Aliens (1986)

Directed by James Cameron [Other horror films: Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)]

While it’s true that it took me until my most-recent viewing of Alien to fully appreciate it, Aliens is a movie I loved from ‘hello,’ and it’s probably the best horror/action/science fiction movie in the history of the moving pictures.

Let’s dispense with the problems first, though:

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the myriad of great performances (it’d almost be easier to talk about those who didn’t make a positive impression, but that didn’t strike me as fair).

I loved Sigourney Weaver in the first movie, but she’s even better here. Once she takes control, she really takes control (the scene in which Ripley usurps Gorman is fantastic), and though she’s all bad-ass, she still has a sensitive side, as seen when dealing with Newt (Carrie Henn) and Hudson (Bill Paxton). She is the exact right person in that situation, and I enjoyed watching her kick ass throughout (especially in regards to Paul Reiser’s character).

And speaking of Reiser, boy, does he cause some whiplash. At first, he seems a decent guy, one of the few trying to back-up Ripley’s experience and get her back into a suitable profession, but then we find out something later on that shines a whole new light on him, and he quickly becomes one of the most hated characters in the whole of cinema (perhaps an overstatement, but man, I utterly abhor this guy, and I definitely thought he should have been killed just as soon as his secret and actions were discovered). Reiser does a great job playing a terrible character, so kudos.

It’s Gorman, played by William Hope, who at first seems to be the main antagonist. Very quickly, though, we find out that he’s not so much a bad man as he is just under-experienced. He certainly thought he had control of the situation, but when Ripley shoves him aside, he takes it gracefully, and I always low-key appreciated him for that. Another individual who takes a little while to really make a place for themselves is Hicks, played by Michael Biehn. To be honest, I barely noticed him until he retained command, but I loved him as soon as he sided with Ripley, and from there on out, he gave it his best to protect everyone.

Others who merit a positive mention are probably obvious, being Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton, Mark Rolston, and Al Matthews. Henriksen as the android Bishop really did well here. Being an android, he didn’t need to have much in the way of emotions, so Henriksen was a perfect fit, and I definitely enjoyed him throughout (especially towards the end). Goldstein kicked ass about as much as Weaver, and her comeback to Hudson near the beginning was cuttingly brutal.

Paxton’s Hudson lost control past a certain point, but he was still a solid character to the end, and though Rolston’s Drake didn’t last near as long as I was hoping, he too was a character I really found myself enjoying. Of everyone, though, it’s Al Matthews, who, as soon as he awakens from cryofreeze, the very second, he has a cigar in his mouth. Love that guy’s dedication. I also rather liked Colette Hiller, though she appeared for only a short time.

As far as the special effects go, everything here looks great, and though at first glance it might look like the movie runs a little long (as it’s around two-and-a-half hours), I think everything feels smooth and well-paced throughout the film. The setting is a nicely deserted alien world, and there are some absolutely fantastic scenes of suspense here (such as Ripley and the kid being trapped in the room with the facehuggers).

Let’s face it – Aliens is a fantastic movie, and this is probably one of my least controversial movie opinions of all time. The movie currently sits in IMDb’s top 100 movies, and I’m very much mistaken if I think that’s going to change anytime soon. It’s an action-packed ride with with a ton of suspense, scares (that locked room with Ripley and Newt gets my heart racing every time), action, and I can’t recommend the movie enough.

10/10

House of Usher (1960)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

This Roger Corman movie is one I’ve been wanting to see for some time now, and now that I finally have, I’m somewhat underwhelmed. Oh, House of Usher is solid enough, and possesses both great performances and an enjoyable atmosphere, not to mention a fantastic conclusion, but still, I couldn’t help but expect more from it.

Even with the slight disappointment, though, there’s no doubt that Vincent Price brings a hell of a lot to this film. His character, paranoid and somewhat of a bastard, is great, and his performance is up there with the best of his material (House on Haunted Hill and Theater of Blood among them). The delivery of his lines is fantastic, and he just works wonderfully here.

The others are decent, and somewhat amusingly, my second-favorite performance here is not Mark Damon nor Myrna Fahey, but the butler, played by Harry Ellerbe. His loyalty to the dying House of Usher, despite all of the decay that he’s witnessing first-hand, was quite admirable, and I enjoyed him throughout. Fahey was good also, though I felt she didn’t really reach her stride until the finale. Truthfully, while Mark Damon was okay, I think he was the least stellar of the cast.

Also worth mentioning is the beautiful setting, being a desolate, decrepit mansion in the middle of a foggy swamp. With a cast as small as House of Usher had, this location brought more character to the movie, and the fact that it was in color, though gloomy still, was a nice touch. Related, the coloring here was solid, and it really shows in the psychedelic dream sequence, one of the moments that stands out a bit more.

The finale is fantastic, what with the mad search for a woman buried alive, only to discover that the woman has escaped her coffin and went mad, her bleeding fingers leading a trail to a great confrontation. Of course, this truly is the end of the House of Usher, and that’s probably for the best, given Price’s very apparent unstable mind-set.

House of Usher is a classic, and I don’t have a problem saying that. I just wish that I liked it a bit more than I already do. Perhaps I was overselling it to myself before seeing it, but still, the movie is certainly above average, and boasts a very good atmosphere and, of course, Vincent Price near his best.

7.5/10

Halloween Kills (2021)

Directed by David Gordon Green [Other horror films: Halloween (2018)]

Perhaps one of the most-hyped horror films in the last couple of years, I have to say that I wasn’t one of those excited all that excited for this. I think I was probably correct in that stance, because while parts of Halloween Kills are fun, a lot of it just feels like filler.

The 2018 Halloween was a movie I thought was okay. Sure, I have it rated an 8/10 on here, but if I’m being honest, that’s probably too high. I’ve only seen the 2018 movie once, and I thought it was good, but it’s one of those films that, having seen once, I was in no real desire to see it again anytime soon.

I considered refreshing my memory before getting into Halloween Kills by revisiting the 2018 movie, but I opted out. I doubt that made much of an impact – most of the characters introduced in the 2018 movie came back to me without too much difficulty. Even so, I just don’t know if the story in this film was really all that interesting.

Aimless isn’t really the word I’d use to describe the film, though I suspect some people would. To me, it just felt primarily like filler for the upcoming Halloween Ends. That’s not to say there weren’t some good scenes, because of course there were, but for a movie that’s an hour and 45 minutes, it’s oddly difficult to list what actually happened in the film, because the status quo didn’t change much from the end of the 2018 movie to the end of this one. In fact, I don’t think anything changed, aside from more people in Haddonfield being deceased.

I appreciated the flashbacks they gave that took place in 1978, especially the ones that had Loomis (played by Tom Jones Jr.), as they got a guy who looked pretty much just like him. Those flashbacks, at least the ones focused around the Myers house, were sort of fun, but I can’t say any of the Lonnie stuff interested me.

For performances, I don’t even know what to say. Most of the central cast (Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, and Anthony Michael Hall) were fine, but as for their characters, I feel like a lot of foolish mistakes were made, and those foolish mistakes sometimes made it quite difficult for me to really care about their characters.

Far more noteworthy to me are Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, and especially Charles Cyphers, all three of whom are returning characters from the 1978 classic (and seeing Cyphers back really brought a smile to my face). Two other characters were brought back (Lonnie and Tommy), but the original actors, Brent Le Page and Brian Andrews, were replaced by Robert Longstreet and Anthony Michael Hall. Well, I guess three out of five ain’t bad.

Oh, and though these characters weren’t even close to important, I liked Scott MacArthur and Michael McDonald in their roles as a gay couple living in what used to be the Myers house. They were at least somewhat fun.

I don’t mind that they brought back the characters they did – Marion (the nurse that Myers stole a car from) was sort of random, but the fact they brought back three old faces was nice, especially Charles Cyphers as Brackett (and I liked him a lot in this movie). At the same time, I don’t know if any of these characters were really utilized that well, and aside from bringing back familiar faces, I don’t know if it really made a difference whatsoever.

One of my main complaints about the 2018 movie was the gore. I don’t have a problem with gore, of course – H.G. Lewis and Nathan Schiff are, as the kids say, the shit. It’s just that the 2018 movie had a retro thing going for it, and I was hoping they’d focus more on suspense and creepy scenes (as the original Halloween did) as opposed to violence, but of course they didn’t.

This movie is much the same. I love the slaughtering that takes place here, but I also can’t help but wish they had gone for a classier aesthetic. I loved the opening to this film, which maintained a retro aura, but when you go from that to slaughtering a group of firefighters, it sort of loses me. Trying to please both crowds isn’t going to work, because it doesn’t feel genuine, at least not to me.

Look, I had a good time watching Myers go berserk on the firefighters – it was a lot of fun. And there’s a scene toward the end where a similar situation occurs, and I enjoyed that too. A lot of the violence here, such as the fluorescent light in the throat, or the guy who had his head banged against the stairwell until he was likely paralyzed (not that it mattered for long), was fun. The violence looked great, but I still personally would have preferred a different approach.

There’s a large portion of the film that deals with the horrors of a mob mentality. It’s like Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers on steroids, because instead of a group of drunk guys with shotguns in trucks (which made pretty good sense to me), you have pretty much the whole town bloodthirsty, and chasing down people who may or may not be Myers because of a couple of speeches. I’m not saying those scenes in the hospital didn’t have their moments, but the whole situation personally felt a little ridiculous.

Also, I’ve got to mention a small scene that bothered me. Toward the finale of the film, three individuals are under the impression that Myers went back to his old house, and go there after him. Despite being in contact with other characters who expressed interest in hunting Myers down, they didn’t tell anyone they were going to the house. I can’t say just how stupid I thought that set-up was – why wouldn’t they just call or text other people? They really thought three people – two of whom were quite young – could take on Myers after he destroyed the Haddonfield fire department? It was so fucking stupid, and it didn’t make a lick of sense to me.

It might sound as though I had a bad time with Halloween Kills, but that’s not accurate. I was entertained throughout, despite feeling that much of the film just felt like filler. I didn’t love a lot of it, but it was an entertaining time. Maybe once I watch this again, I can re-evaluate some of it, but for now, I’ll just say the film is somewhere pretty close to average.

7/10

Hide and Seek (2005)

Directed by John Polson [Other horror films: N/A]

Hide and Seek isn’t really a movie I’d call good, nor would I call it that memorable, but it is sort of interesting.

Interesting in that this horror film stars a big name (Robert De Niro) and yet I’ve rarely ever heard about it from fellow horror fans (in a way like What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford), after seeing Hide and Seek, I can sort of see why, because while well-made, I don’t think this is exactly original.

Robert De Niro does perfectly fine here. I don’t really care for the end of the film nor his role in it (the idea itself was fine, but I don’t think the execution did the idea justice), but he’s still a good actor that doesn’t often appear in horror films. Dakota Fanning does decent as a child actress, though I can’t honestly say she made a big impression on me either way.

It was nice seeing Famke Janssen show up (I know her best as Jean Grey from X-Men, but she was also in Lord of Illusions and Deep Rising), but she didn’t really add that much. More interesting was Dylan Baker – because of his role from Trick ‘r Treat, I had suspicions of the guy from the beginning, which wasn’t necessarily fair (nor does it mean he’s not a guilty party), but thought it was worth mentioning.

I really like the idea here because toward the end, there’s a hell of a lot of suspense, and the mystery which we’re all trying to figure out is pretty engaging. It’s just that the solution they go with doesn’t really work for me (nor many, if the common complaints I see about this one can be transposed onto the negative critics as a whole). The ending just seems like something that would have been figured out earlier than what it was. I won’t go as far as to say it was illogical, but I wouldn’t excuse others for coming to that conclusion.

Truthfully, I don’t think Hide and Seek is terrible, no matter how derivative some of the film is. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s not near as bad as I’ve seen some say. Ultimately, though, Hide and Seek isn’t going to be memorable one way or the other, which, with an actor like De Niro starring, is condemnation enough. Good idea, but iffy execution, and I find it a bit below average.

6.5/10

House of Wax (1953)

Directed by André De Toth [Other horror films: Terror Night (1987)]

One of the earliest 3D horror films, House of Wax (a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum from 1933) is well-made and quite memorable. The 3D is a bit showy at times (that yo-yo scene was clearly there only because of the 3D aspect), but the story here is solid, and of course, an early horror appearance of the legend that is Vincent Price.

Oh, it’s also in color, which is a nice change of pace, especially for a 1950’s American flick.

The whole idea of using dead bodies as the base of wax figures is hella creepy, and though there’s not a whole lot in the way of violence, the film still occasionally feels brutal at times, especially toward the end, when the heroine is about to have boiling wax poured over her nude body (of course, the nudity being tastefully hidden). It helps that Price’s character, while the antagonist, is still pretty sympathetic, and the opening to this film is heart-breaking in it’s own right.

Without a doubt, Price makes this movie as special as it is. The 3D never really mattered much to the plot, but Price’s performance is something that can’t be denied. His passionate portrayal of a man driven somewhat mad was great, and you can definitely tell why he later starred in so many great horror films (such as House on Haunted Hill and The Pit and the Pendulum). Phyllis Kirk was never really a star, but she did pretty good here, especially during the final scenes with Price (such as the great revealing sequence). Another name worth noting is Charles Bronson, who plays a mute assistant of Price’s. Personally, I don’t think I’ve really seen a film Bronson starred in (I’ve seen both The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape, but that’s it), but even so, he seems to be an actor worth mentioning.

There are times when I felt House of Wax could have been more to the point – the whole of Paul Picerni’s character seemed moderately like needless padding – but even so, this is a classic during a time when not too many horror movies were coming out (the late 40’s to early 50’s is a dead man’s zone when it comes to the genre), so House of Wax is very much worth watching. I’ve seen it plenty of times before, and while I will admit to possibly enjoying Mystery of the Wax Museum a little more, Vincent Price, along with the fact that the movie’s in color, brings a lot to this rendition of the story.

7.5/10

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Directed by Michael Gornick [Other horror films: Stephen King’s Golden Tales (1985, segment ‘The Word Processor of the Gods’]

The first Creepshow is an interesting one, because while most of the stories aren’t great, the package as a whole is a fairly enjoyable anthology. Creepshow 2 isn’t that far removed from the pleasures of the first movie, but it’s certainly nowhere in the same league.

I’ve always thought the best story here was the first one, ‘Old Chief Wood’nhead.’ It’s not perfect, mainly because Holt McCallam’s character is so damn unlikable (can he not shut up about his hair?), but it does have George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour as a wonderful couple who you can’t help but feel for. The deaths aren’t that special, but they do have just a dash of charm to them, and it’s a story that always made me feel good.

The other two are somewhat lackluster, though. ‘The Raft,’ based off a Stephen King short story from Skeleton Crew, is an okay story, a somewhat interesting premise, but entirely unmemorable characters. Also, as well-known as the ending is, I just feel meh about the whole thing. And as for ‘The Hitch-Hiker’? Sorry, but though I’ve seen this many times in my life, I’ve never really liked the story at all.

With only one story that’s really that good, what helps Creepshow 2 out a bit is the animated framing story, in which an odd kid gets back at his bullies with the help of his love of the Creepshow comic book. The animation is a bit rough (this is the late 80’s, what more would you expect?) but I always loved the conclusion to the movie. Just brings a smile to my face. It’s not quite as memorable as the framing story for the first movie, but it’s still decent.

Like I’ve said, I’ve seen this one multiple times in my life. And through it all, I’ve always thought Creepshow 2 was just an average movie. I wish they had more than just three stories (which was apparently originally the plan), but as an anthology flick, it’s not bad. Just nowhere near as enjoyable as the first.

6.5/10

This is one of the films covered by the Fight Evil podcast, so if you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one, check out the video below.

Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)

Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson [Other horror films: Bones (2001)]

When you have a really fun movie with a really fun cast, you know you’re in for a great time, and that’s entirely what Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight is.

The story here is pretty hokey at times, and a lot of that comes from the utterly over-the-top performance of none other than Billy Zane. His antics here are just hilarious (look at his seduction of Dick Miller (!!!) and tell me they’re not), and though without Zane, the movie still would have had one hell of a cast, he really brings things together as the Collector.

Really, the story starts off quick and from the get-go, it has you invested. Not all is as it seems, and hell breaks loose (almost literally), which was a lot of fun, in part due to the solid special effects, but primarily due to the cast.

Zane was great here, but you also have to give William Sadler a lot of credit. I’ve not really seen him in that many movies (and certainly no starring roles) outside of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, so it really surprised me when I first saw this movie that he can bring it. His character’s story was a bit much, but he sold it, and I liked seeing him form a (grudging) relationship with Jada Pinkett’s character.

Jada Pinkett is an interesting case. When I first saw this movie, she was a no-one to me, but now having been a regular viewer of Gotham (a show which definitely has it’s highs and it’s lows), Jada Pinkett Smith is very much a known quantity, and it’s really cool seeing her as a kick-ass teenager, being bossed around by no other than CCH Pounder (who I know primarily from voicing Amanda Waller on Justice League Unlimited, but she was also decent in Psycho IV: The Beginning).

And saving the best for last, who doesn’t get a kick out of seeing Dick Miller? In most movies (The Howling, Gremlins, Chopping Mall, and Night of the Creeps), he’s delegated to a small, yet amusing, cameo. But here, Miller appears throughout the film, and when he finally does go, he leaves with a smile on his face (again, seeing Zane and Miller in that scene just makes me giddy with happiness). God, I do like Miller, and he’s great here.

Like I said, the story here does have a tendency to be a bit hokey, but coming from a Tales from the Crypt movie, I couldn’t imagine that really being the problem. Hell, even the ending of these movie (the Crypt Keeper in Hollywood) was charming, in it’s over-the-top laughable way. Definitely a movie I’ve enjoyed with each watch, and that will continue until I’m dead.

8.5/10

The Black Cat (1934)

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer [Other horror films: Bluebeard (1944), The Man from Planet X (1951), Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957), The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)]

This is another of those classics of the genre that I wished I liked more. Having seen The Black Cat twice now, while I admit the film has solid tension, along with a good atmosphere, and even better potential, I’ve felt lukewarm toward this both times the credits have started rolling.

What is it about this movie that causes that?

A somewhat big reason is the Satanic aspect which pops up out of nowhere with about 15 minutes left in the movie. I don’t really think the addition was at all necessary, nor did it add that much in any sense (aside from explain why Boris Karloff was adamant on refusing the couple their leave). The Satanic cult also don’t do anything, and the whole plot just seemed shoehorned in there at the end, which I’ve found disappointing both times I’ve seen this.

Of course, the presence of both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi can’t be denied, and they really work well off each other here. Both possess a deep intensity, and their conversations, though they never devolve into shouting, certainly are tense and rather filled with hatred. Personally, I was on Lugosi’s side throughout the film (his backstory is definitely more sympathetic), and the dark ending was very solid.

David Manners (Dracula, The Mummy, and Mystery of Edwin Drood being the rest of his horror output) and Julie Bishop (also in Torture Ship) composed themselves well here, but when you’re in a movie that co-stars both Lugosi and Karloff, you don’t really have much of a chance to stand out. I did enjoy Manners’ heroics, but I can’t truthfully say either of these two really struck me as that memorable. Great honeymoon, though.

Had the movie left out the Satanic aspect and just focused on the tension and atmosphere already present in the relationship between Lugosi and Karloff’s characters, I think I would have liked this movie quite a bit more. I just can’t help but feel that conclusion could have been tightened up. The torture scene was fantastic (though obviously not much was shown, it maintained a certain brutality), and I just wish the rest of the finale had the same effect.

6.5/10

Pet Sematary II (1992)

Directed by Mary Lambert [Other horror films: Pet Sematary (1989), Strange Frequency (2001), Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005), The Attic (2007), Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011)]

I wasn’t a big fan of the first Pet Sematary, nor was I a big fan of the book. But boy, Pet Sematary II is even worse, and I cannot overstate just how much I dislike the direction that this one took.

As far as performances go, it was briefly nice to see Clancy Brown (of The Shawshank Redemption) here, but then his character quickly becomes one of the biggest dicks imaginable. Unfortunately, his character is only utilized in worse ways once he’s brought back to life, but I’ll touch on that atrocity a bit later. Anthony Edwards was somewhat enjoyable here, especially toward the end of the film, but he wasn’t anything special.

The two main kids, Edward Furlong and Jason McGuire, were okay. I sort of liked the bond between the two, but much like Edwards’ performance, I don’t think either one was particularly special. McGuire certainly was at his best, though, with his asshole step-father (Brown’s character).

It’s with Brown’s character that I really started losing interest in the film. Once he’s about to strike his step-son and gets killed, the boys decide to bury him in the burial ground to bring him back, and back he comes. How the wife didn’t notice that her husband was essentially a zombie blows my mind, but really, any scene past Clancy’s death was pretty much coming to unwilling eyes, because the whole “My step-father’s a dangerous zombie, help me,” was just so stupid, and I didn’t care whatsoever.

The whole idea of a son desperately wanting his mother back was touching, and I do think some of the finale was perfectly okay. But boy, I could definitely have done without the other portions, and overall, though I didn’t care for the first movie that much, I found this even harder to swallow.

4/10

Night Warning (1981)

Directed by William Asher [Other horror films: N/A]

Known also as Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (which isn’t a title I’m that fond of), Night Warning is an interesting movie that I’d not heard much about before throwing it on, which may, to a certain extent, have worked in it’s favor. The story is decent, the characters generally memorable, but I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say I actually enjoyed this one.

Performance-wise, I think both Jimmy McNichol and Susan Tyrrell did a great job (Tyrrell especially as she began losing it throughout the course of the movie). Steve Eastin brings some humanity into the film, playing a closeted gay basketball coach, and to destroy his humanity, enter the police, in the form of Bo Svenson, who played a very, very homophobic piece of shit. Svenson did a good job in his role, as I really hated his character and his bigoted viewpoints. His character had a somewhat unique (and surprising) story arc here, so look out for that. Lastly, though she wasn’t desperately important, Julia Duffy was pretty cute, and gave us a little bit of nudity to keep us going.

Which wasn’t entirely unnecessary, as the movie, while engaging enough, did occasionally feel draggy. It picked up near the finale, when the main character gets his life even more screwed up by his aunt, but it takes a bit of patience to get to that point. It’s here that Susan Tyrrell really gave a solid performance, and her lack of grasp on reality was fun enough to make the whole of the conclusion interesting. Throw in the gay coach and a homophobic cop, along with a few violent deaths and a corpse, and you’re in for a decent time.

This said, I don’t think Night Warning was quite as good as some others say it is. It has enough slasher aspects to belong to the subgenre, but the route this one takes feels quite a bit more subdued. It’s an interestingly psychological story, no doubt, and I can’t point to many positive gay characters before this point in time, but I still would have preferred something else. If anything, though, I’d definitely throw this one at least one watch, because it really deserves that much (even if you can see the ending miles before the signposts).

6/10