Halloween (2018) Review

Forty years ago, on Halloween night, Michael Myers (Nick Castle) stalked and killed the residents of Haddonfield, Illinois. Now he’s back with a vengeance to kill Laurie Strode (the scream queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis) and family in an all new franchise reboot by Blumhouse Productions.

John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick remains an iconic cultural piece of history and is often regarded as among the best horror films of all time. I make it a tradition to watch the original twice every Halloween, and I consider it one of my favorites.

There have been countless sequels, remakes, rewrites, and reboots. Yet, this is the first time there’s been so much hype revolving around a Halloween movie. Despite the hype and raving reviews, I’m not quite sure the magic transferred over here.

Too much of Halloween mimics past films within the franchise. Kills, plot points, and major scenes are completely ripped from the original Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween H20, and even the Rob Zombie remake. Having so much potential to succeed and a wide-open platform to speak on, Halloween made little effort to differentiate itself from any sequel in the series. If you were to blend up some of the best and worst aspects of all these movies and put it into one modern film, it would be Halloween 2018.

Some of the dialogue and sound effects were awkward and frankly dead on arrival. All the humor was misplaced and didn’t make sense in the context of what was happening on-screen. The jokes got occasional laughs from the audience, but I don’t believe anyone will be highlighting the quality of the humor as a selling point.

No, we’re more concerned with the gore, a staple of the slasher genre. And as sad as it is to say, it wasn’t as graphic as one would hope. Now the original film could hardly be called graphic by today’s standards, but at least most of the kills were on-screen. I swear only half the kills in this movie even take place on-screen, with many characters shown to already be dead. Some are murdered slightly off-screen, as if to tease us. Strangely, this directly contrasts with several incredibly gruesome death scenes, including a gory head smash that we see every bit of. It was as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide if Halloween should be PG-13 or R, so they just met in the middle.

There’s a nice long tracking shot of Michael Myers as he goes from house to house slaying victims, getting adjusted to murder once more. It’s very cinematic, and the visuals within the sequence are filled with a nostalgic, spooky atmosphere. Festive decorations, pumpkins, and costumes line the streets that Myers haunts, and I loved every bit of it.

The main event, if you will, of Halloween is the showdown between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. In a sense it becomes a classic game of cat and mouse, with the odds not always in Myers’ favor. This was hands down the best part of the film, the moment everyone was waiting for. And did it deliver? Yes, yes it did. We’re given a satisfying, tense, and kick butt conclusion to one big shoulder shrug of a movie.

If you wanted a Halloween movie that looks, feels, and plays out exactly like previous installations, then this is the film for you. Just like many Blumhouse films, the Halloween remake plays it safe in the most frustrating and painstaking ways. The unoriginality negatively impacted many key death scenes, as I could accurately predict almost every twist and turn just off prior movie knowledge. Even disregarding the rest of the series, this new Halloween was just lacking in the spooky department. It’s Halloween, I’m entitled to one good scare, and this just didn’t fully do it for me.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Hell Fest Review: One Helluva Movie!

While at the local showing for the new Halloween-themed flick Hell Fest, I noticed the formatting of the film on the screen was off by several feet. Meaning that the film projected on the wall and not completely on the screen. However, five-minutes into the film I realized it simply wouldn’t be worth the effort to raise from my chair and notify the staff of the issue.

The central idea (or should I say gimmick) of Hell Fest is that it all takes place inside a large haunted house. Six millennial teenagers act as our protagonists and go expecting to have the time of their lives. Only problem? A real-life murderer sneaks into the scare zone, slowly killing off our unsuspecting millennial stereotypes.

Starting with the characters, they’re so blandly clichéd that it’s almost a cliché to even talk about it. These types of cookie cutter characters have been done to death, and films have been satirizing these dull, bimbo idiots even before Wes Craven’s Scream made it cool to do so. They’re so overly sexualized, awkward, and annoying that at no point does it come off as cute. The one benefit to the terrible characters was watching them get killed in some pretty clever ways. One guy gets his head smashed by a test your strength carnival mallet, which I don’t think I have seen in a horror movie thus far. It’s funny, it’s unique, and horror fans will get a kick out of it.

Honestly, if Hell Fest took place anywhere other than a haunted house, I’d be hard pressed to find any redeemable qualities to the film. Thankfully, the costume designer and cinematographer put in overtime making sure the audience absorbed every inkling of horror-themed atmosphere. Everywhere you look there’s another cool costume or interesting prop that really gets me in the spirit of Halloween.

Unfortunately, this novelty wears off.

On a technical basis, Hell Fest was too preoccupied with scaring the cast and not with scaring the viewer. There were far too many reaction shots of the characters being frightened, as if they forgot that we were the ones supposed to be startled. Many moments where somebody jumps out and goes “Boo!”, the camera is focused on the protagonist and not the scare actor, therefore leaving the scene without tension. What’s even worse, we always know exactly where the real killer is going to be, leaving us with a net total of zero scares.

The biggest insult of all was the ending, which was very visibly rushed and ill-thought-out. Without spoiling anything (not that you probably care), there’s hardly a villain vs. hero showdown, and we never see a solid conclusion to the identity of the killer. Really, it felt like Hell Fest was building up to something that it never quite reached because it got bored and gave up.

They attempt to go for the nameless killer trope established in movies like The Strangers, but here it’s much lazier.  And that’s the key word there, lazy. Everything about the direction of Hell Fest just felt like a dull, straight to Netflix horror movie you watch when there’s nothing else on. Instead of earnestly trying to make a decent movie with a good payoff, they distract you with a clever Eighties throwback marketing campaign. Don’t let them trick you into believing this is a nostalgic romp. It’s not.

Hell Fest was essentially a scattershot of excellent Halloween visuals and remarkably poor writing. Those with a passion for the spooky festivities of the season will get the most enjoyment out of Hell Fest, but the rushed third act and lack of resolution is enough to disappoint any moviegoer. Sadly, Hell Fest just didn’t deliver in the scary department.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

The House with a Clock in Its Walls Review

Leave it to director Eli Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno) to make a children’s fantasy film that’s full of bizarre humor and dark imagery. I didn’t even think it was possible to make fun of the disabled in a mainstream movie anymore Yet, Roth made it happen, and somehow the well-timed joke landed a perfect 10 in the process.

This movie begins where most movies are at the 30-minute mark. There’s no introduction to characters or the fantasy world they inhabit. No, we’re thrown right off the deep end without any floaties. Before you know it, our soulless protagonist is learning magic and is knee deep in what this film considers “plot”.

Why is the house alive? How is Jack Black a magical warlock? What is the extent of this magical universe? Who knows and who cares! Pretty much the perfect tagline for this movie.

I’ll attempt to summarize the plot; however it’s been only 24 hours since I’ve seen the film and I already forget several key plot details. Like a distant, hazy dream.

After a car accident kills both his parents, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) goes to live with his mysterious kimono-wearing uncle Johnathan Barnavelt (Jack Black). Lewis quickly learns that Johnathan and his home aren’t as they seem, discovering that his uncle is in fact a wizard. And after Lewis accidentally raises the dead with a powerful spell, he must help his uncle save the world from a malevolent force. Mixed into the plot is a variety of frightening images and intense scenes fused with a whimsical message about family and magic.

The child actor in The Clock deserves an award for worst acting in a motion picture, period. It’s so awkward that scenes meant to be emotional and touching just come off as strange and unintentionally hilarious. In one scene, Owen is crying over the recent death of his parents, and Jack Black attempts to cheer him up by pulling an endless length of handkerchiefs from his pocket. An old magician gag. It’s supposed to be quirky and heartfelt, but the whole scene was just odd.

Yet, that’s kind of the unexpected charm of The Clock, as it teeters between predictable family adventure flick and unforeseen absurdity. Even with the many little idiosyncrasies and plot holes there’s something enjoyable to find in almost every scene. Whether intentional or not.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a good fall themed movie for families with small, brave children that don’t mind some oddball (and slightly offensive) jokes. If you’re laughing at the terrible acting, weird plot, or deliberately goofy scenes, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you’re laughing and entertained, so I say mission accomplished.

The verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Young Frankenstein Review

During the month of October, I had the incredible experience of viewing Mel Brook’s 1974 comedy classic Young Frankenstein on the big screen. Sitting in an almost completely empty theater, I watched in admiration as one of my favorite actors played out one of his most famous roles, just as people did in 1974.

The story, a comedic spoof based on various film adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, focuses in on the well-educated medical doctor Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder). Frederick discovers that he has just inherited the Transylvania castle of his famous grandfather, who conducted experiments in attempts to reanimate the dead. Initially hesitant, Frederick decides to recreate his grandfather’s experiments with the help of an unlikely group of odd individuals.

If there exists a film that is so universally hailed as comedic and undeniably hilarious, then it was probably directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks utilizes every level of humor to its fullest effect, whether it be simple slapstick or a subtler humor that takes a couple of viewings to fully appreciate.

Discussing humor can be a difficult and daunting task, partly because of the subjective nature of comedy. There are only so many ways that I can say a scene from Young Frankenstein is funny, and only so many ways I can say entire films made in its image are not. Yet, with that established, I believe Young Frankenstein to be comedic genius. Brooks takes a beloved source material and handles it with such care, delicacy, and most of all, lunacy.

Pondering such questions as, “What if Igor was in denial that he had a hump?” Or even, “What if Frankenstein’s monster meeting the blind man had a more comedic punch to it?” It’s questions like these that any individual can conjure up in their heads, but only Brooks has the audacity to carry it out on the big screen.

Playing the role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Gene Wilder gives what I would argue the best performance of his career. The frantic ravings and occasional lunacy of a mad scientist in denial about his family heritage is about as outlandish as imaginable, and Wilder fits the bill. Not only that, he becomes the character, going beyond the call of duty to give the audience an unforgettable experience. And is it surprising for me to say that whenever I hear somebody talk about Frankenstein, I first think of this movie, rather than the Universal classic?

One can hardly forget the enigmatic supporting cast, who help make this lovely masterpiece what we know it as today. My personal favorite would be Igor (Marty Feldman), a dimwitted wisecracker with a knack for making the situation worse. Something about Igor has always appealed to me unlike anyone else in the film. His onscreen presence alone is enough to elicit hysterical laughter from yours truly.

Young Frankenstein is a film I re-explore at least once a year, typically around the Halloween season, and for good reason. It’s listed as one of the greatest comedies of all time by the American Film Institute (14th), Bravo TV (56th), Rolling Stone (5th), and was even selected for the Library of Congress National Film Registry. It’s a beloved masterpiece that will hopefully be respected by moviegoers for years to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

 

Halloweentown Review

Whenever I’m asked the question of, “what is my favorite guilty pleasure movie?”, the answer has always been Halloweentown. Sure there are movies I love that most people think are bad, like Looney Tunes: Back in Action and UHF. However with Halloweentown I accept just how bad it is, yet I love just about all of it.

This Disney Channel original movie stars Kimberly J. Brown as Marnie Piper, a thirteen year old girl who is obsessed with the Halloween season. Every year Marnie’s eccentric Grandma Aggie (Debbie Reynolds) visits  for Halloween, dropping hints of a magical world. So when Marnie decides to follow her Grandma home, Marnie discovers that Aggie lives in the secret world of Halloweentown.

Halloweentown is a place where all Universal studios type monsters live in harmony together. However, things may not be as they seem, and it is up to Aggie, Marnie, and Marnie’s younger siblings Sophie (Emily Roeske) and Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) to figure out what is going on.

Among all the cheesy Disney channel tropes,cringe worthy dialogue, and eye roll-able jokes, there is a very charming film here. A film that young kids can understand, and adults can find cute and enjoyable.

Halloweentown overall gives off a very comforting tone and mood. It’s a relaxing film for the audience to experience without having to think too deeply. I often times don’t like it when a film opts to play it safe, but this is the exception for me.

The town of Halloweentown is one of my favorite parts of the entire movie. The makeup design on all the monsters that the audience gets to see inhabiting the town are pretty goofy and funny. The festive set pieces of the town square are great as well, I can tell that a lot of effort was put into the design of them.

Halloweentown has made me smile every time I watch it, ever since I was a kid. That’s something that I really admire in a movie, the ability to keep me coming back years later and enjoying it just the same. Perhaps it’s just my own nostalgia for it getting in the way, but a little nostalgia for movies is never a bad thing.

I sit down with my family every year and  watch Halloweentown. It is a fun, visually creative, and all around enjoyable family movie that is perfect for the Halloween season.  I recommend anyone who likes family fun holiday movies to go ahead and check it out.

Zachary Flint

Halloween (1978) Review

Over time, Halloween has become an iconic film of the horror genre. It is often cited as popularizing the slasher film and creating many horror movie tropes we continue to see used today.

Directed by John Carpenter, Halloween was made on a relatively small budget of about 300,000 dollars, while making over 70 million in the box office. Proving just how financially successful independent, low budget films good be.

Halloween tells the story of an escaped psychopath named Michael Myers. Myers, whose been locked up since he was a child for killing his sister Judith (Sandy Johnson), has now broken out of his mental ward and is returning to his home in Haddonfield, Illinois. There he stalks 17 year old Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) who is babysitting on Halloween night. The only one who may be able to stop Myers’s terror is Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), Michael’s psychiatrist from when he was a boy.

I know a lot of people don’t find this film very frightening by today’s standards, but I think that has more to do with how society views horror. Modern day horror flicks are plagued by pop-up jump scares that are paired with loud sounds. No longer is it about building up tension, but rather just have the film go silent, followed by a loud noise that makes the audience jump. Making them think that they were scared. Very few modern horror directors (like James Wan) pull off the jump scare in a clever and unique way.

I don’t believe Halloween has got any less scary over time. The subtle horror aspects infused with the sharp musical score (written by John Carpenter himself) make this film what it is. The very simple but effective music adds to the tension that builds from Myers stalking various people. The music will spike as you can see Myers standing in the background, surrounded by the darkness. Very creepy.

One of the biggest reasons I love Halloween is how the film was shot. Being on a low budget gives Halloween this sort of gritty look to it. It all feels very practical and real. The tracking shots that John Carpenter uses when the camera slowly moves between houses really builds up tension in a way I haven’t seen before. At least, not done as well. He utilizes simple but creative camera shots to give the point of view of Michael Myers, as the audience hears his deep breathing through the mask.

Michael Myers symbolizes pure evil, and the fact that he can get up after being repeatedly stabbed and shot gives him this “indestructible force” aspect. As if he isn’t even a human and more like an entity.

The climatic scene when Laurie makes her way into the neighbor’s house when the audience knows Micheal Myers is already inside still scares me to this day. The horrors that ensue are well done and effective. Many other films have taken inspiration from these iconic scenes between Laurie and Michael, who acted and performed very well. Again, the gritty way Halloween was shot really adds to the experience.

Finally, the ambiguous note the film ends on suits it nicely and I wouldn’t have wanted it to end any other way.

I recommend Halloween to all who have an appreciation for horror. It is a horror movie classic that will continue to be a staple of the genre for many years to come.

Zachary Flint

40 Years of Horror: Best Horror Films By Year 1975-2015 (In Pictures)

My picks for some of the best horror related films of the past few decades.

1975: Jaws

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1976: The Omen

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Runner Up: Carrie

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1977: Suspiria

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Runner Up: The Hills Have Eyes

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1978: Halloween

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Runner Up: Dawn of the Dead

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1979: Alien

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1980: The Shining

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Runner Up: Friday the 13th

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1981: The Evil Dead

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1982: The Thing

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Runner Up: Poltergeist

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1983: Twilight Zone: The Movie

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1984: A Nightmare on Elm Street

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1985: Re-Animator

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1986: Aliens

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1987: Evil Dead II

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Runner Up: Hellraiser

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1988: They Live

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Runner Up: Child’s Play

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1989: Pet Sematary

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1990: Arachnophobia

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1991: Silence of the Lambs

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1992: Candyman

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1993: Leprechaun

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1994: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

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1995: Se7en

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1996: From Dusk Till Dawn

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Runner Up: Scream

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1997: Anaconda

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1998: Ringu

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1999: Audition

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Runner Up: The Sixth Sense

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2000: American Psycho

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2001: The Others

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2002: 28 Days Later

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Runner Up: The Ring

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2003: House of 1000 Corpses

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2004: Shaun of the Dead

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Runner Up: Saw

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2005: Hostel

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2006: Slither

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2007: Planet Terror

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2008: The Strangers

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2009: Orphan

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2010: Insidious

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2011: The Cabin in the Woods

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2012: V/H/S

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2013: The Conjuring

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Runner Up: Mama

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2014: It Follows

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Runner Up: The Babadook

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2015: Krampus

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Zachary Flint