Thursday, July 24, 2014

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare

Welcome to part four of The Howling Series Retrospective Review.

Check out the previous installments:
The Howling
Howling II: Your Sister Grew a Beard
The Marsupials: Howling III: Pouch Babies

It seems like after the all-out wackiness of the previous two sequels, the decision was made to reel it back in for the next installment in the Howling series, Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988).  A new filmmaking team was brought in and they decided to go back to Gary Brandner's original source novel and readapt it (with changes of course) and make a more "serious" and character driven werewolf story.
The result is a werewolf film that has more mystery and atmosphere than it does scares or werewolf action.  The character driven stuff doesn't really work because, unfortunately, most of the cast isn't really up to the task.  While Howling IV is a step up from the previous two sequels in the departments of cinematic look and overall story cohesion (you can actually follow the plot!), it still manages to be not quite as entertaining as Part II or III.
Marie (Romy Windsor) is a successful best-selling author, but she is starting to have these bad dreams and visions (she sees the ghost of a nun) so she and her publicist friend Tom (Antony Hamilton) decide it would be best if maybe she took some time off.  The doctor blames fatigue and her vivid imagination, suggesting that she "go somewhere her imagination won't be stimulated."

It turns out Marie's visions are related to some deadly goings-ons that happened in a small town called Drago.  Of course, this happens to be exactly where her husband Richard (Michael T. Weiss) has coincidentally booked the two of them a nice stay at a remote country cabin.

Drago is your typical small, rural community, the kind that hides a dark secret.  Marie keeps having visions (of the nun, of the old couple that used to live in her cabin) and weird things keep happening (her dog disappears, she hears a "howling" at night) so of course she eventually begins to investigate what is going on with the nun, the old couple, and exactly what the deal with Drago is anyway.

Richard isn't much help.  He seems more interested in being a dick and wearing shirts that show off his manly chest hair regions (also note his fine 80s MacGuyver coif):

Marie gets assistance in her investigation from Janice (Susanne Severeid), a woman who is vacationing in the area and randomly stops by Marie's cabin hoping to meet her (she's a fan of her writing).

It turns out that Janice is a former nun who knew the nun from Marie's visions.  Her name was Sister Ruth (an homage to Black Narcissus [1947]?) and, as it turns out, she went crazy and died after visiting the small town of Drago.

All this mystery and investigation takes up the first hour of the movie.  There's not really any scares (other than when she finds her dead dog) and Marie's dream-visions are more moody and atmospheric than they are startling.  She does at one point dream some poltergeist-like activity in her cabin, chairs and tables flipping and smashing, and that was kinda neat, but it doesn't really supply what a werewolf movie should:  and that's werewolves.

The first glimpse of a lycanthrope doesn't come until around the one hour mark in the movie.  It happens when dickhead Richard (I just realized his name correlates with what he is) is macking on the local artist/shop owner Eleanor from town.

She's an ethereal, eerily beautiful type, so you could argue that she seduces him magically, but it seems to me that Richard is all too willing to jump all over her and get busy.

While they're trysting in the woods, Eleanor wolfs-out (briefly seen) and bites Rich, sending him running back home to get patched up by Marie.  The next day, of course, everything is fine with Richard and he claims to have just "fallen down a gully."
Basically this all leads to Marie and Janice truly discovering that Drago is a town full of werewolves (!) and to Richard stumbling off into the woods, suffering the effects of his wolf-bite, and starting his transformation.  It's here that the movie decides to get just a little crazy.

Richard's transformation scene has got to be the sloppiest, gooiest, grossest werewolf transformation scene ever to be featured in a movie.  It looks like goopy, melty chocolate syrup is dumped all over him while he dissolves into a puddle.  It really is an impressive special effect, which is good because it takes up a lot of screen time.
When Richard finally puddles out, a wolf monster emerges (briefly seen).  The rest of the townspeople are standing around watching all this.  They're wolfed-out as well, but only halfway, so it is less impressive.  They look like this:
The movie ends with Marie and Janice escaping into the bell tower and setting it on fire, killing all the wolftownspeople (Janice sacrifices herself).  Before they do that, they encounter the local doctor, who I guess is the lead werewolf.  He looks like this:
And then he does this:
And then he transforms and looks like this:
Yeah, this movie is fairly boring and ho-hum for most of its running time, but the last 15 minutes really turn it up a notch.  Things get close to the level of craziness that was established in the previous two sequels and it ends with a big explosion, so at least they got that part right (although the jump-scare are the very end is kind of lame).

Overall though, Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is a subpar werewolf movie.  As far as the Howling series itself, this is a middle-of-the-road entry.  None of the acting is good enough to be noteworthy, nor is it terrible enough to be mistaken for interesting.  There's too much foggy dreaminess and suspenseless mystery, not enough fangs, claws, and hairiness (other than Richard, of course).

Other Notes and random things:

If you rent a remote cabin in the woods, and when you get there you notice that there are strange, giant claw marks on the door, maybe you should think about rescheduling your stay?  Just sayin'...
When Marie and Janice are being chased by the werewolves into the bell tower, it is clearly just a pack of dogs, German Shepherds mainly, but I think a Collie is in there too.
I mentioned Richard's penchant for open shirts.  He also likes to use his tongue a LOT during make-out sessions.
Marie encounters a couple hikers, John and Paula (aka: Victims #1 and #2), out in the woods and invites them inside.  John ends up telling her a little about Drago and the backstory of its famed bell tower and how it's a replica of one from the 16th century, etc, etc..  When asked if it's a true story, John replies, "Well, I read it in an old National Geographic."
"Let me give you a ride."
"Hey thanks, for your help (Marie) but my Chevy Camper is parked nearby."
Oh yeah, this is really weird.  Janice makes major progress in figuring out that Drago is a town full of werewolves when she decodes that the phrase that crazy Sister Ruth was repeating over and over before her death, "we're all in fear," was actually her saying, "werewolves here."  …uh, okay. . .wait, HUH?
The opening and closing credits song, "Something Evil, Something Dangerous," was written and performed by Justin Hayward, lead singer of The Moody Blues:

Director John Hough also directed one of my favorite haunted house movies, The Legend of Hell House (1973), as well as Escape to and Return from Witch Mountain (1975/1978), The Watcher in the Woods (1980), and American Gothic (1988), a film I've never seen but the video cover of which is forever burned into my brain.

Screenwriter Clive Turner would also write Howling V: The Rebirth (1989) as well as write and direct The Howling: New Moon Rising (1995).

Howling IV feels like a remake of the first film, but really it's just a readaptation of Gary Brandner's original novel (for some reason all three of his Howling novels get a "based on" screen credit in this).

Changes made to the story include all the character's names and adding the stuff about the nun.  Also, the character of Max Quist, who assaults the main character in the novel, sending her on the need for a retreat, is taken out of this version of the story entirely (he was repurposed in the original film by director Joe Dante and writer John Sayles).
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare was the first film in the series to be released directly to video (handled by International Video Entertainment), even though the previous two sequels looked very much the part (I still can't believe Part III had a theatrical release).  From here on out, it's all direct-to-video (DTV) werewolf action.

For what it's worth, Fangoria gave the film its 1988 Golden Chainsaw award for Best Direct-to-Video Feature.

When released on DVD in 2004, the back cover of Howling IV featured scenes from Howling III.  :(
Hi, Tom!
Bye, Tom!
Here's some behind-the-scenes footage, courtesy of the YouTube and William Forsche, featuring the werewolf suit used in the film (specifically the werewolf the town doctor turns into).  The special effects crew also discuss Dunhill cigarettes and shooting in South Africa.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Trailer Park Tuesdays - Borgman

Trailer Park Tuesdays, a place that seems tailor-made for a creep like the BORGMAN.

Borgman is a Dutch thriller that looks guaranteed to be creepy, a bit off-kilter, and darkly comic. This is a combination that I approve of.  Here's the official synopsis:

"A dark suburban fable exploring the nature of evil in unexpected places, BORGMAN follows an enigmatic vagrant who enters the lives of an upper-class family and quickly unravels their carefully curated lifestyle.

Charming and mysterious, Camiel Borgman seems almost otherworldly, and it isn't long before he has the wife, children, and nanny under his spell in a calculated bid to take over their home life.  However, his domestic assimilation takes a malevolent turn as his ultimate plan comes to bear, igniting a series of increasingly maddening and menacing events."

Sounds like a winner.  The comparison films being mentioned are Dogtooth (2009) and Funny Games (1997) . That's pretty good company.  Check out the trailer below.  Some of these images are amazing.  The shot of people with buckets on their heads in the lake is a knockout:

Also, that shot of him eating in the bathtub reminds me of Gummo (1997).

Borgman screened at Cannes last year and was immediately snatched up by Drafthouse Films.  It's playing right now in select cities and should be out on VOD, Blu-ray, and DVD before year's end (I'd imagine).

Official one-sheet:
and the Mondo poster:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trailer Park Tuesdays - Coherence

Trailer Park Tuesdays:  Back open for business.

This week's trailer is for an indie sci-fi mind-bender.


Here's the official synopsis:

On the night of an astrological anomaly, eight friends at a dinner party experience a troubling chain of reality bending events.  Part cerebral sci-fi and part relationship drama, COHERENCE is a tightly focused, intimately shot film that quickly ratchets up with tension and mystery.

Sounds good, right?  This looks to be one of those low budget, puzzle box kind of movies.  It has been getting some good press after doing the festival circuit earlier this year and, to me, this is one to definitely check out.  I'm always looking and rooting for an underdog picture to come out of nowhere and knock it out of the park (or at least solidly entertain).  Is Coherence one of those movies?  Maybe.
Check out the official movie trailer:

Yeah.  I'll see that.

For further evidence of the film's mood and premise, here's a teaser clip:

Coherence was written and directed by James Ward Byrkit, who has been working with Gore Verbinski for a number of years in a conceptual consultant capacity (he also has co-story credit on Rango [2011]).  This was his first feature film.

The cast includes Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling (Homeland), Nicholas Brendon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Elizabeth Gracen (Marked for Death), Lauren Maher (Scarlett in the Pirates movies), Hugo Armstrong, Lorene Scafaria, and Alex Manugian (who also conceived of the story for Coherence).

Coherence is being released by Oscilloscope Laboratories and will be playing select cities (LA and NY) starting June 20th before spreading out elsewhere along the west coast (it opens in my neck of the woods July 11th).

For everybody else, the film is also available on VOD.  Check out the official website for more info.

Here's the one-sheet.  It's rad:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) is now thirty years old, and today is Friday the 13th, so here are some notes and thoughts on what is maybe my favorite film in the series.
Check out my previous Friday reviews:

This was designed and planned to be the last film in the Friday series, hence the title.  The producers and everybody thought the series had ran its course and it was time to end it.  Of course, this film's success at the box office led to another sequel. . which led to another. . .and another. . .and another. . .and. . .you know.  Still, their attempt at making a final Friday is admirable and successful on many fronts, particularly the ending, but let's instead start at the beginning.

After a brief opening flashback-recap-montage of everything from the first three films, all set around the campfire tale from Part 2 told by Paul (John Furey), the credits start with an EXPLOSION, as the subtitle (The Final Chapter) comes smashing through Jason's hockey mask and the Friday the 13th logo.  Exploding credits = always cool.

After the credits roll, the story begins during the clean-up after the events of Part 3.  There is a nice crane and steadicam shot that reveals Jason's body laying in the barn (where he must of been all day long, as Part 3 ends during the daytime and it is now nighttime) with policemen and medics scrambling all about.  He's declared dead.  They strap Jason to a gurney, load him up into an ambulance, and take him to the hospital morgue.

*Note: There is no mention of the survivor from Part 3, Chris, who was last seen being loaded into a police car and was obviously a little mad-crazy from her encounter with Jason.  In all likelihood she ended up in a mental institution, but I don't believe she's ever mentioned again in the series.

Jason's time in the morgue is brief, as he wakes up and kills the horny morgue attendant Axel (who likes weird aerobics videos) and his nurse companion before hightailing it out of there.  Axel gets his neck slashed with a surgical saw and then Jason twists his head around.  It's the first kill of the movie and it is pretty impressive.

Before they're killed, when they're just making out next to Jason laying on his gurney under a sheet, Axel and the nurse get scared when Jason's hand slips out from underneath his sheet (actually the second time in the movie he's pulled this trick) and Axel totally freaks out and screams, "Jesus Christmas!  Holy Jesus goddamn!  Holy Jesus jumping Christmas shit!"  It's really funny and completely over the top.  Who would ever use a series of exclamations like that?  It's very inapproriapte for the situation, but that pretty much explains Axel (did you watch the aerobics video link above?).

The (brief) hospital setting reminds me of Halloween II (1981) and Visiting Hours (1982) and makes me wish they would've done more with it, but with a quick jump cut, Jason is back in the woods stalking Trish Jarvis (Kimberly Beck) and her mom as they're out jogging.

How Jason gets from the hospital morgue to the woods is never addressed.  It is unlikely that he hitchhiked and he probably cannot drive, so I doubt he stole a car.  I guess he walked..?

Trish and her mom, along with young Tommy (an early role for Corey Feldman), live out in the woods somewhere along Crystal Lake.  Tommy has a room full of monster stuff and he makes his own masks and special effects.  He's a smart kid and, after the events of this movie, he would become one of Jason's greatest nemeses.

The body count in this picture comes courtesy of the young folks staying at a cabin that is located directly across the yard from the Jarvis residence.  They are your typical group of Friday victims, all just looking to have a good time (i.e.: drink and get laid), although they do lack the resident prankster/goofball character popularized by the original Friday.  The closest they come is the slightly dorky, very much horny, Jimmy, as played by the very weird Crispin Glover.

This is pre-Back to the Future Glover, and he gives a spirited performance, making a memorable character out of a role that was basically just "victim #8."

One of Jimmy's buddies, Teddy, is teasing him about being a "deadfuck," so it's cool when later Jimmy hooks up with one of the twins that they run into (it was the 80s, twins were popular) and is proven to, indeed, not be a deadfuck.  Jimmy is the only character to get a small victory like that before his death.  It's nice.

Also nice are Crispin Glover's dance moves.  This is, without a doubt, one of the best scenes in any Friday the 13th movie.  Behold!:

Jimmy's death scene is also pretty great, as he gets a corkscrew in the hand and a cleaver to the face.

Let's talk about the timeline of these movies real quick:

-The first Friday took place in 1979 (the movie was released in 1980).
-Part 2 (from 1981) took place 5 years later, which would be 1984.
-Part 3 (from 1982) picks up right after Part 2.
-And Part 4 (the Final Chapter here, from 1984) picks up right after Part 3.
-So, by the time Part 4 comes out they've caught up with their own future jump from Part 2 and movie-time and real-time match up.  If I didn't know better, I'd say they planned that.

Also, note that everything from Parts 2-4 takes place over the course of about 5 days.  That means Jason killed 36 people during the equivalent of a typical American work week.  Along with his work-shirt/pants look and penchant for using simple tools or his hands to do his job, Jason is the working class, blue collar slasher, through and through.

More notes on The Final Chapter:

Trish and Tommy run into a random hiker named Rob who says he's out hunting for bears, which Tommy immediately calls bullshit on.  Turns out Rob is actually the brother of Sandra (girl killed in the spear-bed double murder from Part 2) and he's out hunting for Jason.  . . . . but. . .according to the timeline, Sandra would've only been killed about 4 days prior to this. . . so how and why is Rob out in the woods so quick and soon after his sister's death? 

Turns out it doesn't really matter.  Jason destroys all of Rob's weapons and maps at his campsite and later he kills him in the basement of the Jarvis house.  Rob is only briefly our secondary protagonist and his chief purpose in the movie really seems to be a bit of the "doomsayer" character and fill in the backstory of Jason to Trish, and by extension Tommy (the real secondary protagonist), who uses Rob's newspaper clippings to replicate his Jason-look in the finale of the movie.

Yeah, the finale.
After killing Rob, Jason really gets his shit rocked by Trish.  He gets the sharp part of a hammer to the neck, a television smashed on his head, and a machete to the hand.  While most of this is going on, Tommy gives himself a quick haircut and makeup job to look like young Jason, which confuses Jason long enough for Trish to get a swipe in with a machete.  Ultimately, Tommy is the one who takes Jason down with that machete (all done in that glorious slo-mo that the Friday movies love so much).

SPOILER:  the best kill in the movie is Jason's.  It's a great effect, especially with his head sliding down the blade like that.  Awesome stuff, just great.
Special effects master Tom Savini, who did the original Friday, returned to do the special effects for this movie.  Overall, they are, of course, fantastic.  I love the way Jason looks unmasked.  That, to me, is how Jason should look.
It is interesting to note that it is almost an hour into the movie before we see Jason's hockey masked face.  Before that it's all POV stalking and his arms, hands, and feet is all you see.  He makes his first full body appearance pretty late in the movie, when he busts into the Jarvis home.  It's not like it was a mystery that Jason was the killer, but it seem like they were building anticipation to the climax of the film when Jason would be seen full on.

Also, for a big guy, Jason sure can get around speedily and stealthily.  It's like he can be in multiple places at once.  He's like the Santa Claus of slashers.
One of my favorite things is, when Trish is being chased by Jason, she opens the door and Jimmy has been nailed to the door frame, in a sort of X-fashion, and she freaks and smashes a window and goes out that way.  Later, when Jason comes stomping through, he just rips Jimmy's body down, tearing his hands.  It's a cool, brutal and wince-inducing moment, but I got to wonder if, while ripping down Jimmy's body, if Jason is thinking to himself, "why the fuck did I put this here?"

Also from the "what the hell?" department, at one point the kids see a gravestone for Mrs. Voorhees.  Huh?  Who paid for her burial?  Is her head buried in there, or is it just her body?  Just a strange little detail that doesn't really make any sense.

Speaking of moms, Mrs. Jarvis is killed offscreen, which is something the Friday movies like to do, but what is kinda weird is that after she screams at something offscreen, she is never seen again in the movie.

I guess there were rewrites and disagreements on what to do with the character, and there was even a dream sequence that was shot with her body in a bathtub, but it was ultimately scratched.  As it is, mom just sort of vanishes and you don't really know what happened.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was directed by Joseph Zito, who also directed The Prowler (1981, on which he worked with Tom Savini) and would go on to do the Chuck Norris films Missing in Action (1984) and Invasion, USA (1985).  Weird fact:  all three of Zito's films from 84 and 85 would debut at #1 at the box office.  Man, the 80s were awesome.

As for the cast,
Kimberly Beck was also in Massacre at Central High (1976) and Roller Boogie (1979).
Peter Barton (who played Doug, aka: the guy who gets face smashed in the shower) was also in Hell Night (1981).
Bruce Mahler (horny Axel) was in Police Academy 1-3 and 6 as "Fackler" and was also Rabbi Glickman from Seinfeld.
Ted White, a veteran stuntman who had doubled for John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Lee Marvin, would play Jason.  According to IMDb, he wanted his name removed from the film, as he was uneasy with the role.  He brings a nice physicality to the role and, in my opinion, he makes one of the best Jasons.
Crispin Glover would continue to follow the beat of his own drummer, who is a very strange drummer, but a pretty good one, too.
Corey Feldman would go on to be one of the two Coreys, who were very popular throughout the rest of 80s.
Oh yeah, there's also "banana girl."  She's a hitchhiker that the kids pass on the road ("Hey honey, ya got a sister?") and she flips her "Canada and Love" sign around and also flips the kids one of these:
She's known as "banana girl" because she is stabbed through the throat by Jason while eating a banana.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is fairly well shot, with some good camera movements and set-ups.  The movie is a lot of fun, with plenty of 80s goodness (little shorts!  skinny dipping!  twins!  polo shirts!) and some memorable characters.  Also, the kills are good n' gory and there are plenty of them (14 total).

The Final Chapter is one of the best installments in the series.  If they would've truly ended it here, it would've been solid.  But Jason would return. . . eventually.

Until the next Friday the 13th,
stay safe out there, deadfucks.