly foreigners and their Old World superstitions.

- Why are men so patronizing to their wives in 1940s films? Talking to them like children.

- 21:45 – He immediately regrets marrying her.

- Big cats in cages. The panther’s not evil, mister, he’s just been driven mad by his captivity.

- Oliver, maybe you should have gotten to know this girl even a little bit before marrying her. I mean, I know she’s cute and all, but…

- “We need someone who can find the reason for your belief and cure it.”

- So psychiatrist = hypnotist? Oh hey, it’s Pencil Mustache from I Walked with a Zombie! And of course, he’s full of himself.

- Man told other woman about his wife’s issues behind her back and doesn’t see the problem with that.

- These poor cats! Just left out on a bare slab of concrete in a small cage all day and night, no exercise, no shelter from sun, wind, rain, cold!

- Yeah, let’s have another cigarette! And now let’s discuss my wife behind her back, again! She liked that so much the first time!

- My man, this female friend of yours who you constantly confide in about your wife, who’s just told you she loves you–she’s speaking of love. What you just described back about your wife? That’s lust.

- Hey, she named her cat after the bassist from Led Zeppelin!

- An emotional affair, so soon after marriage.

- Trying to appreciate this film’s quality, but all I can feel is sadness for these big cats.

- Trying to sympathize with this guy, but he’s sleeping in the bed he made.

- Ah, a psychiatrist sharing intimate details about his client with her husband’s girlfriend.

- Oh my God, she hasn’t even kissed him yet?! No wonder this guy’s losing his mind and spending his free time with this other woman!

- Doctors smoking during sessions with their patients. Ah, the 40s.

Yeah, so, smoking, stupid white men being patronizing and stupid, and big cats being abused. The 1940s.

Final grade: C (for craft)

My Flickchart ranking: #1607 (out of 3260, a relative 51/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 13 — Xtro (1982)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

xtro

I took several screencaps. I decided this one was the least likely to give anyone nightmares.

Directed, co-written, and scored by Harry Bromley Davenport, who has maybe the most British name of any horror director.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.

I remember reading about this film when I was a teenager, in an encyclopedia of movie monsters, if I remember right. I was both intrigued and horrified, and so has this film remained in my mind, a film I’ve long wanted to see yet felt hesitant about seeing. All of a sudden it was not only in the discussion for my horror viewing this month, but free for the viewing on YouTube.

Davenport must have fancied himself something of a John Carpenter. And if so, he’s done Carpenter proud as far as this film’s atmosphere and visual effects go. The effects are astounding–gruesome and bizarre as imagination will allow, but astounding. Scenes are blocked and edited extremely well, and I have to give credit to Davenport, cinematographer John Metcalfe, and editor Nicolas Gaster. They’ve crafted a hell of an alien horror flick.

Unfortunately Davenport’s Carpenter-esque synth-laden musical score is one of the worst I think that I’ve ever heard (the opening riffs sound like something from a Super Mario Bros. game but less nuanced), and the acting is often sub-par. The effects are right up there with Ridley Scott’s Alien of 1979 and Carpenter’s The Thing, released just months prior in 1982, but the story isn’t. In fact, I’m still not sure what the story is. A man disappears into a strange light and reappears three years later (and by reappears, I mean, crashes to earth, kills some people, impregnates a woman with a sort of ovipositor, and is then moments later born from that same woman as a full grown man–and yes, it is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in a horror flick).

The man finds his wife and son, who take him into their house against the better judgment of the boy’s surrogate father, who is a tool, of course, despite the fact that his misgivings are more than well-founded. Son catches dad eating his pet snake’s eggs and runs away. Dad chases him and injects something into him with his mouth. And that’s when things start to get weird.

About 45 minutes into this, which was already one of the stranger movies I’d seen, things took a really bizarre turn and just kept getting weirder. But this is where my spoilers end.

It can be fascinating to trace a film’s lineage, so to speak. Xtro was so clearly inspired by Alien, yet if you look at the design of that creature in the screencap above, you can see almost a prototype of Ripley’s “baby” from 1997′s Alien: Resurrection. I would not be surprised if Jean-Pierre Jeunet was inspired by Xtro when crafting the third sequel to the movie that inspired Xtro.  And so we are all connected in the great circle of cinema.

Final grade: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1894 (out of 3259, a relative 42/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 12 — Firestarter (1984)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

firestarter

Directed by Mark L. Lester. Adapted by Stanley Mann from the novel by Stephen King. Starring Drew Barrymore, David Keith, Martin Sheen & George C. Scott.

[SPOILERS AHEAD.]

This is the second film I’ve watched this month (after Only Lovers Left Alive) that has been covered on our podcast (the Girls on Fire episode where, yes, it was paired with The Hunger Games). (This was during my hiatus from the show, when I was trapped for the winter in the mountains of Colorado.) I am also now reminded that I reviewed another Drew Barrymore film during my first 30 Days of Madness six years ago, the Stephen King-penned Cat’s Eye.

In Firestarter, Drew Barrymore plays a little girl who can make fire with her mind, the daughter of government test subjects (and bland but TV-pretty white people) Heather Locklear and David Keith, who can telepathically manipulate people just by looking in their eyes (and often squeezing his head like he just remembered he left the oven on).

It’s easy to see why Barrymore was such a sought-after child star. Despite terrible writing, she gives what is easily the best performance in a cast that includes Martin “My God, Did You See That!” Sheen and George C. “Phoning It In” Scott. Hard to believe this was the same year she started partying at clubs. (She was nine years old.)

Art “Ed Norton from The Honeymooners“ Carney stands out as well in a thankless role, where, in less than ten minutes, he goes from singing stupid songs about chickens to yelling about Nazis. (So your basic good-ol-boy, I guess.) Other notable side characters are played by Moses “That Klingon-Looking Dude from The NeverEnding Story” Gunn and Louise “Can’t Believe She Went from Winning an Oscar to This” Fletcher.

It really is embarrassing watching Scott, Sheen, and Fletcher in this film. David Keith does about what you’d expect. A good chunk of this movie is just boring, plodding from scene to scene, and Keith’s character is the worst vengeful family man in movie history. (His response to his wife’s murder is to make the killers think they’ve gone blind, and he tells his daughter’s would-be assassin to jump… off a one-story loft.) There’s also a lot of scenes of water and ice catching on fire? I don’t know. The ending’s pretty bad-ass though, as little Drew Barrymore blows up literally everything and everyone she can get her brainwaves on (except the horses, because she likes the horses).

Final grade: D (still better than Killer Klowns though… it’s all about degrees of suckitude, I guess)

My Flickchart ranking: #2612 (out of 3258, a relative 20/100)