Thursday, June 30, 2011

Horror Movie Review: Deathdream (aka Dead of Night)

Deathdream (aka Dead of Night)

Starring: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Anya Ormsby, and Jane Daly

Directed by: Bob Clark

Written by: Alan Ormsby

Production Companies: Impact Films and Quadrant Films

Release Date: August 30, 1974

Deathdream starts off looking like a war picture with soldiers in Vietnam under attack, but as we blur away from soldiers screaming as they are shot and killed, we hear a quiet woman's voice, "Andy, you can't, you promised to come home."

The sudden shift from a dark and gruesome Vietnam to the bright, comforting kitchen of a suburban family is almost as jarring as anything else you'll see. A family sits over a supper table saying grace, the pre-meal prayer, and as the father stops the mother continues, talking quietly saying, "Andy, you promised to come home." The difference between the comforting suburban home and the war torn Vietnam jungle shows us why some Vietnam vets had trouble returning home, their lives in Vietnam being so different with little similarity.

The family's supper is interrupted by a knock at the door. Andy Brooks was killed in action. The Brooks family devastated as if a 120-mm mortar shell exploded in the center of the dining table.

But later that night, Andy comes home looking none-the-worse for wear. The Brooks are relieved and excited. But Andy's changed and soon the Brooks family will be destroyed.

At first Andy seems to simply be suffering from post war stress: Quiet and distant. But as his behavior turns more violent, more disturbing, killing the family's dog, and other deaths seem to implicate Andy, we know things are worse. Andy has become some kind of undead monster using people's blood to keep his body from decaying.

As the stress of Andy's return strains the family, the parents, Charlie and Christine, begin to turn on each. Christine refuses to believe anything is wrong with her precious Andy. Charlie is torn, wavering from wanting Andy to take responsibility for his actions to wanting to help him get away. Little sister Cathy just finds herself caught in the eye of this perfect storm being spun around and confused about what is happening to her family.

Deathdream won't keep you up at night with any grotesque scenes or sudden shock scares, but it will keep you up thinking about war and family. There's a strong anti-war message, not through showing the violence of war, but the devastating effects it can have on a family and even survivors of war.

But there is also a warning about family and the dangers of putting all love into one member and the whole family rotates around that one member. Without the mother's blinding love for her son, Charlie's desire for Andy to show what a good father he was in his actions, and the sister's complacency in being kept in the dark about what's going on, Andy's return and transformation would have hurt the family, but not destroyed it.

Richard Backus is great as Andy, delivering his lines in a flat, monotone voice making his detachment an auditory sensation. But beyond that, he uses his face expertly to creep us out with smiles formed as if he didn't understand what the purpose of smiling is and thus creating an eerie, unsettling visage.

The DVD is rented from Netflix is a little grainy, but the movie is worth the watch, and interestingly, while the disk says Deathdream, the movie maintains the original movie title, Dead of Night.

Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) is a wonderful little known horror gem for genre fans looking for an overlooked classic.


It Lives Again - John Marley, who played Charlie Brooks, also dealt with unruly children in It Lives Again. In the gory It Lives Again, one murderous infant isn't enough -- three are now on the loose, all with razor-sharp teeth.

Superstition - Lynn Carlin, who played Christine Brooks, also starred in Superstition. The Rev. David Thompson (James Houghton) discovers that the inviting pond in the backyard of his new home was used to execute an evil witch three centuries ago -- and her spirit still lurks beneath the surface. Vowing to seek her revenge on anyone who ventures near her watery grave, the sorceress begins to hunt down her new neighbors in a bloody horror spree that turns Thompson's dream house into a violent nightmare.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things - Anya Ormsby, who played Cathy Brooks, and Jane Daly, who played Andy's girlfriend Joanne, also starred in Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. A group of actors and their eccentric artistic director, Alan (Alan Ormsby), travel to a burial island rich in tales of evil curses and demons. Their task is to exhume a recently deceased body and try their hand at witchcraft in an attempt to raise the dead. While Alan means for his morbid plan to be a trick that ends in a surprise all-night party, everyone is stunned when the "trick" works ... and the dead become uninvited guests.

Black Christmas - Bob Clark also directed Black Christmas. Terror reigns inside a sorority house a few days before Christmas break as a series of menacing phone calls -- and the discovery of a dead girl's body -- transform yuletide cheer into fear. Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey and Andrea Martin ("SCTV") co-star as just a few of the petrified sisters at the mercy of an unseen stalker.

Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile - Alan Ormsby also wrote Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile. When his overbearing mother dies, sociopathic Wisconsin farmer Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) stuffs and preserves her corpse to keep him company. But when the novelty of this solution wears off, Ezra prowls for fresh ladies on which to practice his taxidermy. The results are some gruesome dinner parties in the Cobb household and other gory delights.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Horror Movie Review: Night of the Lepus

Night of the Lepus

Starring: Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and DeForest Kelley

Directed by: William F. Claxton

Written by: Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney based on the novel by Russell Braddon

Production Company: A. C. Lyles Productions

Release Date: October 4, 1972

Let me confess...a pg rated movie about giant killer rabbits is something I'd probably pass up, unless it was apparent that it was done up for laughs. Night of the Lepus is clearly not done for laughs, so this is the kind of thing I would typically just ignore. Well, I'm not too proud to admit that when I saw DeForest Kelley's name attached, I got curious. I'd never seen Kelley as anything except Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in my beloved Star Trek, so the chance to see him, like so many lucky Star Fleet nurses, out of Star Fleet Uniform and in my beloved genre of horror...well, I couldn't pass that up.

Rabbits are running out of control eating pasture land and crops. There are so many rabbit holes horses are breaking their legs in them. It's a big problem and farmer Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) has had enough. He goes to his friend Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley), the head of a local college, for help. However, he doesn't want to just poison them because of the effect it might have on the other fauna in the area...namely his cows. So they get scientist Roy Bennett (Stuart Whitman) to try and come up with a humane way of getting rid of the rabbit menace.

Bennett and his wife Gerry (Janet Leigh) begin working on a way to inhibit rabbit reproduction, but one of his attempts escapes and mutates into a giant carnivorous beast. That wolf-sized rabbit, let's call him Rabbit Zero, infects and mutates the other rabbits in the area. Soon there are hundreds of flesh eating, giant rabbits roaming the countryside eating horse, cow, and human alike.

It's a little slow to start, but in the end I have to confess this was an interesting giant animal film. The effects to create the illusion of giant rabbits are simple, but pretty effective. Impressive miniature sets were created to let real rabbits run through creating a pretty effective effect of giant rabbits rampaging through town. Close ups of rabbit mouths with fake blood and foam help us feel the rabbits are in fact dangerous, and fake rabbits used for when they get shot and splatter blood, a pretty decent amount of blood actually for an early 70s PG film, create an impressively realistic viewing experience. The men in rabbit suits jumping on victims was a bit painful to watch, however.

But most interesting is the vast array of conflicting themes and messages to be found. First there's a theme about using humane ways to get rid of animal vermin, but those attempts in the film go horribly awry, so then it seems to be against humane handlings and just killing outright. After all, had they just killed the rabbits, they wouldn't have become mad eating beasts. However, it also mentions how eliminating one pest in can lead to new pests like the elimination of rabbits in Australia lead to more locust troubles.

In the end it's a balanced display of the troubles endemic in dealing with pests, which is rare for Hollywood, known for taking one side and beating a dead horse with it...ironically.

It's not particularly scary, and it's slow at times, but it's an interesting watch nonetheless.

Related Trailers

Demonoid - Stuart Whitman also stars in Demonoid. A British woman visits her husband at the Mexican mine he is attempting to reopen and discovers that the workers refuse to enter the mine fearing an ancient curse. The couple enter the mine to prove there is no danger and inadvertently release a demon which possesses people's left hands and forces them to behave in a suitably diabolical manner. The only way for a possessed person to free themselves from this torment is to cut off their left hand after which it scurries away in search of its next victim.

Halloween H20 Janet Leigh was a pretty prolific scream queen with Halloween H20 marking her final horror appearance. It's the first reunion in 20 years for two estranged siblings: former baby-sitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her brother, crazed slasher Michael Myers. With a witty script, a great cast (including LL Cool J and Michelle Williams) and Curtis's return to the role that made her a scream queen, Halloween: H20 is the final chapter in a legendary tale.

Motel Hell - Rory Calhoun also appeared in Motel Hell. Farmer Vincent kidnaps travelers and buries them -- alive -- in his garden, fattens them up and harvests them to use in his famous fritters.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Horror Movie Review: Piranha


Starring: Elizabeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Steven R. McQueen, and Jessica Szohr

Directed by: Alexandre Aja

Written by: Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg

Production Companies: Dimension Films, Intellectual Properties Worldwide, Aja/Levasseur Productions, Atmosphere Entertainment MM, Chako Film Company, and The Weinstein Company

Release Date: August 20, 2010

An earthquake opens an underground lake into Lake Victoria releasing hundreds of prehistoric piranha into the waters filled with teens on spring break. Chaos ensues.

The plot is very basic, if far fetched, but Piranha, a remake of the 1978 movie of the same name, is a fun, if bizarre, movie.

It's bizarre because it can't seem to decide what it wants to be. On the one hand we have all the makings of a lighthearted B-movie with giant killer animals, lots of pointless nudity,and more gore than you can stomach. Elizabeth does a good job as Sheriff Laurie Forrester, single mother of Zane, Laura, and teenager Jake played by Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the late Steve McQueen. Jake provides us with most of the plot by ditching his babysitting responsibilities to show Girls Gone Wild exploiter-like director Derrick Jones. This leads to Zane and Laura getting stranded on an island in the middle of Lake Victoria as the piranha begin to devour every living thing they can get their teeth into.

It was great seeing Jerry O'Connell playing Derrick Jones. I'm a big fan of O'Connell's from his My Secret Identity and Sliders days. Ving Rhames, on the other hand, was underused. The role of Deputy Fallon could have been played by just about anybody else it was such a minor role. Ol' Jerry O'Connell could have done the role fine, though he was wonderful as the Joe Francis parody. Jessica Szohr plays Jakes love interest Kelly and was nominated for the Best Scared-As-Shit Performance in the 2011 MTV Movie Awards. She unjustly lost to Ellen Page in Inception.

It's a fun film if you want a lighthearted, though extremely bloody serious giant animal film.

Related Trailers

Day of the Dead - Ving Rhames is used better in Day of the Dead. Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2) directs this remake of George A. Romero's classic zombie flick Day of the Dead, in which a mysterious disease causes the newly dead to come back to life and threaten the living. Meanwhile, military and scientific experts clash as they try to arrive at a solution. Miner and writer Jeffrey Reddick honor the story and social relevance of the first film but put a fresh spin on this tale of horror and intrigue.

First Born - Elizabeth Shue stars in First Born. Suffering from postpartum depression, Laura (Elisabeth Shue) finds motherhood taxing, and living in an isolated rural home doesn't help. But things only get worse as the arrival of an eerie nanny and a series of macabre events make Laura question her grip on reality. Blair Brown, Steven Mackintosh, Khandi Alexander and Kathleen Chalfant also star in this spine-chilling psychological thriller from director Isaac Webb.

Room 6 - Jerry O'Connell also stars in Room 6. When her boyfriend (Shane Brolly) is seriously injured in a car accident, Amy (Christine Taylor) is forced to confront her lifelong fear of doctors and hospitals. Trouble is, the facility he was reportedly taken to -- St. Rosemary's -- doesn't exist, at least not in the clinical sense. With help from a well-meaning stranger (Jerry O'Connell), can Amy navigate the hospital's creepy halls and solve the mystery of the ominous Room 6?

Mirrors - Alexandre Aja also directed Mirrors. This creepy supernatural thriller stars Kiefer Sutherland as troubled security guard Ben Carson, a man who discovers malevolent spirits living within the mirrors of a fire-ravaged department store. When their murderous nature comes to light, Ben turns to his estranged wife (Paula Patton) to help him save their family -- and himself. The supporting cast includes Amy Smart and Jason Flemyng.

Sorority Row - Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg also wrote the screenplay for Sorority Row. When a prank results in the accidental death of a Theta Pi sister, the sorority's members keep the crime under wraps. But as graduation rolls around, a masked killer begins stalking and slaying the girls responsible for the death. Someone is out for revenge, but who could know about their dirty little secret? Jamie Chung, Rumer Willis and Audrina Patridge ("The Hills") co-star in this not-so-sisterly slasher flick.

And just for fun...a Funny or Die video called Ving Rhames Wins an Oscar for Piranha 3D. Made me LOL...and props for Elizabeth Shue as well!