Tag Archives: Christine

30 Days of Madness, Day 31 — Ranking the 30

by Tom Kapr

This has been an interesting month of film viewing, made far more enjoyable by the friends who voted on the movies I watched.

I’ve had dragons, witches, vampires, werewolves, Nazis, serial killers, beast people, alternate realities, zombies of every variety, at least two alien invasions, at least two foiled armageddons, about half a dozen mad scientists, at least half a dozen cases of possession, and at least half a dozen disembodied hands (seriously, did I watch a single movie this month where someone’s hand didn’t get proper mangled?); as well as killer ants, cars, cats, klowns, plants, goats, beavers, Drew Barrymores, and one really big octopus.

I’ve been including my Flickchart rankings with each film, so I thought as a wrap-up, it would be fitting to list again the 30 films I watched, in order of their placement on my chart. I’ve re-ranked each film to see if hindsight has had a significant change on their placement.

Here are the 30 films, by ascending rank, with a comparison to its original placement. I’m ending this month of October with 3275 titles ranked on my chart, which includes 32 more than I ended September with (I saw two new movies at the theater), so numerical rankings and percentages are always fluid.

 

-30-
ZOMBEAVERS (2014)

zombeavers

Original rank: 3202 (2%)
Adjusted rank: 3166 (3%)

Zombeavers is now 1% less terrible.

 

-29-
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)

killerklowns3

Original rank: 3081 (5%)
Adjusted rank: 3081 (6%)

Interesting that Killer Klowns ended up at the same numerical rank but falls 1% relative to a list that is now 32 titles heavier.

 

-28-
DEATHGASM (2015)

deathgasm

Original rank: 2863 (12%)
Adjusted rank: 3036 (7%)

I actually expected this to come out higher than its original rank. Deathgasm was such a great movie for the first half. I tend to rank movies lower if they build me up only to knock me down so hard by the end.

 

-27-
Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)

qwingedserpent

Original rank: 3193 (2%)
Adjusted rank: 3019 (8%)

Which is probably how Q managed to rise above Deathgasm. No goodwill built up, so less disappointment at an ending that was just as bad as the rest of the film.

 

-26-
FIRESTARTER (1984)

firestarter

Original rank: 2612 (20%)
Adjusted rank: 2643 (19%)

Here, on the other hand, Firestarter is a slog for much of its running time only to suddenly race full speed ahead with a hell of an ending. Not enough to save it from dropping a bit, though. I covered two Stephen King adaptations this month. One was a good movie called Christine. The other was Firestarter.

 

-25-
ROAR (1981)

roar

Original rank: 2634 (19%)
Adjusted rank: 2512 (23%)

I expected Roar to rise a bit, and won’t be surprised when it eventually breaks out of the bottom 25%. It might even breach the 2000 mark. I have a feeling the bizarre and singular nature of the film, coupled with the fact that it really is well shot, will cause it to appreciate over time.

 

-24-
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)

princedarkness3

Original rank: 1629 (50%)
Adjusted rank: 2049 (37%)

Prince of Darkness was my biggest disappointment based on expectations going in. Those expectations being that John Carpenter is a favorite director of mine, and this was made when he was in his prime (1978-1988). I didn’t expect it to drop quite so far on the re-rank though, and I am sure it will rise back up to around the middle of the list over time.

 

-23-
THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)

littleshop2

Original rank: 2553 (22%)
Adjusted rank: 1906 (42%)

Little Shop has one of the biggest leaps of all the films on the re-rank, a 20% jump, freeing it from the bottom quarter. I’m not totally surprised, as this one had already been slowly creeping up my chart.

 

-22-
BLAIR WITCH (2016)

blairwitch

Original rank: 2186 (33%)
Adjusted rank: 1706 (48%)

Blair Witch is another I expected to rise somewhat in the ranks, simply because I found it to be mediocre but not terrible. It definitely has some excellent sequences, and I suspect that if I watch it again on a small screen in a dark room, it will be more effective.

 

-21-
IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

itcame2

Original rank: 1588 (51%)
Adjusted rank: 1612 (51%)

It Came from Beneath the Sea manages a 24-spot jump but doesn’t shake its 51%. This is another one I found disappointing, certainly not by its special effects, which are still awesome thanks largely to Ray Harryhausen; but because the story framing them was much less well done than other favorite Hollywood creature features of the 1950s like Them! and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

 

-20-
EVIL DEAD II (1987)

evildead2

Original rank: 1510 (51%)
Adjusted rank: 1531 (53%)

Evil Dead II has been in and out of the “gateway” position into the top half of my chart; that is, when I add a new title, this is the one it often comes up against, being at the middle. I honestly don’t know which way this one will head over time, but the 2% indicates an appreciation in hindsight. Sam Raimi’s ingenuity and Bruce Campbell’s campy, cult-status-cementing performance will be the deciding factors.

 

-19-
PHANTASM (1979)

phantasm

Original rank: 1206 (63%)
Adjusted rank: 1425 (56%)

Phantasm probably doesn’t deserve to have fallen even further, and I think it’ll probably rise back up a bit over time.

 

-18-
CAT PEOPLE (1942)

catpeople

Original rank: 1607 (51%)
Adjusted rank: 1297 (60%)

Cat People managed to rise a couple hundred spots, thanks in no small part to the fact that it’s just a technically well-made film. It’s my aversion to some of the norms of the time period (xenophobia and animal abuse being unfortunately among those crimes) that will keep it from making a showing in the Top 1000.

 

-17-
XTRO (1982)

xtro

Original rank: 1894 (42%)
Adjusted rank: 1261 (62%)

Another 20% leap, this time from the bottom half well into the top half. Xtro is the one that has appreciated the most in my mind, and rather quickly. It may have been the tug-of-war between my awe at its visual effects and my repulsion to those same visual effects. I’m sure it also helps that this has become somewhat of a favorite in the past month among my fellow horror aficionados. It’s a strange film to bond over, but hey, if it works, it works.

 

-16-
GREEN ROOM (2015)

greenroom

Original rank: 1230 (62%)
Adjusted rank: 1031 (69%)

Green Room is another I expected to appreciate a bit, though I don’t expect to see too much greater movement.

 

-15-
MAY (2002)

may

Original rank: 761 (77%)
Adjusted rank: 887 (73%)

I was actually surprised to see May drop out of the top quarter on the re-rank. This is one that will always have favor based almost entirely on its wonderful lead performance by Angela Bettis. That will be the deciding factor anytime it’s up against a film of similar quality.

 

-14-
TRIANGLE (2009)

triangle1

Original rank: 782 (76%)
Adjusted rank: 885 (73%)

Triangle. I’m still not sure what to make of this film. It will definitely take a second viewing to know how I feel about it. For now, I expect it to bounce around the top middle quarter of my chart.

 

-13-
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943)

walkzombie

Original rank: 919 (72%)
Adjusted rank: 884 (73%)

Zombie rose a bit, and no surprise. Sometimes a film’s effective qualities stick more than its ineffective ones, and this one is a slow-build of a scary film that overcomes its bad narration and the hard-to-swallow romantic relationship at the center. It also has the distinction of introducing me to the work of producer Val Lewton, whose catalog I wish to complete.

 

-12-
HUSH (2016)

hush

Original rank: 804 (75%)
Adjusted rank: 876 (73%)

Hush is the one that I was second-guessing the most on whether it deserved the A I gave it, or if it was really more of a B. It works far more often than it doesn’t, but some of those things that don’t work stick with me. This will probably be one of those films that is always just on the verge of being knocked out of my top 1000.

 

-11-
ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)

islandlostsouls

Original rank: 877 (73%)
Adjusted rank: 826 (75%)

Another film that manages to overcome an inauthentic romantic entanglement with a genuinely horrifying story, a strong heroine, and an iconic villain courtesy of Charles Laughton, Island of Lost Souls manages to climb to the brink of the top quarter on the re-rank.

 

-10-
CHRISTINE (1983)

christine

Original rank: 511 (84%)
Adjusted rank: 666 (80%)

Christine dropped just enough to land at #666. So, yeah. Devil car.

 

-9-
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)

pitpendulum1

Original rank: 438 (87%)
Adjusted rank: 615 (81%)

Pit seems to have dropped a bit, but I won’t be surprised to see it claw its way back into the top 500. Of the two Roger Corman pictures I covered this month, this was the good one. (The other was The Little Shop of Horrors.)

 

-8-
TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)

trickrtreat2

Original rank: 614 (81%)
Adjusted rank: 595 (82%)

Trick ‘r Treat was a pleasant surprise and a great film to end on. Full disclosure: this is the second time I re-ranked this. The first time, it came up against Fargo, which was inexplicably low and kept it from even breaking into the top 1000. After re-ranking Fargo (which jumped way into my top 250), Trick ‘r Treat was able not only breach the top 1000 but the top quarter of the list.

 

-7-
HALLOWEEN (1978)

halloween

Original rank: 397 (88%)
Adjusted rank: 417 (87%)

Halloween has been on my Flickchart for years. It had started out in the 500s before I saw it on the big screen this month. The re-rank didn’t hurt it much, and I expect it to be a staple of my top 500.

 

-6-
PHASE IV (1974)

phaseiv-1

Original rank: 751 (77%)
Adjusted rank: 383 (88%)

Phase IV was probably the greatest surprise of the month. What I expected to be a cheesy 70s creature feature turned out to be a thoughtful piece of sci-fi. No great surprise that it jumped a few hundred spots on the re-rank. Sometimes it just depends on what films it comes up against.

 

-5-
THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)

bodysnatcher

Original rank: 177 (95%)
Adjusted rank: 318 (90%)

Again, sometimes it just depends on what it comes up against. I didn’t expect The Body Snatcher to drop as far as it did, but nor do I expect it to depreciate over time. Even if it weren’t an excellent film, it would be kept afloat by Boris Karloff alone. But this is a great film that will continue to haunt my 300s.

 

-4-
THE WITCH (2015)

thewitch

Original rank: 329 (90%)
Adjusted rank: 316 (90%)

The Witch was another pleasant surprise: not surprise that it was good, but because it was nigh impeccable. I think the only thing that keeps it from climbing any higher is its extremely disturbing subject matter. The higher on my list we go, the more likely we are to see films that emphasize the beauty in life rather than the horror. But The Witch is about as beautiful as a truly disturbing horror film gets. It had its general release in 2016, and I expect it to be on my year-end top 10 list.

 

-3-
GOJIRA (1954)

gojira

Original rank: 347 (89%)
Adjusted rank: 270 (92%)

Gojira makes the leap to the borderlands of my top 250. This was a film that actually got more engaging as it progressed, and has appreciated quite a bit in my mind.

 

-2-
EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

eyesface4

Original rank: 389 (88%)
Adjusted rank: 178 (95%)

While Eyes Without a Face, with the benefit of some time to process, leaps effortlessly into my top 250. I was considering compiling my list of the best horror film of each year, only to realize that it would have to be between this and Psycho. That’s not a decision I want to make, but it does speak volumes about how good this movie is to challenge an established favorite.

 

-1-
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013)

onlylovers

Original rank: 150 (95%)
Adjusted rank: 145 (96%)

I knew this was going to be the top spot. I was pretty sure about it even when I watched it on day 4. I was expecting Only Lovers Left Alive to be a challenge to sit through, but it is such a beautiful, engaging, life-affirming film–about vampires. It’s funny, heart-warming, shimmering with music and art. I certainly didn’t expect it to take a place among my  favorite films, but now that it’s there, I don’t see it leaving any time soon. Thank you, Jim Jarmusch.

And thank you everyone who read and commented and voted and helped make this such an unpredictable movie-watching adventure for me.

30 Days of Madness, Day 28 — Prince of Darkness (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.

princedarkness3

“Say goodbye to classical reality, because our logic collapses on the subatomic level into ghosts and shadows.”

Written & directed by John Carpenter.

Starring Donald Pleasence, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper for about a minute, and a bunch of white people with bad hair.

In my last review of Christine, I lamented how unfairly forgotten and underrated it was compared to Carpenter’s other work. With Prince of Darkness, I get it.

The slow build toward apocalypse is good and tense (at least when Mustache McGee and Lady Hockey Hair aren’t making out and having inscrutable conversations), helped along by Carpenter’s soundtrack and the acting talents of Pleasence as a priest from a secretive Catholic sect and Victor Wong as an eccentric quantum physicist. But then about halfway through it kind of stalls and just plateaus. The freaky things that start happening are undercut by underreaction from characters almost across the board. It starts to crescendo again, but then there are weird scenes that go nowhere, leading to a pretty trifling “apocalyptic” climax. It doesn’t help that the screenplay’s grasp of theology is tenuous at best, so it all feels rather silly.

As with any Carpenter flick, a lot of the special effects are really well done, but the philosophy behind the homeless zombie horde was a bit insulting. Every homeless person in the vicinity of this parish immediately becomes part of a hive mind, but not the scientists or students, because, what, they have better brains and aren’t susceptible? Not until they get physically infected, anyway. There’s even a conversation about it when the physicist is comparing their behavior to that of the ants, which do have a hive mind, and the other bugs and creepy crawlers that start showing up. It just draws an uncomfortable parallel, as if the homeless are on the same plane as the other vermin. It’s not Carpenter’s most nuanced writing.

And that’s too bad, because the idea of crossing the usual Judeo-Christian religious traditions with quantum physics in an apocalyptic plot is unique, and would be fascinating, if the religious part of it was treated with as much respect as the physics part. If only the entire script was as good as that excellent line from Victor Wong’s character that I used at the beginning of this review.

I also said in my Christine review that this would fill the remaining gap in what I consider the “classic Carpenter” era–1976 through the 80s. That is, the era beginning with Assault on Precinct 13, which put him on the map and allowed him to make Halloween, which catapulted him to being one of the premiere directors in Hollywood working in the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy genres. Through the 80s, he made film after film that cemented him as a cult classic director.

I didn’t start watching R-rated horror and sci-fi until the late 90s. I was in high school, and Escape from L.A. was my introduction to Carpenter, though I didn’t know who he was at the time. I wasn’t even fully aware that it was a sequel. But I developed a kind of affection for that film and for Snake Plissken as a character. I had already been a fan of Kurt Russell. In college, I saw Vampires, and by the time I saw Ghosts of Mars I knew Carpenter’s reputation and had already begun familiarizing myself with The FogThe ThingStarman (which I’d seen part of as a child and was freaked out by it), Big Trouble in Little China (a personal favorite and a film that is more important than it gets credit for), They LiveHalloween, and the original Escape from New York. Unfortunately, Ghosts of Mars was a terrible movie, but I’d become a late-blooming Carpenter fan who figured it was just a case of a master filmmaker losing his edge.

Prince of Darkness isn’t the only film of his from his “classic” era that I’m not sold on. I’m pretty indifferent toward The Fog and found Assault on Precinct 13 too disturbingly violent to be enjoyable. (I just don’t need to see little kids getting gunned down in the street in what is essentially a basic action movie, though an important one. Even with something like City of God, I’d rather not watch that kind of thing.)

Nevertheless, I think Carpenter, even post-Ghosts, remains one the most fascinating and respectable filmmakers in history. Now I need to fill in the pre-Assault and early-90s gaps. And I’m especially interested now to see In the Mouth of Madness. I did not realize until today that it is the third in what Carpenter calls his “Apocalypse Trilogy,” after The Thing and Prince of Darkness. That is a fascinating trilogy of apocalyptic themes–one extra-terrestrial in nature, one mixing Judeo-Christian religious tradition with quantum physics, and the third an exercise in Lovecraftian horror.

Final grade for Prince of Darkness: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1629 (out of 3273, a relative 50/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 27 — Christine (1983)

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.

christine

Directed by John Carpenter. Adapted by Bill Phillips from the novel by Stephen King.

Starring Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul; and a triumvirate of old-guy character actor royalty: Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, and Roberts Blossom. (And Kelly Preston.)

I don’t understand why Christine gets so little love. Carpenter’s direction, music, and special effects are as solid as ever. And any film that starts strong, first introducing the eponymous Plymouth Fury just as she’s coming off the assembly line in 1957 and then jumping to 1978 to establish a really interesting and rare best-friend relationship between a nerd and a jock (played well by Gordon and Stockwell, respectively); effectively keeps the suspense up for an hour and a half; and then ends strong on one of the best “or is it?” endings ever, deserves high praise.

My first thought is that, being released right after Carpenter’s masterpiece The ThingChristine could seem a bit of a let-down. But then I remember that The Thing was an even bigger critical and financial disappointment, whereas Christine doubled its budget, and, you know? Sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense. Where hindsight is concerned, Christine is unfortunately sandwiched between The Thing and Carpenter’s other masterpiece Starman.

Still, Christine deserves more praise and recognition. It’s a solid thriller. And it’s a solid thriller about a murderous car, AND teenagers. By all rights, it should have been terrible.

I’ll delve more into Carpenter’s body of work in my next review (because I’m watching Prince of Darkness next, which will fill in the last gap in my “classic Carpenter” viewing), but my only real final burning question about Christine is: What heterosexual man in his right mind would turn a blind eye to Kelly Preston? I found this to be the most fantastical aspect of the film.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #511 (out of 3272,  a relative 84/100)

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