Tag Archives: Cat’s Eye

30 Days of Madness, Day 30 — Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

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.

trickrtreat2

Written & directed by Michael Dougherty. Produced by Bryan Singer.

Starring Dylan Baker, Brian Cox, Quinn Lord & Anna Paquin.

Trick ‘r Treat  is a rollercoaster ride. I am a fan of horror anthology films like Creepshow and Cat’s Eye. I was both intrigued and hesitant to watch this. I have a strange relationship with horror. I love horror, and exploring the things that horrify, but I do not like watching a lot of nastiness. The problem with a lot of horror films is that they are made by filmmakers who seem to have nothing but contempt for their characters.

Trick ‘r Treat is nasty, to be sure, but has enough love for the characters and stories and is crafted well enough to be enjoyable as a sort of quintet campfire of campfire tales. It also sets itself apart from other anthologies, such as the ones I mentioned, with its strong narrative structure. It doesn’t need to break away from one story altogether before telling another. All four main stories are interwoven–one is happening, noticeably, while another is taking place, and all occur on a single Halloween night in a single small town–and are bookended by a fifth story that gives the film a satisfying sense of coming full-circle.

The film quickly establishes that nobody is safe from the horrors running amok in this town on this night, children included–part of the reason I was hesitant to watch. I’ve stated in previous reviews that I didn’t enjoy watching children get gunned down for the sake of an action movie. And I’m not saying I enjoy similar fates in this film, but the nature of film gives it all a very contemporary fairy tale feel; and anyone familiar with the fairy tales of old know that children, especially naughty and nasty ones, are fodder fit for the terrors that lurk in the dark.

Brian Cox and Dylan Baker, especially, turn in great performances that revel in the ridiculousness and of their respective stories. And Anna Paquin is just fine in a tale that has not one but two satisfying twists. The reason I make mention of Quinn Lord in my cast list above is that he plays Sam, the burlap sack mask-wearing “child” who acts as a sort of connective tissue, making appearances in each segment, much in the way the cat did in Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye. Sam instantly becomes one of the most iconic and beloved horror characters in cinema. Just a creepy presence that eventually becomes much more for one or two unfortunate souls.

I am so glad this one got voted through as my final film of the month. It’s a great scary, fun flick, which, as an added bonus, is full of old-school practical effects that rank among the best. And any horror movie that references Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is okay by me. It’s a fine ending to month of horror movies.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #614 (out of 3275, a relative 81/100)

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)

30 Days of Madness: Day 31

Well, I made it through 30 Days of Madness none too worse for the wear. The only major difference in my life is a series of YouTube videos that show me, a shy introvert who never was much for public performance, occasionally acting like a lunatic for all the world to see. Did I learn anything? I learned I never want to do anything this intense again. I learned a lot about the history of cinema. I learned a lot about my own abilities in film criticism. I reaffirmed that, especially when it comes to horror movies, there are a lot of good ones, a lot of bad ones, and a lot of stuff that is just plain ugly.

Let me take a quick look back over the movies I’ve watched this month of October:

Day 1: Nightbeast (1982) Hey, my first movie was from the year of my birth. How fitting. My inaugural flick was my personal introduction to Troma and one of the worst movies I’d ever seen, but one I would watch again with friends. My response video was only my second YouTube video, after my introductory video which is available for viewing on my channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/KapriciousT.

Day 2: Redneck Zombies (1987) My second Troma movie, and the first movie I ever refused to finish. I would like to wash my memory clean of this one. This one I actually was watching with friends (the only time during the month I was able to do so), and I was embarrassed about it.

Day 3: The Call of Cthulhu (2005) My third movie was a huge step up in quality, one that I would recommend to anyone, horror fan or not, and one that I would watch again by myself or with friends.

Day 4: Puppet Master (1989) My fourth day, I started having a little more fun with the video responses. This is actually my first scripted video to appear on the Internet–at least, the first one that I scripted. (There are one or two other videos floating around out there featuring my acting skills.) I would definitely watch this one again with friends.

Day 5: The Black Cat (2007) Surprisingly, the best thing I watched this month–for this project. (I’m not counting The Social Network or Amélie, which I watched almost immediately after finishing up with Day 30. Call it a palate-cleanser.) I may watch this one again, but it was so horrifying, I might have to wait awhile. I highly recommend it only for people with a high threshold for gore and horror, and especially for cinephiles and fans of Edgar Allan Poe.

Day 6: My Name Is Bruce (2008) Possibly the most disappointing movie I watched this month, in terms of expectations I had going into it, but also possibly the most fun I had doing the YouTube response. I might begrudgingly watch it again with other people.

Day 7: Pandorum (2009) Possibly the most pleasant surprise. (The Black Cat, while amazing, was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever watched and a bit difficult to get through.) I had a great time watching this one, and I’d watch it again by myself or with friends. I’d recommend it to most people.

Day 8: Zombies of Mass Destruction (2009) The second movie I refused to finish. The humor went from obnoxious to ridiculous to offensive. Nowhere near the level of Redneck Zombies, but not one I care to ever revisit.

Day 9: Funny Games (1997) One of the toughest movies I had to watch, and even more difficult formulating a response. This may be the most personally contentious film I’ve ever watched. I would not recommend this to anyone but serious film students. I had a great time doing the video though. Mmmm-bananas.

Day 10: Black Sabbath (1963) This was a really boring one, maybe not even worth watching with friends. I might revisit it at some point for a more in-depth review though.

Day 11: Fright Night (1985) Probably the movie in which my mood most changed (for the better) from the beginning to the end. I started out hating it and by the end was legitimately enjoying it. I’d watch it again, alone or with friends.

Day 12: Sometimes They Come Back (1991) I doubt I’ll ever bother with this one again in any setting.

Day 13: The Fly (1986) One I had been meaning to see for years, and I am glad I finally did. It was one of my favorites of the month, and I highly recommend it. Horrifying, humorous, heartbreaking. I’d watch it again alone or with friends.

Day 14: The Phantom of the Opera (1925) A classic, but one I probably will never sit through completely again, unless I get to see one of the other edits of the film floating around. Definitely worth revisiting for certain scenes and for its importance to cinema. Also, my first silent video response.

Day 15: Lo (2009) One of the true pleasant surprises of the month, and one that has appreciated the more I’ve thought, written, and talked about. Not only would I like to watch it again, I almost feel like I need to, as I’d be seeing it from a completely different perspective thanks to the way the plot wraps up. Did a Flickchart segment in my video, which is less interesting when it’s just me talking. Also gave me a chance to talk up http://www.Flickchart.com and http://blog.flickchart.com/index.php/category/flickfights.

Day 16: The Burrowers (2008) This one, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it immediately after watching it. It’s a well-made movie that doesn’t have a very good ending, and is also one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. I may never watch it again, but I’m glad I saw it once.

Day 17: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) The final scene of this film still makes me uneasy to think about it. It’s definitely one of the best of the 70s-80s horror. I may watch it again someday, maybe with friends who could handle it.

Day 18: White Zombie (1932) The article in which I started doing a scene-by-scene recap but had no time to finish. I’d like to go back and finish, possibly to use in another project that I’ll be working on in conjunction with IncidentalDog.com. If you’re as big a fan of http://AgonyBooth.com as I am, you already have an idea of what I’m going for.

Day 19: Peeping Tom (1960) There was a lot to laugh at and a lot to admire, but I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again.

Day 20: Planet of the Vampires (1965) A movie that is as important as it is ludicrous, I’d love to go back and do more of an in-depth critique of this film. This one would probably be fun to watch with friends.

Day 21: Ringu (1998) The one I realized I never wrote an article for. I’d been wanting to see this film for years. Now that I have, I can compare it with the American remake, which I love. I may go back and explore these two films in an actual complete article.

Day 22: The Last House on the Left (1972) One of the biggest surprises of the month, in how poorly made a movie it is. I’ve heard that it’s a must-see in the horror genre, but it’s really not. And it’s too unpleasant to be fun for a group or for a scene-by-scene recap. As far as the video response goes, there were apparently a few people who watched it without having watched my video response for Ringu. I appreciate everybody almost calling to make sure I was okay.

Day 23: Fido (2006) I’d been waiting for a real good zombie flick, and Fido delivered. The messy ending and some less-good performances kept it from perfection, but I’d watch it again anytime. And it’s a PG-13 zombie film, which is just weird.

Day 24: The Masque of the Red Death (1964) I’d recommend this film for just about anyone. It’s well enough constructed to be respectable, but there’s also plenty to have fun with. I might like to revisit this one for a more in-depth look someday.

Day 25: Empire of the Ants (1977) This was one of the most ludicrous films I watched this month, but it would be a lot of fun to watch with a group of friends or to do an extended review of. I totally forgot about all those fake giant ants I had sitting around when I did the video response. Oh well.

Day 26: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Another respectable but slightly-cheesy flick I’d watch again, especially with a group.

Day 27: The Washingtonians (2007) I paid the price for cheating on choosing the next movie title out of my jack-o-lantern in the previous YouTube video, because this movie was awful in every way. I don’t think I could tolerate sitting through it again.

Day 28: Cat’s Eye (1985) Much like Fright Night, I was much more into this movie at the end than I was in the beginning. This would be fun to watch with a group. Also, a note on my YouTube video: I learned that the deep guttural growl of a cat does not pick up on my laptop mic, so while my cat sounded really pissed off to me, to the audience it looks like I’m just holding a silent cat. Oh well. Crazy is as crazy does, I guess.

Day 29: Attack of the Puppet People (1958) I’m glad I got to bring back Shakes and Lefty for this one, because they are much more interesting than I am in the videos. Attack would be fun to do a more in-depth review of. Maybe someday.

Day 30: Sugar Hill (1974) I did not choose Sugar Hill at random. I did it as a present to my friends who chose it for my jack-o-lantern and kept mentioning how much they wished it would come up. They may be underwhelmed, though, because I enjoyed the movie alright. Sorry, honks, it wasn’t nearly as awful as you were hoping.

I am so happy to be done with this so I can start watching other movies I’ve been wanting to watch. Between watching the movies, preparing and recording the YouTube videos, and writing the articles, it took roughly four hours per movie, so this frees up my time a fair bit. One final thing I’d been wanting to do is some sort of a Top Horror list, so what I did was, I went back through all the titles available for instant streaming on Netflix and chose what I consider to be the 31 best horror films (out of what I’ve seen–there still are a ton of horror flicks on there I’ve never watched).

Some are relentlessly horrific. Some aren’t specifically horror films but still have a strong element of horror in some aspect of the narrative. Here are my Top 31 picks (an asterisk indicates a title from the 30 Days of Madness):

1. Aliens (1986)

2. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

3. The Black Cat (2007)*

3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

4. The Call of Cthulhu (2005)*

5. Carrie (1976)

6. Child’s Play (1988)

7. The Crazies (2010)

8. Creepshow (1982)

9. Diabolique (1955)

10. District 9 (2009)

11. The Exorcist (1973)

12. Fido (2006)*

13. The Fly (1986)*

14. The Host (2006)

15. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

16. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)*

17. Jaws (1975)

18. Lo (2009)*

19. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

20. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

21. Nosferatu (1922)

22. Pandorum (2009)*

23. Paranormal Activity (2007)

24. Peeping Tom (1960)*

25. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)*

26. Reign of Fire (2002)

27. Signs (2002)

28. The Sixth Sense (1999)

29. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

30. Them! (1954)

31. Zombieland (2009)

Thank you Alban, Nate, and Steve for your support this past month, and to everyone else who left encouraging comments along the way. Thanks to Cindy (my dog) and Putty and Kunj (my cats) for their appearances, and special thanks to Jack-o, Shakes, and Lefty. Finally, thank you to the film makers whose good films made the bad ones more bearable. Happy Halloween.

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 28: Cat’s Eye

Cat’s Eye (1985) Written by Stephen King. Directed by Lewis Teague. Starring Drew Barrymore.

First aliens, then trolls... no wonder she went a little nuts.

Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (or as I like to call it, Stephen King’s Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey) is an anthology film containing three very different stories, each linked by a cat who is traveling the country on a quest to find a little girl (played by Drew Barrymore) who is supernaturally calling to him to save her from some unknown danger. It is written by Stephen King and directed by Lewis Teague, who had directed the film adaptation of King’s Cujo two years earlier. As with King’s writings in general, the stories contained here are hit-and-miss. If you pay attention to the opening credits, you’ll see that Alan Silvestri composed the score. How he could produce this awful score–an example of 80s-synth at its worst–as well as the wonderful score to Back to the Future in the same year, is a mystery.

After an opening sequence in which we are introduced to our hero the Cat as he flees a rabid St. Bernard and almost gets run over by a car named Christine (I am not making this up), the Cat rides a ferry to New York City, where he has a vision of Drew Barrymore calling to him from a department store window seconds before getting cat-napped by a large man. This leads us into the first segment, in which James Woods (apparently before he became a decent actor) goes to a company called Quitters Incorporated to help him quit smoking. The company is run by Alan King, who locks Woods in his office and shows him the Cat being tortured by electric shock behind a glass window. This is what will happen to Woods’ wife (played by a sublimely beautiful actress named Mary D’Arcy, who sadly has only a handful of TV roles besides this) and daughter (played by a frumpily disguised Drew Barrymore in her second, less high-profile role in the film) if he doesn’t follow through on quitting cigarettes. King also says they might have his wife raped if he doesn’t comply. (I swear I’m not making this up.)

Our hero the Cat must be a Jack Finney fan.

This whole first segment is an exercise in lunacy. This is what David Fincher’s The Game might look like if it turned out to be one long, bizarre anti-smoking ad–complete with James Rebhorn, too! Without going further into this nonsense, there is an altercation in King’s office that allows the Cat to escape. The Cat hitches a ride in the back of a pickup to Atlantic City, where he has a close call trying to cross a busy road while two men exiting a casino place bets on whether or not he’ll survive. When he makes it across, he is adopted by the man who bet on his survival and won, and who takes him home to his penthouse.

This man, named Cressner, is apparently a wealthy tycoon whose wife is having an affair with Robert Hays. Cressner’s goons (Mike Starr and Charles S. Dutton!) kindnap Hays and bring him back to Cressner’s apartment, where Cressner forces him to play a little “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket”-style game. If Hays can make it all the way around the ledge on the outside of Cressner’s high-rise penthouse without falling, Cressner will give him his wife and a bag full of money. The Cat is merely a bystander through most of what follows, as some pretty good suspense is generated while Hays makes his way around the outside of the high-rise. Another altercation toward the end gives the Cat its escape to continue its quest to find Drew Barrymore. This sequence is a pretty good suspense short, even if it does have a truly terrible special effects shot at the end.

Well, now I know what I'll be dreaming about tonight.

In the third and final story, the Cat has made his way south to Wilmington, NC, where he finally tracks down Drew Barrymore. But just as he finds her, he notices another creature has found her as well. The creature, whom we can hear but only see as a POV-shot, runs into Barrymore’s house past her parents and up into Barrymore’s room, unseen by the family. The Cat gives chase, but cannot find the little POV monster. Barrymore begs her parents to let her keep General, as she names the Cat, but her mother has misgivings, repeating an old folk tale about cats stealing the breath from little girls as they sleep.

(Barrymore’s Mom is also shown reading Pet Sematary before going to sleep at night. I read Pet Sematary. I had to take a break for about a week halfway through that book, because it got to the point where every time I closed my eyes I would see the face of that zombie cat.)

And so Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were inspired to write "The Battle of Barrymore."

To make a long story short, the POV monster turns out to be a troll who hides in the walls of Barrymore’s bedroom and comes out at night to cause her harm. Only Barrymore and the Cat know about it–her parents, of course, think she’s only having nightmares. There is some really good special effects work in this segment, particularly the creature effects used to create the creepy little troll. It comes to a showdown between Troll and Cat, and though it gets a bit silly, it is the most entertaining story of the three. It’s also more rewarding, since by this point the Cat’s quest has become the plot thread you really want to see fulfilled. It ends on a scene that is far more suspenseful than it has any right being.

If I were rating each of these segments separately, I’d have to rate the first segment with 1 star out of 5. It’s awful, and only gets more awful the further it goes. But the second and third segments were both interesting and entertaining, and I’d probably give them each 3 stars. And I also found myself invested in the connecting story of the Cat.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr