From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez [Other horror films: The Faculty (1998), Grindhouse (2007, segment ‘Planet Terror’), Planet Terror (2007), Red 11 (2019)]

I’ve seen this a handful of times before, and it’s never been a favorite. I enjoy the first half, with a crime/action feel to it, enough, but I can’t say I much care at all once they hit the Titty Twister.

The cast is pretty superb throughout. George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel (Two Evil Eyes), Juliette Lewis (Kalifornia), a younger Danny Trejo than I’m used to, Tom Savini, Fred Williamson, Ceech Marin, and, for a few seconds, John Saxon. It’s a Robert Rodriguez/Tarantino movie, so the cast is about as good as you’d expect.

As great as the cast can be (and they certainly are in some aspects, looking at Clooney and Keitel’s characters), though, I don’t love the shift into vampire terrority, at least not the way it was done here. It became an all-out rumble with the undead, and that’s not really what I look for when it comes to vampire flicks.

On a slight positive note, the final shot in the film was pretty damn cool. It’d make a quality poster.

As far as special effects go, they were decent. Personally, I didn’t much care for the design of the vampires, but they stood out. There were a lot of solid sequences during the multiple fights, from plenty of gunplay to a decapitation, and the fact that a few of the characters left are ones you felt for helped, but still, the whole action-orientation of those scenes doesn’t endear me.

From Dusk Till Dawn feels special only in that you can tell Tarantino was involved in the script. At times near the beginning, it doesn’t feel dissimilar to Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, which certainly makes aspects of the first half memorable, but once vampires start coming into the picture, I admit, it loses me.

There are better vampire films from the 1990’s (The Night Flier and Carpenter’s Vampires, for two), and there are certainly better action films, so watching a subpar mix of both doesn’t blow me away. From Dusk Till Dawn is decently popular, and there’s certainly a reason for that, but I’ve never loved this one, nor particularly liked it, and this most recent viewing hasn’t changed that.

6/10

Scream (1996)

Directed by Wes Craven [Other horror films: The Last House on the Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Stranger in Our House (1978), Deadly Blessing (1981), Swamp Thing (1982), Invitation to Hell (1984), The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Chiller (1985), Deadly Friend (1986), The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), Shocker (1989), The People Under the Stairs (1991), New Nightmare (1994), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), Scream 2 (1997), Scream 3 (2000), Cursed (2005), My Soul to Take (2010), Scream 4 (2011)]

I won’t say that Scream is a perfect movie, but I will say that it’s close. A deeply enjoyable and meta slasher, Scream did pretty much everything right, and it’s always a blast to see again.

Wes Craven did a fantastic job revitalizing a dying subgenre of horror, being slashers, and brought a very self-aware, dark comedy aspect with it, combining everything to make Scream a pretty unforgettable experience. The cast works, most of the humor works, the plot works, and really, were it not for his previous film, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven could easily have crowned this one his best.

Pretty much all the main performances work here. Neve Campbell, who was only in a few films before this, including The Dark and The Craft, did great as the focal character, one who is both attractive and highly sympathetic. Matthew Lillard, who is generally too goofy for me (check out Thir13en Ghosts), does absolutely brilliant here, and I pretty much love everything about him throughout the film. Others who merit a positive mention include Rose McGowan, David Arquette (like Lillard, pretty much all of Arquette’s scenes were golden), Courtney Cox, Henry Winkler, and Skeet Ulrich (a name I don’t know, but does quite decent here).

The comedy here really adds something to make the film stand out a bit more. Seeing the killer consistently get knocked down by the would-be victim never fails to cause some laughter. It makes the killer seem human, which is something that many slashers before didn’t do, or if they did, they didn’t do it that well.

Scream is a classic, and for good reason. There’s little to dislike about it aside from some of the annoying teenagers, and the mystery and finale are well worth watching.

9/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

Shadow Zone: The Undead Express (1996)

Directed by Stephen Williams [Other horror films: Shadow Zone: My Teacher Ate My Homework (1997)]

Okay, this is a movie that I don’t think many horror fans would take a big interest in, primarily due to the fact it’s a movie aimed more toward older kids/younger teens, and it pretty much feels like an hour-and-a-half episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, mixed with an element or two of a more kid-friendly Tales from the Crypt.

Having seen this vampire movie twice now, though, I can firmly state that I quite love it.

Some of this undoubtedly comes from the cast. It’s true that most names here are new to me. The main kid, played by Chauncey Leopardi, was pretty decent, in a corny, Goosebumps-main character way. And speaking of Goosebumps, his father was played by Ron Lea, who was in the Werewolf Skin two-parter (which I own on VHS, and always thought added something interesting to the werewolf lore). Leopardi’s two friends are, of course, a black dude and a white girl (typical equality from Are You Afraid of the Dark?/Goosebumps), played by Tony T. Johnson and Natanya Ross.

Johnson I was more lukewarm toward, mainly because he was one of the main comedic relief elements, but I really liked Ross’s character, especially since they threw in that her character had dyslexia (which led to a painful argument between her’s and Leopardi’s character). It might not be game-changing, but how many horror movies throw in learning disabilities like dyslexia? I get it, it’s to show kids that not all kids have it the same, but I still find it somewhat commendable. Oh, and Wes Craven appears for a few scenes, which is sort of fun.

It’s the last actor, though, and the co-star with Leopardi, that makes the film all the more enjoyable, that being Ron Silver. Silver doesn’t seem to be that big a name, but I’m personally a fan of the series The West Wing, which is a politically-based show with a lot of great names and fun plots. Silver plays a recurring character in the show, so seeing him here (with pretty much the same, quietly humorous personality) was an utter blast. At the time I first saw this movie, I hadn’t really gotten into The West Wing yet, so this only increased my enjoyment with a fresh watch.

The plot is, I’ll say it again, much like something you’d see on Are You Afraid of the Dark?, being a little bit silly. Here, a coven of vampires live in the New York City subways, living primarily off rats, and once lead vampire Silver meets Leopardi’s character, works on trying to gain his coven the freedom to roam the city proper. It’s nothing special as far as vampires go, but I did think it was mostly well-done.

It’s worth noting that the budding friendship between the kid and the vampire was touching at times, and though I didn’t shed tears or anything, I did think the conclusion was pretty touching also (not to mention satisfactory even without that). Not everything is quite as explained as you’d hope, but overall, I can’t help but have a good time with this.

There’s not a whole lot in the way of blood here, which can only be expected. To be fair, there are a few surprisingly gruesome vampire deaths here (some of which are quite gooey), but that’s about as far as it goes. I mean, come on, this is made for kids.

Also have to throw a shout-out to the kid’s love of horror movies and that hella beast video store with a beautiful collection of horror posters thrown up on the walls, such as Sssssss and The Mutations, a 1974 British flick with Tom Baker and Donald Pleasence.

Shadow Zone: The Undead Express isn’t a movie that’s likely to impress all that many horror fans who see it. It’s a made-for-kids television movie, but I personally grow up on Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, so it was definitely the type of movie I would have loved if I had seen it back then. The nostalgic feelings are deep regardless, and I find this movie an exceptionally enjoyable watch.

8.5/10

This is one of the movies that was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, episode #29, so if interested, you can hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

Thinner (1996)

Thinner

Directed by Tom Holland [Other horror films: Fright Night (1985), Child’s Play (1988), Two-Fisted Tales (1992, segment ‘King of the Road’), The Langoliers (1994), Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales (2014), Rock, Paper, Scissors (2017)]

Thinner’s a book I’ve not read, unlike many other Stephen King novels (technically, Thinner was written under Richard Bachman, but even so), which may play a part in my review. While the movie is mostly enjoyable, there are a few performance issues, and ultimately, I think the film is missing something.

The story starts out well, but after a certain point, I personally think things drag a bit. It doesn’t help that the main character, played by Robert John Burke, came across as overly hammy toward the second half of the film. Near the end, it was definitely a bit much.

Which is one of the biggest problems with the film. Sure, the story is a bit thin (see what I did there?), but if Burke had put in a better, more serious performance, I think I would have liked the flick at least a bit more. As it is, the highlight of the film is really Joe Mantegna (who I know most from both the 1994 comedy Airheads and a long-lasting role in Criminal Minds). Without Mantegna’s presence here, I really don’t think this movie would have been anywhere near as enjoyable. Michael Constantine puts in a solid performance too.

Perhaps it’s because of Burke’s occasionally hammy acting, but the film felt just a bit on the light-hearted side at times. It’s tone didn’t work too well with me, but once Mantegna’s role becomes more a focus toward the end, things start coming together.

On a side-note, while the special effects were moderately decent for most of the film, there was a lengthy dream sequence that was entirely too goofy, and I definitely could have done without.

I’ve seen this once before, and I wasn’t overly amazed. It’s a good flick to sit back and eat popcorn with, but even for the mid-1990’s, which wasn’t the best time for the horror genre, Thinner just felt as though it was lacking. Good ideas in this one, to be sure, but an inconsistent tone and main performance places this one below average.

6/10

Thinner was covered by Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and myself on Fight Evil’s tenth podcast, which you can listen to below.

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

Hellraiser Bloodline

Directed by Kevin Yagher [Other horror films: N/A]

Quite possibly better put-together than the third movie, certainly with more ambitious ideas, my problem with Bloodline has always been that it just feels rather soulless.

Cenobites vs. the Merchant family during three different time periods (late 1700’s France, 1990’s New York City, and futuristic space time) didn’t enthrall me. None of the three ages did much to interest me at all. Part of this is possibly because it seems wholly removed from the previous attempts.

And it brings far more questions than it even gets close to answering, such as why Angelique became a Cenobite after the New York sequence, and why exactly didn’t the finale in New York finish up the Cenobite problem. None of these are really answered, and sadly, that’s not all they brought forth without explanation.

Aside from Pinhead, Angelique, and the Siamese Twins, there’s no additional Cenobites in the film, unless you count the Chatterer-based dog, which utterly sucked every time it was on-screen. Doug Bradley did well as Pinhead, again had some good lines (“Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks?”), but Angelique and the Twins bored me to death.

It’s not as though the movie didn’t have potential, especially with such an ambitious story, layered such as it is. There are a few solid performances, such as the aforementioned Bradley, Bruce Ramsay, and Kim Myers (Lisa from the second A Nightmare on Elm Street), but does anyone really stand out? Not quite. Possibly because, like I said, the final product didn’t have much soul.

There was a troubled production behind this film, and the director himself rather disowned it and left before filming was finished, so as to why it occasionally feels as some topics are left untouched on, this strikes me as being the most likely reason.

Regardless, the movie, as it is, isn’t worth much. Many of the death scenes were rather ehh (and that mirror scene was atrocious), and the special effects were, shall we say, not really worth mentioning in a positive light.

I didn’t care much for the third movie. However, if I were asked to choose only the third or fourth to watch again in the future, without much hesitation, despite the ambitions this movie possessed, I’d go with the third. I’ve seen Bloodline something like four times now, and it’s disappointed me for hopefully the last time. Might be worth a watch should you be a Hellraiser fan, but it didn’t do it for me.

5/10