Friday, October 2, 2015

Halloween Week 1: Sometimes They Come Back

So it was established, and so it begins.

As I said yesterday, this year's a weird sort of retrospective on the past four years. Each of the 31 films chosen for this year's Halloween run is a sequel, prequel, or remake of an earlier movie featured here.

With that in mind, the randomizer's hitting a couple of low balls out of the gate, so let's just dive in.

(Note: Sorry about the links guys. Gonna try and get those more fine-tuned soon.)

Sorry guys, but you're in the same movie as Larry Miller as an evil, rapey clown. There was no way you guys were gonna be scarier than that.

10/1 - Wes Craven Presents Carnival of Souls

(remake of Carnival of Souls)

So, going into this movie, I will admit I had some reservations. With Craven's passing earlier this year, I wondered if it would be better to sit out a remake with his name on it and a pretty spotty reputation. Then, two things happened to convince me to leave it in. First, my girlfriend made the case for the fact that, hey, it is part of his legacy, and sometimes you've gotta take the bad with the good (for the record, I still stand by what I wrote in previous years on The Serpent and the Rainbow – still a favorite of his movies).

The second was that I actually sat down to watching it...and realized this was a Wes Craven movie like Hostel was a Quentin Tarantino film. Which makes sense on the year this came out – the success of Scream meant Craven was riding high, so if you could get him to produce, you would want to rubberstamp the Hell out of his name for brand recognition.

Unfortunately, it only does just so much here.

I'll just say this now – I genuinely feel like Carnival of Souls could be remade. It would be a little tricky thanks to the fact modern audiences would likely see the ending coming, but if you play it with a subtler hand, I think it could still fly. This...was not that movie. Subtlety is run out of this film on a rail pretty early on and never comes back even until the end. As a result, what was originally a pretty straightforward sort of mystery in the vein of Incident at Owl Creek Bridge instead becomes a low-rent Jacob's Ladder knockoff, complete with visions of deformed beings that look like they were trying to recapture Lyne's film more than that of the late Herk Harvey. Further bogging things down is the addition of a new story in which our protagonist (Bobbie Phillips) finds herself haunted and pursued by her dead mother's former lover (Larry Miller). The plot itself mostly just diverts with all manner of uncomfortable flashbacks about this sleazy clown character who the movie makes it clear definitely molested our heroine all so she has someone to confront in the big finish. Outside of a surprisingly effective performance by Miller, whose acting is probably the best part of this movie, the whole plot just left me going “why was this needed?”

This is arguably one of the more frustrating cases of a remake ever – it's one that could have worked. There's definitely fertile ground for an update, but instead it bogs itself down in a lot of things that are unnecessary and don't really aid the story in any way.
At least Wes's hands are mostly clean. know what? Screw it. This picture says all it needs to for itself. Any riff is just excess trimming.

10/2 – The Exorcist II: The Heretic
(sequel to The Exorcist, followed by The Exorcist III)

Let's face it – this theme was really the one way this movie was going to have a chance of getting in here.
I could probably do an entire writeup on my problems with this movie (maybe somewhere down the line) and while I'm doing two longer ones to make up for the fact this entry is only two movies long for a start, I do kind of want to keep from going all in on that, so I'll just keep to my two main problems.

First is with this movie's role as a sequel. I can forgive a surprising amount from some sequels. I mean, I'm one of those people who feels Halloween III: Season of the Witch gets a bum rap more because of its lack of Michael Meyers than anything else (...and let's be honest, it's arguably better than some of the Meyers movies that followed it). But there's two big differences there – first is the fact that Season of the Witch is, to be perfectly honest, dumb as Hell. And it owns it. It owns the Hell out of it. As a result, it's still quite watchable in a 'so bad it's good' kind of way – plus, that ending IS pretty awesome. By comparison, The Heretic takes itself too seriously to really defend on those grounds. I mean, granted, that more serious approach is actually part of why its predecessor holds up over 40 years later (and also helps part III), but here it just makes the movie's rather ridiculous premise and groaners in its dialogue (“If Pazuzu appears, I shall spit out a leopard,” James Earl Jones manages to get out with a straight face, God bless him) clunk that much harder. The other reason this sequel fumbles compared to Season of the Witch is that that movie is fairly self-contained. It's free to be a mess entirely of its own design and the rest of the franchise remains untouched by the antics of Dan O'Herlihy and his army of robot minions. By comparison, The Heretic tries to apply its plot and ideas over the first movie, at points overriding some of the themes of its predecessor in ways that just make the sequel look bad (most damning is their newly written reason for why Regan was possessed. I'll spare the details to avoid spoilers, but they apparently decided Merrin's hypothesis of despair in the first movie wasn't good enough). That William Peter Blatty (and the people behind the later movies, for that matter) completely disregard anything this movie had to say on the greater Exorcist continuity should tell you how well that went over.

The other problem with this movie as this list goes's just barely a horror movie. JUST barely. While the level of scariness in the first film will naturally vary from person to person, the fact remains, it is going for scares. At points, at least for me, it manages some good ones – some creepy bits of buildup, some good atmosphere, and a couple of really effective jarring images all work in its favor. I'm trying to think of moments in the sequel that could be said to be going for scares and...I'm gonna be honest, outside of MAYBE a scene of a person being burned alive, I've got nothing. Despite being an Exorcist sequel and sporting a pretty wild score by Ennio Morricone (which is a plus of this film), it feels less like this was shooting for a horror movie, and more for a weird sort of modern day fantasy with Chardin's spiritual philosophies as its backbone and Friedkin's movie as its foundation. And it's not like you can't go that modern fantasy route and still manage to work a few scares in (Audrey Rose went a similar direction and still made for a few decent moments of tension along the way that are pretty absent from this movie). So to see this film not even try and fail but just not try, especially considering the act it's following...that's a lot to ask me to forgive.

Okay, that's a bit harsh on wording. I mean, I don't hate the movie – it's not good, but I'm mostly just ambivalent on it. But at the same time, holy Hell is this a disappointing mess as a sequel.

This is gonna be a rough month for some entries, but it's gonna yield some interesting stuff. Plus, I promise some good ones are coming.

So buckle in, folks. It's gonna be one Hell of an October.

Till next Friday.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Third Row's October Run Part 5 – Oh God, It's a Theme Year

Well, like I said last time, there was a plan for this year, which was part of why I hadn't done the usual sweep for suggestions.

For those who've kept score – and to those who have, my sincerest apologies, this will mark the fifth year I've been doing this particular project.

I know, I'm surprised too.

Anyway, I told myself if I got to one of these milestones, I'd try my hand at this project. A little theme I like to call Sometimes They Come Back.

...for the record, that movie will not be featured this time. Just made a good hook.

The upshot for this year, however, is tied back to that title – in preparation, I compiled a list of the movies used in the first four years of entries. With some research, I compiled this year's list: a selection of 31 sequels, prequels, and remakes of movies previously featured in this project.

The first entry goes up tomorrow...and this is gonna be a rough one.

There are some good things to come though.

Till tomorrow!