The Purge (2013)

Directed by James DeMonaco [Other horror films: The Purge: Anarchy (2014), The Purge: Election Year (2016)]

I wasn’t that big a fan of this the first time I saw it, and in many ways, it’s not that far removed from a generic home invasion flick, but I still found myself enjoying it more than some years back when I first saw it. I’d never call The Purge great, but I think it’s decent.

The cast here is surprisingly solid. Ethan Hawke (Sinister) was thrown into a pretty interesting role of a father trying to protect his family. Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) actually got some sympathy from me, which was nice. Adelaide Kane was quite attractive, which was a nice plus. Though maybe a little over-the-top, Rhys Wakefield was pretty fun (and psychopathic) in his role too.

What is most interesting about The Purge is the Purge itself, an annual event in the U.S.A. in which all crime is legalized in order to ‘purge’ the hatred and violence in the citizens, giving them an outlet for their desires. Otherwise, crime is low, and society is generally happy, including Hawke’s family, who are quite wealthy due to his business in selling security systems. Because they’re wealthy and have little chance of being impacted, Hawke’s character fully supports the Purge, despite not participating himself.

It’s a very barbaric idea wrapped up in psychology and good policy. The rich going around and killing the poor (physically, as opposed to how they do it in our actual society) is certainly somewhat a political statement, and this movie was interesting for that aspect alone. The dialogue of Wakefield made it quite clear that he thought the homeless were only there to be purged, which is an unique point-of-view, not to mention arrogantly self-centered (but we’re talking about the wealthy here, so I’m repeating myself).

Obviously, I think The Strangers had a lot of influence on this one, from the whole home invasion thing to the creepy masks the multitude of killers wear. Now, I actually like this a bit more than The Strangers, because the whole Purge element, while pretty ludicrous, is still something that’s on the unique side of things (and also, given it’s government-sanctioned, adds an extra element to it). I wasn’t a big fan of The Strangers anyway, so while this isn’t necessarily a whole lot better in terms of home invasion (though it is, to the extent that we have a family here while in The Strangers was a soon-to-be-broken up couple), I do find The Purge better.

There’s some violence here, but none of it is really over the top, and while we do see some knives and machetes, much of the violence is via firearms, giving a much more action feel to this film than a horror one. Make no mistake, the movie’s still horror, but don’t be surprised if you feel like you tuned into Die Hard at times.

The Purge isn’t a great movie, but I do think it’s decent, and reasonably entertaining with a strong cast and interesting moral issues that aren’t generally present in other home invasion flicks, which alone gives it a slight edge.

7/10

Dead End (2003)

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Andrea [Other horror films: N/A] & Fabrice Canepa [Other horror films: N/A]

I’m sure this comparison has been made before, but Dead End really feels like an elongated episode of the Twilight Zone. There’s a deep feeling of unease here, and while the final product is far from perfect, I think seeing this again has solidly thrown it into one of the better movies of the early 2000’s.

Personally, I don’t know if I care much for the black humor aspects (it was never really overblown, but it was definitely noticeable, especially in Lin Shaye’s character), but the story overall was interesting, though admittedly going down an expected route. I always loved the overhead shots of the car driving down the road, which was entirely void of lights and surrounded on all sides by a thick, impenetrable forest.

Performances are a mixed bag. You have your annoying adolescence in Mick Cain, and though he’s sometimes amusing, boy, does he get on my nerves. Lin Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm Street and Insidious being what I recognize her most from) was decent in a starring role, though past a certain point, she felt more dark comedic relief than anything (though to be sure, she did provide us with a few pretty tense moments). I’d say between Ray Wise (Jeepers Creepers 2) and Alexandra Holden (I’ve seen her in both Wishcraft and A Dead Calling), Holden had the better performance, but Wise did a good job too. Much like Shaye, though, he sort of went off the deep end by the finale, while Holden’s character was generally more stable.

Not that they didn’t have a good reason to lose it, which is where the Twilight Zone feel comes from. Seemingly in an inescapable situation, no matter how long you drive (and the only upcoming town sign being a name that’s not even on the map), Dead End really did have good tension. At around 80 minutes, I personally feel it went on a bit longer than it had to, and the ending itself was more a mixed bag (some elements were welcomed, others not so much), but still, the plot made for a good movie.

I enjoyed Dead End when I first saw it some years back, and it mostly holds up. I wish a slightly different direction was taken, but hey, the road obviously had no turnoffs, so what can they do?

7.5/10

Dracula (1958)

Directed by Terence Fisher [Other horror films: Three’s Company (1953, episodes ‘The Surgeon’ & ‘ Take a Number’), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Stranglers of Bombay (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Horror of It All (1964), The Gorgon (1964), The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Island of Terror (1966), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Night of the Big Heat (1967), The Devil Rides Out (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)]

Horror of Dracula, sometimes known as just Dracula, is one of Hammer’s earlier ventures into horror, following both The Curse of Frankenstein and The Quatermass Xperiment. It’s a decent film with some great performances, but it’s never been a favorite of mine.

Part of it may have to do with the fact I grew up on the 1931 Universal classic version of this story, and so even to this day, when I hear ‘Dracula,’ I immediately think ‘Bela Lugosi.’ Maybe that’s not fair, but it is true. Christopher Lee, of course, is a great actor, but when it comes to Dracula, he never really possessed the suave, almost je ne sais quoi, quality that Lugosi did. Lee is perhaps more frightening, and certainly more action-packed, but I’ve always been on Team Lugosi.

Even so, I’m not blind to the flaws of the 1931 film. I do tend to prefer it – while it may feel far more stagey than Horror of Dracula, I think it has far more classic scenes and lines which this version lacks – but at the same time, I don’t think it’s vastly superior to this movie. In fact, the story here is probably a bit more crisp and tragic, with some occasionally creepy vibes (such as a vampire leading a young girl through a forest at night), and of course, the fact that this movie’s in color helps out a bit.

It’s by no means a bloody film. There is one decent scene of a stake being driven into someone that looks good, but there’s no splatter whatsoever. Late in the film, we do see some quality special effects – think the conclusion of Fright Night only done 27 years prior – but on a whole, I think The Curse of Frankenstein probably stands out a bit more than this one in terms of pushing the boundaries.

I’ve always been a huge Peter Cushing fan. From his wide horror catalogue (The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Gorgon, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Abominable Snowman), he’s never failed to entertain me, and I quite enjoy his serious character here. I especially enjoy seeing him work side-by-side with Michael Gough (who I know as Alfred from the Batman movies, but he was also in Horrors of the Black Museum, Curse of the Crimson Altar, Berserk, Black Zoo, and Trog), who perhaps plays the most tragic character of the film.

We get a good twenty or so minutes with Jonathan Harker, played here by John Van Eyssen. He’s not that memorable, but I rather liked the approach to setting the story up. Neither Carol Marsh nor Melissa Stribling did much to leave an impression, but the more humorously-inclined scenes with George Benson were fun at times.

As far as Christopher Lee goes, his performance as Dracula is fine. Like I said, I personally prefer Lugosi, but both bring something different to the role. Lee (The Wicker Man, The City of the Dead, and I, Monster) is a great actor, and though he doesn’t have a lot of screen-time here, he does make a solid and threatening impression when he does pop up, and I certainly can’t find fault in that.

I think my biggest issue with the film – which may be overstating it, as I don’t think the film is bad whatsoever – is that I’m just so familiar with the Universal classic. The story here may be better, like I said, but it doesn’t feel anywhere near as classic to me. There’s no scenes that stand out as great, no quotes that stand out as stellar, and aside from Gough and Cushing, no performances which blow me away. I’ve always found Horror of Dracula a perfectly fine movie, but really, no more than that.

None of this should take anything away from the film. If I had seen this before the 1931 version, I’d likely enjoy this one more. It’s a good way to spend your time, and things pick up very nicely come the finale, which includes some solid special effects, but when it comes to classic Hammer horror, I’d personally prefer spending my time with The Curse of Frankenstein or The Mummy.

7/10

Stripped to Kill 2: Live Girls (1989)

Directed by Katt Shea [Other horror films: Stripped to Kill (1987), Dance of the Damned (1989), The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)]

The first Stripped to Kill wasn’t exactly an amazing movie, but it did possess a decent amount of charm, along with a solid conclusion. This sequel isn’t near as good, and though it’s still certainly watchable, I can’t imagine many people thinking it’s better than the first.

One problem I had was that no actors from the first movie appear, or are even mentioned. If you’re making a sequel, even if you can’t get back any of the original performers, you can at least bring them up in conversation once, but no, with one exception, the only thing this movie shares with the first are the strippers.

The one exception is the character Shirl. In the first movie, this character is played by Diana Bellamy, and she stood out as a rather amusing character. The same can be said for Stripped to Kill 2’s Shirl, played by Virginia Peters. They don’t necessarily look alike, but they do have very similar roles (gathering information which is vital to the finale) and attitudes, so I’m pretty convinced this is supposed to be the same person, which makes it even worse they couldn’t do more to connect this to the first movie.

And to be fair, there’s a stripper here named Mantra, played by Debra Lamb. Lamb appeared in the first movie also, as an unnamed amateur stripper, so it’s likely the same character, but that’s not something I realized until checking IMDb credits, and that fact definitely wasn’t mentioned in the film, but still, thought it was worth pointing out.

Ignoring that, though, the story here isn’t quite as interesting or violent as what we got from the first one. We have a stripper who thinks she’s going crazy and killing people in her sleep (and to be fair, there’s somewhat convincing evidence of that), and a city cop investigating the crime, but can’t stop himself from falling for the stripper. It’s not exactly riveting, and I could have done without the elongated dream sequences (though they make sense come the ending), and overall, the story’s just average.

There’s a few things I like about the ending here, what with the identity of the killer, but especially compared to the first movie, this ending felt pretty tame and simple in comparison. I sort of appreciate the artsy dream sequences (which make me partially wonder if this movie was aiming a bit higher than it might seem on the surface), but there’s a handful of them throughout the film, and as this progressed, they sort of lost their charm.

Eb Lottimer was okay as the main detective. He wasn’t anything special, and ultimately pretty forgettable, but he had a sensual soul. Maria Ford (who appeared in a handful of 1990’s horror, such as The Haunting of Morella, The Unnamable II, Slumber Party Massacre III, and Necronomicon) was okay, but given that she thinks she’s going insane, her performance isn’t always the most stable. Karen Mayo-Chandler was decent, though again, as the movie goes on, I was less enthralled with her. As I mentioned, Virginia Peters was pretty fun, Debra Lamb was maybe the hottest woman there, and Marjean Holden was Something Else.

The kills here are far from great, mainly because we never really see them. It’s true that we might see the aftermath, some blood and a corpse, but as poor as the kills were in the first movie, it certainly outstripped this one (SEE WHAT I DID THERE????).

Stripped to Kill probably never needed a sequel, so with that in mind, Stripped to Kill 2: Live Girls probably outperformed expectations, and to be honest, I did like this a bit more than I thought I would. That said, I doubt it’s a movie that will stay with me long, and I’d mainly recommend people just catch the first movie.

6/10

This is one of the film’s covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. To listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, check the video out below.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Directed by Oren Peli [Other horror films: Area 51 (2015)]

Overly pointless, I don’t see why this movie gets as much praise is it seems to. I never have. Admittedly, I’ve only seen it two times now, but Paranormal Activity strikes me as entirely unremarkable and has little going for it, at least in my perspective.

I don’t mind that the plot is thin – that’s fine. There were some interesting things that occasionally came up, such as the picture Micah found in the attic, or the fact that the demonologist recommended to the couple doesn’t actually show up (I’ve not seen any of the sequels, but if I had to bet, I’d say he probably appears in at least one of them). Katie being dragged out of bed was solid too.

But boy, does the boyfriend, Micah, get on my nerves. At first, he doesn’t take seriously the idea that his girlfriend is dealing with supernatural experiences (despite the fact that she’s very obviously being impacted by it), and once he grows to accept something’s going on, instead of turning to what passes as professionals in the field (such as the aforementioned demonologist), he acts all macho about it, and wants to deal with it himself.

How he expects to ‘deal’ with an invisible entity is never explained, and I suspect he has literally no idea of what exactly to do, which is why going to someone who might actually know a way to help would be a route worth investigating, but instead he berates the idea, because macho man is strong and masculine.

Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston both do an okay job as far as their performances go. Like I said, Sloat’s character is pretty annoying, and while I suspect toward the end of the film he realizes his idiotic mistakes, that doesn’t make him any easier to swallow. Featherston did fine as a young woman slowly getting terrified into inaction. To her credit, she has a good handle of what to do, but her boyfriend thinks he knows better, so there’s no shot for a happy ending.

As for the ending, I was lukewarm. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t worth a rather dull and aggravating build-up that Paranormal Activity gave us. I would have tried harder to get Katie out of the house than Micah did, but maybe he was just tired and didn’t care about the potential danger.

Though I say this virtually every time I review a found footage movie, I don’t have a problem with the style. I think it presents a lot of potential, especially for low-budget movie-makers, but at the same time, it’s a double-edged sword, because much of the time it’s overdone and automatically called ‘the scariest movie of [insert year here]’ with literally nothing backing the claim up.

I don’t like Paranormal Activity. I remember the trailers hyping it up, but the movie’s a mixture of dull and annoying, with the occasional piece of potential thrown in just to further frustrate the watcher. I also accept that I’m in the minority here, and maybe the series gets better later on, but as for this first movie, it was a waste of time and certainly one of the most pointless horror movies of 2007.

4/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, with my friend Chucky (@ChuckyFE). Listen below to hear my disappointment in the flesh.

The Unnamable (1988)

Directed by Jean-Paul Ouellette [Other horror films: The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1992)]

I’m not entirely sure why this one has such a bad rap. I mean, it’s not a stellar film, but I’ve seen this around three times now, and I consistently have a fun time with it.

It’s true that the setting is somewhat stagnant, as most of the movie takes place in a dilapidated house (and what doesn’t occurs on a generic college campus), but I thought that, despite the obvious low-budget, they did well with what they had.

To be honest, a lot of the reason I find this worth watching is due to Mark Kinsey Stephenson’s character, Randolph Carter. His attitude, which is somewhat aloof yet very knowledgeable (almost arrogantly so), just cracked me up. He’s not really the main character (as Charles Klausmeyer’s Howard was involved in most of the action), but he was enjoyable every single time on-screen. I suspect some would be turned off by his demeanor, but I really respect what he was going for.

Certainly, Klausmeyer was decent too, but his character was nowhere near as interesting, and truth be told, perhaps that’s the one big issue, as any scene without Stephenson is automatically less engaging by the sole fact he’s not in the scene. I did like Alexandra Durrell in her role, though I wouldn’t have minded a bit more depth. Laura Albert stood out during her nude sequence, but otherwise, her character was pretty awful. Really, as far as performances go, no one really comes close to Mark Kinsey Stephenson.

As for the design of the titular Unnamable, I thought it was decent. Not mind-blowingly so, but effective, and the little backstory we got on the origin of the creature was fun. Related, while there wasn’t a lot of gore, there were a few note-worthy scenes so one doesn’t walk away empty-handed, which is nice.

On a final note, after the finale, when the credits start rolling, we’re graced with a beautifully somber song titled ‘Up There‘ by Mark Ryder & Phil Davies, a song that really ends the film on a good note, and has been on my iTunes ever since I first saw this movie. Definitely a quality piece of music.

Mark Kinsey Stephenson is a big reason I like this movie, but even ignoring his deeply amusing character, you still have a somewhat fun story good setting, and all-around solid, low-budget, horror story. Having seen this three times now, I can say that it does indeed hit the right spots.

8/10

Witchboard (1986)

Directed by Kevin Tenney [Other horror films: Night of the Demons (1988), The Cellar (1988), Witchtrap (1989), Witchboard 2: The Devil’s Doorway (1993), Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996), The Second Arrival (1998), Endangered Species (2002), Brain Dead (2007)]

I’ll be honest, this was a bit of a disappointing rewatch. I saw this film once before quite some time back, and I remembered having a good enough time with it. Seeing it again, though, I struggle to exactly capture why I felt that before. Some of the movie was interesting, but overall, I can’t help but see Witchboard as moderately underwhelming.

As far as leads go, Tawny Kitaen, Todd Allen, and Stephen Nichols are fine. Both Nichols’ and Allen’s characters can be dicks, but hey, it’s the manly competition to get the girl, so why not? As it is, their story is decent, as they used to be friends, fell apart, and through the course of the film, begin to again get on friendly terms. If there’s any performance here that’s really memorable, though, it’s Kathleen Wilhoite as a medium Zarabeth, who’s wacky but decently entertaining.

Some of the creepy scenes here, including dream sequences, are solid, and the special effects throughout, while nothing amazing, are still certainly decent. It’s just that the story isn’t necessarily my favorite thing, and though elements are sort of interesting (such as the mystery behind the spirit that’s going after Kitaen’s character), all pulled together, it doesn’t do a lot for me.

Witchboard isn’t as good as I remember, which is a shame, because, as I said, I recall having a solid time with this one. It’s still an okay movie, and for a supernatural flick from the latter half of the 1980’s, it’s decent, but unless my view drastically changes the next time I chance this one, Witchboard, for what it does right, is probably a bit below average.

6/10

Lake Placid (1999)

Directed by Steve Miner [Other horror films: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Friday the 13th Part III (1982), House (1985), Warlock (1989), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Day of the Dead (2008)]

What Lake Placid lacks insofar as story is concerned, it makes up for it, in spades, with it’s fantastic sense of fun. Lake Placid is a fun movie, and the cast too makes it a stellar watch.

With Bill Pullman (Independence Day), Oliver Platt (The West Wing), Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter, along with The Guard and 28 Days Later…), Bridget Fonda (a woman I don’t even know, to be honest), and some small appearances from Betty White, Lake Placid has a lot of star-power behind it, and they all work really well with each other, particularly the hilarious relationship between Platt and Gleeson. In a way, it was heartwarming, but the humor was certainly top-notch.

The story itself isn’t necessarily special, but the performances mixed with some decent tension and some mounting friendships really add up to a better movie than might be anticipated, and again, I can’t overstate just how much fun I have with this one.

Another thing I rather enjoyed about this one is the setting. It takes place in a Maine forest, and I thought, while simple, it had quite a bit of charm (and led to a few funny scenes involving Gleeson’s character). It’s always nice to see Maine come up outside of a Stephen King movie.

Lake Placid isn’t a movie that is likely to blow anyone away, and it’s one that some people would likely find more generic than anything else, but I’ve always found it a fun movie with a solid cast, and I always enjoy watching it when the opportunity arises.

8/10

The Seventh Victim (1943)

Directed by Mark Robson [Other horror films: Isle of the Dead (1945), Bedlam (1946)]

This is an odd little film that more feels like a cult-based thriller than it does a horror. It’s not a bad movie, and the mystery is a bit interesting, but boy, even as far as 1940’s horror goes, The Seventh Victim probably only just squeezes in, at least in my opinion.

What works really well about this movie is the dense atmosphere. Tracking a missing person through a city, following multiple leads, hearing different stories, and eventually leading to a Satanic cult makes for a somewhat fun film, and certainly engaging at times.

I just didn’t think that too much of it was that memorable. In the moment, sure, you have some creepy vibes and a somewhat engrossing (if not a bit involved) story, but once the credits come up, I don’t think it takes that long for much of the material to fall out of memory.

The performances here were all fine, though honestly, as competent as they were (Tom Conway, Kim Hunter, Jean Brooks being among the best), no one here blows me away at all. Perhaps it’s just that the story, despite being only 70 minutes, felt a bit overlong, or maybe the cult wasn’t entirely convincing, but it just didn’t wow me.

The Seventh Victim had the atmosphere that was commendable, but it definitely felt more like a mystery/thriller than it did a horror, and that may have caused this to drag a bit more than you might expect from the off-set. It’s a 40’s movie that’s probably still worth giving a view, but there are plenty of other films from the decade (such as Bedlam, The Body Snatcher, The Leopard Man, You’ll Find Out) that I’d go to first.

6/10

The Blob (1958)

Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. [Other horror films: 4D Man (1959)] & Russell S. Doughten Jr. [Other horror films: N/A]

Few movies are as nostalgic for me as The Blob. Ever since I was a kid, my family has owned this one on an old Goodtimes VHS tape, and I cannot even begin to guess how many times I’ve seen it. I won’t pretend that to a modern-day viewer the film wouldn’t have problems (one of them being that Steve McQueen doesn’t much look like a teenager here), but to me, the movie’s perfect.

Watching this now, after seeing much more that the genre has to offer, the first thing that strikes me is the fact that it’s in color, and it’s even pretty decent color. Most American horror movies didn’t switch over to color until the 1960’s, so the fact that this one was color just impresses me more than it might others who already prefer the 1988 remake.

Another thing – the catchy number at the beginning. The credit to the song goes to The Five Blobs (which is a funny artist name to begin with), and while I understand that a song like that might not seem appropriate before a horror flick, I always thought it was a lot of fun, and that song has graced my iTunes for many years now.

The story here isn’t that different from other alien invasion movies of the 1950’s, the only real difference being that the alien here is an amorphous blob as opposed to some type of bipedal humanoid. Design-wise, the blob is pretty simple, but I always liked that purpleish-pinkish shade, and the fact that it’s pretty unstoppable is also impressively horrifying.

Steve McQueen (who famously screwed himself when taking $2,500 for the film, as opposed to 10% of the film’s profits) may not be the best-cast here, but I still love what he brings to the film, and his sometimes overly-dramatic performance (“He was just gone. Just gone”). Aneta Corsaut wasn’t necessarily special here, but I still love her for her unending concern of the old man’s dog.

Earl Rowe and John Benson both brought something to their roles, Benson an authoritarian, teen-hating cop, and Rowe a cop with a bit more of an understanding nature. Their mild conflicts throughout the film were interesting (more so when we found out Benson’s character was in the war, most likely Korea), and Robert Fields’ (Tony) story about moving a friend’s car was pretty funny also (I never quite understood the exact nature of McQueen’s and Field’s relationship, but it always had charm).

I understand that some of my views are purely nostalgia, and I suspect that some people might not be able to take me seriously as a reviewer given I’m perfectly okay with allowing nostalgic value to help guide my rating (though if they’ve been reading my reviews for a while, this definitely isn’t the first time nostalgia has played a role). I maintain that there’s not an issue with that, though – most people have those movies that they’ve loved since childhood, and I certainly have loved this one for a long time.

A great piece of 50’s horror, The Blob has been a long-time favorite of mine, and I’m not the least bit guilty for giving this one the highest of ratings.

10/10